It’s here that the first theological seminary in the country was founded and the early townsfolk listened to the powerful sermons of the Rev. Joseph Bellamy. Bethlehem is also home to the Abbey of Regina Laudis, a monastery of contemplative Benedictine women, and, in December, one of the busiest post offices in the state. The annual Christmas Town Festival (Bethlehem Center, 203-266-7510, www.christmastownfestival.com, free), takes place Dec. 7-8, with entertainment, music, tree lighting, crafts, hay rides, and food.
A PLACE TO REST Consider a splurge-worthy stay at luxurious Winvian (155 Alain White Road, 860-567-9600, www.winvian.com, $650 per cottage, $1,050 all inclusive) a gift to yourself. Located about 4 miles from the village, this whimsical resort includes 18 cottages designed by 15 architects. Our favorites include the Beaver Lodge, with a two-sided fireplace, waterfall tub, and stone steam shower, and the Library Cottage with a river stone fireplace and cozy reading areas.
The Litchfield Inn, about seven miles from Bethlehem (432 Bantam Road, 860-567-4503, www.litchfieldinnct.com, $109-$119), has been recently renovated and refreshed. Thirty-two rooms now have lush linens, flat-screen TVs, and updated baths.
The award-winning Mayflower Inn, also about seven miles from the village (118 Woodbury Road, Washington, 860-868-9466, www.mayflowerinn.com, $675-$975), features 30 elegant, antiques-laden rooms, many with four-poster beds, marble and mahogany bathrooms, soaking tubs, walk-in showers, and fireplaces. The spa, lauded as one of the finest in New England, is especially inviting during the cold winter months.
SAVOR THE SEASON The family-owned and longstanding Painted Pony (74 Main St. South, 203-266-5771, www.paintedponyrestaurant.com, most entrees $13.95-$25.95, including soup, salad, potatoes, or vegetables) serves comfort on a platter, with dishes like the award-winning, slow-roasted prime rib and chicken breast with shrimp and broccoli, and topped with a lobster seafood sauce. The casual eatery also serves sandwiches, burgers, and pizza.
The fine dining Woodward House, located in a restored 1740 saltbox (4 The Green, 203-266-6902, www.thewoodwardhouse.com, entrees $26-$36), features four charming dining rooms, adorned with colorful, contemporary art. Locals rave about the rosemary-crusted rack of lamb, the grass-fed beef tenderloin with pecan Gorgonzola butter, and the fresh-caught cod wrapped in puff pastry.
HOLIDAY GREETINGS Thousands of people pack into thetiny Bethlehem Post Office (34 East St., 203-266-7910) to hand-stamp greeting cards and packages with one of the specially-designed rubber stamps. The tradition has been carried on since 1938. You can choose from more than 70 stamp patterns, designed by local artisans, young students, and residents.
COME ALL YE FAITHFUL At the Abbey of Regina Laudis (273 Flander Road, www.abbeyofreginalaudis.org), you’ll find an 18th-century Neapolitan crèche. The 16-foot-long, 6-foot-wide Nativity scene includes more than 65 figurines, between 14 and 16 inches high. The beautifully hand-painted Baroque figures are made of porcelain, carved wood, terra cotta, and jute. Stop by the gift shop, featuring artisan cheeses, pottery, wool, and hand-forged items, all made at the monastery. DVD recordings of the community’s Gregorian chant are also for sale.
The historic Bellamy-Ferriday House & Gardens (9 Main St. North, 203-266-7596, www.ctlandmarks.org/index.php?page=bellamy-ferriday-house-garden, suggested donation $3) gets decorated for the holidays and is open during the Christmas Town Festival.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com.