Let me start off by providing some context about myself and family. We come to Manchester, Vermont for weekends and holidays during the winter as we live in Westchester County, NY. I’ve been coming up here ever since college and now with young children (6, 4), we are increasing our frequency. This post should answer lots of questions that I normally receive about this Manchester – restaurants, food, skiing, lodging, etc. Hope it helps you!
Manchester is about 3 1/4 to 3 1/2 hours from our home in Westchester County. We take the Taconic straight to 90 and then up Vermont 7. Very simple and straight forward drive – though via the Taconic there are no rest-stops. If you have children who like to stretch their legs or have issues holding their bladder, the i87 might be a better route to select.
What I like most about the drive is that it’s fairly peaceful. There aren’t a ton of buildings or homes along the highway so you pretty much get a ton of foliage and mountain views. The Taconic is known for it’s law enforcement presence so I recommend downloading Waze on your mobile device and watching for/logging the police presence. This is by no means perfect – but it has helped me a couple of times when I didn’t expect a police officer to be present and I was driving a couple of miles above the speed limit.
We typically stay in the town of Manchester, VT. There are many bordering towns but we prefer it here because of its proximity to pretty much everything – shopping, restaurants, grocery stores, etc. Manchester is not the most remote of towns because of this – so if you are looking for a completely remote escape, then check a town or two over.
If you are coming up in the Winter, then chances are pretty good that you like to ski or board. You’ve got three immediate options for skiing – Bromley, Stratton and Magic Mountain. From our home in Manchester, Bromley is 15 minutes and Stratton & Magic are 25 . All are super accessible and on most days, you can see all three from each resort. Okemo, Mt. Snow, and Killington are also relatively close but take more like 50, 60, and 75 mins respectively from Manchester. Having all of these mountains close is a major plus, IMHO. If you are up here for a week or so, you can have variety in the mountains you ski. You are not stuck at any one mountain and can get to plenty of good mountains centrally from Manchester.
My wife and I love staying at The Reluctant Panther when traveling sans children which is self proclaimed as a fine luxury small hotel. They have one of my favorite rooms which features a fireplace in the middle of the room. Next door to The Reluctant Panther (just west of it) is The Equinox Hotel – probably the most famous of all here. The Equinox is a mini-city in itself with condos, the hotel, different schools (Falconry, Land Rover Driving Experience, etc) and is a big draw. My wife and I have never had a good experience with The Equinox when we’ve stayed in the past so we prefer to stay elsewhere… but many friends have stayed there and enjoy it.
We have children now so we’ve been renting homes. We’ve rented everything from 1800 sq. foot barns to 5500 sq. foot luxury homes. This season, we rented on the larger side as we’ve been up a lot and had friends and family join us up here. We’ve had a ton of luck with VRBO and Airbnb. Mid-size modern homes rent from $650-1500 per night which might seem like a lot but divide the amount of bedrooms of the home and you can figure out what the approximate hotel room rate would be.
Just driving around Manchester this winter, we’ve found a ton of homes for sale – and many of these homes need updating. If you are like us and into the modern or contemporary modern aesthetic – there are few selections to pick from. If you are looking for a home to purchase and like the traditional Vermont look… then this is certainly a buyers market.
There are two main grocery stores in Manchester: Price Chopper and Shaw’s. Both are perfectly fine – I believe the Shaw’s is a bit bigger than the Price Chopper. My children like the Red Box movie/game dispenser at the Shaw’s which allows us to rent a film by the day for a very low price. We usually eat breakfast at home on ski days and bring some snacks for the lodge. This is where the grocery stores come in handy and we stock up for the weekend or week whenever we come up. (Dad pro tip: Let the kids pick the cereal)
We enjoy a consistent set of restaurants – but note, restaurants can be super crowded during holiday times and I highly recommend you make reservations months in advance. It’s always easy to change reservations but it’s hard to make them in a time crunch. Some of the restaurants here are on OpenTable… but not all. Restaurants are a most booked during Christmas Week and New Years.
We bring our children to all of the below restaurants. We don’t have a nanny or babysitter up here so the kids accompany us virtually everywhere… so family friendly for the most part. Here are our regular places:
- Mulligans – bar/pub food. Very solid and low key. Lunch + Dinner.
- The Perfect Wife – *exception to no kids. Most upscale of all. Fancy menu, but good. Dinner.
- The Other Woman – the tavern next to The Perfect Wife (same owners). Kids love it. We love it and always come. Dinner.
