EAST COAST CHARM

Irish Independent - Weekend Magazine - - Travel -

Just over an hour from both New York and Bos­ton, Con­necti­cut is well known in Amer­ica as a gate­way state — al­low­ing for a quick es­cape to big­ger and bet­ter-known tourist des­ti­na­tions. But what about spend­ing time in one of the small­est states in the US it­self? That was my plan, and I found the Con­sti­tu­tion State has re­ally upped its game when it comes to down-time. “Con­necti­cut is beau­ti­ful in the Fall”, is the first thing I heard when I told those in the know of my travel plans. I was vis­it­ing in au­tumn, and was ex­pect­ing plenty of quaint, leaf-strewn Con­necti­cut towns. I wasn’t dis­ap­pointed when, just a short drive from Bradley In­ter­na­tional Air­port, we landed at our first overnight stop — the town of Sims­bury.

Feel­ing like I had just stepped onto the set of the Gil­more Girls, I was im­me­di­ately taken by the authen­tic, All-Amer­i­can feel of the town and the charm­ing Sims­bury Inn, where we spent the night. How­ever, it wasn’t the only place I found my­self gawk­ing at the mix of charm­ing and stately homes — both mag­nif­i­cent and tra­di­tion­ally Amer­i­can in their build­ing style.

A high­light of my trip was the fas­ci­nat­ing tour of the Harry Pot­ter-es­que cam­pus of one of the world’s most fa­mous uni­ver­si­ties — Yale ( yale.edu). In a short hour, we were shown around the sprawl­ing city cam­pus by a 21-year-old eco­nom­ics ma­jor who left us im­pressed — both at the his­tory and anec­dotes of daily life at the €47k-per-year uni — but also at how she man­aged to han­dle her stud­ies while vol­un­teer­ing for char­ity, en­joy­ing a busy so­cial life and a se­nior po­si­tion in the bal­let so­ci­ety.

In­stead of a stand­alone cam­pus re­moved from every day life, Yale build­ings are a cen­tre piece of one of Con­necti­cut’s big­gest and bustling cities, New Haven. Here, I found my­self tak­ing a city tour by party bike ( elm­c­i­ty­par­ty­bike. com), drink­ing beer and munch­ing on pizza from cen­turies-old fam­ily joint Peppes, just one of many pop­u­lar eater­ies in the city’s ‘Lit­tle Italy’ (its white clam pizza has been voted No.1 in Amer­ica). We also made a quick stop at Louis Lunch, said to be the birth­place of the Amer­i­can ham­burger. To­day, the own­ers still don’t al­low ketchup and serve burg­ers be­tween two slices of toasted bread.

As well as food and built her­itage, Con­necti­cut is fa­mous for its nat­u­ral beauty. Nowhere was this more glar­ing than the coastal town of Madi­son. Here, we en­joyed the beach­front views just out­side the door of the im­pres­sive Wharf and Madi­son Beach Ho­tel — a huge hit with wed­ding par­ties — be­fore de­vour­ing a steak in the ho­tel’s bustling restau­rant. Built in 1958, and re­mod­elled sev­eral times, all 15 bed­rooms have been in­di­vid­u­ally dec­o­rated (my room even had a fire­place).

Madi­son is within a short drive of a num­ber of at­trac­tions, in­clud­ing The Es­sex River­boat & Stream Train ( es­sexsteam­train.com), a leisurely way to take in the State’s lush green­ery — from the com­fort of your seat with a drink in hand. Run­ning for 46 years, the jour­ney lasts two-and-a-half hours, bring­ing pas­sen­gers to Deep River Land­ing, where they board the Becky Thatcher river­boat for a cruise along the Con­necti­cut River.

The train also boasts a first class car­riage for those look­ing for arm­chair lux­ury and the Mar­gar­i­tas pack a punch!

If you’re a Ju­lia Roberts fan, stop nearby at the pic­turesque sea­side town of Mys­tic — lo­ca­tion for the movie Mys­tic Pizza and a pop­u­lar photo opp for fans. Easy on the eye, the town boasts one of the coun­try’s big­gest mar­itime mu­se­ums, Mys­tic Sea­port ( mys­tic­sea­port.org), which brings you back in time as you stroll through its In liv­ing colour: (

New Haven is an au­tum­nal par­adise; lit­er­ary buffs will

The sou­venir-sized US state of Con­necti­cut has upped its game when it comes to down­time, says Eimear Rab­bitt

Fish is a must-try in CT — the Ar­ti­san Restau­rant in West Hart­ford’s De­la­mar Ho­tel, the Madi­son Beach Ho­tel and Mill­wrights in Sims­bury ( mill­wright­srestau­rant.com) have some ex­cel­lent fish cour­ses. New Eng­land coastal vil­lage and work­ing ship­yard. It’s also home to the world’s old­est whale­ship — the 1841 Charles W Mor­gan — which tourists are free to ex­plore.

For lit­er­ary fans, Mark Twain’s fam­ily home in Con­necti­cut’s cap­i­tal, Hart­ford, is also worth a visit ( mark­t­wain­house.org). Born Sa­muel Cle­mens in Mis­souri in 1835, Twain lived in this house be­tween 1874 and 1891, pen­ning some of his most fa­mous works and bring­ing char­ac­ters like Huck­le­berry Finn and Tom Sawyer to life. The fully re­stored house gives a fas­ci­nat­ing in­sight into his life and times.

Aptly named the ‘Con­sti­tu­tion State’, Con­necti­cut is also steeped in Na­tive Amer­i­can his­tory — a lot of which is doc­u­mented in the most im­pres­sive Mashan­tucket Pe­quot Mu­seum ( pe­quot­mu­seum.org). With in­ter­ac­tive el­e­ments and archive ma­te­rial among a huge ar­ray of ex­hibits, the mu­seum — span­ning five lev­els — brings to life the story of the Mashan­tucket Pe­quot tribe and charts the rich cul­tural his­tory of Na­tive Amer­i­cans in the north­east.

To­day, the Mashan­tucket Pe­quot Tribal Na­tion own and op­er­ate the largest re­sort casino in North Amer­ica, Fox­woods ( fox­woods.com), which, as well as seven casi­nos, ho­tels, res­tau­rants, spas and golf, also boasts a shop­ping out­let. But if you are look­ing to ex­plore the mu­seum be­fore head­ing across to en­joy a roll of the dice and hit­ting the shops for some bar­gain hunt­ing, make sure to give your­self plenty of time. It de­serves it.

As does the shop­ping. I also got a chance to sam­ple Con­necti­cut’s other out­let — Clin­ton Cross­ing Premium Out­lets ( pre­mi­u­mout­lets.com). I left im­pressed with the deals on of­fer at the 70 stores, depart­ing for the air­port with a much heav­ier case... and a much lighter purse.

main)( right) get a kick out of vis­it­ing Mark Twain’s fam­ily home in Hart­ford

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