POMFRET, Conn. -- Years ago, when state tourism officials scissored Connecticut's map into color-coded patches resembling grandma's quilt, they named a sizable northeastern piece ''the Quiet Corner." Since then, that corner has officially become part of the larger Connecticut East region, but the two dozen towns in the area are still pretty quiet (in other words, rural, unpretentious, unspoiled by burger chains and mammoth shopping malls). And they are yours to enjoy, a 75-mile drive from Boston.
Pomfret, population 3,798, sets the tone. For residents and visitors, the Vanilla Bean Cafe functions as a social hub. Local artwork on the walls, occasional folksinging gigs, and quiche specials stamp this crossroads hangout as hip, not hick. A few years ago, the little place's name inspired
Like nearby Woodstock on Route 169, an officially designated National Scenic Byway, Pomfret nestles amid swooping hills and sprawling pastures where Holsteins graze the days away. Both towns boast a prep school (the Hyde School in Woodstock and Pomfret School in Pomfret), craft and trinket shops, clapboard houses with vast front lawns, and the requisite white church steeple. In a southward direction on that same road, Brooklyn hosts the country's oldest agricultural fair, dating from 1849.
For something more epicurean than carbonated soda, head to Sharpe Hill Vineyard on Wade Road in Pomfret, where the microclimate of the undulating acreage is perfect for Vignoles grapes. Sharpe's white, semidry Ballet of Angels ranks as Connecticut's best-selling brand. Be your own judge at weekend tastings, which can be combined with tours.
Steven Vollweiler mentions ''good site selection" when talking about his winery's success since production began in 1997.
''Even though our latitude is the same as Rome's in Italy . . . New England winters usually get colder than anywhere in Western Europe," he says. There's always the possibility of a late spring or early fall frost, he says, ''but Sharpe Hill's slope mitigates such problems, which means we can grow better-quality grapes and leave them on the vine into late October."
In Woodstock, Roseland Cottage is a much-photographed National Historical Landmark. Built for New Yorker Henry Bowen in 1846, the pink-painted structure exemplifies fancy Gothic Revival architecture. Over in South Woodstock, barnwood buildings called Scranton's Shops are jam-packed with antiques, gift items, and crafts made by local artisans.
A decade ago, nearby Putman was a virtual ghost town with empty millworks and boarded-up storefronts. Renewal began when Jerry Cohen moved from California, bought the former Bugbee Department Store, restored it to its original 1890s appearance, and opened the Antiques Marketplace.
''Property was cheap and antiques cost less to buy than anywhere else in the state," Cohen recalls. ''I had family in Connecticut and wanted to live in a pleasant rural area." He initially spent $18,000 to lease a billboard alongside Interstate 290 in Worcester. ''People had never seen antiques advertised so prominently, so they detoured to Putnam and discovered it for themselves."
Today, the two-block downtown district thrives with more than 400 dealers in 20 shops. For pub fare, stroll to Main Street's Courthouse Bar & Grille. The Bradley Playhouse, an old-time vaudeville theater, stages eight shows yearly.
Lebanon has patriotic significance: It is the birthplace of Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull, who supplied troops, food, and munitions to General George Washington's forces during the Revolutionary War. Colonial-era house museums are prominent alongside the mile-long village green.
In Willimantic (''Thread City" during New England's heyday of water-powered mill production), exhibits in the Windham Textile & History Museum include century-old looms. Willimantic's bizarre Frog Bridge is aptly named: four 11-foot-high green frogs perch atop giant spools of sculpted thread.
For a buzz of collegiate activity, drive north from there to the University of Connecticut's Storrs campus. Between October and July, the Connecticut Repertory Theatre presents plays and musicals in Jorgensen Auditorium. UConn's William Benton Museum of Art specializes in American Impressionist paintings.
Several top-notch restaurants are scattered through the region. Standouts include Brooklyn's Golden Lamb Buttery (in a converted dairy barn) and, in Woodstock, the dining room in the Inn at Woodstock Hill. Pomfret has the Harvest (in the 18th-century Lemuel Grosvenor House), recommendable for dinner before attending an Opera New England of Northeastern Connecticut performance in Woodstock's Hyde Cultural Center, on the grounds of the Hyde School.
Tom Bross is a freelance writer in Boston.