A REGION FOR ALL SEASONS
FROM SPRING FLOWER FESTIVALS AND SUMMER BEACH HOLIDAYS TO BRILLIANT AUTUMN FOLIAGE AND GREAT WINTER SPORTS – THIS IS THE IDEAL YEAR-ROUND DESTINATION.
As the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim Fathers’ landing in the north-east corner of the USA fast approaches, Kathy Arnold picks out her favourite spots in one of America’s most beautiful and historic regions.
“Winter, spring, summer or fall,” sang James Taylor, “All you got to do is call and I’ll be there.” That’s the way I feel about New England. Each and every season calls in its own way, making me want to hop on a plane to my favourite region in the USA.
In spring, daffodil and lilac festivals herald the start of a new year of serious gardening; summers are long and hot, perfect for sandy beach holidays; autumn brings the famous, flamboyant fall foliage; winter means skiing and boarding, plus cultural pleasures in cities. Also getting there and around is easy. In addition to Boston, I can fly to TF Green, near Providence, Rhode Island, or to Bradley, the international airport near Hartford, Connecticut, right in the heart of the region. And in a couple of hours, I can drive from the Atlantic shoreline of Connecticut, Rhode Island or Massachusetts to the mountains of Maine or New Hampshire.
When it comes to favourite places, my only problem is choice. I spent my university years in Boston, so New England’s unofficial capital has long been a second home. I walk everywhere – from Beacon Hill, with its lovely Georgianstyle homes, to the fast-changing South End, with its gallery and restaurant scene. A must for first-time visitors is the Freedom Trail, which links 16 sites that are important in early-American history – especially during the Revolution. The first shots in that war of independence were fired west of Boston in Lexington and Concord. Visit both towns to learn about the hows and whys of the rebellion.
For sheer glamour, it has to be Newport, Rhode Island, where the Gilded Age tycoons partied more than a century ago. Life both ‘above’ and ‘below’ stairs is explained on tours of the magnificent mansions; sunset cruises on America’s Cup yachts offer a taste of nautical luxury. But there is so much more. Two of the country’s most influential authors lived in Hartford, Connecticut’s state capital.
Spend time at the Mark Twain House and, next door, the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, which focuses on Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the struggle against slavery. Then there is shopping. I like a bargain and in Maine, the village of Freeport is a shopper’s delight, with outlets ranging from Abercrombie & Fitch to J Crew. But most of all, I enjoy having fun with New Englanders themselves at local events. In Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for example, that means summer evenings in Prescott Park for live music and theatre and, in autumn, the bustling craft beer festival.
HEAD FOR THE HEIGHTS
I find the lure of a hill, let alone a mountain, hard to resist. New England’s Big Daddy is 6,288-ft Mount Washington. Whether I ride the world’s oldest cog railway (150 years old next year!) or take the ‘stage’, a van that climbs the Auto Road, the reward at the summit is spectacular views of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. In Maine, Acadia National Park’s 26 peaks are ringed by ocean. Sometimes I hike, other times I pedal the seemingly-endless choice of well-marked trails. Over in western Massachusetts, I stay in the green, rolling Berkshire Hills, enjoying both their natural beauty and summer culture – in Tanglewood (the Boston Symphony Orchestra), Becket (Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival) and Lenox (Shakespeare & Company). In Connecticut’s equally-pretty Litchfield Hills, scenic Route 7 links antique shops, wooden-covered bridges and small towns, such as Kent and Cornwall. Their sophisticated inns and cafés cater to New Yorkers, who are only a couple of hours’ drive away to the south. Tiny Rhode Island boasts no peaks, but from Block Island’s 185-ft cliffs, the panorama takes in yachts and parasailers. Small and totally relaxing, this island haven is just 30 minutes from the mainland by fast ferry.
Ever since days at summer camp, I’ve been a fan of Cape Cod. But, as an adult, I’ve fallen in love with the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, just offshore. Think long sandy beaches, water sports galore and a ‘do nothing’ vibe ... as well as Nantucket’s fascinating whaling history and museum. But New England has 6,000 miles of sea coast, so there is plenty of variety. On New Hampshire’s mere 18 miles of coastline, Hampton Beach provides all the fun of the fair, from sand-sculpting
competitions and films on a big screen to fireworks. Equally family-friendly is Rhode Island. Between laid-back Weekapaug and Watch Hill, with its 1883 merry-goround, the clean sands and shallow waters of Misquamicut State Beach stretch for more than half-a-mile. Four times longer is Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison, Connecticut, with plenty for older children, from nature walks to swimming, boating and fishing. But not all of the New England shoreline is sandy; Maine’s rocky coast is studded with lighthouses and hidden coves. And getting out on the ocean is easy – go whale-watching from Boothbay Harbor; take a windjammer (schooner) cruise from Camden.
In 2020, Massachusetts celebrates the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Pilgrim Fathers – and Mothers! They settled in Plymouth, where costumed role players at Plimoth Plantation ‘live’ in 1627; next door, members of the Wampanoag tribe show how their forbears cooked,
built homes and carved dugout canoes. On the New Hampshire coast, Portsmouth was settled in 1630. At Strawbery Banke, a living history museum, that story is told by costumed interpreters in about 40 original homes, workshops and gardens. Say “Salem” and I think of witches. Today, Halloween is a jolly, month-long festival in this historic Massachusetts seaport, but 300 years ago, witchcraft was a life-and-death matter. Discover the truth about the town’s infamous trials at the 1692 Salem Witch Museum. Then learn about all-American author Nathaniel Hawthorne at the 17thcentury House of the Seven Gables. And, say hello to him – or, rather, to his portrait – at the Peabody Essex Museum.
In fact, wherever I am in New England, a fine museum is always at hand. Boston has half-a-dozen, including the Museum of Fine Arts, with the outstanding Art of the Americas collection. Maine has long inspired painters, and works by the likes of Winslow Homer and three generations of the Wyeth family are major draws in Portland’s Museum of Art and Rockland’s Farnsworth Museum. The Connecticut Art Trail highlights 21 contrasting museums, from New Haven’s massive, free Yale University Art Gallery to Old Lyme’s Florence Griswold Museum, the cradle of American Impressionism. And artists of the future train in Providence, where RISD, the Rhode Island School of Design, has a fascinating museum of decorative and fine art.
EATING AND DRINKING
When I think of New England, I think of clams and scallops, oysters, lobster and fish. But as well as fabulous seafood, there are farms and orchards inland. In summer
and autumn, country farm stands overflow with apples and pears, blueberries and pumpkins, apple cider doughnuts and corn on the cob.
The ‘fresh and local’ movement has triggered a wave of artisanal food making, from breads and cheeses to cider and spirits. To find the best, follow trails suggested on state websites. Connecticut’s ‘Burgers & Brews’ includes New Haven’s Louis’ Lunch, recognised as the birthplace of the American hamburger. New Hampshire offers a tempting Ice Cream Trail with 44 roadside stands. In Rhode Island, taste and try on chef-led foodie walking tours. In Massachusetts, drop by one of the 150 breweries; the grain and hops are often grown in the state. Last, but by no means least, is lobster. Eat it in a roll, a salad or a ‘stew’. Check the Maine website for lobster ‘shacks’. In these simple restaurants, you pull on a bib, crack open a freshly-boiled lobster, dig out the meat and dip it in melted butter. Yummy!