Best of Connecticut 2009: Diversions

 

FAMILY AMUSEMENT

Lake Compounce
Bristol, (860) 583-3300 (lakecompounce.com)

Planning a daycation or two this year? Head to Lake Compounce, America's first family theme park, a destination guaranteed to provide a week's worth of fun and excitement. The kids will love thrilling rides like Boulder Dash, Zoomerang and Thunder 'n' Lightning, or chilling near the lake in Anchor Bay, Clipper Cove and Mammoth Falls. Also fun for the whole family are the street entertainment and live shows in the Starlight Theatre and on the outdoor stage and Circus World Stage.

FESTIVAL

International Festival of Arts and Ideas
New Haven, (888) ART-IDEA (artidea.org)

Celebrating its 15th anniversary last June, the International Festival of Arts and Ideas is an all-New-Haven event with an international vision. This 15-day festival offers diversions ranging from local music, dance groups and poetry slams to film discussions and civic/political forums. There's also an impressive lineup of talent from around the world. Take advantage of them all, as most of the events are free. Make sure you mark your calendar next year-it's an event you don't want to miss!

MARINA

Saybrook Point Inn & Spa
Old Saybrook, (800) 243-0212 (saybrook.com)

Named National Marina of the Year in 2007 by Marina Dock Age, Saybrook Point's docks accommodate 125 vessels up to 200 feet long with every possible amenity, and even an official designation from the State of Connecticut as an environmentally clean marina (the first to be so designated in the state). And what could be more pleasant than docking your boat and going in to enjoy a first-class meal at Saybrook Point Inn & Spa, or the nearby pleasures of Old Saybrook and the Connecticut shore?

BALLET

Connecticut Ballet
Stamford, (203) 964-1211 (connecticutballet.com)

Since its establishment in 1981, Connecticut Ballet has solidified its reputation as the state's premier classical and contemporary ballet company. While director Brett Raphael has commissioned new works by contemporary choreographers for the company, they also showcase the classics: Cinderella, Giselle, Coppelia, Sleeping Beauty and every child's favorite, The Nutcracker.

BED & BREAKFAST

The Inn at Kent Falls
Kent, (860) 927-3197 (theinnatkentfalls.com)

Travel & Leisure magazine loved it, and we're fortunate enough to call it our own: The Inn at Kent Falls is an unparalleled B&B in a state fairly brimming with them. And while the northwest corner of the state may be off the beaten path for many, it is so worth the trip. The setting is serene and you may never want to leave, but for the record, there are many lovely Litchfield County attractions nearby. Visit the antiques shops, art galleries, clothing stores and restaurants in the village of Kent, or set off for a day on Lake Waramaug. When you return, you'll will be pampered in one of three suites or a queen-sized room. The food and amenities are fabulous; there's a spa, a pool and stunning gardens. Grab someone you love and go!

BOOKSTORE

R.J. Julia Booksellers
Madison, (800) 74-READS (rjjulia.com)

Independent bookstores may be a dying breed, but long live this one, a great place to find "just the right book." Owner Roxanne Coady, who hosts readings by authors (many from Connecticut), monthly open mics, weekly story hours and more in this bookshop/community center, says she's always had "an idealistic belief in the magic of books." Happily, she shares the magic with the rest of us.

CITY HOTEL

The Study at Yale
New Haven, (203) 503-3900 (studyhotels.com)

New Haven could use six or seven more Study Hotels. Surrounded by the Yale School of Art and a few doors down from the School of Architecture, it has a modernistic, glass-fronted European-style façade and 125 rooms and suites with lots of elegantly homey amenities: overstuffed leather chairs, Frette linens, Vermont-made wool blankets, stocked bookshelves and an all-day room-service menu with comfort-food treats from coffee and beignets to lobster fried rice. If  you can spare $1,400 a night, head straight for the Presidential Suite, with complimentary wet bar and Bose stereo system-if not, the on-site Heirloom Restaurant, serving New American cuisine, is a superb indulgence.

COUNTRY INN

Copper Beech Inn
Ivoryton, (860) 767-0330 (copperbeechinn.com)

Nestled in the quaintly named town of Ivoryton in the lower Connecticut River Valley just minutes from the shoreline is a charming inn that invites rest, relaxation and romance. The Copper Beech is noted for its luxurious suites and guest rooms, all of them restored with period antiques. It's also home to a renowned Country French (AAA Four Diamond) restaurant and a 4,000-bottle award-winning wine cellar, not to mention the popular Brasserie Pip. The menu always features locally grown foods, the finest meats and cheeses . . . unforgettable meals that complement the classic ambience of this extraordinary inn.

DESTINATION SPA

The Spa at Norwich Inn
Norwich, (860) 886-2401, (800) ASK-4-SPA (thespaatnorwichinn.com)

There are spas . . . and then there are otherworldly experiences. The Spa at Norwich Inn is in the latter category. The beauty of this full-service heavenly retreat tucked into the woods lies in its comfort level (very high!) and array of offerings . . . choose from fitness programs, nutritional instruction and beauty and body treatments. You'll get lots of personal attention here-whether you stay for a day or a month. Packages are designed to highlight the spa's special services (which are surprisingly affordable), but go a la carte if you prefer.

