It seems like perpetual summer as light floods into the spacious rooms of Hill-Stead, illuminating the Claude Monet haystack paintings and the James McNeill Whistler seascapes. First occupied in 1901, the voluminous Colonial Revival country manse in Farmington, Conn., was designed by Theodate Pope Riddle, one of the country’s first female architects, with an eye toward providing great display space for the art amassed in the late 19th century by her father. Alfred Pope’s collection represents many top Impressionists. An industrialist with avant-garde ideas about art and unerring if untutored taste, Pope befriended many of the artists and collected their work across their careers.
“No matter where you sit, you’ll see something glorious,” said guide Eleanor Lecours as we entered the L-shaped living room, where three Manets, three Monets, and a Degas hang on the walls. “And the view outside rivals the art.” This time of year that view is of frozen New England.
An hourlong tour of the thoughtful architecture, striking furniture, Chinese ceramics, and world-class art of Hill-Stead Museum (35 Mountain Road, 860-677-4787, www.hillstead.org, Tue-Sun 10 a.m.- 4 p.m., adults $12, seniors $10, students $8, ages 6-12 $5) makes a good start on a day in the countryside little changed since the house was built. Visitors are welcome to use their cross-country skis or snowshoes on the trails that crisscross the property. The neighborhood black bear has settled in for his winter nap, but plenty of birds, flying squirrels, and small weasels frequent the area. Even blanketed in snow, the rolling hills and dells have an austere beauty punctuated by the occasional stone wall, red barn, or broom-like barren trees, making it easy to while away the morning.
About 3 miles west of Hill-Stead, Apricots Restaurant & Pub (1593 Farmington Ave., 860-673-5405, www.apricotsrestaurant.com, open daily, luncheon soups and sandwiches $6-$12) occupies an old trolley barn on the banks of the Farmington River. Apricots offers white-linen dining in upstairs rooms overlooking the river, or more casual eating in the brick-walled pub on the ground level. The lunch menu features casual American bistro fare, including hearty soups and thick sandwiches. The restaurant’s locally famous chicken pot pie ($12.50) is encased in a golden crust.
The meal provides fortification for an afternoon of winter sports at Winding Trails (50 Winding Trails Drive, 860-674-4227, www.windingtrails.org, daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; ski trail pass adult $14, seniors $10,
3-12 $8; skating, snowshoeing, and sledding pass adult $6,
3-12 $4; ski rental $12-$19, snowshoes $10-$12, snow tube $6, skates $5). Located on land once owned by Riddle, the 350-acre recreational tract includes 20 kilometers of groomed set Nordic ski track as well as a pond for ice skating, a sledding-tubing hill that’s popular with families, and a designated snowshoeing area. The cross-country trails include a loop reserved for skate skiers.
Plan to leave early enough so that some daylight remains for a walk among the towering oaks at Elizabeth Park in West Hartford, about 10 miles east. In the summer, the park is known for its rose garden, but it has a stark winter beauty populated by songbirds, plump and fearless squirrels, red-tailed hawks, and even a few mallards. At the Pond House Cafe (1555 Asylum Ave., West Hartford, 860-231-8823, www.pondhousecafe.com, open for lunch and dinner Tue-Sat and brunch Sat-Sun, dinner entrees $12.78-
$26.37) every table has a view of the pond outside — with large mirrors for diners seated with their backs to the windows. Dishes like red wine-braised short ribs or maple-glazed duck breast make a perfect ending to a winter day.
Patricia Harris and David Lyon
Surprise: Woodman’s, the famous clam shack, is open in winter. That might be reason enough to head to Cape Ann on a winter’s day. But throw your snowshoes or boots in the backseat. You’ll definitely want to poke around, enticed by the hushed beauty of the North Shore’s picturesque cape, awash in a palette of palest blue and (at least 50) shades of gray.
We used Woodman’s as a bribe to lure college student Connor Bair-Cucchiaro out of bed on a wintry Sunday. En route, we’d see what else was happening in this beach-y zone off season.
Our first stop was Ravenswood Park (481 Western Ave., Route 127, Gloucester, 978-526-8687; www.thetrustees.org), a woodsy 600-acre glacial moraine. Popular with hikers and dog walkers, Ravenswood looks like the aftermath of a Yeti snowball fight with snow-covered boulders that resemble giant snowballs. Snow-swathed hemlocks sparkle in the sun and the wetlands of Great Magnolia Swamp shimmer under a glaze of ice. You can devise three or four loop trails here, including a 4.8-mile route that offers views of iced-over marsh and lake. On Old Salem Road near the junction of the Fernwood Lake Trail, look for the verdigris “hermit’s plaque” on a boulder, honoring Mason Walton, a local eccentric who built a cabin here and was an expert on the park’s flora and fauna until his death in 1917.
