Vermont vs. Cape Cod (a Leaf-Peeping Tip Sheet, Not Yet a Reality Show)

Photograph by Kent Barker Close

Photograph by Kent Barker

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Photograph by Kent Barker

It's fall and you want to watch the leaves do just that. Where better than Vermont?

How about Cape Cod?

It's a contender. The Atlantic, warmed from the summer months, is still swimmable in late September and early October, even as the leaves on scrub brush and trees turn a magnificent color.

How to choose between the two? Price seems like a good start.

Let's compare Putney, Vermont, with Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, on the weekend of October 4 (Friday evening to Sunday evening), excluding tax. That's right about when the leaves should be turning. And let's assume you're going with a friend.

Rental Car: About the same for both. Call it $70 a day, which comes to $140.

Gas: Google says Putney is a four-hour drive from New York City. State troopers, please note: Loot has done it in three. Let's be on the safe side and say you'll need two tanks of gas for the trip, at around $100.

For Cape Cod, Google says it's a five-hour drive; Loot, ahem, has done it in under four (O lead-footed Loot). It's a bit longer than the drive to Vermont, so say gas will cost you $130.

Accommodations: If you're staying overnight in Vermont, stay somewhere at least 200 years old, enough time for the proprietors to have masked their leeriness of New Yorkers. Try the Hickory Ridge House (1806). Fall is peak season for Vermont B&Bs, so nothing's cheap. At $215 a night, your total is $430.

As for Cape Cod, if you're going to drive all that way to the ocean, you might as well stay on it. The Anchor-in is on the harbor, and while no one would describe it as "casually elegant," it's got Cape Cod charm and rooms looking out on the water. Total is $390.

Food: Putney residents might not have started the local organic movement, but they sure have embraced it. For reasons that remain a mystery, Putney also has some of the best barbecue on the East Coast. So one day you can have a lunch made up of a $3.50 half-peck bag of apples you picked at Green Mountain Orchards, and then for dinner sit down to a half-slab of ribs ($14.99) from Curtis' BBQ. Assuming you also buy a dozen or so cider donuts while you're at the orchard, let's figure $20 per meal per person; with five meals, total food costs come to $200. If you're adding a lot of booze to the tab, well, you'd probably be doing that on Cape Cod, too.

On the Cape, you'll be able to watch fisherman from your bedroom window, so if you don't eat seafood for most of your meals, you're missing out. It isn't cheap: At Spanky's Clam Shack, for instance, a restaurant that fries fresh seafood indiscriminately and with delicious results, a crab cake costs $10.99, and fried scallops cost $20.99. Bottom line, figure you're going to spend at least $40 a person. Not every meal has to be this expensive, though, so let's figure $35 a person, for a total of $350 for both of you.

What to Do: In Vermont, you're there to see the leaves; walking through the forest costs nothing. On Cape Cod, you're there to walk on the beach, which also costs nothing.

Total: Vermont: $870. Cape Cod: $1,010.

It shouldn't be a shock that Vermont is the cheaper choice, if not by a country mile. It's closer to New York and it's not exclusively a tourist destination like Cape Cod. There's also the extra hour of driving to consider -- you're gone for only 48 hours, so you'll want to make them count. As for that famous wariness, just say you're from Boston, for instance, or Hell. Anywhere but New York.

James Tarmy reports on arts and culture for Bloomberg Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News.

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