LITCHFIELD HILLS, Conn. — Anyone who thinks the state of Connecticut is merely a suburb of New York City has never been to the Litchfield Hills. The far northwest corner of the state has more than its share of NYC escapees, looking for a bucolic setting and less stress. “It’s a more balanced way of life,” says William Hildreth of Mill House Antiques & Gardens, calling out the region’s great restaurants and rolling green hills. Those hills cover nearly a quarter of the state, a medley of parks and forest that includes Bear Mountain (2,316 feet), the highest peak in the state. The summit is reachable via a (surprisingly strenuous) section of the Appalachian Trail. Among the collection of small towns and hamlets in the region is Litchfield, considered the finest unrestored Colonial town in America and celebrating its 300th birthday this year. Add some killer antiquing and wonderful inns to the mix, throw on some fall color, and you’ve got a worthy destination for a fall getaway. Bonus points: A Rolling Stones connection, and one of TV host Lara Spencer’s prime spots for flea-marketing.
DO: Fall is the perfect time to discover the region’s myriad hiking trails, when the sun-dappled landscape shimmers in autumn’s palette of russet, scarlet, and gold. The venerable Appalachian Trail draws hikers who don’t mind putting their quads to the test for the reward of color-drenched vistas. From the AT trailhead north of Salisbury on Route 41, a 5.5-mile hike leads to the summit of Bear Mountain. Less strenuous, but still satisfying, are the 35 miles of trails lacing 4,000-acre White Memorial Conservation Center (www.whitememorialcc.org) in Litchfield. Or stretch your legs on the 1-mile trail to the stone observation tower at the summit of 1,325-foot Mt. Tom, a local favorite.
You’ll get loads of Fitbit steps in if you have a go at the 40-plus shops in Woodbury, Connecticut’s antiques capital. Top stops include Grass Roots Antiques, at 12 Main St. North, with a consignment annex, and Mill House, a 17th-century former gristmill, now filled with English and French furniture and custom pieces. Prefer flea market finds to fancy antiques? Plan a stop at the Woodbury Flea Market (www.woodburyflea.net) or the granddaddy of local flea markets, Elephant’s Trunk (www.etflea.com) in New Milford. If you’re a fan of host Lara Spencer’s HGTV show, “Flea Market Flip,” you’ve seen this one — with more than 300 dealers, Elephant’s Trunk has everything Ye Olde you can imagine, and then some.
Most visitors to Litchfield Hills spend some time knocking around the shops on Litchfield Green. Most of them are one-of specialty stores, like The Silly Sprout (www.thesillysprout.com) for kids’ toys and gear. If chocolate is one of your four major food groups, program your GPS for Thorncrest Farm & Milk House Chocolates (www.milkhousechocolates.net) in Goshen. The cows on this dairy farm produce the milk, cream, and butter that give the wondrous fresh flavor to their award-winning, small-batch Milk House Chocolates. We always give a shout-out to a great bookstore — like the inviting 60-plus-year-old, independent Hickory Stick Bookshop (www.hickorystickbookshop.com) in Washington Depot. If you’re a gardener, you’ve probably heard of White Flower Farm (www.whiteflowerfarm.com); the selection of perennials, shrubs, bulbs and specimen plants is incredible, as are the acres of inspirational display gardens. The farm is open from April through November.
STAY: It doesn’t get more “classic New England” than Mayflower Inn & Spa (www.aubergeresorts.com/mayflower; from $599), a genteel, 30-guest-room country house set on 58 acres of rolling hills and gardens. There are also three standalone cottages. This five-star, five-diamond-awarded property is aces when it comes to gracious service and unfussy pampering, at its full-service spa, fine-dining restaurant, and tavern. The spa is considered one of the finest in the state. And there’s this: The Rolling Stones hung out here in the late 1990s, penning tunes and jamming on the lawn. It’s easier to imagine folks playing croquet on the manicured green than Mick singing “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” but there you go.
Adjacent to White Memorial Preserve, the 18 cottages (plus the Hadley Suite) of Winvian Farm (www.winvian.com; from $699) are anything but rustic. Each cottage is unique, and 15 different architects designed them. They all are fabulous with a capital F.
The Litchfield Inn (www.litchfieldinnct.com; from $159) isn’t as splurge-y as the other two, but this stately 32-room property may win you over with its unfussy vibe and numerous amenities, including a free buffet breakfast. Room styles include 12 unique “theme” rooms (“wine” is one.)
EAT: If you’re in town for only a single dinner (too bad!), we’d suggest Community Table (www.communitytablect.com) in New Preston. The room is sleek and spare (other than the sheepskin throws tossed over chairs), the better to focus on the food: local, seasonal, and artfully created. Smoked sea scallops with faro and Vidalia onion sauce ($24) was exquisite, and our dining companion couldn’t find fault with his steak. We fought over who’d order the buttery, warm lobster roll at the Tap Room at the Mayflower Inn & Spa, but it turned out to be our second-favorite dish — we devoured every morsel of the perfectly gooey baked mac and cheese, served as a starter here. After a long day of traveling, sometimes all you want is a decent slice of pizza. The go-to spot here is da Capo Ristorante Italiano (www.dacapolitchfield.com). Its brick oven pizza hits the spot, with unique toppings (if you choose) like figs and broccoli rabe. The West Street Grill (www.weststreetgrill.com) on the Litchfield Green is a favorite of visiting celebrities; it wins raves for its house cured and smoked meats, and dishes that celebrate the bounty of local oyster farms and cheese makers. Speaking of dairy, don’t leave the Litchfield Hills without a stop at Arethusa Farm Dairy (www.arethusafarm.com) in Bantam. Its milk, yogurts, cheeses, and (the clear favorite) ice cream is farm-fresh, courtesy of a herd of Holstein, Jersey, and Brown Swiss cows.
NIGHTLIFE: After a day or two of hiking and antiquing, you might be ready to crawl into bed after a nice dinner. But if you’re still raring to go, you’ll find things to do. For a big night out, locals head to Infinity Music Hall & Bistro (www.infinityhall.com) in Norfolk, a 19th-century, 300-seat music hall. It’s an intimate setting for live music that spans genres, from Leann Rimes to Toad the Wet Sprocket. There are taverns aplenty in this part of Connecticut, but for a proper pint (and one of the best craft beer lists around) you won’t go wrong at @ The Corner (www.athecorner.com) in Litchfield. Plus, who can resist asking the barkeep for Hanging Hills Weasel Pants, or a Kent Falls Doubly Awkward Hug? And we wouldn’t normally name a movie theater in this category, but the Bantam Cinema (www.bantamcinema.com) is Connecticut’s oldest operating movie house (movies have been playing here since 1918, although it is now state-of-the-art) so it definitely qualifies as an attraction.
Even if you’re not suffering from urban overload, the Litchfield region is worth a look. If you’re seeking “modern country charm,” this is the place, says Daniel Braun, general manager of The Mayflower Inn & Spa. “The area offers an abundance of activities and simple pleasures,” he adds. We’d include “awesome ice cream” in that category.
For information: www.ctvisit.com/litchfield.