From its shoreline to its bustling downtown and town green, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, Madison is a picture-book coastal community with lots going on. It is home to one of the country’s best independent bookstores, a restored art house cinema, the state’s largest shoreline park, a myriad of shopping opportunities at boutique stores, great restaurants from fancy to down home, and ample places to kick back and take it all in.
The views are stunning at the newly refurbished Madison Beach Hotel (94 West Wharf Road, 203-245-1404, www.mad
isonbeachhotel.com, rates from $225), a boutique hotel that reopened in June, with 33 rooms, all with verandas and views of Long Island Sound. The Madison Beach is also known locally for its Wharf Restaurant’s ocean-view dining, with dinner entrees from $15 to $42, running the culinary gamut from burgers to lobster. Close to downtown is The Tidewater Inn (949 Post Road, 203-245-8457, www.thetidewater.com, rates from $125), a nine-room bed-and-breakfast with an English garden and views of tidal wetlands. Innkeeper and cook Victoria Kolyvas, who calls her kitchen “my playground,” produces bountiful breakfasts, such as her Monte Cristo French toast with poached pear garnish. Within walking distance of Hammonasset’s beach and trails is Beech Tree Cottages (1187 Boston Post Road, 203-245-2676, www.beechtree
cottages.com, rates from $110), set on a three-acre estate and originally built in the 1930s as a seaside retreat, then restored by the Talmadge family, who have run it since 2000.
Check out the “Madison Mess” at one of the town’s most popular breakfast spots, the Madison Coffee Shop (765 Boston Post Road, 203-245-4474, breakfast from $4.25), a whopping, tasty heap of scrambled eggs with pepper, onion, bacon, sausage, and cheese served over potato tots. For lunch, try a Connecticut lobster roll (butter-sautéed lobster in toasted roll) at Lenny and Joe’s Fish Tale (1301 Boston Post Road, 203-245-7289, www.ljfishtale.com, lunch from $10), a local tradition since 1979. If cheese is your thing, grab a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich at Foxglove and Madison Cheese (119 Samson Rock Drive, 203-245-5168, www.foxgloveand
madisoncheese.com, lunch from $6), which also sells food baskets and great lunch-worthy platters of cheeses such as Moliterno al Tartufo from Sardinia, an aged asiago, and many others. Jonesing for an upscale dinner? The Allegre Cafe (725 Boston Post Road, 203-245-7773, www.allegrecafe.com, entrees from $15.95) serves what executive chef-owner Silvio Suppa calls New World Italian cuisine, including Allegre seafood risotto and classic eggplant Parm. Traditional French bistro fare — think hangar steak with bearnaise or lemon sole with beurre blanc —
DURING THE DAY
Many believe the state’s best beach is Hammonasset State Park (1288 Boston Post Road, 203-245-2785, www.ct.gov/dep/cwp/view.asp?A=2716&Q=
325210, $15 out-of-state fee on weekends, free after Columbus Day), partly because at 930 acres it is the state’s largest shoreline park. It has two miles of beach, a four-mile round-trip walking trail, and some of the best bird-watching in the state. The Audubon Shop (907 Boston Post Road, 203-245-9056, www
.theaudubonshop.com), which carries everything a bird-watcher could want, hosts Saturday morning bird walks at Hammonasset starting Saturday through mid-November. Need a beach read — or a new obsession? Wander over to R.J. Julia Booksellers (768 Boston Post Road, 203-245-3959, www.rjju
lia.com), an award-winning indie bookstore that offers tons of events, such as author readings, ample cozy spots to linger, a cafe, and handwritten staff suggestions to help you decide. Art enthusiasts will want to cruise The Sculpture Mile, an outdoor exhibition run by The Hollycroft Foundation (13 Main St., Essex, 860-767-2624, www.hol
lycroft.org) of works by renowned American artists in styles from traditional to abstract. Visitors can do self-guided tours or join free guided ones Saturday mornings through October. A fun little gift shop is The Nosey Goose (33 Wall St., 203-245-3132, www.thenoseygoose.com), a nine-room retail gem loaded with jewelry, clothes, candles, china, soaps, painted furniture, and beach-themed gifts, and where owner Betty Lou Moraw-ski uses an old wooden cash drawer from the old Savin Rock amusement park in West Haven, Conn.
Madison Arts Cinema (761 Boston Post Road, 203-245-3456, www.madisonartcinemas
.com) is a terrific restored theater, with lively interior color schemes that include antique gold, pumpkin, aquamarine and Ming red, and which shows first-run independent art and foreign and domestic films. The theater, which is also part of the Key Sunday Cinema Club, also doubles as a community center where local organizations hold fund-raisers. The place to get your live music fix would be Donahue’s Madison Beach Grille (1320 Boston Post Road, 203-318-8362, www.donahuesmadi
sonbeachgrille.com, no cover charge), with open-mike Wednesdays and live music Thursday through Sunday nights, including an eclectic mix of reggae, dance music, rock, oldies, and blues, from the likes of Take Two and Call Me in the Morning and Johnny and the East Coast Rockers.
Paul E. Kandarian can be reached at kandarian@globe