Emily s. Damstra
As far as we’re concerned, the only trouble with fall in Connecticut is that it tends to end rather badly, with freezing temperatures, icy roads and a barrage of holiday commercial messages. Up until that point, however, it is a wonderful time of year to be out and about, taking in the state’s natural beauty, spending a night in a cozy country inn, firing up the grill for a tailgating Saturday afternoon. We know there aren’t enough weekends to do all you want, but perhaps the ideas we’ve assembled on the following pages will help you get organized. In any event, don’t waste any time. The ice storm cometh!
Although it seems that during October you can drive just about anywhere in the state and enjoy fine foliage, there are a few rides that offer more spectacular fall scenery than others. Here’s one to try that winds its way through the Litchfield Hills and showcases them in all their autumnal glory, and features two of the area’s historic covered bridges.
Actually, the ride starts at the first bridge, which spans the Housatonic River near the intersection of Bulls Bridge Road and U.S. Route 7 in Bulls Bridge. From here, head north on Route 7, where the roadway snakes alongside the river and eventually becomes Main Street in Kent, with myriad antiques shops, galleries and restaurants. Just beyond the town center is Kent Falls State Park, home to a 250-foot-high waterfall that seems even more majestic amid the hues of fall.
Continuing the ride, it’s a short way to the junction with Route 4 in Cornwall Bridge; continuing north on Route 7 for a quick detour takes you to the second covered bridge, an iconic Connecticut destination where you’ll probably want to stop and snap a few pictures. Then head back down to Route 4 west to begin your formal ascent into the Litchfield Hills.
At the junction with Route 41, turn right and head north onto Main Street in Sharon, a charming town center lined with large historic homes and a few small shops. Route 41 north of Sharon center is pure Litchfield Hills, a scenic stretch of rolling farms and picturesque vistas. Eventually, you go through Lakeville Center, another pleasing little spot, and eventually reach Salisbury, a destination with interesting shops and restaurants.
One of the best things about fall is the return of high school football, and Connecticut is home to the longest-running rivalry in the nation, the annual Thanksgiving contest between Norwich Free Academy and New London High School. When the Whalers sail into Norwich on Nov. 24 to play the Wildcats at Turf Field, it’ll mark the 137th straight year the teams have squared off for local supremacy. (Unofficially, Norwich leads the series 76-61, with 11 ties.) Over the decades, there have been many memorable moments, such as the 130-0 first-half drubbing by NFA in 1902 that caused New London to give up in the second half, and the contest in 1889 that was suspended when the only game ball was allegedly kicked into a snow squall and never seen again. With so much history between the two teams, the match-up has transcended the action on the field, becoming a holiday tradition that draws a substantial number of spirited fans and alumni from both communities.
’Tis the time of chills and thrills, spooks and scares. Here are a few of our favorite haunts.
• The theme of this year’s edition of Wallingford’s Trail of Terror is “Central Valley Hospital-NC 17: Nightmare Clinic,” which means plenty of bloodthirsty doctors and crazed mental patients roaming the grounds in addition to the regular cast of costumed creeps. (trailofterror.com)
• Likewise, there should be plenty of ghastly ghouls, gnarly nasties and horrific sights at Lake Compounce’s annual Haunted Graveyard, where scare-seekers can ride the park’s attractions when they’re not being scared out of their wits. (hauntedgraveyard.com)
• The Rocky Horror Picture Show will be playing at various venues around the state this month, but for the first time, fans can do the Time Warp (again) in IMAX as the cult classic stages a one-night engagement at The Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk on Oct. 29 at 9. Costumes are encouraged. (203/852-0700; maritimeaquarium.org)
• For those interested in following the dead (not the band), on Oct. 9 the Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington offers a “Walking Tour of Memento Mori,” a guided tour of Farmington’s ancient burying ground including stories about some of the notable folk buried there. (860/677-9222; stanleywhitman.org)
• If you’re looking to possibly see “live” ghosts, the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford will be offering “Spirits at Stowe: An Otherworldly Tour” on Friday and Saturday nights in October. Learn about Stowe’s interest in spirits and the unusual events that allegedly happened in the house. (860/522-9258; stowecenter.org)
Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Parks and Forests (ct.gov/dep) would be happy to guide you to the top (as in best and highest) spots from which to view the annual grand spectacle of knockout foliage. They came up with eight picks; here are the five with lookout towers:
- Haystack Mountain State Park, West Norfolk—Take Route 272 to the park entrance, which leads to the parking area; from there it’s a 15-minute walk to the tower and its 360-degree views of the leafy countryside.
