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Three to Six Hours in Newport, Vermont’s North Coast

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Published July 3, 2024 at 10:00 a.m.


Lake Memphremagog - HANNAH FEUER
  • Hannah Feuer
  • Lake Memphremagog

Despite its setting on the shores of Lake Memphremagog, Newport is not known as a tourist destination. Vermont's northernmost city is often overshadowed by the nearby Jay Peak Resort, which attracts skiers from both sides of the border. People usually have a good reason (such as a once-in-a-lifetime total solar eclipse) to visit the state's second-smallest city by population.

Once a bustling lumber port, the city of fewer than 5,000 residents has struggled since the industry's decline — a large lumber firm, Prouty & Miller, closed in the late 1980s. In 2015, a group of investors promised Newport an ambitious economic revitalization plan, including the construction of a conference center, hotel and biotech facility. Those hopes were dashed in 2016, when the investors were convicted of crimes related to an EB-5 investment scheme, the largest financial fraud in Vermont history. The failed venture is still painfully visible in the form of a large vacant lot in the middle of downtown.

St. Mary Star of the Sea - HANNAH FEUER
  • Hannah Feuer
  • St. Mary Star of the Sea

But the city offers more than meets the eye. "Newport is Vermont's best-kept secret," said Adam Dobler, program director of Northern Star Cruises on Lake Memphremagog. Its modest size notwithstanding, the area has all the ingredients for a quintessential Vermont summer getaway: a lake for water sports, dense forests with trails for hiking and mountain biking, and a small but vibrant downtown.

The city's proximity to Québec lends it an international vibe, reflected in bilingual signage and the twin spires of St. Mary Star of the Sea, a church in the French Canadian style, overlooking downtown. Venture far enough out on Lake Memphremagog, and you'll spot a break in the shore's tree line at the 45th parallel, a visible marker of the U.S.-Canadian border. Every summer, open-water swimmers flock to the lake for the Kingdom Swim (on July 27 this year), a "border buster" event during which they can swim across the divide — no passport required.

As the water is Newport's main attraction, this season is the ideal time to visit. Here's an itinerary for exploring, three to six hours at a time.

9 a.m. to noon

Newport Farmers Market - HANNAH FEUER
  • Hannah Feuer
  • Newport Farmers Market

Start your day at the Brown Cow, a breakfast and brunch spot with an Americana diner feel. A local favorite is the Cow Plop, two scrambled eggs topped with home fries and sausage gravy, served with a biscuit. While this itinerary technically begins at 9 a.m., hard-core early risers can eat at the Brown Cow as early as 5:30 a.m. Who's up and about that early? According to owner Erica Gray, a group of about seven retirees who faithfully arrive every day at that hour.

For a quicker bite, head to West Side Market & Deli to munch on a breakfast sandwich or freshly baked doughnut. Don't be fooled by the unassuming storefront — this little mom-and-pop store won local news station FOX 44's 2020 contest for the finest doughnut in the region. The buttermilk old-fashioned is exactly as it should be: crispy on the outside, pillowy soft on the inside. Be sure to stop in before 10:30 a.m. to get the doughnuts still warm, fresh out of the fryer.

West Side Market & Deli breakfast sandwiches - HANNAH FEUER
  • Hannah Feuer
  • West Side Market & Deli breakfast sandwiches

If you're in town on a Wednesday or Saturday, head to the Newport Farmers Market for a sampling of local crafts, produce and specialty foods. The market epitomizes "farm fresh": When a man browsing Breezy Hill Acres' stand inquired about the freshness of the spinach, vendor Judy Szych replied that her husband had picked it that morning.

Next, get some exercise by biking the Beebe Spur Rail Trail, a four-mile gravel path that offers continuous views of Lake Memphremagog. HGTV fans will also appreciate the scenery on the opposite side of the path: luxurious lakefront properties dotting the shoreline, complete with private beaches and "no trespassing" signs. Rent a bike and cycle from the Great Outdoors store downtown, or load your bike into your car and park at North Country Hospital, which has a dedicated parking area for bikers. Don't forget to bring your passport: A 1.5-mile detour will take you to a border crossing, where you can continue your ride along the Tomifobia Nature Trail in Québec.

Noon to 6 p.m.

The Pick & Shovel - HANNAH FEUER
  • Hannah Feuer
  • The Pick & Shovel

Start your afternoon by indulging in retail therapy at the Pick & Shovel, a roughly 50,000-square-foot superstore offering everything from kids' toys to maple sugaring equipment. You can even get a pet: Animals for sale include guinea pigs and goldfish, ferrets and frogs. Amazingly, this Costco-like establishment is locally owned and operated: Brothers Chris and Greg Hamblett represent the third generation of family ownership. What started as a 1,000-square-foot hardware store in 1975 now spans 20 lots.

