The Pastoral Isles of Lake Champlain

The Pastoral Isles of Lake Champlain

There is a charming life to be found off American coasts and within its lakes. Half way between Montreal and Burlington, Vermont, Lake Champlain Islands is a perfect example of this. Five islands - South Hero, Grand Isle, North Hero, Alburg and Isle La Motte comprise this elongated archipelago. Filled with history and legend, the islands are an outdoor lover's paradise, with parks, trails, beaches and farms.

Connected by bridges, causeways, and roads, the Champlain Islands are linked primarily by a rich history. There is a stark beauty in these low, open islands against the lake, which is sometimes placid and blue and sometimes a dull, wind-whipped gray flecked with frothy white foam. The waters swirling around the Champlain Islands can be deep–up to 400 feet in some places, deeper than a regulation football field is long.

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Lake Champlain was named after the French explorer Samuel de Champlain. He is said to have first set foot in Isle La Motte, Vermont (and encamped) in 1609. But the Abenaki and Mohican Indian tribes, among others, inhabited the area long before Samuel de Champlain set foot on Isle La Motte, the site of Vermont's first European settlement.

That's just recent history. On Isle La Motte, you can examine outcroppings of the 480-million-year-old Chazy Fossil Reef, formed from the calciferous remains of ancient sea creatures.

St. Anne's Shrine on Isle La Motte marks the site where, in 1665, French soldiers and Jesuits put ashore and built a fort, creating Vermont's first European settlement. The state's first Roman Catholic Mass was celebrated here on July 26, 1666.

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Jewels within the nation's sixth largest lake, the Lake Champlain Islands are popular with oenophiles, cyclists and those seeking a charmingly slower pace. Referred to simply as "the Islands," they beckon with gorgeous views, cultural heritage and natural history as well as thriving arts and agricultural communities.

The largest town in the Islands with a population of 2,000, Grand Isle is 35 minutes north of Burlington and a quick ferry ride from Plattsburgh, New York. In Grand Isle, the Hyde Log Cabin, built in 1783, is one of the nation's oldest remaining log cabins.

Vermont's first vineyard was started in South Hero in 1996; today, the winery specializes in nontraditional botanical hybrid grapes designed to withstand the local climate. Take a self-guided tour and sip some samples in the tasting room—dessert wines are their strong suit.

Under blue sky and fluffy clouds, water sparkles on either side of the causeway to Isle La Motte. This least inhabited of the Champlain Islands is favored by cyclists–though all of the islands abound in quiet roads, farms, and fields to the horizon. You're never far from the lake, with views that make it hard to keep your eyes on the road. The Rutland Railroad ran through the Islands until the 1950's; the remaining causeway has been turned into a world-class bike trail called The Island Line.

The gently undulating landscape is known for its apple orchards, and has the longest growing season in the state thanks to the temperate climate. Many orchards have been in the same family for generations and grow many varieties of apples. Pick your own at harvest time and even meet some of their friendly farm animals.

With 200 miles of shoreline to explore and enjoy, the Islands are a prized summer and fall vacation destination, as well as an ice-fishing and snowmobile enthusiasts' winter retreat. On a clear night, take time to enjoy the reflection of stars glimmering on the water. You may even see the Northern Lights from these shores.

Relax and enjoy everything these magical islands have to offer. As well as the great outdoors, rent your own vacation home for all the space that brings. The islands await.

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