- Mohawk State Forest, Cornwall—Take Route 4 to the forest entrance at Tourney Road. Go to the “T,” turn right onto Mohawk Mountain Road and at the end you’ll find the tower, with scenic vistas to the north and west that take in the Catskill, Taconic and Berkshire ranges, and to the south, Long Island Sound (you can also drive to the top, and there are scenic overlooks along the way).
- Shenipsit State Forest, Somers—Take Route 190 to Gulf Road to Soap Stone Mountain Road, which leads to the parking lot (the tower at the highest point is the only lookout tower in northeast Connecticut).
- Sleeping Giant State Park, Hamden—Take Route 10 to Mount Carmel Avenue. The park’s main entrance and parking are just ahead on your left, with a mile-and-a-half path to the WPA-built tower, where a 360-degree view looks south to Long Island and north past Hartford.
- Talcott Mountain State Park, Simsbury—Take Route 185 to the entrance, park along the road, hike to the ridge (already 980 feet above sea level) and bear left to Heublein Tower; 120 steps later you reach the observation room that was the ballroom in the 165-foot tower/summer home of food-liquor empire builder Gilbert Heublein, a belated wedding gift to this wife (okay, in 1875 he promised his then fiancée he’d build her a castle here and didn’t do it till 1914, but who’s counting?). Its 360-degree views take in the Farmington River Valley and, on a clear day, north as far as New Hampshire and south to the Sound. If you like to enjoy the high life with friends, The Friends of Heublein Tower’s “Tower Toot” fundraiser (music, food, fun) is Oct. 15 and 16.
To those we’ll add three personal favorites: Mount Tom State Park in Litchfield, where a half-mile climb leads to a tower with 360-degree views of Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts; Dennis Hill State Park in Norfolk, where you can drive to the top and from a tower-topped manse see as far as New Hampshire; and Hubbard Park in Meriden, where Castle Craig, a Norman watchtower look-alike, presides over the highest point within 25 miles of the coast between Maine and Florida and takes in the Berkshires to the west, Mount Tom in Masschusetts to the north and the Sound to the south.
With more than 800 miles of blue-blazed trails and countless others in town parks and land trusts, or just along back roads in the country, Connecticut offers many pleasures to the hiker at this most glorious time of year. Here are three hikes of varying types to consider this month:
- White Memorial Conservation Center, a private land trust in Litchfield, features 35 miles of easy trails through a variety of environments. There’s a marked nature trail and a boardwalk trail that takes hikers over water and wetlands. An early-morning hike followed by breakfast in town is a very good way to go. (whitememorialcc.org)
- Looking for a view that’s worth the climb? Try ascending (it’s pretty steep!) from Giuffrida Park in Meriden up to the Mattabesset Trail as it skirts the cliffs of Chauncey Peak. The views west to the Hanging Hills and below to Crescent Lake are splendid. There’s even a spot from which, on a very clear day, you can see both downtown Hartford and New Haven. (ctwoodlands.org)
The changing colors may not be as dramatic in October along the coast as they are in the hills, but the hiking at Bluff Point State Park in Groton is great in any season. This is a level trail with both waterfront and inland features, and you’re likely to have lots of company as you go. But not all hikers like being alone in the woods, right? (ct.gov/dep)
There’s no taste we savor more in October than that of fresh apple cider and tangy, farm-baked cider doughnuts—luckily, Connecticut is packed with orchards ready to provide. Buell’s Orchard in Eastford (860/974-1150; buellsorchard.com) boasts an operating cider press, doughnuts fresh from its on-site bakery and a special bonus—treats made at its thriving caramel apple factory. Mark your calendars for Oct. 8 and 10, when Buell’s hosts its annual Harvest Festival. l The owners of Sharon’s Ellsworth Hill Orchard & Berry Farm (860/364-0025; ellsworthfarm.com) won’t divulge which “secret” apple varieties are used to make their cider and doughnuts, but you might be able to guess by peeking at the cider mill through the window in the retail store. l Cider doughnuts are “famous” at Rogers Orchards (rogersorchards.com), which has two locations in Southington: the Home Farm salesroom (860/229-4240) and the Sunnymount salesroom (203/879-1206). Of course, the big kahuna of farm stores is the Apple Barrel at Lyman Orchards in Middlefield (860/349-1793; lymanorchards.com), where you can find cider and doughnuts year-round. But we’d rather enjoy them in the fall, when we visit Lyman’s famed corn maze and pick-your-own pumpkin patch.
