Valentine's Day is this Saturday, February 14, and one way you can counter the at-times-too-commercial aspect of the holiday is by spreading the love locally. In The Valley, there are numerous specialty shops at which you can pick up a gift to surprise your significant other, and come dinnertime, area restaurants will serve up delicious fare to two-person tables. But the romantic date options don't stop there.
This February, The Valley Reporter has put together a list of Valentine's Day activities that includes snowshoeing, sampling spirits and cuddling up in front of a fire. They can be done for free, for a little bit of money or as a little bit of a splurge. They can be done with your partner, with your friends or with your dog.
Contrary to what some non-Valley dwellers may think, sledding is not just for kids. The best Valentine's Day dates include a little adrenaline-fueled activity and speeding down the steepest paved mile in the country on a piece of plastic can provide just that.
The top of Lincoln Gap Road is closed during the winter, allowing snow to pile up on its surface. For a fun afternoon outing, drive to the top of the road, which is located just south of the entrance to Warren Village off of Route 100, and park at the gates. Hike up the hill, sled in hand, and hoot and holler on the ride down. Caution: Lincoln Gap Road is steep and windy. Sleds with steering capabilities, ski helmets and goggles are highly recommended.
Quiet, snowy woods provide a romantic backdrop for a snowshoe with your partner on Valentine's Day, especially if the woods are filled with magic. The Enchanted Forest, a cluster of tall pine trees with short, scrubby undergrowth, is beautiful in the winter, when all of the branches are caked in white and the light reflects off of every surface.
The Enchanted Forest is accessible via trails in the Howe Block of Camel's Hump State Forest in Fayston. To get there, drive about 1.3 miles up Tucker Hill Road (off of Route 17) to a small parking lot on the left-hand side of the road marked with a wooden sign. Strap on your snowshoes and hike out across the snowy field and through the woods. Where the trail splits left after about a mile, take the right-hand fork downhill into The Enchanted Forest.
Go backcountry skiing
Valentine's Day provides the perfect opportunity to take advantage of the Catamount Trail, a backcountry skiing and snowshoeing route that traverses the state of Vermont and happens to pass right through The Valley.
This weekend, get out your cross-country skis and slide around on all of the new snow that's fallen in the past two weeks. Going uphill will allow you to work up a sweat and will make decadent, post-ski dinners all the more satisfying, and going downhill is always a bonding experience, as you and your partner are both likely to take a tumble or two.
For a more challenging, wooded Catamount Trail experience, head to the Phen Basin Wilderness in Fayston, where a sometimes steep and winding path will take skiers up into beaver territory. For a more relaxed and rolling outing, check out the part of trail that traverses the Sugarbush Golf Club in Fayston. For a detailed, section-by-section map of the Catamount Trail, visit catamounttrail.org.
In the spirit of sliding around and sometimes falling, take your significant other out to Skatium, where you can hold hands while circling Waitsfield's outdoor ice skating rink. Skatium stays open and lit until 8 p.m. on Saturdays, making it a fun way to get outside even after the sun has gone down.
Skatium is located on Slow Road (off of Route 100) next to Shaw's Supermarket. To check ice conditions before you come, call (802) 496-8845 or visit the rink's Facebook page at facebook.com/skatium.
Go to the movies
Dinner and a movie is not a new date idea, but at Big Picture Theater in Waitsfield, it's a lot more romantic. This Valentine's Day, instead of staying separated by an armrest, you and your partner can attempt to squeeze into one of Big Picture's oversized armchairs while watching the latest out of Hollywood.
Big Picture Theater is located on Carroll Road (just off of Route 100). For more information about movies and show times, visit their website at bigpicturetheater.info.
Go sample some spirits
Whether you're a visitor to The Valley or a longtime local, a visit to the Mad River Distillers tasting room offers an opportunity to try something new. Earlier this year, the Warren-based distiller opened up shop in Waitsfield, right at the intersection of Route 100 and Route 17.
This weekend, couples can visit the tasting room to sample Mad River Distillers' spirits such as First Run Rum and Maple Whiskey before purchasing a bottle to take home and drink in front of the woodstove later that evening. Also just in time for the romantic holiday, the distillery has partnered with local purveyor of sweets, Quayl's Chocolates, to make a truffle featuring their rum. It's available for purchase at the tasting room, which is open Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 6 p.m.
Go get a drink in front of a fire
While many who live in The Valley are lucky enough to have a fireplace or woodstove to curl up in front of during the winter, some do not. This Valentine's Day, couples in fireless homes or lodges can find crackling flames at several local establishments.
This weekend, treat your significant other to a hot toddy or cold beer in front of the fire at Tracks, the cozy downstairs lounge at The Pitcher Inn in Warren. Also in Warren, the open-barn dining room at The Common Man restaurant features a fireplace, as does Hyde Away Inn and Tavern and Mad River Barn in Fayston. Just down the road in Waitsfield, couples can snag a fireside seat at The Elusive Moose, and while it's not technically a fireplace, the wood-fired oven at American Flatbread provides plenty of warmth and atmosphere for diners at the Waitsfield pizza restaurant.
Go grocery shopping
Having a romantic night out might be the most common thing for couples to do on Valentine's Day, but for those looking to enjoy a meal for two in the comfort of their own home, The Valley offers plenty of specialty food shops to help make it more than just another Saturday.
This weekend, grab your partner and go to the Bridge Street Butchery in Waitsfield to pick out a beautiful steak, swordfish or house-made sausage to cook up together. Likewise, vegans and vegetarians can find plenty of non-meat entrée options at Sweet Pea Natural Market and Café in Waitsfield. Mix Cupcakerie in Waitsfield sells house-made soups and desserts to complement the main course, and The Warren Store and East Warren Community Market in Warren offer sides featuring plenty of local, organic ingredients. And don't forget Mehuron's – their cheese selection is amazing. Shaw's, too, can be counted on for great deals.
Go to an art gallery
Couples looking for a little culture this weekend should check out one of The Valley's many art galleries, which feature rotating exhibits from local artists and craftsmen as well as works from creators across the country.
Right now, the exhibit at the Festival Gallery in Waitsfield features work by The Valley's own Mad River Rug Hookers, and paintings by local artist Gary Eckhart are currently on display at Three Mountain Cafe in Waitsfield. Valentine's Day is the last day to check out the Roundup Ready Art Parade, an art show about genetically modified organisms and the broken food system, which is currently on display at Village Square in Waitsfield.