Labor Day Getaway
Manhattan Jewish Sentinel / Long Island Jewish World

August 25, 2006

END-OF-SUMMER GETAWAY

Labor Day Getaways in Vermont, New Hampshire and the Maine Coast


By URIEL HEILMAN

With the East Coast struck by stifling heat waves this summer, New Yorkers have been desperate to escape the sizzle any way they can.

They fight traffic on the way to the Hamptons, stake out their places on beaches from Montauk to the Jersey Shore, and sometimes just crowd around any busted hydrant offering a brief respite from the high temperatures.



But for a real vacation-and a break from the routine of work, home, and a frustrating commute-the mountains, lakes and scenic views of New England make a perfect end-of-summer getaway.

New England makes a great destination for Labor Day weekend-especially if you don't want to be where everyone else is, well, being.

New England has always proven an appealing lure to city folk looking for an escape. It's not just the quaint country towns, picturesque homes and change of scenery that draws people to New England. It's also the cool mountain air, the superb mountain hikes and the famed Maine shoreline.

I made three recent trips to New England for a little of each-to Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire-and found delightful surprises everyplace I went.

Vermont

The Green Mountains of Vermont are famous not only for the coffee brand that bears their name. Here in the lake-studded forests of New England, there's no better place to kick back and relax and get reacquainted with the outdoors.

I chose Killington for a three-day vacation of swimming, boating, hiking and some R&R. Vermont's biggest ski resort in winter, Killington is famous also for its summertime activities.

After a little more than four hours of driving from New York, I arrived in the Killington area just in time for a late picnic lunch and boat ride in a quiet lake near Poultney. The rest of my vacation was a blur of lakeside barbeques and picnics, boating, swimming (even in the rain), evening walks through the woods, a horseback-riding show, and some breathtaking hiking.

On our most ambitious day, my companion and I set out on the Bucklin Trail (part of the Appalachian Trail) along Route 4, near Mendon, for a moderate five-hour hike through the woods. Faced with a steep quarter-mile climb after more than four hours of hiking, we were awarded with amazing mountain views atop Vermont's second-highest peak, above 4,000 feet on Killington's backside. With the winds whipping around us and the slightly giddy sensation of feeling like we were on an airplane, we ducked behind some boulders for shelter and came upon the Killington gondola.

It was just in the nick of time-a few minutes before closing-and we took the easy way down and then the complimentary bus back to our car to make it home before nightfall.

Home in Vermont was the Red Clover Inn (Tel. 1-800-752-0571, or online at www.redcloverinn.com), a luxurious, warm, country-style bed-and-breakfast with tastefully decorated rooms, beautiful views and blessed quiet.



A lovely blend of authentic Vermont, modern comforts and romantic ambience, the Red Clover Inn's rooms are decorated with antique furniture, skylights and, in some cases, jacuzzis (rooms start at $145/night). I stayed in Dudley's Study ($235/night), which had a supremely comfortable four-poster bed, gas fireplace, jacuzzi, and windows facing three directions.

The trip from to Vermont was worthwhile just for the moonlit walk I took one evening along the winding dirt road just beyond Red Clover, where the silhouettes of distant mountains loomed under a beautiful orange moon. I went to sleep that night to the sounds of crickets chirping as a cool breeze came in through the windows.

My morning was just as peaceful, taking breakfast in the inn's dining room with Verde playing in the background.

The Red Clover Inn had all the key ingredients of a cozy New England retreat: privacy, a beautiful setting, and attentive innkeepers. It's one of those places I'll have to remember for a return visit.

New Hampshire

For a religious Jew, summertime vacations are complicated not only by dietary restrictions and a three-week mourning period, but also by figuring how to get away on weekends and still have a place to pray with a minyan-and not end up in some suburban shul.

I found the perfect combination of Shabbat services, outdoors activities and scenic remoteness at Loon Mountain, in the White Mountains near Lincoln, New Hampshire.

Arriving late on a Friday morning after five-plus hours of driving from New York, my friends and I set out for a hike from Lafayette Place just off the famed Kancamagus Highway, near Franconia Notch. It was Friday afternoon and we already had suffered a delay due to a heavy downpour, but with the late sunset we were able to take in a gorgeous hike up a green mountainside to hidden Lonesome Lake. Nestled in the mountains 1,000 feet above the floor of Franconia Notch, the lake had stunning mountain views and fresh, clear water.

And even when Shabbat began, we found ourselves on a mountain-in a slopeside condo studio at the Mountain Club on Loon (Tel. 1-800-229-7829, or online at www.mtnclub.com. Rooms start at $99/night). The Mountain Club's comfortable studios come not only with kitchens, beds for four and pretty views, but also with a Shabbat minyan and Jewish camaraderie.

In the summertime, one of the ski resort's slopeside restaurants is converted into a makeshift synagogue, and every Shabbat a small group of Jews assembles a minyan-complete with Torah and all-between the restaurant tables and Boar's Head meat signs.

Unlike Bethlehem, N.H., which is overwhelmed by hasidim in the summer months, the scene at Loon is much more subdued. The weekend I was up there, we were about 20 people at the minyan: an eclectic crowd of Hasidim, liberal Orthodox Jews, and hangers-on.

