Recently I read about someone hiring a local guide to drive them around Tuscany for a day. Well – what a shame. It would be much better to spend two or three weeks, I thought.
I feel the same way about Northwestern Connecticut. However, I took myself as my guide a couple of weeks ago, for a nostalgic day-trip back to the charming little towns of my childhood. –not to Tuscany, but to Connecticut. One day wasn’t enough, but at least, from Dutchess County, one can go often.
My grandmother was born in Woodbury, one of Connecticut’s most elegant towns, full of handsome early examples of residential architecture. Today, Woodbury is a great antique center. In fact, it has been one for as long as I can remember. It is different from Millbrook, in that most of the antiques shops are in very old eighteenth and nineteenth century houses. (Sorry, New York, but Connecticut has much better early architecture.)
Here’s what I did on my day in Connecticut. I took Route 4 East from Sharon to the Housatonic River. Then I headed south on Route 7 for a couple of miles to Route 45 East. My first stop was at New Preston, a jewel of a village just south of the meandering Lake Waramaug. There are several delightful restaurants overlooking the lake, my most recent favorite is The Boulders. It’s also a great choice for a weekend of browsing, shopping, reading, eating, and other holiday habits. New Preston has a marvelous kitchen shop, called NPKG, and an antiques shop called Déjà Vu, which has great lamps and shades. It also has J. Seitz clothing and furniture, an artisanal jewelry shop, and maybe the most beautiful of all, an antique china shop called DISH. This is the place where I really drool, because the porcelain is so delicious and so expensive.
From New Preston, I jog across Route 202, and take Baldwin Hill Road south to Washington Depot. This is another favorite spot of mine, mostly because it is the home of The Pantry. The Pantry is one of the world’s best food venues, and I’ve probably mentioned it in the past. It is a kitchen shop combined with a restaurant. It also has marvelous take home food, a dazzling array of cheeses, and has the hidden heart of a bakery. I’ve eaten there perhaps two dozen times, (there always seems to be some excuse to go through Washington Depot) and I have never been disappointed. They serve only lunch, but if you fall in love, take home dinner. Before you lunch at the Pantry, you can build up an appetite by spending time at The Hickory Stick, a giant sized, but local, book store. This is another old standby, and I love to patronize local bookstores, wherever I go.If you drive up the hill from Washington Depot, you will come to a minor miracle, which is called Washington. It, like its larger neighbor, Litchfield, is one of those quintessential Connecticut towns, with one after another of early white clapboard gems. This town really deserves a stroll, and it will give you the chance to pick up some of the verve of the Gunnery School students, among whom you may well walk.
The Mayflower Inn has been in Washington forever, but now it has gotten all tonied up, and is just much too perfect, and much too expensive for the average wanderer. I’m glad we stayed there ages ago, when it was a bit down at the heels, but affordable. It’s really worth seeing the elegant restoration, so maybe tea or late lunch could be enjoyed here.
Route 47 out of Washington will take you down through Hotchkissville to the aforementioned Woodbury. The drive through all these areas is truly a great pleasure. There were practically no cars, the roads were dry, and the sun was out most of the time. (Don’t even think about it in stormy winter weather, hills and turns abound.) Around almost every corner there is another splendid country house or an enchanting view.
Some of my first memories are of this road, where I was taken as a child, from home to Lake Waramaug. Each time I drive there, I pass a spot where we had a picnic lunch one day years and years ago. Amazingly the spot is still there, by a running stream, and looks as though one could still have a picnic.
The whole town of Woodbury is one long main street, and there is one antique shop after another. Probably the most famous one is Wayne Pratt, which is a grand eighteenth century house, with a dependency, all behind a tidy long wooden fence, surrounded by gardens and tall trees. On the road that turns west, just beyond Wayne Pratt Antiques, is the historic Glebe House, worth a visit. It is the birthplace of the Episcopal Church in the New World, and it has a Gertrude Jekyll garden. You can learn more about it on www.theglebehouse.org a nice site, which shows photos of the house and the garden and all the upcoming events, most of which are garden-related.
The Curtis House is the oldest eatery in Woodbury, I imagine. It is an old country inn, where I’ve never stayed, but the food is quite comforting, and lots of visitors to the area wouldn’t miss eating there.
If, however, you drive a little further south on Route 6, which is also Main Street, Woodbury, you’ll come to the Good News Café, consistently rated as one of the top restaurants in the area. It is casual, and again, a great spot for lunch. (The one thing I haven’t worked out about such a day trip is exactly how many lunches I can eat.) (The Pantry will always be my favorite, but I mention these others so that anyone copying this trip will have choices.)
Continue South on Route 6, and you will have a feast for your eyes, as you experience the splendid houses of Southbury. I have been viewing them periodically since I was a little child, and the magic of these fabulous early homes is still there. My most vivid childhood memories of this part of the drive are two: the first is that my father always stopped for gas in Southbury, and it was very important, as it was the only gas station on the entire distance of the weekly Sunday afternoon drive. They also sold ice cream. My other vivid memory is that at a now defunct little roadside restaurant, I had my first cheeseburger.
It’s not all about food, honestly. This is just one of many perfect drives in our next-door state. Try one and tell me about what you discover.