Vermont is uncrowded, woodsy, independent and inviting. This northern New England state has resisted the rush of commercialism that has overtaken other pristine places. It’s hard to find anything resembling big-city living here; Vermont’s population center, Burlington, is home to fewer than 45,000 people. The state’s small towns are its essence, and there the traveler will find the pastoral hallmarks — dairy farms, sugar maples and quaint river-valley inns — that give Vermont its unmistakable character. Route 100, the state’s major north-south highway, traverses the Green Mountains and is a perfect fall foliage drive. For those who prefer to experience nature on foot, the Appalachian Trail enters the state in the southwest and winds north toward New Hampshire’s White Mountains.
Summer and fall bring high-season rates, but they are undeniably the most pleasant times to visit. The run-up to Christmas can also be romantic.
This list of recommended restaurants follows our route from Manchester to Burlington. With dark wood floors, coffered ceilings, wainscoting and wallpapered walls, The Copper Grouse (3835 Main Street, Manchester; Tel.  362-0176), in the Kimpton Taconic Hotel, feels like an old New England tavern — but with an up-to-date menu.
Part of The Pitcher Inn, 275 Main (275 Main Street, Warren; Tel.  496-6350) is sedate and stylish, with exceptional service and a fine wine list. Plate (91 Main Street, Stowe; Tel.  253-2691) has wood floors, open space, a long bar and smart young staff.
And at Hen of the Wood (55 Cherry Street, Burlington; Tel.  540-0534), Chef Eric Warnstedt has deservedly earned a stellar reputation.
I have long admired Vermont’s cheeses, so on our most recent trip I sought out some of the local dairies: Consider Bardwell Farm (1333 Route 153, West Pawlet; Tel.  645-9928), where I love the Gruyère-like Rupert; Grafton Village Cheese (400 Linden Street, Brattleboro), where the aged cheddars are especially good; Crowley Cheese (14 Crowley Lane, Mount Holly; Tel.  259-2347), where my favorite is the Medium Sharp; and Vermont Shepherd (281 Patch Farm Road, Putney; Tel.  387-4473), one of the oldest sheep’s milk dairies in the country, where I am a fan of the signature Verano, a creamy cheese with a hint of sweetness.