The impressive range of goods includes a wall-to-wall selection of shovels. "If we do something, we really do it," Chris said of the seemingly infinite inventory. Navigating the aisles of the Pick & Shovel can be an adventure in itself. During our conversation, Chris was interrupted several times by customers seeking directions. The store lives up to its motto: "If we don't have it, you don't need it."

Next, visit Goodrich Memorial Library, a Romanesque-style building constructed in 1899. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the building feels more like a museum than a public library. Step inside to admire stained-glass windows and ornate fireplaces. Upstairs, view a collection of taxidermy animals, including an eagle and an alligator, and antique items such as a telephone switchboard and an Ediphone, a sound-recording device invented by Thomas Edison in the early 1900s.

For lunch, head to Dusit Thai Cuisine for a taste of Bangkok, the hometown of married co-owners Jintana "Jinny" Thananusak and Panadda "Exzy" Saengsiri. Savor Thai classics such as drunken noodles and coconut curry, or try the sushi, made fresh daily. Wash down your meal with a creamy Thai iced tea made with sweetened condensed milk.

Artist Iso Marks at the MAC Center for the Arts - HANNAH FEUER
  • Hannah Feuer
  • Artist Iso Marks at the MAC Center for the Arts

Then walk next door to MAC Center for the Arts, a nonprofit arts collaborative featuring work from roughly 60 artists, each accepted through an application process and evaluated by a seven-member jury. Among the local artists who contribute unique pieces are John Young, a piano tuner who makes bowls and charcuterie boards out of recycled pianos; and Bill Peck, a retired ob-gyn who crafts walking sticks from the trees in his backyard.

A trip to Newport would not be complete without an excursion on the lake. Hop aboard the Northern Star, a 49-passenger ship with cruises run by the nonprofit Memphremagog Community Maritime. You can choose among scenic tours that highlight local history, culinary trips serving dinner or Sunday brunch, and a four-hour "international long-distance Canadian cruise" across the lake. As no docking is involved, there's no need for a passport. The cruise is great for kids, too: Capt. Robbie Cannon offers children (and enthusiastic reporters) the chance to steer the boat.

Capt. Robbie Cannon of Northern Star Cruises - HANNAH FEUER
  • Hannah Feuer
  • Capt. Robbie Cannon of Northern Star Cruises

If you're lucky, you might catch a glimpse of something otherworldly. Just as the lake monster Champ reportedly resides in Lake Champlain, Memphremagog has its own legendary dweller: Memphre, who is said to resemble the Loch Ness monster. Not everyone is lucky enough to see him, though; according to Dobler, Memphre is invisible to everyone but "natural-born Vermonters."

When the boat docks, it's time for predinner drinks at the Northeast Kingdom Tasting Center. The indoor market offers a pub, bakery, and cider and spirits tasting bar. Witness the cidermaking process firsthand in the basement, then indulge in a $12 flight from Eden Ciders. It's a true taste of the Northeast Kingdom: The cidery grows its apples at an orchard in West Charleston, just 10 miles away.

6 p.m. to midnight

Jasper's Tavern - HANNAH FEUER
  • Hannah Feuer
  • Jasper's Tavern

For dinner, head to the East Side Restaurant & Pub, located right on the water. A table on the outdoor deck affords the best lake views. The menu spans fine dining and comfort food, from the $32 surf and turf to the $15 burger. If you have time to linger, it's worth staying for sunset.

But don't stay too long, because if you want to eat like a local, you'll need time for dessert back at the Pick & Shovel. In all likelihood, you'll have to wait in line for a scoop at Tim & Doug's Ice Cream, the superstore's seasonal stand. During the summer, the throngs of customers waiting their turn transform the store's parking lot into a gathering spot. The business prides itself on serving generous portions for fair prices. Indeed, my creemee with rainbow sprinkles for $3.65 was heaped high for a "small."

If you haven't collapsed into a food coma, you can unwind at Jasper's Tavern, a retro-style bar tucked in an alley. Beyond drinks, it offers a dance floor with disco lights, jukebox, pool table, dartboard, pinball machine and the arcade game Big Buck Hunter. Surveying the bumping dance floor, you may find Newport momentarily feeling larger than it actually is.

If you go

The original print version of this article was headlined "Lake Leisure | Three to six hours in Newport, Vermont's north coast"

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