MASSACHUSETTS . . .
LENOX, MA: A playground for theater and music
Chances are that the summertime coffee-shop chatter in Lenox is a lot more highfalutin than the patter around the rest of the state. Instead of parsing how well the Sox ran the bases the night before, the autocrats of the breakfast table might be opining on the conductor’s reading of a passage in Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony or a certain actor’s approach to the dignified buffoonery of Falstaff. For the last three-quarters of a century, this handsome Berkshires town of long green lawns and extravagant “cottage” architecture has been the nerve center of the summer arts scene. Most performances take place in the evenings, leaving days free for perusing the art and craft galleries, visiting Edith Wharton’s estate, The Mount (413-551-5111; edithwharton.org), or gathering to rehash last night’s performance (how ’bout them Sox?).
The Harmonious Lawn
Tanglewood (above), the warm-weather home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, is one of the greatest summer music programs in the country. Introduce yourself to the property by taking a free walking tour of the expansive grounds led several days a week by the Boston Symphony Association of Volunteers (413-637-5393). Then return in the evening for a magical performance amid the estate’s green lawns. 413-637-1600; bso.org
Start your engines
Good luck sticking to your diet as you walk past the display cases of cupcakes and tarts on the way to place a takeout order at the counter at Haven Cafe and Bakery. Or, if you don’t mind a bit of a wait during the morning rush, you can get a table for a breakfast confab about the previous night’s performance. Check the specials board for the chef’s salmon hash to go with that rehash. 413-637-8948; havencafebakery.com
If Shakespeare were still treading the boards, he would be 450 this year. Venerable as they may be, his plays are never old hat in the hands of Shakespeare & Company. This summer, the company mounts three major productions (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Julius Caesar, and Henry IV, Parts I & II) on its downtown Kemble Street campus, as well as a stripped-down, 90-minute edition of Romeo and Juliet in The Dell at The Mount. 413-637-3353; shakespeare.org
Bounty of the Countryside
The Berkshires are still farm country, and on Friday afternoons, the area’s farmers and cheese makers come to town for the Lenox Farmers’ Market on the grounds of Shakespeare & Company. Between the breads, cheeses, and fruit from the farms, you could easily assemble the makings for a picnic on the Tanglewood lawn. lenoxfarmersmarket.com
Hit the Trails
One does not live by the arts alone. Mass Audubon’s Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary has 7 miles of trails that crisscross forest and meadows and wind along the slopes of Lenox Mountain. The deck overlooking Pike’s Pond is a good place to spot beaver — or at least their lodges and dams. 413-637-0320; massaudubon.org
PROVINCETOWN, MA: Great art, even greater dunes
Follow Route 6 out the muscular arm of Cape Cod to its come-hither finger at the tip and you’ll find Provincetown. Always at the edge of things, P-town has long been a summer art colony as well as a vibrant gay and lesbian resort. The broad arc of the sun creates a diffuse illumination that seduces the eye. Painters find it irresistible, and every traveler with a cellphone is inspired to become a photographer, filling up Flickr with visions of rose-covered fences, characters on the Town Hall benches, whale-like humps of sand dunes, and the cubist jumble of fishing trawlers. P-town offers the wild sands and untamed shores of the Cape Cod National Seashore and the intense human carnival of the village. A wise visitor knows to taste a little of both.
100 Years in Paint
Provincetown began nurturing an art colony in the early years of the 20th century. In 1914, artists and businesspeople formed the Provincetown Art Association and Museum to show and collect work by local figures. “PAAM100: A Century of Inspiration, 1966-1989,” a retrospective exhibition that runs through July 20, includes a work by abstract expressionist Robert Motherwell, who painted here the last 40 summers of his life. 508-487-1750; paam.org
Pictured, Motherwell’s Provincetown Bay, 1990.