FARMER'S MARKET

CitySeed Farmer's Market
New Haven, (203) 773-3736 (cityseed.org)

The CitySeed mission is admirable-to engage the community in growing an equitable, local food system that promotes economic and community development and sustainable agriculture. The CitySeed shopping experience is incomparable. Visit these established farmer's markets in New Haven and you'll take home the freshest Connecticut-grown produce, organic vegetables, homemade baked goods-and the great feeling you get from buying and eating food that is good for you. The location varies day to day, and the selection week to week, depending on what's in season.

FLOWER/GARDEN CENTER

White Flower Farm
Litchfield, (800) 503-9624 (whiteflowerfarm.com)

It's way more than a place to buy plants. White Flower Farm is a destination in itself and a great excuse to take a glorious day trip to Litchfield County. You could spend a whole day just wandering through the seemingly endless displays of stunning flowers and shrubs-not to mention everything else you need to grow an unforgettable garden. Find it all here: The highest-quality bulbs, plants and seeds . . . perennials, annuals, shrubs and vines . . . garden tools and supplies . . . arbors and trellises, boots, hats, gloves . . . containers, fertilizer, kitchen gifts . . . books . . . and (yes) more!

HAUNTED ATTRACTION

Trail of Terror
PNA Park, Wallingford (trailofterror.com)

It's not simply the thrills, chills and scares that make the Trail of Terror great-although there are many of them spread across the attraction's three wooded acres-or the fact that the trail provides over 45 minutes worth of entertaining fright on any given night, but the fact that the Trail is a fundraiser: Over $100,000 a season has been raised for the Red Cross and other local charities. Putting the "care" in "scare" and having a lot of Halloween fun in the process-now that's worth a shoutout, as well as a few screams, too!

INDEPENDENT CINEMA

Cinestudio
Hartford, (860) 297-CINE (cinestudio.org)

How do we love Cinestudio? Let us count a few ways: 1. It's modeled after the classic movie palaces of the 1930s, with a mind-blowing, custom-made gold Austrian shade curtain. 2. After 40 years, it still schedules the best-and sometimes impossible to find elsewhere-in classic, current, foreign and indie films. 3. A not-for-profit arts organization, it's largely managed by a volunteer army of 50 Trinity College students (the campus on which the theater stands) and community members: One early volunteer was Trinity alum and Hollywood director Stephen Gyllenhaal (father of actors Maggie and Jake). 4. Its ubiquitous lion logo was inspired by the "lion courant" in A Lion in Winter and is thus the coolest lion since MGM's Leo.

MUSEUM

New Britain Museum of American Art
New Britain, (860) 229-0257 (nbmaa.org)

The NBMAA enjoys the distinction of having been the first museum in the country exclusively dedicated to American art; it currently prides itself on housing an extraordinary collection of works (more than 5,000 dating from 1740 to the present) by such American masters as Cassatt, Cole, Sargent, Whistler and Wyeth. The museum relies on its permanent collection for exhibitions but frequently shows works by emerging artists. And the building-including its inviting café and patio-is a work of art in itself.

NIGHT AT THE BALLPARK

Bridgeport Bluefish
Bridgeport, (203) 345-4800 (bridgeportbluefish.com)

Sure, there are nine innings of exciting Independent League baseball to see at every home game at The Ballpark at Harbor Yard, but that's just where the family fun begins! The Kids Cove, regular autograph sessions with the players, between-inning promotions like a dizzy-bat race and rubber-chicken catch, visits with B.B. the team mascot, lots of giveaways and all sorts of special events-plus party suites and a picnic area-all make for a great visit to the stadium. Oh, and don't forget the hot dogs, peanuts and CrackerJack!

USED BOOK STORE

Book Barn
Niantic, (860) 739-5715 (bookbarnniantic.com)

Love to read? Hie thee to The Book Barn. This mainstay source for used books of every genre has something in the neighborhood of 350,000 titles in stock at any given time. Six onsite buildings (and another in downtown Niantic) . . . the browsing goes on forever. The books are all arranged by subject (although new arrivals are stored temporarily in the "Ellis Island" building, where some great finds have been unearthed). It will take hours to peruse all the stacks, so make a day of it. And Saturday through Thursday, the very capable staff will buy your used books for cash or store credit. Win-win!

VIDEO STORE

Best Video
Hamden, (800) 727-3843 (bestvideo.com)

In this Netflix/YouTube/Hulu era, perhaps the concept of a neighborhood video store seems a little quaint-but when one is as comprehensive as Best, we still say "Bravo." With more than 40,000 titles available for rent and more than 2,000 for sale on its Web site, it offers options you'll be hard-pressed to find elsewhere, including VHS titles and ultra niche flicks like The Boy Who Drank Too Much (starring Scott Baio) and Caravan to Vaccares (with David Birney and Charlotte Rampling)-not to mention scrumptious snacks.

WATERFRONT ATTRACTION

Mystic Seaport
Mystic, (860) 572-5315 (mysticseaport.org)

We've been visiting Mystic Seaport-the No. 1 U.S. maritime museum-for more than 40 years, and it never grows old. Our favorite stops in this re-created 19th-century coastal village: Treworgy Planetarium, for a quick lesson in celestial navigation, the Mystic Press Printing Office and Preservation Shipyard, to watch antique vessels being restored. When we step aboard the 1841 whaling ship Charles W. Morgan, we get the same frisson we got at age 10. Call us geeks, but without it, we never would have fallen in love with the history and lore of the Connecticut coast-just like the 300,000 others who visit every year.

Best of Connecticut 2009: Diversions

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