BENNINGTON -- In downtown Bennington, the history, culture and pristine charms of Vermont come close together.
Less than 15 miles north of Williamstown, Bennington offers covered bridges, maple syrup producers, museums, shops and restaurants minutes away from the Berkshires and the New York Capital Region.
Here are some favorite places around Bennington for visitors and locals alike:
Standing tall on the corner of Bennington's central "Four Corners" intersection, Fiddlehead at Four Corners brings together handmade art and crafts from local paintings to ceramics, jewelry and handblown glass.
Owned by Bennington College graduates Joel and Nina Lentzner, Fiddlehead occupies a building that acted as a bank from 1929 to 1997, with its original vault and tall tellers' counter. While the outside keeps a white-marble, classical look, the inside of the gallery is bright, colorful and inviting -- visitors can even enter the chalkboard-painted "graffiti vault" and draw pictures on the walls with colored chalk.
Recently, Fiddlehead has expanded to include art classes for kids of all ages, offering fun and creative activities, like Lego architecture and smartphone photography. In late February, they're also starting their first class for adults, "Wine and Canvas."
These interactive classes and activities make Fiddlehead a community resource and gathering place, or as manager Joey Kulkin calls it, "a hands-on art gallery."
Up the street from Fiddlehead at Four Corners is one of the town's most well-known establishments: Bennington Potters. In business for 65 years, the Potters are famous for the handcrafted mugs, plates, bowls and other ceramic goods that they make right on their property at 324 Country St. Bennington Potters' lead-free ceramic goods may look familiar, as their designs have remained unchanged over the years so customers can replace or build its collections of items they purchased 25 years ago or more.
After browsing their expansive retail store, visitors are invited to take a tour of the facility and see the potters in action as they prepare, glaze and fire goods in their kiln.
"We love tours" said manager Joyce Hall. "We want to show people what we're doing!"
Crazy Russian Girls bakery
After working up an appetite at Fiddlehead or Bennington Potters, head back to 443 Main St. for lunch (or a snack) at Crazy Russian Girls Neighborhood Bakery. A Bennington staple since they started as a vending cart across the street from their current storefront, Crazy Russian Girls offers delicious baked goods made completely from scratch -- "no preservatives and no shortening," said owner Natasha Littrell.
While the bakery is well known for its cakes, cookies and pastries, its menu of American and international sandwiches is a local secret. With meats roasted in-house at the bakery, Crazy Russian Girls serves sandwiches like its Vietnamese Banh Mi, Tuscan Chicken Panini or Vermont Cheese Steak Panini.
Along with its sandwiches, the bakery also serves Russian foods on Fridays and six different soups every day. It's also the only bakery in Bennington that boils and bakes its own bagels fresh every morning, some topped with Vermont maple sugar.
Bennington Center for the Arts
After a sandwich (or a cookie), take the short drive through Old Bennington and past the iconic Bennington Battle Memorial to the Bennington Center for the Arts, another local landmark with something for everyone.
Founded by local art enthusiasts Bruce Laumeister and Elizabeth Small, the museum contains some eclectic but fascinating exhibits, from their collection of 85 hand-woven Navajo rugs and other works of American Indian art to the shockingly lifelike wooden bird sculptures carved by Master Carver Floyd Sholz, who also runs bird carving workshops in his studio, conveniently located in the museum's basement.
The Bennington Center for the Arts also pays tribute to Vermont culture with their attached covered bridge museum, which traces the history, culture and stories surrounding the famous covered bridges that can be found around Bennington and elsewhere in Vermont, with the tools first used to construct the bridges and an interactive display showing where to find all of Vermont's remaining covered bridges. (There are five in Bennington County alone.)
Bennington has many more fascinating attractions and sights to explore, many of which have appeared in the pages of Berkshires Week and the Shires of Vermont (or soon will).
For a weekend, a day or an afternoon, downtown Bennington has a world of culture and character to discover.
Looking around town
324 County St., Bennington
Tour reservations (800) 205-8033
338 Main St., Bennington
Crazy Russian Girls Neighborhood Bakery
443 Main St., Bennington
Bennington Center for the Arts
44 Gypsy Lane, Bennington
We will continue explore towns, streets, neighborhoods and mountain paths from Northwestern Connecticut to Southwestern Vermont, and from Albany to the Massachusetts hilltowns.
Send ideas for places to visit to Jack McManus in Bennington, email@example.com, Andrew McKeever in Manchester, firstname.lastname@example.org, and Kate Abbott in Massachusetts, email@example.com