When Thoreau tramped the length of Cape Cod, he fretted that the hills of sand in the Province Lands would someday wash over Provincetown like a gritty wave. Ecologists have thought the same, so try not to disturb the fragile beach grass that holds the sand at bay. The best way to traverse this Sahara in the sea is on a bouncing ride with Art’s Dune Tours as a guide explains both the science and the quirky human history of the dunes. 508-487-1950; artsdunetours.com
From Here to Serenity
At the height of summer, the rollicking mass of humanity on the streets of P-town can wear a little thin. Even the beaches are bustling — except the sandy hook curling around Provincetown Harbor. It’s a long walk from the West End and across the breakwater to the point, but you can catch the Long Point Shuttle from Flyer’s Boat Rental for a swift ride to the tranquil shore. The shuttle leaves from MacMillan Pier in town and Flyer’s Boatyard in the West End. 508-487-0518; flyersboats.com
See the Stars
Download the iPhone or Android version of the Provincetown Historic Walking Tour and you’re ready for the P-town high-culture equivalent of the Hollywood driving tour of the mansions of the stars. See where Hans Hofmann, Franz Kline, and Robert Motherwell painted and where Norman Mailer blustered and often wrote. Other historic sites include the wharf where the Provincetown Players first produced a Eugene O’Neill play in 1916. provincetown.toursphere.com
Tailing the Whales
This spring, plankton bloom brought the rare Northern right whale to Cape Cod Bay. And as the waters warm into summer, finback, humpback, and minke whales, as well as dolphins, will be feeding on large schools of fish off the back shore of Provincetown. By land or by sea, the sightings can be spectacular. Better yet, the crews of the Dolphin Fleet of Provincetown can make a whale watch an education, not just a spectacle. 508-240-3636; whalewatch.com
MAINE . . .
BAR HARBOR, ME: Between piney woods and rockbound coast
Bar Harbor is the yin to Acadia National Park’s yang. Although it sits at the edge of a wilderness of heroic dimensions, the town brings Maine’s often Wagnerian coast back down to human scale. Beach roses shed their promiscuous petals in the wind along the shore of Frenchman Bay, where the bristling forms of pine and hemlock give the humpbacked Porcupine Islands their name. It may be de rigueur to decry the press of flesh on Main Street during the brief months of high summer, but that enormous sky and cool salt breeze cry out to be shared. Once you’ve had your fill of boutiques and galleries, you can always escape to the beach, to the trails, to the carriage roads, or even to the peaks of Acadia. Wherever you venture, it is comforting to know that a scoop of blueberry-buttermilk from Mount Desert Island Ice Cream (above) (207-801-4006; mdiic.com) awaits at the end of the day.
Crossing the Bar
For about 90 minutes on each side of low tide, a gravel bar emerges from the ocean as a soggy land bridge between town and Bar Island, an outlier of Acadia National Park. You can look back at Bar Harbor, stroll the rocky shoreline, or even hoist yourself over the boulders to the inland path to high ground. Just watch your time – high tide waits for no one. nps.gov/acad
The Cadillac of Sunsets
If you can’t bestir yourself early to drive to the summit of Cadillac Mountain for the 5 a.m.-ish first rays of sunrise, rest assured that the Blue Hill Overlook, somewhat lower than the summit parking lot, has the best distant sunset views. Clouds on the western horizon guarantee the most colorful show. If it’s dry and clear, hope for the elusive optical phenomenon known as a green flash. nps.gov/acad
A portion of the Bar Harbor Inn dates from 1887, when summer gentry built the Mount Desert Reading Room to house their social club. The lawn is the best vantage point in town, overlooking Town Pier, Frenchman Bay, and a harbor full of blocky lobster boats and slender sloops and schooners. Set between the inn and the shore, the Terrace Grille is the perfect spot for a lobster roll and blueberry pie in the shade of a yellow umbrella. 207-288-3351; barharborinn.com
The Mount Desert Oceanarium is a slice of the Maine coast in miniature, with an educational marsh walk and a touch tank for handling sea life. It is also the home of Maine’s only lobster hatchery, where the crustaceans are raised from eggs through their planktonic stages until they’re big enough to release into the ocean. Retired lobstermen are on hand to explain the process of capturing them once they’ve grown to legal size. 207-288-5005; theoceanarium.com
For running commentary with the scenery, Oli’s Trolley is a good bet for guided tours from Bar Harbor. There’s a 30-minute downtown tour, a Cadillac Mountain jaunt, and a 2½-hour comprehensive tour of the national park that includes Cadillac and Thunder Hole. 207-288-9899; olistrolley.com
OLD ORCHARD BEACH, ME: On the family-friendly strand
There’s something irresistibly giddy about Old Orchard Beach, one of the last of the genuinely sweet honky-tonk beach towns in New England. Terrible storms and tragic fires have stripped the shore bare time after time, but with each catastrophe, Old Orchard sprang back to life. Don’t be surprised if you get an overwhelming urge to gorge on fried dough and throw baseballs at milk bottles to win a stuffed penguin. The 3-mile-long beach has all the room necessary to spread a blanket in the sun, toss Frisbees, or skim down the beach wash on a boogie board. A getaway for Montrealers since the 1850s, Old Orchard speaks French as readily as English. Either way, it whispers in your ear the seductive fiction of endless summer.
