Rutland is a no-nonsense, blue-collar city that never had a reputation for charm. Today, it's undergoing a low-grade renaissance, attracting a small clutch of new residents who enjoy the small-city atmosphere, free summer outdoor concerts, cheaper real estate, and quick access to the mountains -- Killington is just minutes away. But this place remains working-class at heart, and it probably always will.

Set in the wide valley flanking Otter Creek, Rutland was built on the once-proud local marble trade, which operated out of bustling quarries in nearby Proctor and West Rutland. By 1880, Rutland boasted more residents than Burlington and had acquired the distinguished appellation of "Marble City." Many fine homes from this era still line downtown streets, and the intricate commercial architecture -- which naturally incorporates a fair amount of marble -- hints at its former prosperity, even if that prosperity is not always obvious today.

Rutland also remains the regional hub for central Vermont, with a long line of big-box stores, fast-food chain restaurant, and businesses stretched out along busy Route 7 both north and south of downtown. (The local airport is nearby, too.) At times, the downtown comes perilously close to looking like one big (and outdated) strip mall. That said, Rutland still has the feel of a real place with real Vermont people, a good antidote for anyone who has spent too much time trapped in cuckoo-clock shops and lift lines.