Food and foliage: 6 perfect pairings to enjoy the changing colors across Connecticut and great restaurants nearby
To help you plan the perfect fall day trip, we came up with six recommendations for ways to enjoy the fall foliage: a hike to 360-degree views of central Connecticut; Impressionist paintings and grazing sheep; a drive through Litchfield County to a pair of historic covered bridges; a steam-powered mill and nearby vineyard; a rail trail converted for scenic hikes; and a castle. And with each one, we’ve offered dining suggestions.
The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection suggests the peak viewing period for fall foliage this year is Oct. 24 through Nov. 6, but color is spreading in some parts of the state, and the viewing season may be shortened by strong windstorms that have been forecast for this month.
Bask in the wonders of the leaves while they’re still up there, glowing and turning.
A lot of parks, tourist destinations and other prime fall day trip destinations have been compromised by COVID regulations but are fine for leaf-looking. Check websites, include the state’s own portal.ct.gov/DEEP/State-Parks/Parks/, for useful updates.
Simsbury: Towering images
Hueblein Tower, looming over Talcott Mountain State Park in Simsbury, is actually the fourth, and by far the longest lasting, tower on the site. The 165-foot structure itself is not climbable right now due to COVID restrictions but the surrounding park is open and you can see foliage from there just as well. The park is open from 8 a.m. to sunset (which is around 6:30 p.m. these days).
Restaurant suggestions: Metro Bis is open Saturdays through Tuesdays for leisurely lunches at the Joseph Ensign House mansion (metrobis.com) or pop over to the Popover Bistro and Bakery, with casual healthy (and decadent) breakfast, brunch and lunch fare popoversimsbury.com
Farmington: Gazing and grazing
Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington was a jewel in Connecticut’s culture crown all summer during the COVID crisis. Its large lawn has hosted concerts, play readings, comedy shows and dance events by dozens of local artists who couldn’t work in their own spaces. (On Oct. 25 there’s a operatic tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg.) Hill-Stead has always been versatile that way. Its vast property of over 150 acres is anchored by a historic home that’s been turned into a museum of 18th century home furnishings, 19th and 20th century sculptures, an impressive collection of French Impressionist paintings and more. Tours have resumed, on a first-come first-served basis, for very small groups, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Outdoors, which is where you’ll want to be to look at leaves, Hill-Stead has three miles of hiking trails, including one that leads to a sheep farm. hillstead.org.
Restaurant recommendations: You can find New American cuisine at Fork & Fire and Neopolitan style pizza at Naples, next door to each other at the same address, 838 Farmington Ave.
Cornwall: Bridges of Litchfield County
The historic covered bridge in Cornwall is over 240 feet long, spanning the Housatonic River along Route 7, not far from where 7 meets 128. It was built in the 1840s, about a century after Cornwall became a town. In the late 1800s, covered bridges were commonplace, the roofs designed to protect the trusses and decks from rain and snow damage. A more recent covered bridge, Bull’s Bridge in Kent, is just six miles away. Nearby parks for scenic leafy walks include Lake Waramaug State Park in New Preston, Kent Falls State Park in Kent and White Falls Conservation Center in Litchfield. Covered bridges and other rustic traditions were celebrated by the historian and illustrator Eric Sloane, for whom a museum in Kent is named. The Eric Sloane Museum is currently closed, but its Facebook page is active daily for what it calls “Inktober,” posting Sloane sketches including a fabulous one Oct. 1 of the first covered bridge this great student of American rural craftsmanship ever drew, in Maine.
Restaurant recommendations: Upscale pub fare at @ the Corner in Litchfield (athecorner.com) or wood-fired pizzas and seasonal entrees from Swyft in Kent, which is open for takeout only. orehillandswyft.com.
Mystic: Cider and Wine
Take in the beauty of fall colors by the shoreline. Stop by BF Clyde, the oldest steam-powered cider mill in the country, and treat yourself to cider (both regular and hard varieties), apple wine and of course cider doughnuts. clydescidermill.com
More wine awaits at Jonathan Edwards in North Stonington. There are no tasting events or tours due to the COVID guidelines, but wine by the bottle or glass is available drinking outdoors on the spacious grounds or patio area. The winery also offers cheeses and other snacks for purchase. You can stroll about from noon to 5 p.m. seven days a week. Harvesting has been happening. Wine goes on. jedwardswinery.com
Restaurant recommendations: Engine Room in Mystic, a casual gastropub with burgers and sandwiches, entrees with locally-grown produce, meats and fish; craft beer and creative cocktails (engineroomct.com) or Red 36 in Mystic, with an enviable waterfront location in the Seaport Marine and a menu full of beachy cocktails and fresh seafood. red36ct.com.
Portland: Rails to trails
Air Line State Park Trail retains the name of a railroad line that could rush you from New York to Boston from the late 19th century to the mid-20th. The rails were ravaged by natural disasters, then rivaled by interstate highways, and are now part of a greenway beloved by bicyclists and hikers. The trail originally began in East Hampton, but two years ago was extended West to Portland. There are actually two trails: the South section from Portland to Windham and the north section from Windham to Pomfret.
Restaurant recommendations: If you’re on the East Hampton part of the trail, go find Po’s Rice and Spice Asian restaurant on that town’s Main Street (posriceandspice.com). Or ease down Route 66 to downtown Middletown, which offers such singular spots as Tibetan Kitchen (tibetankitchen.us), the iconic ION (It’s Only Natural) vegan/vegetarian/organic restaurant (ionrestaurant.com) or the outdoor seating at Eli Cannon’s Tap Room (elicannons.com).
East Haddam: The castle rocks
In fall, Gillette Castle feels like a fairy tale adventure: a castle surrounded by vibrantly colored trees. The castle is fairly modern, built in the 1910s by one of the world’s most famous actors of that time, William Gillette, known for portraying Sherlock Holmes on stage and (silent) screen. Gillette Castle is closed, but the forested grounds around it remain open from 8 a.m. to sunset every day. portal.ct.gov/DEEP/State-Parks/Parks.
Restaurant recommendations: The Gelston House (gelstonhouse.com), next door to another East Haddam landmark, the Goodspeed Opera House, has an expansive patio menu, with everything from lobster tacos and “Philly spring rolls” to seafood entrees, pizza and gourmet burgers. Or there’s nearby Marlborough, where the Marlborough Tavern (marlboroughtavernct.com) is offering online ordering and curbside pickup of its American pub food.
Christopher Arnott can be reached at email@example.com.
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