Walk the Plank
If Old Orchard Beach didn’t have The Pier, someone would have to invent it. Where else can beachgoers shop for souvenirs in questionable taste, slurp oysters while sipping fruity cocktails, or endure the gentle razzing of a singing comedian? This 500-foot version of the 19th-century 1,825-foot original assembles entertainment, restaurants, bars, and small shops into one long walkway over the sea. The Pier joins Palace Playland to sponsor fireworks every Thursday night from late June to late August. 207-934-3595; oobpier.com
Hitting the High Notes
Founded in 1881 on the south end of Old Orchard Beach, Ocean Park keeps faith with its camp-meeting roots. The Chautauqua village buzzes with activities to engage the mind and lift the spirit, and they’re open to outsiders as well as village residents. The Ocean Park Music Festival runs on weekends from late June through August at the Ocean Park Temple. If you’re only around at midweek, catch the more modest Wednesday evening recitals at the community’s Jordan Hall. 207-934-9068; oceanpark.org
Up and Away
Few adventurous sports require so little training or talent. If you can sit, you can parasail, at least according to Old Orchard Beach Parasailing & Jet Ski. Up to three people lift off together from the rear deck of the purpose-built parasailing boat, sail up to 1,200 feet above the water, and are reeled back in for a dry landing on the boat — or a dunk in the ocean to cool off. 855-359-2759; oobparasail.com
All the Bells and Whistles
You can’t beat the sweeping views from the top of the Ferris wheel, but it’s just as hard to resist the bump of Dodg’em cars or the sheer rush of the rattling metal Galaxi Coaster. Palace Playland sprawls across 4 beachside acres, and if more than 20 rides isn’t enough, you can try your hand at classic midway games like ring toss or test your reflexes and timing at 200-plus machines in the arcade. Wean your kids off video games with a competitive round of Skee-Ball. 207-934-2001; palaceplayland.com
NEW HAMPSHIRE . . .
BRETTON WOODS, NH: Gateway to the White Moutains
Generations of Bostonians have escaped the summer heat by fleeing to the natural air conditioning of the White Mountains. In the Gilded Age heyday, as many as 57 trains arrived daily at the depot in Bretton Woods. The enclave set on an alpine tableland west of Mount Washington was, and still is, a prime staging ground to ascend that singular peak — or just to appreciate its looming glory. At 6,288 feet, Mount Washington rises about 500 feet higher than neighboring Adams and Jefferson and considerably higher than the rest of the Presidential Range. It is, in fact, the highest mountain in the Northeast. These days you will have to drive, but the first unobstructed view of the mountains is no less amazing than it was in locomotive times. Once you turn the corner on Route 302, the previously vertical landscape turns horizontal as the high peaks of the Presidential Range line up behind Bretton Woods’ long green meadow.