This is prime time to repair to a cozy bar. One of the coziest is G.W. Tavern in Washington (860/868-6633), with its well-edited beer and wine selection, a menu of iconic fall dishes—meatloaf, chili, chicken potpie—and the scent of woodsmoke wafting from the fieldstone fireplace. There’s often live music on Fridays and Saturdays. . . . The Hearthstone Pub (860/628-0877), a century-old post-and-beam in Southington, has a 25-foot loft, a handsome fireplace, 16 beers on tap and a far-ranging menu that includes everything from Buffalo wings and stuffed mushrooms to Chilean sea bass and prime filets. A great place to watch the game. . . . Another perfect autumn destination is the bar at the picturesque circa-1700s Roger Sherman Inn (203/966-4541) in New Canaan, with lots of dark wood, brass sconces and fox-hunting prints on the walls. On the menu are classics like pot au feu, calf’s liver and moules marinière. Sit in the bar or out on the lovely adjoining verandah, if it’s not too cold, to admire the foliage.
As the air grows chillier, it seems nothing satisfies anyone better than a hot bowl of soup—and Chef’s Table in Fairfield (203/255-1779; chefstable.com) offers an embarrassment of riches. Serving no fewer than 12 “soups of the day,” its fall best-sellers include snappy mulligatawny, turkey chili, smooth butternut squash and hearty Minnesota wild rice. Make it a feast by adding a wrap, panini, burger or even some selections from the California salad bar to your meal, while casting an eye over the vast array of music memorabilia (album covers, photos, concert tickets) dressing the walls.
Lunch in the Country
What could be finer than an autumn meander through the Litchfield Hills that culminates in lunch at The White Horse Country Pub in Washington? The welcome is warm, there’s a fire crackling in the fireplace, and the crowd-pleasing menu features 10 salads, fish-and-chips, Steakhouse Shepherd’s Pie (made with ground sirloin) and bangers and mash. The “extravagant” signature burger, made with a succulent blend of Black Angus sirloin, brisket and short rib, is to die for. (860/868-1496; whitehorsecountrypub.com)
When it comes to fall, we like our hostelries small, quaint, exclusive and surrounded by plenty of gorgeous scenery. Here are four for your consideration.
- The Dana-Holcombe House, Newtown (203/426-2000; danaholcombehouse.com). Located at the famed flagpole on Newtown’s historic Main Street, Dana-Holcombe—which opened its doors in 2005—has earned a golden reputation with wedding planners, business travelers, and couples looking for a quiet overnight in a town without any pesky, touristy hoopla. Six distinctive guest rooms range from the cozy, burgundy-red Polo Room, perfect for snuggling when it’s nippy outside, to the ultraspacious Americana Suite, which sleeps six—just right for bringing the family. Decide amongst yourselves what’s more spectacular, the gourmet breakfasts or the foliage views.
- The Falls Village Inn, Falls Village (860/824-0033; thefallsvillageinn.com). There’s lore aplenty in the history of The Falls Village Inn. At one time allegedly a brothel (no word on whether the ghostly presence here dates from that era), it’s caught fire twice since it was built in the heart of “Connecticut’s Brigadoon,” Falls Village. The second mishap, in 1924, led to the chartering of the village’s volunteer fire department, right next door. Given that interior designer extraordinaire (and village resident) Bunny Williams remade the inn in magical style in 2010, we suspect hard times are a thing of the past. Rooms (two standard, two deluxe suites) come with wireless Internet and flat-screen TVs; the dining room and 40-seat Tap Room serve gourmet comfort food.
- Longwood Country Inn, Woodbury (203/266-0800; longwoodcountryinn.com). You’ve got to have some geek appreciation for a place that names its four rooms and three suites after favorite historical personages: master gardener Gertrude Jekyll, Golden Hill Paugussett Indian chief Pomperaug, Woodbury settler Zachariah Walker, etc. But the dining rooms—outfitted with three wood-burning fireplaces and serving fine French-American cuisine—are for lovers; they were deemed a “Romantic Top” in last year’s Zagat Survey and have won the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.
Stonecroft Country Inn, Ledyard (800/772-0774; stonecroft.com). A member of Select Registry, this 10-room bed-and-breakfast is actually two inns in one: an 1807 Georgian Colonial, with wide-plank floors and wood-burning fireplaces, and a post-and-beam barn called The Grange, with whirlpool baths and gas fireplaces. (And yes, the management plays fast and loose with the B&B concept, as you can enjoy fab regional, seasonal cuisine at Stonecroft’s Friday and Saturday night dinners.) Keep an eye out for the traditional weekend Hide ’n’ Sleep packages, which include a three-course dinner and full country breakfast for two, and a welcome basket of fruit, cheese and wine.
To some college-sports fans the tailgate is as important as the game of football itself. Based on years of tradition, and the planning that goes into these parties now, that just may be the case.
Yale University in New Haven has elevated its pre-game picnicking skills to a sacred art—especially for the Yale-Harvard game.
