Burlington, Vermont is a great place to live for a variety of reasons. But if you can’t tolerate our six months of winter every year, it’s also a great place to visit. If you’re going to visit Burlington, I’ve always felt there’s only one place you should stay: Downtown, in the heart of the action.
I was recently hosted for an overnight stay at the Hilton Burlington downtown. They’ve made recent renovations to the property and wanted to get the word out. I accepted, as it was an opportunity for me to see what it feels like to be a tourist in my own home town. I’ll write more about that another time. But today, I want to talk about the changes that have been made at the Hilton and what my stay there was like.
Location, Location, Location
The Hilton Burlington is across the street from Waterfront Park, the lake ferries, and the bike path. Within easy walking distance are the Church Street Marketplace, the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, and numerous restaurants and retail establishments. The Cherry Street bus terminal (where you can catch buses that go all over Chittenden County) is a few blocks away. In short, there is no better location in Burlington to stay.
Blending In With the Neighborhood
I’ve visited this hotel several times before, for events, conferences, and when my brother stayed there. The renovations are very noticeable and welcome. You’re not going to forget that you’re in a Hilton hotel, but now it’s a Hilton hotel with a Vermont twist.
The lobby feels warmer and cozier than it used to, and I have to credit the use of natural Vermont materials in its first floor renovations, like stacked stone and reclaimed wood from a farmhouse. The doors to the bar have beautiful hand-blown glass accents. The light fixtures are from Vermont’s very own Hubbardton Forge. The colors are warm, Autumn-in-Vermont earth tones. There are comfortable seating areas all over the first and second floors.
The most prominent addition is the new Mounted Cat, which has indoor seating and an outdoor patio, or as they call it, the “Catio”. The name is a play on “Catamount” which is a wild cat native to the region (and also the name of our University’s athletic team). It’s a great spot to unwind at the end of the day, with comfortable sofas and Adirondack chairs around a fire pit. Facing Battery Street, you’ll be able to watch the sunset and the world go by–whether the world is traveling by foot, bicycle, or car.
The Mounted Cat has a smorgasbord of seating options for the solo traveler–on the patio, at the bar, a communal dining table, and cozy bench seating inside in the lounge. The Catio is only open seasonally, of course (trust me, nobody wants to eat outdoors in subzero temperatures). There is a more traditional restaurant/dining room which is open for breakfast and dinner (except on Sunday nights).
This Hilton offers the usual amenities–a 24/7 Business Center; an Executive Lounge (also renovated) for HHonors Gold and Diamond members, with free food, a big screen TV and comfortable sofas; in-room wifi; and an indoor pool (though I didn’t have time to look at it, let alone use it). But now, the hotel fits in better with the culture of Burlington, Vermont.
The proximity of the hotel to the Burlington Bike Path and the bike-friendliness of the city make the hotel ideal for cycling enthusiasts. They have quite a few loaner bicycles for guests, along with covered bicycle stations outside with air pumps and loaner tools, which I spotted several guests using. They’re supportive of Local Motion, a nonprofit that promotes bicycling and the Burlington Bike Path. Like Burlington, the Hilton is also pet-friendly.
A Room with a View
I was booked into room 743, on the top floor of the hotel, the “best room in the house”. It’s a corner room with walls of large windows on the South and West sides of the building and the most spectacular views of the city and Lake Champlain. Located at the end of the hallway next to the stairs and away from the elevators, it was also a quiet room. I never heard my neighbors, even though I know the hotel was full that night.
For a solo traveler, the room was huge. Everything in the bathroom was as it should be (and the water pressure was fantastic). The closet was small but there was tons of drawer space. Room amenities included a coffee maker, 2 bottles of water, a mini-fridge, a room safe, huge flat screen TV, desk, plenty of outlets to charge your gadgets, and reading lights above the bed.
The bed was very comfortable, and I slept well until early morning traffic started up. Even on the 7th floor, with earplugs in, I could hear it. But I slept as well here as I ever do at home. I never saw or heard housekeeping, but everything was very clean (both in my room and all over the hotel).
The Mounted Cat is a member of the Vermont Fresh Network, which means they secure as much of their food as possible from local farmers, bakeries, cheese producers, etc. This is a huge change from the old days, when food at the Hilton came mostly from a freezer. Now, you don’t need to leave the hotel to sample the best of Vermont’s foods.