Little Engines that Could
Progress is painfully slow – about 4 miles per hour – up the 3-mile wooden trestle to the wind-swept summit of Mount Washington. But that pace is perfect to watch for moose or deer, or to simply enjoy the view. The mountain’s original thrill ride has been operating since July 1869, when passengers climbed aboard the Mount Washington Cog Railway, the world’s first mountain-climbing cog train. Comparatively modern steam or biodiesel locomotives haul the coaches today, but passengers still joke nervously as the train climbs legendary Jacob’s Ladder, where the grade tilts at a vertigo-inducing 37 degrees. 603-278-5404; thecog.com
The Grandest Dame
The 900-foot veranda of the Mount Washington Hotel embodies the ethos of conspicuous leisure, where you can sink into a wicker armchair and marvel at the sunset. It took 250 Italian workers and artisans to build this improbable Renaissance palace in our very own American Alps. When it opened in 1902, it was the culmination of a series of ever grander White Mountains hotels. Today, it is the most luxurious survivor from those golden days. 603-278-1000; omnihotels .com/mtwashington
If you’ve ever climbed into waders on the Ammonoosuc River with a dozen flies pinned to your cap, you know the Abenaki nailed it when they named this patch of water “fish place.” A perfect spot for making delicate presentations on small pools downstream from boulders, the Ammonoosuc begins in the Lakes of the Clouds, about a four-hour hike up the ravine trail from the Marshfield Station of the Mount Washington Cog Railway. Expect native brook trout up high, stocked browns and a few landlocked salmon farther down river.
The best way to get the squirrel’s-eye view of the forest on the west slope of Mount Washington is to join the Bretton Woods Canopy Tour for a 1,000-foot descent through the treetops on a series of ziplines and rope-and-plank suspension bridges with stops at platforms in the trees. Add in a few rappels, and you can make that the flying squirrel’s-eye view. 603-278-4947; brettonwoods.com
WOLFEBORO, NH: Leisure on the lake
All you will need are a bathing suit and sandals when you head to Wolfeboro. Make that at least two bathing suits. America’s Oldest Summer Resort (as Wolfeboro calls itself) sits on an eastern lobe of Lake Winnipesaukee, a body of water as big as its name. The village is a tiny cluster of pastel and brick buildings where two hills dip down and the road practically touches the water’s edge. On arrival, the temptation is to dive right in and not bother to towel dry until Labor Day. But there are just as many people on the water as in the water, and every type of watercraft is tied up at the town dock: the kayak lashed to a cleat while the paddler goes to lunch, the speedboat whose transom groans beneath the weight of a giant outboard, and even a lapstrake rowboat, a perfect seat to angle for lake trout.
The names are legendary among enthusiasts of wooden boats — GarWood, Chris Craft, Century, Dodge Boats, Penn Yan, Lyman, and Hacker. The gleaming mahogany runabouts built between the World Wars once dominated Lake Winnipesaukee. The New Hampshire Boat Museum is dedicated to all manner of watercraft that figure in Granite State history, but the runabouts are clearly the favorite children of the museum founders. 603-569-4554; nhbm.org
A Different Angle
As the company name suggests, Dive Winnipesaukee is dedicated to the sport of scuba diving. But it’s also a handy spot to rent a paddle board, canoe, kayak (single or double), or good old-fashioned rowboat. Dive Winnipesaukee not only rents fishing poles, it’s also the only place in town that sells New Hampshire fishing licenses. 603-569-8080; divewinnipesaukee.com
Water skiing may not be as popular as it was in the 1950s, when Winnipesaukee hosted regular summer races. But there’s still nothing to beat the adrenaline rush of balancing on skis and holding onto a towline for dear life behind a whizzing speedboat. According to the folks at Lake Life Lessons (a.k.a. L3), even novices can master water skiing and perhaps move up to wake-boarding. 603-986-4332; lakelifelessons.com
You might need something nicer than a bathing suit, after all, especially if you catch one of the concerts of the Great Waters Music Festival that kicks off in late June with New Hampshire’s own one-man folk revival, Tom Rush, and concludes in late August with a performance by North Shore Acappella. Concert venues vary between the Inn on Main and the Kings-wood Arts Center. 603-569-7710; greatwaters.org
Only the second such vessel to bear the name, the 230-foot M/S Mount Washington announces its presence with authority, as the ship’s whistle marks its approach and departure. From May to October, it shuffles from port to port around the lake on daily cruises – the perfect way to grasp the 72-square-mile immensity of Winnipesaukee. 603-366-5531; cruisenh.com
VERMONT . . .
