Stowe: 10 miles N of Waterbury; 35 miles E of Burlington; 75 miles NE of White River Junction

Stowe is a wonderful destination in summer, fall, or winter. One of Vermont's first winter destination areas, it has managed the decades-long juggernaut of growth with patience. Condo developments and strip mall-style restaurants have arrived, to be sure, but the village has mostly preserved its essential character and balance -- including an old-fashioned main street and great views of surrounding mountains and across the farmlands of the valley floor. Thanks to its history and charm, this area tends to attract a more affluent clientele than, say, Killington or Okemo.

Downtown Stowe is quaint and compact, home to what may be Vermont's most gracefully tapered church spire (atop the Stowe Community Church). Because the ski hill is a few miles away from the village, there's actual life here year-round (in other words, the town doesn't suffer that woebegone emptiness many ski villages do in summer). You can actually explore it on foot or by bike, which isn't the case at places that have developed around large parking lots and condo clusters.

Tucked into the roads leading to the mountain are an amazing variety of lodging and restaurants. Stowe offers more choice than you'd expect. Most of this growth has taken place along Mountain Road (Rte. 108), which runs northwest from the village to the base of Mount Mansfield and the Stowe ski resort. Here you'll find an array of motels, restaurants, shops, bars, and even a three-screen cinema, many of which are carefully designed or at least tastefully tucked out of view of the main road; this road has all the convenience of a strip mall, but little of the scenic blight. The chief complaint about Mountain Road is traffic, which invariably backs up at day's end in winter and on foliage weekends, making a trip into the village an interesting experiment in blood-pressure management. Fortunately, a free trolley bus connects the village with the mountain during ski season; even if your car gets snowed in, you can kick back and enjoy the weekend.

And Stowe, as I have said, is hardly only for the diehard skier. Mount Mansfield (Vermont's largest) is a lovely driving or hiking trip, ablaze with foliage in fall and full of plenty of rewarding vistas in summer.