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Golden Days
Journeys for a New England Autumn

Guests at the Woodstock Inn & Resort in Vermont can witness the local color on horseback.

Matthew Bellico writer

It’s difficult to write about autumn in New England and not tumble into hyperbole. Fall is the one season that the Northeast does better than any other region—as evidenced by the nationwide influx of “leaf peepers” that return every year, like so many swallows back to Capistrano.

The glory of the season has been immortalized by the likes of Robert Frost and John Steinbeck—along with a multitude of others who seek to capture the fleeting hues that wash over the landscape. But when the air turns crisp and the leaves burn yellow and orange, New England inevitably opens itself up to new discoveries and every traveler finds their own inspiration.

Many flock to the mountains, while others set course for the seacoast. However, such fall foliage tours can be—and should be—as much about the destination as they are about the trees. The right New England town, or scenic drive, presents the perfect backdrop for the turning leaves and offers diversions that provide more than a little local color. With this in mind, here are four fall destinations that are worthy of the season.

The Woodstock Inn & Resort is a landmark hotel located on the village green.

Woodstock, Vermont and the Green Mountains
The village of Woodstock is nestled in a patchwork of rolling fields and forest, punctuated by clapboard farmhouses and white steeple churches. It was once named the “prettiest small town in America” by Ladies’ Home Journal and those who visit find little to dispute that label. Woodstock is home to three covered bridges, four Paul Revere bells, and countless other small touches that make visitors feel like they’ve stepped back in time. The manicured village green provides an ideal place to relax, while the small boutiques, bookstores, and art galleries that line Elm and Central streets provide inviting shopping opportunities. Those who are more adventurous can climb nearby Mount Tom; a 30-minute hike affords wonderful views of the fall foliage and the town below.

The Charleston House provides guests with a gracious bed and breakfast experience in a Greek Revival home.

• LOCAL COLOR: Established by Laurance S. Rockefeller, the Woodstock Inn & Resort is a landmark hotel located on the village green. The inn features 142 guest rooms (23 with working fireplaces), modern fitness facilities, relaxed dining and a great deal of New England charm (800.448.7900; woodstockinn.com; doubles, $345–$429; entrées, $17–$29). The Charleston House provides guests with a gracious bed and breakfast experience in a Greek Revival home (888.475.3800; charlestonhouse.com; doubles, $155–$290). Locals love Bentleys for its Victorian ambience and can’t-miss comfort food (877.457.3232; bentleysrestaurant.com; entrées, $17– $24). Looking for fishing tackle, fine wine, and everything else in between? Find it at FH Gillingham & Sons General Store, which has been operating on Elm Street since 1886 and specializes in all things “made in Vermont” (800.344.6668; gillinghams.com). Those heading into the hills will find Sugarbush Farm an excellent diversion. The family-run farm sells its own award-winning cheeses (try the “super extra sharp” cheddar aged for 72 months) and offers up tastings to visitors (800.281.1757; sugarbushfarm.com). To fully appreciate the area’s rural heritage, visit Billings Farm & Museum (802.457.2355; billingsfarm.org; entry for adults, $11).

• WHEN TO GO: The foliage traditionally hits peak around Columbus Day.

Stockbridge, Massachusetts and the Berkshires
If Main Street in Stockbridge looks like it’s straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting, that’s because it is. The beloved artist known for his nostalgic take on American life painted his hometown thoroughfare at Christmas in 1967. It really hasn’t changed much since—and maybe that’s why it’s so comforting to visit. The pace is slow in this Berkshire town and many tourists feel an irresistible urge to unleash their inner grandfather. A more pleasant afternoon could not be spent than rocking on the front porch of the historic Red Lion Inn, drink in hand, watching the leaves fall. Others choose to stroll along Main Street—home to both local specialty stores and regal homes with wide lawns. Located a short drive from the Massachusetts Turnpike, Stockbridge is an ideal hub from which to explore the rest of the Berkshires, where there are plenty of opportunities for a little culture with your foliage.

Located in Lenox, Blantyre is a luxury country house hotel with grounds that cover over 100 acres.

• LOCAL COLOR: Established more than two centuries ago, the Red Lion Inn is located right on Main Street and offers visitors roomfuls of antiques and understated elegance. Hearty New England fare can be found in their main dining room and two taverns (413.298.5545; redlioninn.com; doubles, $140–$370; dining room entrées, $25–$34). In nearby Lenox, visitors can find Blantyre, a luxury country house hotel that makes one think of Barbour jackets and fox hunts. Award-winning Executive Chef Christopher Brooks oversees the elegant and romantic fine dining experience. The grounds cover over 100 acres and feature an extensive wine cellar and spa (413.637.3556; blantyre.com; doubles, $550–$1,800). Intrepid foliage seekers can head to Lanesborough and hike to the top of Mount Greylock, Massachusetts’ highest peak at 3,491 feet—or simply drive to the summit for spectacular views spanning three states (413.499.4262; mass.gov/dcr/parks/mtGreylock). Leaf peepers can also travel to Hancock Shaker Village, a museum that enables visitors to take in the season, while gaining an appreciation for gorgeously minimalist Shaker architecture and design (800.817.1137; hancockshakervillage.org; entry for adults, $16.50). A short drive from Hancock in Williamstown, visit the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, best known for its collection of French Impressionist paintings. Other masterworks at this internationally respected art museum date from the Renaissance to the late 19th century (413.458.2303; clarkart.edu; entry for adults free November 1 through May 31 and $12.50 June 1 through October 31). Back in Stockbridge, the Norman Rockwell Museum houses the world’s most extensive collection of his work (413.298.4100; nrm.org; entry for adults, $15).

