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New England summer travel in Connecticut

Whether you want to kayak in the ocean, zip down a mountain, or just cozy up in a rocking chair on a country porch, your vacation is waiting at one of these destinations.

May 15, 2011

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Washington

WHY GO This family-friendly town is tucked away at the foot of Connecticut’s scenic Litchfield Hills and is home to loads of warm-weather activities and destinations. You can fish, swim, kayak, mountain bike, go antiquing, and find accommodations of every type, from outdoor campgrounds to one of the most luxurious inns in the United States. The 974-acre Steep Rock Preserve (860-868-9131, http://www.steeprockassoc.org) offers myriad hiking trails.

THE BASICS Camp at Lake Waramaug State Park (call 860-868-2592 for information or 877-668-2267 to book; the campground fills up a few weeks ahead of time and costs $27, plus a processing fee, per night for non-Connecticut residents). “Waramaug” is a Native American word for “good fishing place.” For fishing information, call 860-868-0220; there are also paddle-boat rentals and nice changing facilities for swimmers. For private beach access, stay at the Hopkins Inn overlooking the lake (860-868-7295, http://www.thehopkinsinn.com; from $120) or The Boulders on the east shore of the lake (860-868-0541, http://www.boulders-inn.com; from $365). The Mayflower Inn (860-868-9466, http://www.mayflowerinn.com; from $545) has a beautiful spa. It overlooks the Litchfield Hills, and there’s an enormous pool in addition to the treatment areas and fitness rooms. Guests are invited to take classes for no extra charge. No matter where you’re staying, take a drive around the lake on Route 45; it’s a designated Connecticut Scenic Roadway.

DON’T MISS A gem of a museum, The Institute for American Indian Studies (860-868-0518, http://www.birdstone.org), celebrates the culture of numerous Native American tribes across North America. It houses a children’s discovery room, and outside you’ll find a replicated Algonquian village, a simulated archeological site, and nature trails. Native American artists display and lecture here; check the website’s calendar for listings.

– Julie Hatfield

Essex

WHY GO The definition of Americana might well be the old-fashioned main street of this historic village, lined with grand Georgian- and Federal-style homes sporting American flags, family-run shops, and crisp white picket fences stretching down to the harbor. An Essex Historical Society brochure (http://www.essexhistory.org) maps a self-guided tour of the village, including the Pratt House Museum, which shows how one prominent local family lived in the 18th century. At the Connecticut River Museum (860-767-8269, http://www.ctrivermuseum.org), on what used to be the steamship dock, climb into an interactive model of the world’s first combat submarine, the 1775 Turtle, or go aboard the schooner Mary E., built in 1906 in Bath, Maine, for a trip to spot hawks and osprey on the river.

THE BASICS The Griswold Inn (860-767-1776, http://www.griswoldinn.com; rooms from $140), which has been welcoming guests since the time of the Revolutionary War, combines Colonial simplicity with cushy modern amenities. Dine on American comfort food while admiring the steamship art of Antonio Jacobsen, sample a flight in the wine bar, or people-watch from the new outdoor patio. The Copper Beech Inn (860-767-0330, http://www.copperbeechinn.com; from $229 during the week, $249 on the weekend) offers luxurious accommodations in both a Victorian-era house and its new Comstock House. The Black Seal Seafood Grille (860-767-0233, http://www.theblackseal.net) in the heart of the village is a local favorite; baked stuffed clams and Rhode Island-style clam chowder are specialties.

DON’T MISS For the start of a two-stage journey, sink into plush vintage rail cars as the Essex Steam Train (860-767-0103, http://www.essexsteamtrain.com; tickets start at $26 for adults) meanders through woods and by marshes at 11 miles per hour; the rhythmic swaying is hypnotic, but you’ll be snapped out of your reverie by the train’s piercing whistle – shoo-WUP! – let loose at every crossing. At Deep River Landing, transfer to the Becky Thatcher riverboat for a cruise on the Connecticut River, past Selden Island, Gillette Castle, and the 1876 Goodspeed Opera House.

– Ellen Albanese

Waterford

WHY GO A nature lover’s paradise, Waterford is bordered by water on three sides and is also home to beautiful gardens and Stenger Farm Park, a 95-acre hiking preserve in the middle of town (leashed dogs are allowed). At Waterford Beach Park, you’ll find free concerts on Wednesdays in summer, as well as the popular Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, which features plays, musicals, cabarets, and puppetry (860-443-5378, http://www.theoneill.org).

THE BASICS Locals flock to When Pigs Fly for its breakfast featuring everything from breakfast burritos to chocolate-chip pancakes. Try the Drew Omelet, with avocado, bacon, tomato, and Monterey jack (860-444-1110, http://www.whenpigsflycafe.com). Waterford is a little lacking in accommodations, but several nearby towns have inns and B & Bs, including The Bee and Thistle in Old Lyme (860-434-1667, http://www.beeandthistleinn.com; from $135), about 20 minutes away. The 1756 building, on the Lieutenant River, serves vegetables and herbs straight from its own garden and has on-site spa services.

DON’T MISS The 230-acre Harkness Memorial State Park on Long Island Sound in Waterford contains formal gardens, a 42-room Roman Revival mansion, and several outbuildings, including an extensive greenhouse (860-443-5725, http://www.stateparks.com/harkness_memorial.html).

– E.G.

  • May 15, 2011 cover
  • May 15, 2011 cover
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