Tucked up in the less-traveled Northeast Kingdom, this tiny cluster of settlement along the east branch of the Passumpsic River doesn't look like much of a town -- and technically it isn't, it's one of the three villages that make up Burke. But if you count the surrounding countryside as well as the village center, this little burg has just about everything: a bevy of B&Bs, fine dining and casual eats, local brews, shopping (OK, some of it is at a sheep farm), and plenty of snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and skiing of all kinds. Nordic types ply the woods and fields of the Kingdom Trails network, used by mountain bikers in summer. Snowboarders and skiers can hit the slopes of Burke Mountain, far from the mobbed resorts along the state's central spine of the Green Mountains. Even in its three seasons when you can't ski, or, heaven forbid, a snow-starved winter, the landscape of spruce-spiked mountains and quilt-square fields rewards flatlanders with a complete change of scene. A person doesn't have to like winter here, only to like looking at it, perhaps through the window of an inn with a well-stocked pantry.
PlaySnow sports keep the area humming. Visitors can rent skis, boards, and snowshoes at East Burke Sports in the village center (Route 114, 802-626-3215 , eastburkesports.com ) or at Village Sport Shop in Lyndonville (Route 5/Broad Street, 802-626-8448, villagesportshop ).
Burke Mountain Ski Area (223 Sherburne Lodge Road, 802-626-3322, skiburke.com, full-day lift ticket $54 adults, $40 youths and seniors, $34 children ) boasts a 2,011-foot vertical drop, terrain parks, 34 trails and 11 glades..
The ski area's 50 kilometers of cross-country trails near the mountain are managed by the Kingdom Trails Association, which maintains more than 100 miles of trails crossing private land. Buy day passes ($10 adults, $5 youths and snowshoers) for all Kingdom Trails at the association's Nordic Centers on Darling Hill and Pinkham Road. The trails and relationships with 42 local landowners and businesses are managed by the nonprofit association (802-626-0737, Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.; kingdomtrails.org ).
Snowmobilers seeking trail maps can hook up with the local Driftskippers Snowmobile Club (802-626-8459), part of the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers (vtvast.org).
FuelVermont has attracted more than its share of sophisticated chefs from big cities, in part because of its strong, locally grown food movement. A farm-to-restaurant program called the Vermont Fresh Network incorporates locally grown produce and hormone-free meats. Even restaurants that aren't in the network often use organic produce and other healthy ingredients.
River Garden Cafe (427 Route 114, 802-626-3514, rivergardencafe.com ) occupies a choice streamside spot in the center of East Burke village. The cafe, whose Manhattan-refugee chefs have drawn raves from customers and critics, serves lunch ($4.50-$10.75), dinner (average entree $18), and Sunday brunch ($4.50-$7.95) .
Bailey's & Burke Cafe inside the general store serves warming lunches to eat in or take out, featuring fresh breads, homemade soups and salads, grinders, and gourmet pizzas (baileysandburke.com, $3-$12 ).
Newly opened in December, the Tamarack Grill (223 Sherburne Lodge Road, 802-626-7390, skiburke.com, entrees $17-$32 ) at Burke Mountain bills itself as a "modern American bistro" and serves contemporary regional cuisine with an extensive selection of wines .
DoWhat, no snow or no love for it? Visit Yorkshire pigs, Sicilian miniature donkeys, Holstein steers, sheep, and other critters living a gentle existence at the Mountain View Farm Animal Sanctuary ( free tours by appointment, 802-626-9924, mvfas.org). Inn owner John Pastore, a Boston cardiologist, rescued the animals from hard times and founded a nonprofit organization to help care for them.
For other options, backtrack a couple of exits down Interstate 91 to St. Johnsbury and the Stephen Huneck Art Gallery & Dog Chapel at Dog Mountain (143 Parks Road, 800-449-2580, dogmt.com, Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday 11-4 ). Huneck, a folk artist, celebrates our spiritual connection to canines in a hilltop chapel open to dogs and their people. Free admission, but bring your wallet for art and dog paraphernalia .
Or visit the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium (1302 Main St., St. Johnsbury, 802-748-2372 , fairbanksmuseum.org, museum $5 adults, $4 children and seniors, Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday 1-5, planetarium $3 everyone, winter Saturday-Sunday 1:30 ). Housing a wealthy Victorian's collections -- plant, animal, and mineral -- the museum showcases as much history as nature.
A historical enterprise in these parts is making cheese, and visitors can witness the journey from curd to cheddar brick at the Cabot cheese factory, about 15 miles west of St. Johnsbury in Cabot Village (Cabot Visitors Center, Route 215, 800-837-4261 , cabotcheese.com, $2 for visitors 12 and older, Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. in January ).
PartyWait till your flatlander friends hear you were tossing back brewskis in a former cow barn. But relaxed rusticity is the hallmark of the kingdom, after all. Transformed into a casual tavern, The Pub Outback (482 Route 114, 802-626-1188, thepuboutback.com, food $2-$19 ) serves casual après-ski snacks, burgers, and full dinners.
At Burke Mountain Ski Area, the new Pub at the Tamarack Grill offers dozens of Vermont microbrews on tap and hosts live music in a grown-up atmosphere.
Sample microbrews at the source at Trout River Brewing Co. in Lyndonville (Route 5, 802-626-9396 , troutriverbrewing.com, pizza served 5:30-8:30 p.m. ). Its locally popular beers go well with the establishment's fine pizza on Friday and Saturday nights .
Sample the local scene's live rock and country music on weekends at Phat Kats (33 Depot St., Lyndonville, 802-626-3064, $4 cover ).
RestThough the area is a magnet for outdoorsy types, several inns provide civilized comforts for armchair adventurers. The Inn at Mountain View Farm (Darling Hill Road, 800-572-4509 , innmtnview.com, single or double $155-$275 including full breakfast ), an 1880s farm estate of exceptional beauty, lies on the Kingdom Trails network and offers weekend cross-country ski packages.
In neighboring Lyndonville, the Wildflower Inn (2059 Darling Hill Road, 800-627-8310, wildflowerinn.com, rooms and suites $115-$325 including breakfast ) is a family destination par excellence. Families can ice-skate, hop on a sled, visit the petting zoo, or attend nightly children's movies. The inn's restaurant, Juniper's, serves hormone-free fresh meat and dairy products.
Smack in the village center, the Village Inn of East Burke (Route 114, 802-626-3161 , www.villageinnofeastburke.com, double $85 including full breakfast ) offers ski packages at Burke Mountain and Jay Peak (about 40 miles northwest).
SpendThe century-old Bailey's & Burke country store (466 Route 114, 802-626-9250 , baileysandburke.com ) anchors the village. The store stocks crafts, clothing, Vermont cheese and maple syrup, gift baskets, wine, bread, and other stuff.
A few miles from the village, artisans Sam and Weeza Sanderson make and sell handsome wooden bowls ($45-$150 ) at Sanderson Enterprises Inc. (2902 Route 114, 802-626-9622 , vtbowls.com ).
For an outing with kids, take a short hop northeast to Wooly Buggah Farm (182 Center Pond Road, Newark, 802-467-8600, woolybuggahfarm.com -- call ahead, so proprietor Donna Coughlin will be there ). While the kids visit the woolly "buggahs" (sheep, kept company by goats and horses), parents can shop for Coughlin's yarn ($10 a skein undyed, $16 a skein hand-painted wool and mohair) or buy her hand-knitted hats ($48), scarves, socks, and mittens ($35), and sweaters ($250-$275).