It seems like perpetual summer as light floods into the spacious rooms of Hill-Stead, illuminating the Claude Monet haystack paintings and the James McNeill Whistler seascapes. First occupied in 1901, the voluminous Colonial Revival country manse in Farmington, Conn., was designed by Theodate Pope Riddle, one of the country’s first female architects, with an eye toward providing great display space for the art amassed in the late 19th century by her father. Alfred Pope’s collection represents many top Impressionists. An industrialist with avant-garde ideas about art and unerring if untutored taste, Pope befriended many of the artists and collected their work across their careers.
“No matter where you sit, you’ll see something glorious,” said guide Eleanor Lecours as we entered the L-shaped living room, where three Manets, three Monets, and a Degas hang on the walls. “And the view outside rivals the art.” This time of year that view is of frozen New England.
An hourlong tour of the thoughtful architecture, striking furniture, Chinese ceramics, and world-class art of Hill-Stead Museum (35 Mountain Road, 860-677-4787, www.hillstead.org, Tue-Sun 10 a.m.- 4 p.m., adults $12, seniors $10, students $8, ages 6-12 $5) makes a good start on a day in the countryside little changed since the house was built. Visitors are welcome to use their cross-country skis or snowshoes on the trails that crisscross the property. The neighborhood black bear has settled in for his winter nap, but plenty of birds, flying squirrels, and small weasels frequent the area. Even blanketed in snow, the rolling hills and dells have an austere beauty punctuated by the occasional stone wall, red barn, or broom-like barren trees, making it easy to while away the morning.
About 3 miles west of Hill-Stead, Apricots Restaurant & Pub (1593 Farmington Ave., 860-673-5405, www.apricotsrestaurant.com, open daily, luncheon soups and sandwiches $6-$12) occupies an old trolley barn on the banks of the Farmington River. Apricots offers white-linen dining in upstairs rooms overlooking the river, or more casual eating in the brick-walled pub on the ground level. The lunch menu features casual American bistro fare, including hearty soups and thick sandwiches. The restaurant’s locally famous chicken pot pie ($12.50) is encased in a golden crust.
The meal provides fortification for an afternoon of winter sports at Winding Trails (50 Winding Trails Drive, 860-674-4227, www.windingtrails.org, daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; ski trail pass adult $14, seniors $10, 3-12 $8; skating, snowshoeing, and sledding pass adult $6, 3-12 $4; ski rental $12-$19, snowshoes $10-$12, snow tube $6, skates $5). Located on land once owned by Riddle, the 350-acre recreational tract includes 20 kilometers of groomed set Nordic ski track as well as a pond for ice skating, a sledding-tubing hill that’s popular with families, and a designated snowshoeing area. The cross-country trails include a loop reserved for skate skiers.
Plan to leave early enough so that some daylight remains for a walk among the towering oaks at Elizabeth Park in West Hartford, about 10 miles east. In the summer, the park is known for its rose garden, but it has a stark winter beauty populated by songbirds, plump and fearless squirrels, red-tailed hawks, and even a few mallards. At the Pond House Cafe (1555 Asylum Ave., West Hartford, 860-231-8823, www.pondhousecafe.com, open for lunch and dinner Tue-Sat and brunch Sat-Sun, dinner entrees $12.78-$26.37) every table has a view of the pond outside — with large mirrors for diners seated with their backs to the windows. Dishes like red wine-braised short ribs or maple-glazed duck breast make a perfect ending to a winter day.
Patricia Harris and David LyonPATRICIA HARRIS AND
MORE THAN CHOWDER ON CAPE ANN
Surprise: Woodman’s, the famous clam shack, is open in winter. That might be reason enough to head to Cape Ann on a winter’s day. But throw your snowshoes or boots in the backseat. You’ll definitely want to poke around, enticed by the hushed beauty of the North Shore’s picturesque cape, awash in a palette of palest blue and (at least 50) shades of gray.
We used Woodman’s as a bribe to lure college student Connor Bair-Cucchiaro out of bed on a wintry Sunday. En route, we’d see what else was happening in this beach-y zone off season.
Our first stop was Ravenswood Park (481 Western Ave., Route 127, Gloucester, 978-526-8687; www.thetrustees.org), a woodsy 600-acre glacial moraine. Popular with hikers and dog walkers, Ravenswood looks like the aftermath of a Yeti snowball fight with snow-covered boulders that resemble giant snowballs. Snow-swathed hemlocks sparkle in the sun and the wetlands of Great Magnolia Swamp shimmer under a glaze of ice. You can devise three or four loop trails here, including a 4.8-mile route that offers views of iced-over marsh and lake. On Old Salem Road near the junction of the Fernwood Lake Trail, look for the verdigris “hermit’s plaque” on a boulder, honoring Mason Walton, a local eccentric who built a cabin here and was an expert on the park’s flora and fauna until his death in 1917.Continued...