The biggest hit for me was the Vermont Artisan Cheese Tour plate, featuring Jasper Hill Bailey Hazen blue cheese, Thistle Hill Farm Tarentaise organic alpine cheese, Vermont Sheperd Inverno (sheep cheese) and Grafton smoked cheddar, along with grapes, dried apricots, O’Bread Bakery wheat bread, and apple butter. I devoured it. The cheese was so, so good.
I also really liked Chef Herve Mahe’s creative spin on fried mozzarella, coated in crushed almonds and served over a bed of caramelized onions and peppers, with a thin slice of chorizo sausage on top, kept in place with a skewer. The flavors and textures complimented each other well. (The burger sliders were okay, but did not compare to the cheese offerings.)
If you’re thirsty, I recommend the cleverly named “Spanked Mint Mojito,” a refreshing and tasty summer cocktail, and the Mounted Cat Lager, a Bohemian pilsner brewed exclusively for the restaurant by the Trapp Lager Brewery. They use Bohemian Malted Pilsner and Munich Malts and Saaz and Perle hops to make this beer during a 30-day cold storage brewing process. It’s a good crisp, light-colored beer, flavorful but not overwhelming.
The breakfast buffet here is one of the best I’ve had outside of Las Vegas. Hot food was hot, the coffee was good, and there was enough variety. The French toast was just the right amount of springiness, with a hint of vanilla flavor. The Applewood bacon was crisp, not greasy. The Vermont maple sausage was tasty. More delicious cheese was available. Even the apple pastry was perfectly flaky. Not a breakfast potato was left behind.
Service and Solo Friendliness
Is the Hilton solo friendly? Absolutely. It’s a business hotel, accustomed to people traveling alone. As noted above, they’re also pet friendly, cyclist friendly, and family friendly.
I can’t judge customer service based on the service I received, because they all knew I was there to review them. I did, however, lurk and listen and observe how staff members interacted with other guests. Here are my observations:
- Despite being very full the night I was there, they did their best to give upgrades and were able to accommodate a woman who walked in with no reservation.
- Tone of voice and body language across the board was respectful, helpful, and friendly. Everyone seemed to get the same efficient, friendly service in the restaurant.
- My waitress Valerie chatted with me, but also with a large family at another table, reassuring the teenage son who was about to start college at UVM what a great school it is and how much he’ll love it. (All this without ignoring her duties; she was great.) I’d also single out bartender Rebecca and my dinner waitress Kate (who was filling in for someone) as being very good at what they do.
- Everyone was offered a free bottle of water to take with them as they were leaving the restaurant during breakfast. I thought that was a nice touch.
Downtown Burlington is usually pretty lively at night, and it’s also safer than most cities. I felt comfortable walking alone back down College Street from Church Street to my hotel at 9pm. (I don’t think I would have felt as comfortable walking down Cherry Street alone after dark on a Sunday night, since buses don’t run then and the neighborhood would be a bit more deserted. But people staying at Hotel Vermont and the Marriott must do it all the time.) There are two deadbolts on room doors, so once you’re inside and set those, no one else is coming in. As noted above, there is a safe in the room for your valuables.
All the above changes are impressive, but they’re not done yet. According to Chef Mahe, they’re listening to feedback, tweaking things, and are thinking of creative ways to provide even better service for guests. (Spoiler alert: Under consideration are a VIP check-in near the Executive Lounge and a dog park.) They’re also brainstorming ways to engage locals, like possibly hosting an event on the Catio during Winterfest (thank goodness for that fire pit!). He seemed really excited about all the possibilities, and I have to say, so am I. When a hotel is focused on finding new ways to make guests happy, that’s always a good thing for us.
Some visitors to our state believe they’ll get more of a feel for the “real” Vermont by staying at a B&B or locally-owned (non-chain) hotel. Others will always stay in a chain hotel so they can take advantage of loyalty points (like Hilton HHonors). But with these recent renovations, it looks like you can have the best both worlds now at the Hilton Burlington. And if they continue to challenge themselves to find new and better ways to serve their customers, things can only get better. I’m intrigued to see what they do next.
Disclaimer: My stay at the Hilton Burlington was comped, but my opinions, as always, are my own.