The loveliest village along the Lake Champlain  shore is Essex. Filled with trim white buildings that date back to before the Civil War, the entire village is on the National Register of Historic Places. To the west rise the dramatic High Peaks of the Adirondacks ; to the east sparkle the blue waters of the lake, offset by the dusk-blue mountains of Vermont .
Founded in 1765, Essex was one of the earliest European settlements on Lake Champlain. The community was completely destroyed during the American Revolution but soon rose again to become a prosperous shipbuilding center and lake port. By 1850, Essex was one of the largest and busiest towns on the lake, with a population of 2,351.
Then came the Civil War, the opening of the West, and the building of the railroads, all of which drew commerce away from Lake Champlain. Essex’s economy suffered and its population dwindled. There was little money for building; standing structures had to do. And so it remains today.
Essex centers on two parallel streets, Main and Elm, both just two blocks long. Excellent examples of Federal, Greek Revival, and Victorian architecture abound, while along the waterfront stretches a park and small marina.
Lake Champlain Ferries (802/864-9804, www.ferries.com ) dock at the northern end of the village, crossing between Essex and Charlotte, Vermont. The ride takes 20 minutes one-way ($8.25 for a car and driver one-way, round-trip $15; round-trip rates for walk-on traffic, adults $3.50, children 6–12 $1).
At the heart of Essex sits the 180-year-old Essex Inn (16 Main St., 518/963-8821, $95–165 d, with full breakfast, some rooms share baths), a long and thin hostelry with an even longer and thinner two-tiered front porch. Breakfast and dinner are served outside in warm weather (average dinner entrée $14), while inside are nine guest rooms. The inn also contains a courtyard, clothing shop, and arts gallery. Free walking-tour brochures are available here.