STOWE, VT: Hike, relax, repeat
Topping off at 4,393 feet, Mount Mansfield is the tallest peak in Vermont. But it’s a broad-shouldered mountain, more approachable than its height would indicate. Contraband runners were ferrying goods over the top through Smugglers’ Notch in the early 19th century, and Stowe officially embraced the mountain when it annexed the east side in 1848. The town-peak relationship shifts with the seasons. In the winter, most people are interested in gliding down the mountain on skis or snowboards. In summer and fall, the goal is to ascend the peak with hiking boots and poles. The Green Mountain Club, headquartered a few miles south on the Waterbury-Stowe Road, long ago cut the Long Trail right across the stony ice age tundra of Mansfield’s upper reaches. Except for hardy through-hikers bound for the Canadian border, at the end of the day Stowe awaits with creature comforts for the weary mountaineer.
To a Mountain Tarn
For a taste of Mount Mansfield, Sterling Pond Trail off Route 108 in Smugglers’ Notch State Park gives you the maximum payback for your exertion. Much of the hike is on woodsy trail that’s steep at the outset, but you’re rewarded by the little glacial lake with great open views at an elevation of 3,000 feet. Experienced hikers reach the lake in an hour, but allow 90 minutes and bring a picnic lunch to eat at the water’s edge before heading back. A waterproof pocket map of the hike is available at the Green Mountain Club visitors’ center south of town. 802-244-7037; greenmountainclub.org
The Track Pack
One of Stowe’s best networks of mountain biking trails is on the side of Mount Mansfield at the Trapp Family Lodge. The same folks who helped popularize cross-country skiing on this downhill mecca have created 6 miles of single track and 20 miles of double track that cover terrain for all abilities. To cool off after a strenuous outing, sip a Trapp Lager from the resort’s own brewery. 855-318-4641; trappfamily.com
Their Sound of Music
The Stowe Theatre Guild has been enlivening the summer nights for more than a half century, occupying a theater on the second floor of Town Hall since the 1990s. This summer the company performs three musicals ranging from the contemporary [title of show] — that’s really the name — to the classic On the Town. 802-253-3961; stowetheatre.com
No one grows cacao in Stowe, but you can still help support local farmers by eating chocolate. Laughing Moon Chocolates incorporates as much local product into its truffles as possible, including maple syrup, blue cheese, basil, and a chamomile and lavender tea. The staff gives a chocolate dipping demo every afternoon at 2. 802-253-9591; laughingmoonchocolates.com
Rubbed the Right Way
The vigorous outdoor life of Stowe will have you using muscles that don’t get a workout at the gym. Relief awaits with a sports massage at the sybaritic spa facilities of Topnotch Resort, which also offers high-end lodging and a tennis center. Your tootsies might also welcome a tension-relieving foot massage. 802-253-6463; topnotchresort.com
WOODSTOCK, VT: The best of the land
With an expansive and curiously oval town green, handsome white-clapboard houses on tree-lined streets, and covered bridges here and there, Woodstock is an exceptionally pretty village in a state of pretty villages. Apart from parking meters and motor vehicles instead of hitching posts and horses, Woodstock looks little changed from its 19th-century photos — the biggest difference being that now it’s all in living color. Woodstock demands little of its visitors. You go there to be there, as if you were inhabiting the picture postcard that you mentally mail back home: “Wish you were here.” The perfectly preserved village’s apparent indifference to change, of course, is something of a pose. Although Woodstock looks as if it has yet to discover radio, it actually has a free community Wi-Fi service known as “Wireless Woodstock.” You can even use it to stream NPR on your phone.
How Now, Brown Cow?
