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VERMONT comes closer than any other New England state to realizing the quintessential image of small-town America, with its white churches and red barns, covered bridges and clapboard houses, snowy woods and maple syrup. The largest city is Burlington and the chief tourist attraction is Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream factory in Waterbury. Though rural, Vermont’s landscape is not all that agricultural – much of it is covered by mountainous forests (the state’s name derives from the French vert mont, or “green mountain”).

This was the last area of New England to be settled, early in the eighteenth century. The leader of the New Hampshire settlers, the now-legendary Ethan Allen, formed his Green Mountain Boys in 1770, and during the Revolutionary War, this all-but-autonomous force helped to win the decisive Battle of Bennington. In 1777, Vermont declared itself an independent republic, with the first constitution in the world explicitly forbidding slavery and granting universal (male) suffrage; in 1791 it became the first state admitted to the Union after the original thirteen colonies. A more recent example of Vermont’s progressive attitude occurred in 2000, when former governor Howard Dean signed the civil union bill into law, making the state first in the US to sanction marital rights for same-sex couples.

With the occasional exception, such as the extraordinary assortment of Americana at the Shelburne Museum near Burlington, there are few specific goals for tourists. Visitors come in great numbers during two well-defined seasons: to see the autumn foliage during the first two weeks of October, and to ski during the heart of winter, when resorts such as Killington and Stowe (former home to The Sound of Music’s Von Trapp family) spring into life. For the rest of the year, you might just as well explore any of the state’s minor roads, confident that some picturesque village will appear around the next corner.

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