Our post-hike plan was to wander among the shops along Gloucester’s Main Street, but we ducked into the Cape Ann Brewing Co. (11 Rogers St., 978-282-7399, www.capeannbrewing.com) to warm up — and stayed. Folks came and went, filling up their “growlers” with specialty craft beers; the nondrivers in our party sampled the pumpkin stout and the Fisherman’s Brew, a hearty amber lager. To warm up our bellies, we also ordered a pulled pork quesadilla ($7.50), which quickly disappeared from the plate.
Heading west out of Gloucester, we hopped onto Essex Avenue (Route 133), to Essex. In a few minutes we were in the heart of town, where every other business seemed to be a restaurant or an antiques shop. No surprise about the latter: Essex calls itself “America’s Antiques Capital” and is home to about 30 shops. In spite of groans from Connor in the back seat, we popped into Main Street Antiques (44 Main St., Essex, 978-768-7039), where they claim to have “the most stuff in Essex.” The place is jam-packed with furniture, art, clothing, and a huge jewelry case — and that’s just the first floor (there are four). The takeaway message here: Cameos are making a comeback, and mid-century everything is still hot.
Connor perked up when we hit the White Elephant Shop (32 Main St., Essex, 978-768-6901, www.whiteelephantshop.com), featuring two floors of curiosities, including a vintage slot machine and a fabulous bust of Elvis Presley. “How much for Elvis?” we inquired. “Oh, he’s not for sale. I could’ve sold him a million times over, but . . . no,” the proprietor said. In other words, Elvis is not leaving the building. “This place is great. It’s more like a grandma’s house than an antique shop,” Connor said, “if grandma is a hoarder.” Among the treasures we found were a scary clown doll, a mirror encircled in vintage vinyl records, and kitchen utensils (or possibly antique dental devices) we couldn’t identify. They also sell personalized “giant Essex clams” you can use as driveway markers.
We popped in and out of a few more shops, including Alexander Westerhoff Antiques (18 Eastern Ave., Essex, 978-768-3830, www.westerhoffantiques.com), set in a restored 1911 church, but were running on empty. To Woodman’s! The usual summer scene at Woodman’s (121 Main St., Essex, 978-768-2559, www.woodmans.com) is long lines of beachgoers waiting for boiled lobster; on this visit, we encountered a room full of bundled-up folks, hunkered around bowls of chowder and steaming cider. The clam chowder ($4.95-$6.95) was great, and it felt kind of insider-y to be at a tourist spot minus the tourists.
Snow lashing a steely ocean chop has a mesmerizing quality. Viewed from inside with a fire flickering behind a grate, the squall seems deliciously distant. This room on the third floor of the Belfast Bay Inn (72 Main St., 207-338-5600, www.belfastbayinn.com, $228-$258 a night in winter), overlooking a landscape of rooftops sloping to the harbor, would be a fine place to pass the morning in any season, but winter makes the luxury — fresh flowers, high-thread-count linens, Oriental carpets on hardwood floors — feel all the more lavish.
This AAA Four Diamond boutique hotel, like the new Front Street Shipyard and Marina catering to 150-foot sailing yachts a five-minute walk away (101 Front St., 207-930-3740, www.frontstreetshipyard.com), is a sign of the shifting winds blowing into Belfast, bringing visitors with a taste for the finer things and evoking an earlier era of prosperity. In the last half of the 19th century, Belfast was a schooner-building city.
After a full breakfast in the hotel room (included in the fee), you can stroll past the marina’s maze of boatslips and the shipyard’s massive yacht lift on the way to the Armistice Bridge, which served motorists crossing the mouth of the Passagassawakeag River from 1921 until the early 1960s. Restored as a footbridge in 2006, it has become one of the city’s favorite attractions. Walk the quarter-mile or less to Swanville, on the far shore, and back.