- Brasserie L’Oustau – excellent french brasserie. On the fancy side. Not overly kid friendly but we certainly take them here. In the location of one of our previously favorite restaurants, Laneys. Dinner.
- Firetower Restaurant – at Stratton Mountain. Eclectic menu but solid. Kids welcome. Bar scene too. Dinner.
- Up for Breakfast – one of our favorite spots for breakfast. Cash & check only. Fills up quickly and is small.
- Nippers Cafe – at the Stamford Motel – don’t let looks throw you off. Had great dinner and breakfast here. Breakfast/Dinner.
- Bobs Diner – it’s exactly how it looks and sounds. Super old school diner that does what it needs to do. A lot of food and a tiny bit of grease. On way to Bromley/Stratton/Magic so makes it easy to stop in before a long ski day.
- Jake’s Cafe & Tavern – located in Londonderry. Best nachos we’ve had in town. Super well priced. Kid friendly. Breakfast and Dinner.
- The Reluctant Panther Inn Dining Room – *not ideal for kids (if they even allow). One of the more formal dining rooms but great food. Good for date night and if you are staying at the inn.
- Cilantro – It’s a local version of Chipotle – but solid. Braised beef is amazing. Super kid friendly. In the heart of Manchester but also a small hut close to Bromley and Stratton.
- Spiral Press Cafe – it’s not just a coffee shop! The soups and sandwiches/panninis are really good and it’s a super comfortable atmosphere.
- Maplefields – looks like a gas station, which it is… but go inside and find the varieties of coffee and freshly baked goods. Delicious. Perfect for a recharge or snack on the way to the mountains.
If you like ice cream, make sure to stop by the local Stewarts gas stations. Yes, gas stations. The ice cream bar is phenomenal and Stewarts has been long known for their ice cream.
We love Bromley, the sun mountain, the only mountain in the area that faces the sun most of the day. Trust me – the sun feels good when its beating down. Bromley isn’t the biggest, isn’t the most vertical, isn’t the most plush, nor the highest rated. Bromley is Bromley and that’s what we love about it. Bromley is a bit more laid back and chill than Stratton and isn’t about “the scene.” Bromley has a great lodge – and by great – simple and old school. It probably could use a renovation but then it would lose it’s old school aura which is what makes it special. The food in the lodge is mediocre-lodge-expensive as you could imagine (I think a coffee is $3) but it is what it is. The mountain is divided approximately 30/30/30 between green, blue and black trails and has one high speed quad to the summit (from the base). There are lift lines during holidays but the lines tend to be in the afternoons. Pro tip: use the singles line as much as you can in order to get the most amount of runs in.
Snowboarding is allowed (and taught) at Bromley but apparently it’s decreasing in popularity. I was riding up with an instructor recently and he mentioned that the glade skiing and side-mountain skiing is of the rage. Bromley supports this and apparently has a ton of terrain that’s set aside.
The ski instruction at Bromley is really good. Our kids never skied before this season and my son is now on blue trails and my daughter is doing well on the magic carpet. We gave our kids private lessons pretty much each day we were up here this season – a luxury we could afford – but gets pricey. If you get a chance, request Harold Meehan for your children. He’s been incredible to us and we’ve spent a ton of time with him this season and our children really adore him.
One of the recent additions to Bromley which appeal to us is the valet. We buy a seasons pass as we use it often – but pretty much each weekend and holiday week – you drive up to the front and drop off your car. The attendants (Alec and co) help take the skis out of the car and really make life easier. Highly recommended. I think it’s $25/day if you don’t have season passes.
I don’t ski, what else is there to do?
You’re in luck. Manchester has a ton of outlet shopping (not sure if you get good deals but my wife thinks so) and even has a small movie theater (Village Picture Show) with two screens. The Northshire Bookstore is the oldest bookstore in the north east and is a great place to also take children. If you are into the spa thing, check out the Equinox and other large inns. You could also go ice skating, snow shoeing, and snow mobiling. I mentioned the Land Rover Driving Experience above and that’s something I love doing with family and friends who come up – no matter the weather conditions.
The larger movie theater and bowling alley are in Bennington which is a 30 minute drive from Manchester. On rest-days or foul weather days these come in super handy.
It’s a Magical Place
We love it up here – and what I’ve written here only cracks the surface. We’re still exploring new places to eat and play throughout the region. If you’re heading up – let us know, maybe we’ll be here and can grab some Magic Hat #9 together.