• WHEN TO GO: The foliage traditionally hits peak the second full week of October.

Maine Seacoast from Brunswick to Wiscasset
Native New Englanders and visitors alike flock to the ocean during the summertime and with good reason. But when that same herd heads to the mountains in the fall, savvy foliage seekers return to the coast, where there are far fewer tourists and the turning colors match anything at higher elevations. While more ambitious travelers can follow Route 1 up the Maine coast to Bar Harbor and beyond, the 20-mile stretch from Brunswick to Wiscasset provides weekenders with a manageable glimpse of seaside foliage just north of Portland. Brunswick is home to Bowdoin College—the school’s pastoral campus is located near the small downtown—and the area exudes a friendly, funky, college vibe that makes it a perfect springboard for a foliage tour. Drivers heading north on Route 1 should stop at the seafaring town of Bath, which has been renowned for shipbuilding since the mid-1700s and is still home to the famous Bath Iron Works. Roadside stores along the coastal route offer up everything from nautical-themed weathervanes to Wyeth prints—and those searching for antiques will find nirvana in Wiscasset. This well-preserved village clings to the banks of the tidal Sheepscot River and visitors would be hard-pressed to find a structure built outside the 18th or 19th centuries.

• LOCAL COLOR: The Brunswick Inn sits on the village green with colonial stateliness, and each of its 15 rooms comes with a richly prepared breakfast (800.299.4914; brunswickinnparkrow.com; doubles, $135 - $185). Located just outside Wiscasset’s historic district, the Snow Squall Inn is a cozy bed and breakfast set amid lovingly manicured grounds (207.882.6892; snowsquallinn.com; doubles, $107– $181). The Bath Farmers Market is held every Saturday morning in the town’s Waterfront Park through October and offers up a taste of small town Maine life, as well as the freshest local produce, meats, herbs, cheeses, and baked goods on the coast (bathfarmersmarket.com). However, foodies can arguably find the best lobster roll in Maine and other fresh seafood at Red’s Eats, located in a tiny roadside structure at the corner of Main and Water streets in Wiscasset (207.882.6128; lobster roll, around $15). Popham Beach State Park, in nearby Phippsburg, provides diehard beachcombers with long sandy stretches that are ideal for wildlife watching (207.389.1335; entry for adults, $1.50).

• WHEN TO GO: The foliage traditionally hits peak around Columbus Day.

In Franconia Notch, foliage seekers can take an aerial tram ride up the summit of Cannon Mountain and admire the views.

White Mountains along the Kancamagus Highway
Located in the heart of the White Mountain National Forest, the Kancamagus Highway is one of America’s most scenic mountain drives. Open since 1959, the “Kanc” stretches 34.5 miles from the town of Lincoln in the west to Conway in the east. In between is a graciously winding road filled with scenic vistas, cascading waterfalls, and miles of hiking trails for those who want to get out from behind the wheel. The road climbs to nearly 3,000 feet along the side of Mt. Kancamagus, named, like the highway, for the last chief of the Pennacook Confederacy. Part of New Hampshire Route 112, the Kancamagus Highway amazes at every turn, but stunning beauty comes at a price. The scenic byway can resemble a parking lot in the high season, so those looking to catch the leaves at their peak may want to head out with the first morning light.

• LOCAL COLOR: The resort towns of Lincoln and North Conway offer abundant large-scale lodging choices, but a more intimate alternative is the Red Sleigh Inn, a quiet bed and breakfast located conveniently close to Lincoln’s Main Street (603.745.8517; redsleighinn.com; doubles, $95–$175). Another is North Conway’s Farm by the River, an inn located on 70 acres of land that maintains its own stables and offers riding packages (888-414-8353; farmbytheriver.com; doubles, $130–$220). In Franconia Notch, just north of the Kancamagus, foliage seekers can take an aerial tram ride to the 4,080-foot summit of Cannon Mountain and admire the views in the ski area’s 360-degree observation deck (603.823.8800; cannonmt.com; adult round-trip ticket, $13). Those who want to get up close and personal with the fall colors at breakneck speed can take a zip-line canopy tour at Alpine Adventures in Lincoln (888.745.9911; alpinezipline.com; a two-hour adrenaline rush, $85). Shoppers will find more than 60 factory outlets in North Conway, but Zeb’s General Store, and its old-fashioned store front, remains a local favorite and tempts visitors with a variety of specialty food products (800.676.9294; zebs.com).

• WHEN TO GO: The foliage traditionally hits peak October 1–10.

 

 

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