Warren: 3 miles S of Waitsfield; 205 miles NW of Boston; 43 miles SE of Burlington

The scenic Mad River Valley, one of Vermont's better-kept secrets, surrounds the towns of Warren and Waitsfield. It has a bit of a Shangri-La quality; in places, little seems to have changed since the valley was settled in 1789 by Gen. Benjamin Wait and a handful of Revolutionary War veterans, including a half-dozen said to have served as Minutemen at the battles of Concord Bridge and Lexington.

Since 1948, ski-related development has competed with early farms that had been the backbone of the region for 2 centuries -- but the newcomers haven't been too pushy or overly obnoxious, at least so far. Save for a couple of telltale signs, you could drive Route 100 through the sleepy villages of Warren and Waitsfield and never realize you're close to some of the choicest skiing in the state. The region hasn't fallen prey (yet) to unbridled condo or strip-mall development, and the valley seems to have learned from the overdevelopment that afflicts such ski resort areas as Mount Snow and Killington. Even the Mad River Green, a tidy strip mall on Route 100 just north of Route 17, is disguised as an old barn; it's scarcely noticeable from the main road. Some veteran Vermont travelers say approvingly that the valley today looks much like the Stowe of 30 years ago did.

The region's character becomes less pastoral along the access road to the Sugarbush ski resort, but even there development isn't too heavily concentrated. The best lodges and restaurants tend to be tucked into the forest or set along streams; make sure you have good directions before setting out in search of accommodations or food, and try not to do so at night unless necessary -- most of these roads do not come with streetlights. (That's why you're in Vermont, remember?) Hidden up a winding valley road, Mad River Glen, the area's older ski area, has a pleasantly dated quality that still eschews glitz in favor of rustic charms. It's many Vermonters' favorite ski hill for that reason.