Expect the Bulldogs (yalebulldogs.com) to pull out all the stops at “The Game” scheduled for Nov. 19 at Yale Bowl to make up for last year’s watered-down festivities in Boston (constrained by Harvard’s strict rules). Young and old alike will no doubt turn out with classic spirit, arriving with gas grills (for safety, no charcoal fires or open flames), burgers, libations and, of course, a favorite comfy chair.
With finely honed partying skills of their own on display, University of Connecticut Husky fans start cooking hot dogs and burgers three hours before the game begins at Rentschler Field. Decked out in blue and white, they cheer on the team with the rebel yell, “UConn Huskies UH!”
This season, the Huskies (uconnhuskies.com) are set to play seven home games, highlighted by four Big East Conference games (USF, Syracuse, Louisville and Rutgers), hosting USF for Homecoming on Oct. 15. Home-conference games are scheduled for Nov. 5 (Syracuse), Nov. 19 (Louisville) and Nov. 26 (Rutgers).
The celebration continues after the game, too, in the Rentschler Field parking lot. Note: Beer Pong is not officially allowed.
Campuses are home to cozy, eclectic coffee shops and hangout spots, and even if you’re not enrolled you can still enjoy the atmosphere. Here are a few fun places to kick back or hit the books this fall:
• Formerly named Café Muse, The Beanery is located in UConn’s art museum, the William Benton Museum of Art in Storrs. The new name is a nod to the building’s past. From 1920 to 1950, it was the university dining hall, known around campus as “the beanery.” Archival photographs from that era are on display in the new Beanery.
• Connecticut College’s student-run Coffee Grounds, located on the campus in New London, is a cool place to kick back, study and enjoy fresh-baked goodies, coffee and special events including live music, poetry readings and open mic nights.
• Trinity College in Hartford is home to the Underground Coffeehouse, a student-run study and/or socialize spot serving fair-trade, organic coffee from the Bean & Leaf in New London and featuring live entertainment in the evenings.
• Every Thursday at 8 p.m., the Midtown Coffeehouse on the campus of Western Connecticut State University in Danbury offers an evening that begins with an hour of open mic followed by a featured performer or themed entertainment. All performances are free, but donations are welcome.
Looking to get spooked on campus this month? Check out these haunted happenings around the state.
- Famed ghost-hunter Lorraine Warren appears at Southern Connecticut State University’s Lyman Center on Oct. 26. At this SCSU Halloween tradition, Warren will share stories of supernatural encounters.
- At Yale’s Peabody Museum, learn about spiders, snakes and other spooky specimens at “Mysteries of Halloween,” taking place on Oct. 29.
The annual Halloween Concert at Connecticut College, starring Professor of Music and organist John Anthony, will take place at Harkness Chapel on Halloween night, beginning at 8 p.m. Costumes are encouraged!
Concerts, Plays, Galleries & Lectures
Connecticut’s colleges present a variety of plays, concerts, dance, lectures, children’s programs and exhibits this semester. Best of all, you don’t have to be a student to attend—the doors are open to all.
- Wesleyan University’s Center for the Arts in Middletown (wesleyan.edu/cfa) kicks off its innovative Breaking Ground Dance Series on Oct. 1 with Rennie Harris Puremovement, a program of hip-hop dance choreographed by troupe founder Rennie Harris. On Nov. 10, Water is Rising presents music and dance traditions of the Pacific to draw attention to the effects of climate change on the Pacific Islands. And Nov. 18 & 19, playwright Talvin Wilks and dancers from the Bebe Miller Company pre-sent History, a multimedia dance/theater project.
- At Fairfield U., the Quick Center for the Arts’ (quickcenter.com) Open Visions Forum hosts CBS chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan on Oct. 3 in “Apartheid to Afghanistan: Reporting from the Front Lines.” John Malkovich stars in the drama The Infernal Comedy Confessions of a Serial Killer, based on the life story of convicted serial killer Jack Unterweger, on Nov. 15.
- Southern Connecticut State University’s Lyman Center in New Haven (southernct.edu/lymancenter) features jazz this season with Boney James on Oct. 22, The Rippingtons on Nov. 19 and Peter White, Mindi Abair and Kirk Whalum on Dec. 2.
- Saint Joseph College’s Carol Autorino Center for the Performing Arts in West Hartford (sjc.edu) hosts Peter Yarrow in Concert on Oct. 1.
- UConn’s Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts in Storrs (jorgensen.uconn.edu) brings life-size puppets to the stage in Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, a musical adaptation of William Steig’s Caldecott Medal winner, on Oct. 9.
Housatonic Museum of Art at Housatonic Community College (hcc.commnet.edu) in Bridgeport presents Polaridad Complementaria: Recent Works from Cuba, which showcases the work of a new generation of influential artists, through Oct. 20.