Because you're slopeside when staying at the Mountain Club, you can spend your Shabbat afternoons wandering the wildflower-packed ski trails, jumping rocks in the nearby river, or taking walks through the woods. There's also a gondola ride to the summit, rock climbing walls and mountain biking.

The Mountain Club at Loon was a terrific discovery for an outdoors-loving, crowd-abhorring, Sabbath-observant Jew.



The highlight of the trip came on Sunday, with a full-day aggressive hike up one of the East Coast's highest peaks, the 5,260-foot Mt. Lafayette. Parking again at Lafayette Place, across the highway from where we took our Friday hike-and just a mile or two from the famous (and now nonexistent) Old Man in the Mountain rock face-my friends and I set out on a climb that would take us up above the tree line to one of the greenest, and least disturbed, views on the East Coast.

We climbed over streams and past cascading waterfalls, up rocks and onto a ridgeline that overlooked the gorgeous, empty mountains of the northeast. When we went home after eight hours on the trail, our muscles ached, our clothes were soaked with sweat, but our hearts were content.

Maine

There's something magical about waking up on the forest floor with the smell of the ocean in the air and close enough to the Atlantic to hear waves crashing against the jagged Maine shoreline.

That's what I found on a quiet corner of Mount Desert Island, just beyond the charming town of Southwest Harbor, part of Acadia National Park (online at http://www.nps.gov/acad).

Though one of the nation's smallest national parks, Acadia ranks second in the country in terms of visitors per square foot. That's probably because it's one of the few national parks on the East Coast, and within driving distance of New York. It takes a good seven hours to get there, but once you cross the bridge into this scenic panoply of mountains, oceans, lakes and towns, you'll be glad you came.

There's a lot to do in Acadia's 35,000 acres and in the areas between, beyond and above the park-which I learned when I went gliding, sea kayaking and camping in the vicinity of Acadia.

The highlight of my three days there was still in the park itself-a morning hike up Cadillac Mountain, picking wild blueberries and stopping to marvel at the scenery along the way-but I found a whole host of other delightful ways to spend my time at this most unusual of national parks.

One morning, I went to the Bar Harbor Airport to get a bird's-eye view of Acadia and its environs in a glider, an engineless plane that stays in the heavens on air currents alone-and the grace of God.

Seated behind the pilot from Island Soaring Glider Rides (Tel. 207 667-7627, or online at www.acadiamagic.com/airport.html), I was towed behind another plane into the air before the cord was cut at about 2,000 feet. Then it was just me and the pilot gliding silently above a spectacular vista of mountains, islands, archipelagos and coastline. We turned this way and that, the pilot explaining what we were seeing, before we pointed the nose downward and cruised to a smooth landing right where we began.



The next day I found myself in one of the same places I had spotted from on high, during a sea kayaking excursion courtesy of Maine State Sea Kayak (Tel. 1-877-481-9500, or online at www.mainestatekayak.com). After a quick crash course on how not to crash and how to steer one's way through the swift Atlantic currents, my companion and I pushed off amid the seagulls chanting, "Left, right! Left, right!" as we maneuvered our way out into the open sea. Along the way, we learned about the wildlife, toured a salmon farm in the ocean and oohed and aahed at the porpoises playing around us. We beached at an island for a quick snack-and much-needed bathroom breaks-and then paddled our way back to the main Maine shore in an exhausting and exhilarating race.

Muscles aching, my friend and I went for a walk along Southwest Harbor's Main Street, wandering in and out of bookstores and ice cream shops before heading to our campsite at Mount Desert Island's edge for an evening barbeque and well-needed rest before another strenuous day. We chose the Bass Harbor Campground (Tel. 1-800-327-5857, or online at www.bassharbor.com) both because of its quiet and proximity to the water. At night, we took a 10-minute moonlit walk to a historic lighthouse on the beach, listening to the waves crash on the rocks below.

Though we chose to rough it in the woods, Bass Harbor is a family-friendly place with modern amenities. It has wireless internet access, a swimming pool, RV hookups, and heated bathrooms and showers. All I was looking for was a good night's rest among the quiet pines in my cozy sleeping bag and tent-which I found among the chirping crickets and the thundering sound of somebody snoring in the next tent.



The following day, after another hike, a frigid swim in Echo Lake and meandering through the town of Bar Harbor, I would hear quite another type of thundering: the sound of waves crashing against the rock cliffs I was trying to climb while tied to a harness and being cheered on by my climbing guide, John Tierney.

My intrepid companion and I decided to go rock climbing, and John, from Acadia Mountain Guides Climbing School (Tel. 207 288-8186, or online at www.acadiamountainguides.com) was giving us a little introduction on a 25-foot precipice on the Atlantic Ocean.

With the waves lapping at my climbing shoes, I put hand over fist and pulled my way up the cliff, harnessed safely to my friend, who coached me from above. With a whisper and a prayer, I made it to the top, unharnessed myself, and sent my friend down in my place. We ended our heady climb without a scratch-though we did suffer a blister or two.

After a quick stop at Acadia's famed Thunder Hole-named for the sound the hole in the rocks make when the waves crash through it at high tide-we climbed back in the car and headed home.