By 10 a.m. the downtown shops beckon with winter sales on unusual clothing, alternative goods, gifts, and kitchenware: Coyote Moon (54 Main St., 207-338-5659, www.coyotemoonmaine.com), the Green Store (71 Main St., 207-338-4045, www.greenstore.com), the Good Table (68 Main St., 207-338-4880, www.thegoodtable.me), Brambles (79 Main St., 207-338-3448). Colburn Shoe (79 Main St., 207-338-1934, www.colburnshoe.com), which claims to be the country’s oldest shoe store, has held its own through a century of ups and downs.
Chase’s Daily can’t be beat for a hearty, farm-to-table lunch (96 Main St., 207-338-0555, $5-
$12). Afterward, enjoy a scenic winter hike on snowshoes or cross-country skis on the Little River Community Trail, just off Route 1 (www.belfastbaywatershed.org). A short section hugs the shore of the Little River Reservoir for a mile (one way) through a young hardwood and pine forest. The longer section follows the river through woods for 3 miles.
Back in town, warm up with an après-hike mocha at Bay Wrap (20 Beaver St., 207-338-9757, www.baywrap.com, hot drinks and sandwiches $1.65-$10). Then, after a hot shower at the hotel, it’s time for dinner at Belfast’s new destination restaurant. Filling the narrow, brick-walled space of a Gothic bank building, The Lost Kitchen showcases the talents of chef Erin French and her eclectic touch with traditional European cuisines and cocktails (108 Main St., 207-930-2055, entrees $24-$39).
Harry Morse hated milking cows, and for that Nordic skiers can be grateful.
It’s Saturday afternoon, sunny, and dozens of them are spread out on 25 kilometers of professionally designed and groomed trails, recently freshened by new snowfall.
They ski through maple groves, under hemlocks, along ridges with mountain views and across pasture once trod by Holsteins.
“My dad finally had his way, but it was posthumously,” says Burr Morse with a smile.
Morse, 64, is owner of Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks, a combination farm stand, gift shop, and sugarhouse, which he ran for nearly 20 years with his dad before inheriting it. His father had opened the popular tourist spot back in the 1960s. Ever eager to tap new revenue streams, Harry had thought a cross-country skiing center might be a profitable offshoot. Burr, worried about financial risk and workload, demurred.
But 10 years ago, some adjoining neighbors, cross-country enthusiasts, had what turned out to be a good idea: Form a limited-liability company; conjoin their properties, some 300 acres altogether; and open a ski center.
The Morse Farm Ski Touring Center (1168 County Road, 802-223-0560, www.skimorsefarm.com; adults $12, youth $8, under 6 free) would bring more customers to the stand to buy the syrup Morse produces from his trees as well as a host of other Vermont products: chocolates, sweatshirts, mugs, and his in-demand “maple creemees.”
“Another beauty of this place is that it’s just 2 miles from Montpelier,” says Susan Stone, “volunteer manager” of the ski center, who with her husband, Charles, brought 30 acres to the endeavor.
“The proximity to Montpelier means people can ski here during lunchtime,” she says, mentioning that Governor Peter Shumlin is among the visitors.
“Here, you put on the skis and just go,” says Stone of the center, which also features snowshoe trails.
Afterward Montpelier is only 2 miles away. The state capital, population 7,800, has bookstores, gift shops, and a number of night-life options. Lost Nation Theater (39 Main St., 802-229-0492, www.lostnationtheater.org) offers theatrical productions and the Savoy Theater (26 Main St., 802-229-0598, www.savoytheater.com) shows independent and foreign films.
There’s a coffeehouse, Capitol Grounds (27 State St., 802-223-7800, www.capitolgrounds.com); and colorful bars, among them Three Penny Taproom, a lively gastro-pub (108 Main St., 802-223-8277, www.threepennytaproom.com), and McGillcuddy’s Irish Pub, with wide screens for sports, (14 Langdon St., 802-223-2721, www.mcgillicuddysvt.com). A good bet among many fine restaurants is Kismet (52 State St., 802-223-8646), which is dedicated “to local foods” and “sustainable regional seafoods.”
Recently, I did a morning ski and then visited the Vermont Thrush Restaurant (107 State St., 802-225-6166, www.vermontthrush.com), which for years was a hangout for lobbyists, lawyers, legislators, and journalists. The tavern, with new ownership, is located near the State House in an 1825 brick building. It offers a full menu featuring its “thrushburger,” a seven-ounce patty of ground beef, topped with cheddar and bacon, and served with fries or salad.
