Halfway up Talcott Mountain I have a crisis of faith. I’m hoping to reach the mountain’s ridge but the trail is steeper than I remember, and a once-brisk day is starting to feel hot. I have a lot of places to visit today and this hike is more tiring and taking longer than anticipated. I’ve been to the top before, I reason; I don’t have to return. Reluctantly, I push through to the mountain’s peak. I’m rewarded with a panoramic vista of the Connecticut countryside. It’s picture-perfect enough to compete with the likes of New Hampshire and Vermont, and, minus a few modern dwellings and roads, unspoiled enough to stand in for a backdrop in Westeros (warning: more Game of Thrones references are coming). It is, in short, well worth a steep hike to get here, and one of many reasons Simsbury is a town worth visiting.
Incorporated as a Connecticut town way back in 1670, Simsbury remains a classic New England location with an abundance of farmland, bike trails, and natural beauty visible almost everywhere you look. At the same time, it is home to some of the state’s most acclaimed restaurants. There’s too much to see and do in Simsbury to fit it all in a single day, but I tried my hardest.
9 a.m. Bagels and bacon
Brookside Bagels is a family-run, breakfast-and-lunch spot that comes highly recommended. Located in a freestanding building off Hopmeadow Road, it has the feel of a coffee shop with wooden tables and some regulars set up with laptops. A bacon, egg and cheese on an everything bagel is a solid choice for breakfast, and the bagel itself lives up to the hype: less doughy than too many bagel options this side of New York City, it is crisp and flavorful. The coffee is standard and, though it gets the job done, there are better alternatives in town.
10 a.m. Bridging the gap
Talk to anyone familiar with Simsbury and you are likely to be told to visit the “flower bridge.” Officially the Old Drake Hill Flower Bridge, it is a metal-truss structure spanning the Farmington River that was originally built for vehicular traffic but was converted for pedestrian use in the 1990s. Each year local volunteers adorn it with a floral shop’s worth of flowers. This morning in early spring, the bridge is sadly free of vegetation, but in the past I’ve seen it in full bloom and it is a striking sight and good spot for Instagram selfies and wedding photos. It will close for most of this summer as construction on an adjacent park begins. The good news is this will ultimately make the bridge more enjoyable to visit, so mark it down as an attraction for 2020 and beyond.
11 a.m. Climb every (or at least this) mountain
Talcott Mountain State Park is worth a trip to Simsbury all on its own. The centerpiece of the park is Heublein Tower, a 165-foot-high, Bavarian-style tower with white walls and a pointed steeple that dominates the ridgeline and is visible from many areas in Simsbury. The current tower is the fourth built on the site and dates to 1914. It houses a museum that is open from Memorial Day weekend through Sept. 30. Even when the museum is closed, it is worth the 1¼-mile, 30-40 minute trek to the tower site. Much of the trail hugs the ridgeline, offering views along the way. On the trip, I didn’t make it all the way to the tower, but as noted at the start of this story, I did make it to the ridge and took in that spectacular view. Looking carefully along Route 185, I’m able to spot the white branches of the Pinchot Sycamore, where I’m heading next.
1 p.m. Ancient trees and lunch with a ghost
It’s easy to drive past the Pinchot Sycamore, one of Simsbury’s most intriguing attractions, without realizing it. Off Route 185 not far from Talcott Mountain State Park, just before the Pinchot Sycamore Bridge, this sprawling sycamore is Connecticut’s largest tree with a trunk measuring 28 feet in circumference, and a 121-foot canopy. Nestled near the Farmington River, the amazing tree has a small park dedicated to it. It’s not yet in bloom today, but even so, the 200-plus-year-old tree is amazing. Touching it, I feel dwarfed by its size. Its white and gray bark and sheer mammoth-ness are the closest thing I’ve ever seen to, yes, the weirwood trees from Game of Thrones.
Across the bridge from the tree is Abigail’s Grill and Wine Bar. Opened in 1803 as Pettibone’s Tavern, the building is more than 200 years old and is supposedly haunted by the ghost of Abigail Pettibone. According to one version of the legend, poor Abigail was axed to death by her whaling captain husband when he caught her in bed with another man. It’s tales of this haunting that draw me to the current restaurant, which opened in 2008 after extensive renovations to the building. Sadly, there were no ghost sightings during my visit and the vibe was decidedly, if somewhat disappointingly, friendly, welcoming and non-spooky. But the upscale restaurant, with a nice bar and two-floor dining area, did offer a solid three-course prix fixe menu for $16.95. Ghost of an adulterous whaler’s wife sighting or not, that lunch deal is scary good.
2 p.m. Farm living
Part of what makes Simsbury such a picture-perfect town is its abundance of farmland. Tulmeadow Farm has been operated by members of the same family since 1768. “We are very determined and not very mobile,” jokes Don Tuller, who owns the 265-acre farm with his cousin. Today the farm has a store that offers freshly grown vegetables. They have also served homemade ice cream since 1994, and the frozen treat has a 16 percent butterfat mix. A sample of the vanilla is creamy and delicious, as is the farm’s best-selling flavor: red raspberry with chocolate chip.
Adjoining Tulmeadow Farm is Flamig Farm, an entertainment- and education-oriented location offering hayrides and a petting zoo. Nevin Flamig owns and runs the farm with his wife, Julie, and their son, Pete. As Nevin takes me on a tour, I meet horses, ducks, peacocks, llamas, alpacas, emus and pigs. By tour’s end I’m considering becoming a vegetarian and regret having bacon for breakfast.
4 p.m. Cigars and pastries
Downtown Simsbury consists of a scenic and sparsely developed stretch of historic buildings, shops and restaurants along Hopmeadow Street. The shopping center at 933 Hopmeadow St. has several gift stores that look intriguing, but I pass them by in favor of Torpedoes Smoke Shop. Owner Robert Hodge is behind the counter, which is where he says you’ll find him seven days a week, 365 days a year. This cigar aficionado’s shop is crammed with hundreds of cigars that on average go for between $25 and $30, with some selling for several hundred dollars. I opt for a $12.50 cigar recommended by Hodge.
Nearby, the Popover Bistro and Bakery offers locally sourced and organic breakfast, lunch and pastries. I enjoy a chocolate chip cookie and a good coffee from a house blend provided by Giv Coffee in neighboring Canton.
5 p.m. Evening eating
When it comes to elite restaurants with celebrated chefs, Simsbury has an abundance of riches, or, should we say, calories. Present Company and Metro Bis were both highly recommended and I’ll flip a coin to decide which one to visit on my next trip. Although I couldn’t fit dinner into this most recent excursion, on past visits, I — along with everyone else who eats there — have been impressed with Millwrights. The flagship of chef Tyler Anderson’s growing collection of restaurants, it is one of the most visually striking places to eat in the state. Housed in a historic space that traces its origins back to a 1600s grist and sawmill, Millwrights is in a red-wood building with a stone fence sitting beside a cascading waterfall on Hop Brook. Inside the dining room there are exposed wooden beams and wall-to-ceiling windows offering views of the brook. For food, Anderson combines New England traditions and ingredients with French culinary techniques to create an unforgettable experience. He’s earned many accolades in this magazine and has been nominated for awards by the James Beard Foundation and is a veteran of Bravo’s Top Chef and won Food Network’s Chopped. To get the full experience, I recommend the seven-course tasting experience for $80.