The shaded streets and manicured lawns of this tony suburb of Hartford ooze quiet money and privilege. It’s hard to imagine it as a hotbed of revolution. But the town was an important stop on the Underground Railroad, and in 1841 townsfolk sheltered the African slaves charged with murder in the mutiny aboard the Spanish ship Amistad, while collecting money for their return home. Today there are eight Amistad-related sites in Farmington. All are part of the Connecticut Heritage Trail, a list of some 60 historic locations that played an important role in the journey from slavery to freedom.
Big-box hotels ring the community, hugging Interstate 84. But we preferred the Farmington Inn
(827 Farmington Ave., 860-677-2821, www.farmingtoninn.com
, doubles $119-$169) for its homey atmosphere, historic district location, and stories of local legends in the rooms. A good choice for families is the Centennial Inn Hotel
(5 Spring Lane, 860-677-4647, www.centennialinn.com
, $109-$145), an all-suite property on the outskirts of town. Every one- or two-bedroom suite has a full kitchen and a pullout sofa.
An embarrassment of riches is the only way to describe Farmington’s dining scene. Piccolo Arancio
(819 Farmington Ave., 860-674-1224, www.piccoloarancio.com
, lunch $11-$24, dinner $19-$29) is a small restaurant with a big menu and an even bigger wine list. The pasta is homemade; mixed with wild mushrooms, spinach, and chicken in Fusilli Zingara, it was dense and earthy. We snagged the only unreserved table on a Wednesday night, which says something. The view is the star at the Grist Mill
(44 Mill Lane, 860-676-8855, www.thegristmill.net
, lunch $10-$21, dinner $17-$32), where nearly every seat in the rustic dining room overlooks the Farmington River. The menu has a contemporary European flair. For a quick lunch, early supper, or meals to go, head for the Farmington Gourmet
(230 Farmington Ave., 860-677-1200, www.thefarmingtongourmet.com
). You can build your own sandwich from New York deli-style meat and cheeses ($7.50) or grab a fresh or frozen prepared entree ($9-$12).
During the day
If the weather cooperates, you can check off another item on your bucket list with a hot air balloon ride over the Farmington Valley with Berkshire Balloons
, $300 one-hour flight). Pilot Robert Zirpolo says the season typically runs from May to November. Winter weather brings cross-country skiing at Winding Trails
recreation area (50 Winding Trails Drive, 860-677-8458, www.windingtrails.com
, nonmember trail fee $12). There’s also snowshoeing, sledding, and ice skating. While Winding Trails is a membership organization most of the year, its winter activities are open to the public.
Impressionist masterpieces by Monet, Manet, Degas, and other luminaries adorn the rooms of the Hill-Stead Museum (35 Mountain Road, 860-677-4787, www.hillstead.org, $10 adults), a 14-room estate completed in 1901. Seeing the works of these masters displayed in the rooms for which they were originally purchased is a rare opportunity. The Stanley-Whitman House (37 High St., 860-677-9222, www.stanleywhitman.org, $7 adults) interprets 18th-century Farmington from 1725 to 1772, when the town changed from an agrarian to a merchant society. Costumed interpreters and the lack of barriers create a total-immersion experience for visitors. The museum is planning several special activities for 2010, when the house marks its 290th year.
There’s night life for all ages and tastes in Farmington. The bar at Apricots Restaurant & Pub
(1593 Farmington Ave., 860-673-5405, www.apricotsrestaurant.com
), with comfortable booths and a piano player Friday and Saturday evenings, draws a middle-aged crowd. Murphy and Scarletti’s
in the Exchange Plaza (270 Farmington Ave., 860-676-0252, www.murphyandscarlettis.com
) offers pool tables, live music Thursday through Saturday, and $2.50 beer specials five nights a week. If karaoke is your thing, you’ll be in good company at the Zen Bar
just over the town line (317 Farmington Ave., Plainville, 860-747-8886, www.zenbarct.com
). Choose from more than 50,000 songs to sing along to, from Gene Autry (look it up, kids) to AC/DC.
Ellen Albanese can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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