By ANASTASIA MILLS HEALY
Covered bridges, wooded trails, perfectly manicured town greens, and a slower pace draw Fairfield County residents north to Litchfield County. Many well-heeled New Yorkers have weekend homes here, and the area counts numerous prep schools, so there are sophisticated options for dining, shopping, and spas, as well as first-class inns. Helicopter in your cabin anyone?
Less than an hour-and-a-half from Greenwich, the town of Litchfield itself has a welcoming green lined on one side with stores (look for Oliphant and Hayseed) and restaurants (West Street Grill) where you can spend a leisurely hour or two. Set your GPS to West Street, park, and explore; then cross to South Street to see the interesting, free exhibitions at the Litchfield Historical Society.
The largest wildlife refuge and nature center in Connecticut, White Memorial Conservation Center, is a 4,000-acre preserve with 35 miles of trails. The most popular trail is Little Pond Boardwalk, a 1 1/2–mile wood path over the water and wetlands of the pond. An impressive natural history museum features dioramas painted by the same artist responsible for those at the American Museum of Natural History.
The Instagram-ready Arethusa Farm allows visitors on Saturday afternoons to get close to its bovines and learn fun facts like how the cows’ tails are shampooed with Pantene Pro V. Cows worth more than many people’s homes produce “Milk Like It Used to Taste,” which along with their cheese and ice cream, is sold at a retail location, Arethusa Farm Dairy. The menu at the gourmet coffee shop Arethusa a Mano includes quiche and paninis made with Arethusa cheese. Arethusa al tavolo is a fine dining restaurant whose chef trained under Daniel Boulud. All three are in nearby Bantam. Arethusa’s proprietors own the Manolo Blahnik license, so it’s no wonder the farm has high style.
From the family behind Crystal Rock Water comes Litchfield Distillery, which uses locally sourced grains to make award-winning bourbon, vodka, and gin. You might question the production of blueberry vodka and coffee bourbon, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it! Tastings follow the tour. Minors are allowed but must be accompanied by an adult.
Just down the road in Morris, 18 themed cottages are nestled on 113 acres at Winvian. A real helicopter inside your cottage, outfitted with a bar and TV is one option. Another option is a treehouse perched 35 feet above the forest floor. The cabins are all very different, but each has a deep Jacuzzi tub, shower, fireplace, and a private outdoor space (like a screened in patio or deck) plus bicycles to explore the area. There’s an outdoor pool and spa onsite, a lounge with a pool table and board games, and a formal restaurant serving sophisticated international cuisine. Children are welcome during much of the year, but the cabins that easily accommodate them are limited.
Incorporated in 1777 and named after George Washington, tiny Washington has a green with a clapboard church and a Native American museum worth seeking out. A docent at the Institute for American Indian Studies can discuss the history of area Native Americans (ask about the tribe that has a quarter acre in Trumbull), explain customs and traditions, and demonstrate how they measured the calendar year with the shell of a snapping turtle. Fascinating rotating exhibitions about Native people from across the U.S. include artwork, crafts, and clothing. Out back there are trails and three wigwams and a long house to explore.
The sublime Grace Mayflower Inn and Spa offers elegant rooms, a stunning destination spa (for guests only), indoor and outdoor pools, sophisticated dining, and beautiful gardens. A Relais & Chateaux property, it has 30 accommodations in four buildings; some have a balcony, fireplace, and/or sitting area. A putting green and tennis courts add to the amenities in the warmer weather; the hotel can provide cross-country skis and snowshoes in winter to explore its 58 acres. Children under 12 are not allowed except at the restaurants.
With more of a downtown to explore than other towns in the Litchfield Hills, Kent is a popular destination for strolling, noshing, and shopping before or after hiking the falls.
On Main Street, look for House of Books, which has a ton of information about the region and a children’s section; the Kent Art Association gallery and the Morrison Gallery. In addition to its Main Street store, two blocks away in the Kent Barns collection of businesses is the 7,000-square-foot museum-like R.T. Facts (get it?) showroom that’s popular with interior designers.
The suds being bottled at Kent Falls Brewing range from IPAs and lagers to sour wheat Meyer lemon. There are scheduled tours of the brewery and the farm it’s on.
Surprises like chicken and waffles and pad thai enliven a menu with standards such as pan roasted scallops and lemon chicken at Gifford’s. For something more low key, grab a burger at Kingsley Tavern, a grilled cheese at 109 Cheese, or a hot cuppa at Kent Coffee & Chocolate.
The state’s highest waterfall (250 feet), Kent Falls is reached by an easy quarter-mile trail that has steep portions. It passes through a covered bridge, built in 1974 for foot traffic only.
Consistently voted the best B&B in the state, the Inn at Kent Falls dates to the 1700s but has modern amenities, professionally designed gardens with walking paths, and an outdoor pool.
On the National Register of Historic Places, Bull’s Bridge is a one-lane covered bridge over the Housatonic in Kent, just off Route 7 and at a trail head of the Appalachian Trail. Built in 1841 and painted red, the second covered bridge open to cars in the Litchfield Hills is at the junction of route 7 and 128 in West Cornwall.
In the northwest corner of the state and sitting on the town green, the 1805 White Hart Inn was vacant for years but recently came beautifully back to life thanks to a group of famous local residents. Three of the investors who helped turn the White Hart back into a destination hotel and a community gathering place are the editor in chief of Redbook, Meredith Rollins; the writer Malcolm Gladwell; and the British chef Annie Wayte. The inn has several excellent dining options: a pub-like Tap Room, an upscale coffee shop and cafe called Provisions that sells sandwiches and the like, and the airy Dining Room, which specializes in locally sourced fare like guinea hen and roasted lamb.
There are all manner of outdoor activities in the area from hiking to boating and fishing. If race car driving is more your style, Lime Rock Park holds spectator events and even lets regular folks on the course in scheduled programs.
Kent Chamber of Commerce, 860/592-0061.
Northwest Connecticut Convention & Visitors Bureau, 860/567-4506.
Many of the CT Wine Trail’s 25 wineries are in Litchfield County.
Locate picturesque barns on the Connecticut Barn Trail.
CTvisit.com is the state’s official source of tourism information.