Auntie “Mame” of Broadway fame said it best: “Open a new window, Open a new door; Travel a new highway you’ve never been down before.”
One of the advantages of the golden years is that they usually provide more time and opportunities for travel. With today’s airport hassles, why not explore some of the more easily reached destinations — the hidden gems, as well as the highly touted treasures of Connecticut? Many intriguing destinations are between a one or two hour drive from Fairfield County.
The Northwest corner/Litchfield Hills area of Connecticut offers a great variety of attractions — literally something for everyone. Hiking, biking and boating, arts and crafts, top drawer antiquing, and other unique shopping experiences, fine and fun restaurants as well as charming country inns and world class resorts along with covered bridges and winding country roads. Destinations are spread out, making for spectacular foliage viewing.
For day trips, consider a visit to Woodbury’s main street — an antiques shoppers’ paradise in a Currier and Ives setting — and the Brookfield Crafts Center on Whisconier Road off Route 202 in Brookfield, a non-profit school, gallery, and gift shop reflecting all forms of craft making: ceramics, glass, fiber, blacksmithing, and woodturning. The Craft Center is housed in a vintage building overlooking the Still River at Halfway Falls. Brookfield is close to New Milford, known as “the Gateway to Litchfield County” — a picturesque town with the longest village green in Connecticut and access to boating and kayaking rentals.
From either Woodbury or Brookfield, you can wind your way to the idyllic town of Washington where attractions include the Washington Art Association, the Hickory Stick Book Shop, and the adjacent “Pantry” restaurant where you can eat in or take out. If you’re up for a more formal, leisurely lunch, the elegant Grace Mayflower Inn of Washington is close by. An historic “country house” inn, it’s a delightful place to have lunch or spend a night and also enjoy the spa.
Litchfield is the quintessential historic New England town and a fine example of late 18th-Century architecture. A popular dining spot is the West Grill which offers al fresco seating overlooking the town green. Attractions include shopping on Main Street, the Litchfield Historical Society, the Tapping Reeve House and the first Law School, White Flower Farm, the Haight Brown Vineyard, and the Litchfield Distillery. There’s also the White Memorial Foundation on Route 202 with 35 miles of walking trails. And if you love ice cream, indulge in the Arethusa Café in nearby Bantam.
Another enticing day or weekend trip combines shopping, wine tasting, and a charming country inn. Start with New Preston — at the juncture of Route 202 and Route 45, known for its interesting array of shops, including antiques, home furnishings and decorative accessories. J Seitz offers home accessories and clothing with a southwestern flair.
Then head north on route 45 to Lake Waramaug where you’ll find the Hopkins Vineyard and the Hopkins Inn, both on the North Shore Road. High on a hill overlooking the beautiful lake, Hopkins Vineyard offers tasting and sales of award winning estate bottled wines grown on 30 acres next to the winery. The Hayloft Wine Bar in a renovated antique barn serves wines by the glass and the Vineyard Shop has a selection of gifts and locally grown foods. Originally a dairy farm 200 years ago, The Winery is still run by members of the Hopkins family, Bill and Judy Hopkins and their daughter Hilary Criollo, and is open daily.
Enjoy a lunch or dinner across the road at the welcoming historic Hopkins Inn — or better yet, spend a night or two. No longer owned by the Hopkins family, it is now run by owners Beth and Franz Schober. Franz’s Austrian heritage is evident in the gracious hospitality and attractive Tavern Room. Beth is a great guide for planning side trips in the area. Nearby is the charming town of Kent which was recently voted the #1 town in New England for fall foliage in Yankee Magazine. Kent is known for its seven art galleries, attractive shops and restaurants, including the popular Fife ‘n Drum, and the caboose of an antique train which once housed an art gallery and is now a guitar shop. Other landmarks include the Sloane Stanley Museum and the CT Antique Machinery Association, reputedly a fabulous collection of tractors and the only mining museum in New England.
Just a few miles north you can cross the Housatonic River through an antique covered bridge to West Cornwall where the attractions include the studio shop of famed cabinetmaker, Ian Ingersoll, Todd Piker’s ceramics shop and studio, and antique bookseller Barbara Farnsworth.
If you want to splurge on a truly special experience with fabulous farm-to-table dining and luxurious quarters with a rustic flair, then Winvian Farm could be your very special Shangri-la. Nestled in the rolling hills, just a few miles south of Litchfield Village in the quiet hamlet of Morris, lies a world class Relais & Chateaux Resort. Part of a 113-acre private estate, Winvian is one part historic charm, one part modern luxury and one part whimsical fun and fancy.
The expanded historic main house contains public reception and dining rooms and an historic suite for overnight guests. But most of the guests stay in one of 17 highly individual cottages, each the creation of a different Connecticut architect with a particular theme. The resort began as a New York gentleman’s country estate, owned by Winthrop Smith and his wife Vivian, hence the name “Winvian.” Premises include a luxurious spa as well as a cooking school run by Chef Eddy whose focus is on taking “farm-to-table” cuisine to a new level of innovation and excellence. With reservations, you can be guests for just lunch or dinner at Winvian, but to really experience all of its charms, an overnight stay is recommended. Warning: Winvian is near many other attractions, but you may just settle in and not want to leave the campus!
For more information, visit www.LitchfieldHills.com.