Visitors can tour the nearby 1859 State House, a virtual museum with 19th-century furnishings and paintings. Or, there’s the state historical society’s Vermont History Museum (109 State St., 802-828-2291, www.vermonthistory.org), where one can view Civil War artifacts and learn about political and social movements in Vermont from Temperance to Anti-Masonic.
A perfect Rhode Island winter day might include exercise, great food, relaxation, and entertainment.
For a morning al fresco workout take a spin in the ice skating rink at the Bank of America City Center in downtown Providence, framed by historic buildings such as City Hall and the old Union Station, and, at 14,000 square feet, said to be twice the size of Rockefeller Plaza’s in New York. Don’t fret if you’ve no skates; they rent them for $4 (2 Kennedy Plaza, 401-331-5544, www.kennedyplaza.org/skating-information, $6).
You can also take a quick hike on gravel paths at Save the Bay Center, a sprawling building open to the public. Check out the art gallery and small aquariums, where kids like going face to face with fish (100 Save the Bay Drive, 401-272-3540, www.savebay.org, free).
Little ones love the Providence Children’s Museum, with its new exhibit, “ThinkSpace,” which invites children to explore, imagine, create, and experiment with shape and space through hands-on play, including mystery maze boxes that use the senses to guide a ball through twists and turns (100 South St., 401-273-5437, www.childrenmuseum.org, $9).
After working up a hunger, check out Blount Clam Shack and Soup Bar for some warming Uncle Teddy’s Chili for $4.95, or the Rhode Island clear chowder. A massive lobster roll is always a good bet, a half-pound of lobster on a grilled 9-inch roll for $19.95 (Blount Clam Shack and Soup Bar, 371 Richmond St., 401-228-7746, www.blountretail.com/providence/home).
Foodies flock to the Culinary Arts Museum of Johnson & Wales University, charting the evolution of food preparation and development of culinary technology. Check out the Presidential Collection of cookbooks, china, and original White House invitations (315 Harborside Blvd., 401-598-2805, www.culinary.org, $7).
For a night of intellectual entertainment, wander over to Pawtucket, where the Gamm Theatre, winner of Elliot Norton Awards, has the US premier of “Anne Boleyn” through Feb. 17, said to put a radically revisionist spin on the life of Henry VIII’s second wife. The performance space provides an intimate theatrical experience in the historic Pawtucket Armory annex (172 Exchange St., Pawtucket, 401-723-4266, www.gammtheatre.org, from $26).
The historic Biltmore Hotel, built in 1922 and on the National Register of Historic Places, is a great place to end your day. (11 Dorrance St., 800-294-7709, www.providencebiltmore.com, from $94).
Visiting New Hampshire in the winter can be tricky. Ski buses, screaming kids in snowsuits, and long lines, for gas, coffee, you name it, can plague you at every turn.
But there is a swath of the Live Free or Die state that is as quiet as Colonial America. Taking back roads to the southwestern Monadnock Region on a clear and bright January day was a perfect way to dissolve the post-holiday glut.
Passing snowy fields, farms, and sugarhouses, we crossed the Souhegan River in Wilton. Up a wooded hill just outside of town, we pulled into Frye’s Measure Mill (12 Frye Mill Road, Wilton, N.H., 603-654-6581, www.fryesmeasuremill.com).
Harking back to 1858, the box-making factory is the only measure mill in the United States still active. They make maple boxes, oval vessels with snug lids that were the main method for measuring dry goods before mechanical scales.
Behind an old wooden door in a former sawmill a world of American crafts awaits. A tin foot warmer, elegant beeswax candles, and rows of signature boxes nestle with new inventions like locally roasted coffee. Factory tours are offered in the summer and fall.
With a bag of Monadnock Micro Roasters under my arm, I headed back out into the sunshine en route to Pack Monadnock for a mid-day ramble. A few miles from the mill we pulled into Miller State Park (Route 101, Peterborough, 603-924-3672, www.nhstateparks.org). This accessible climb gives you the feeling of the wilderness without the worry of getting lost in the backcountry.
We set off on the Marion Davis Trail, an easy 1.4-mile trek to the summit surrounded by birches, beeches, and stunning views of Temple Mountain.
A few hours later we were ready for sustenance and planned to huddle around a bowl of black bean soup at Harlow’s Pub (3 School St., Peterborough, 603-924-6365, www.harlowspub.com), but the funky pub in the center of town was open for beers only. The kitchen is under renovation.
Heading home we were a bit peckish, yet nourished from the light, air, and beauty of New Hampshire’s quiet corner.