by Jennifer Merin
New York Post,
New York, New York
September 9, 2003

Contrary to popular belief, not all of Vermont is white clapboard churches and empty back roads. Right at its southern border sits a laid-back, very groovy slice of old Vermont where 19th-century buildings of brick and wrought iron house art-filled shops, vintage clothes and excellent restaurants.

Built on the banks of the Connecticut River, this once hopping manufacturing town is still a state hub - featuring, of course, a marina and gorgeous covered bridge. It lies just minutes from a patchwork of forests, fields and dairy farms. So if your perfect weekend includes a look at fall foliage, this could be your town.

One great thing about Brattleboro is that you don't need a car. Amtrak's Vermonter leaves Penn Station at 11 a.m., arriving at Brattleboro's historic Union Station at 4:25 p.m. ($114 roundtrip, 800-872-7245; www.amtrak.com

The station is in the heart of town and near good accommodations: Latchis, in a 1938 art deco building, has 30 comfortable (if not exactly ritzy) rooms, a movie theater (with first-run films) and a restaurant with home-brewed beer (doubles from $65 per night)

The only guest suite at The Artist's Loft B&B and Gallery, on the top floor of an 1861 Italianate Revival building, features sweeping views of the river and Wantastiquet Mountain, NH. Artist-owner William Hays sells his canvases of bucolic Brattleboro in the gallery (doubles from $138, 103 Main Street, 802-257-5181).

Stroll the five blocks of Main and High Streets (some more charming than others), where you'll find a dozen art galleries, five cool book shops and several fine eateries, all centered around Brooks House, a downtown landmark and now an apartment building and commercial space.

When shopping, you get quantity as well as quality. Vermont Artisan Designs represents 350 Vermont craftspeople, including glass blowers, knitters and jewelry makers (106 Main St.). The 150 dealers at Twice Upon a Time offer collectibles and vitange clothing (63 Main St.).

If you'd rather read than shop, peruse the warren of shelves at Collected Works Bookstore, which also features Cafe Lotus for a pick-me-up of coffee and sweets (29 High St.).

Becuase this is Vermont and the great outdoors is just minutes from town, stop in at Sam's Outdoor Outfitters, a renowned sporting goods shop (74 Main St.).

Ready for dinner? Get serious eats in an informal atmosphere at Top of the Hill Grill, where the kitchen - a converted railroad car - cooks up hickory smoked pulled pork, ribs, homemade cornbread and slaw (632 Putney Road).

On the first Friday of the month, many of Brattleboro's 12,000 citizens enjoy Gallery Walk. From 5:30 to 8:30 galleries welcome browsers with cider and platters of cheese and fruit.

Get your protien at Back Side Cafe, where locals chat over excellent morning fare (26 High St., enter from Harmony parking lot).

Next, check out some of the Brattleboro Historical Society's sites around town, including the Estey Organ Co. - once the town's largest manufacturer - and the lovely Wells Fountain.

Mosey back to Union Station, also home to the Brattelboro Museum and Art Center, which shows innovative works (10 Vernon St.).

Sit, eat, be happy. Try River View Cafe, across the street from the museum, and get ready for an afternoon of foliage immersion on the Belle of Brattelboro, a flat-bottomed riverboat. It offeres a relaxing ride along with a narrated tour on the Connecticut River ($10, Marina Restaurant parking lot, (802) 254-1263)

Or paddle the river in a rented kayak or canoe from Vermont Canoe Touring Center ($10 per hour, $25 for five, 451 Putney Road, (802) 257-5008).

At dinner time, seek sustenance in casual elegance at Max's for a fusion of Italian and American cuisines (1052 Western Aven.), or at Shin-La for excellent Korean cookery and sushi (57 Main St.). Later, the Vermont Jazz Center swings (74 Cotton Hill Hill, (802) 257-0682).

Before Amtrak's Vermonter leaves Union Station at 2:45 p.m., stop in at the Brattleboro Food Coo-op (2 Main St.). It has an extraordinary range of natural and organic products, including wonderful Vermont cheddars and 500 cheeses from 44 countries, so stock up for the ride home.

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