Top 10 places we love: Mystic Country

Email|Print| Text size + By Bob Preer
Globe Correspondent / October 16, 2005

Once an hour in summer and at odd intervals the rest of the year, bells ring out in this village, horns sound, and gates descend on either side of a low drawbridge that spans the Mystic River.

It's a different sort of drawbridge, called a bascule (''seesaw" in French) bridge, hinged only at one side. Electric motors drive one side of the bridge down and a pair of massive concrete weights lifts the other end into the air.

Tourists and locals crowd around for an informal physics lesson. Route 1, which runs from Maine to Key West, Fla., shuts down, and, on days when boat traffic is high, the line of four-wheeled vehicles seems to stretch to Rhode Island.

While people in a hurry curse the bridge, there since 1922, most simply admire it, embracing the enforced halt to whatever they were doing and a chance to take in this classic seaside village.

The drawbridge is one of the varied delights in Mystic and environs, part of what the state's tourism office refers to as Mystic Country or the eastern third of the state. The village of Mystic, split between the towns of Stonington and Groton at the bridge, is the heart of the region.

Mystic Seaport The region's biggest attraction that does not have a slot machine, this is one of the country's premier living history museums. This re-created 19th-century village has historic ships, a working shipyard, a planetarium, and exhibits.

75 Greenmanville Ave. 860-572-5317, 888-973-2767, www.mysticseaport.org. Daily in October 9 a.m.-5 p.m., November-March 10-4; adults $17, seniors and students with ID $15, children $12.

Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration Near the Seaport, the aquarium features sea creatures of all kinds and is home base for Robert Ballard, explorer of the Titanic, which is itself the subject of a big exhibit.

55 Coogan Blvd., 860-572-5955, www.mysticaquarium.org. Daily 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; adults $17.50, seniors $16.50, children $12.50, under 2 free.

Museums The Historic Ship Nautilus and the US Navy Submarine Force Museum are nearby in Groton. The Mashantucket Pequot Museum near the Foxwoods casino is the world's largest Native American museum, and Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center in Mystic features wildlife exhibits and eight miles of trails on a 300-acre preserve.

Submarine Force Museum Route 12 and Crystal Lake Road. 800-343-0079, 860-694-3174. www.ussnautilus.org. Daily through Oct. 23, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesdays 1-5; Nov. 5-May 13, 9-4, closed Tuesdays. Free.

Mashantucket Pequot Museum 110 Pequot Trail, Mashantucket. 800-411-9671, www.pequot museum.org. Daily 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Adults $15, seniors $13, children $10.

Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center 109 Pequotsepos Road. 860-536-1216, www.dpnc.org. Monday-Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday 10-4. Adults $6, seniors and children $4.

Nightlife The Steamboat Inn bed-and-breakfast, on a wharf by the bridge, is charming. Dining options vary. Notables include Mystic Pizza -- famed for the 1988 movie of the same name -- and Bravo Bravo, an elegant Italian bistro, next to the bridge. On the west end of the village is the Captain Daniel Packer Inne, with fine dining in a beautifully preserved 1756 inn. For visitors inclined to gamble or who just want to take in the spectacle, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun are nearby. In addition to slots and table games, this slice of Las Vegas in the woods has fine restaurants, shops, nightclubs, and concert venues.

Steamboat Inn 73 Steamboat Wharf. 860-536-8300, www.steamboatinnmystic.com.

Mystic Pizza 56 West Main St. 860-536-3700, www.mysticpizza.com.

Bravo Bravo 20 East Main St. 860-536-3228.

Captain Daniel Packer Inne 32 Water St. 860-536-3555, www.danielpacker.com.

Foxwoods 800-369-9663, www.foxwoods.com.

Mohegan Sun 888-226-7711, www.mohegansun.com.

Contact Bob Preer, a freelance writer in Milton, at preer@comcast.net.

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