The sleepy village of Putney (pop. 2,600 and holding) is like Brattleboro, only more so: Once a farming town, it's now a mixture of Old New England and New Age. (Much of this is thanks to the Putney School, a boarding school founded in 1935 whose well-bred students tend a farm when not attending classes.) The village is home to an uncommonly high number of artists and healers of various stripes, including New Age physical therapists, writing counselors, freelance social workers, and at least one drum maker. Yet there's no tension between old and new here; instead, it's infused with a sort of pleasant ennui, and while you're likely to see more dreadlocks here than in any other New England village of comparable size, there are still dairy farms, furniture makers, auto body shops, bed-and-breakfast inns, and even -- improbably -- a good joint to get barbecue ribs. This is still New England, not Sedona.
Putney's free-spirited character has a long history. In the early 19th century, the son of a congressman (and cousin of President Rutherford B. Hayes) named John Humphrey Noyes settled here with a band of followers who were called Perfectionists. For a few years, they quietly practiced not only a form of communism relating to household and property but also to an early form of free love -- though Noyes called it "complex marriage." "In a holy community there is no more reason why sexual intercourse should be restrained by the law than why eating and drinking should be," Noyes wrote. Needless to say, when word of such practices leaked out, the prim Vermonters in town were less than pleased: Noyes was arrested in 1847, and it took decades for residents to recover from the indiscretions that had been taking place right beneath their noses. The '60s and '70s brought another wave of free love through town, but today the area is mostly known for its good local cheese products, an old general store, the farm school, and one of New England's best little natural-foods stores. Lacking only a big mountain, this is a fine place to get off the highway and explore small-town Vermont for a day or two.