It wouldn’t be Vermont without pastures full of cows, in this case the sweet-faced tan and white Jersey breed introduced in 1871 by Frederick Billings in his effort to create the model scientific farm. Exhibits at the Billings Farm & Museum recapture life here during its 1890 height. It’s still a working dairy farm; time your visit to catch the 3:15 p.m. milking in the cow barn. 802-457-2355; billingsfarm.org
Petals of Perfection
Around the summer solstice, showy lady-slippers come out to play, dotting the fens of the Nature Conservancy’s Eshqua Bog Natural Area. Turn down a couple of side roads from town and you’ll travel back 10,000 years to a post-glacial wooded wetland with a 1-mile hiking trail and a 200-foot boardwalk that crosses the bog. Carnivorous pitcher plants and hovering, iridescent dragonflies compete for insect prey. 802-229-4425; nature.org
Taste of Italy
Osteria Pane e Salute brings Florence to Woodstock. With a crust learned in Tuscany and La garagista wine grown and vinted on the owners’ Vermont farm, this upstairs downtown eatery will have you saying grazie mille when you bite into a margherita pizza with garden tomatoes and fresh mozzarella and sip the intensely fruity organic Vergennes-rouge. 802-457-4882; osteriapaneesalute.com
Woodstock’s town green echoes with folk and acoustic music as well as occasional riffs of jazz each Thursday at noon starting June 26. The Brown Bag Concerts, presented by the Pentangle Arts Council, are free, but you’ll have to bring your own lunch. Try the Village Butcher (802-457-2756) on Elm Street for sandwiches. 802-457-3981; pentanglearts.org
Marking the Civil War
From the town green, walk through the dark wooden Middle Bridge over the Ottauquechee River to River Street Cemetery, where spreading trees and flowering shrubs create a garden-like repose. Rusty G.A.R. stars mark the graves of Woodstock’s Civil War veterans, including at least one Medal of Honor winner and several members of the Massachusetts 54th, the African-American regiment depicted in the film Glory.
RHODE ISLAND . . .
NEWPORT, RI: Grand mansions and fast boats
Newport’s destiny was foretold in the wind. Already a busy sea-trade town, it rose to prominence in the 1830s when rich Southerners began to summer here to enjoy the cool harbor breezes. After the Civil War, those same winds blew the yachtsmen of the world into its harbor, and Newport blossomed. A Newporter of the late 19th century was the person who could announce that his house was bigger than your house and his boat was faster than your boat and be right on both counts. The introduction of the federal income tax in 1913 curbed many of the excesses, but much of Newport’s enduring appeal comes from the ornate marvel of its mansions and the thrill of its yachting tradition. It takes neither Vanderbilt wealth nor America’s Cup skill to enjoy Newport. On a hot day, a cool breeze off the harbor will suffice.
Downstairs on Bellevue Avenue
It could take a week to tour all the grand “cottages” on Bellevue Avenue, but visitors whose sympathies lie mainly with those who stand and wait will find the Servant Life Tour at the Elms right up their alley. The tour focuses on the lives of a butler, a cook, and a maid, and climbs 82 steps from the servants’ entrance to the third-floor staff quarters. 401-847-1000, newportmansions.org
Night sailors heading to Newport look for the winking signal of Rose Island Lighthouse, which has marked Newport Harbor since 1870. The structure is the centerpiece of a historical and ecological tour of the tiny island, which is reached most easily on the Jamestown Ferry but is also only a short kayak paddle from the Newport waterfront. If you are smitten with the lightkeeper’s life, you can even arrange to stay the night. 401-847-4242; roseislandlighthouse.org
Need for Speed
Landlubbers have their pick of boat tours from the Thames Street wharves. To get a feel for a classic mahogany motor launch built for comfort and speed, nothing matches Rum Runner II. Constructed in 1929 for New Jersey offshore entrepreneurs, the vessel could hit 35 knots and carry 400 cases of alcohol. Tours trace a lot of the Newport shore while narration covers the standard sights with a Prohibition twist. 401-847-0298; cruisenewport.com
On the Edge
The Cliff Walk, the iconic 3.5-mile walkway above the roiling sea from Easton’s Beach all the way south to Bellevue Avenue at Bailey’s Beach, was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. The last stretch of restoration is scheduled to open in June. Parts are still loose stone, so wear good shoes and watch out for poison ivy. cliffwalk.com
You’ll walk past the churning tanks of Aquidneck Lobster to reach The Landing Restaurant at the end of Bowen’s Wharf – perfect for sunset views over the harbor. To concentrate on the sky instead of cracking shells, choose grilled, broiled, or sauteed fish. On a warm night, the outdoor patio and upstairs deck are the most fun. 401-847-4514; thelandingrestaurantnewport.com
TIVERTON & LITTLE COMPTON, RI: The food lover’s delight
Bring a cooler and lots of ice when you mosey down Route 77 south from Mount Hope Bay through the farm country of Tiverton and Little Compton. With rich soils and a climate moderated by the Sakonnet River and Rhode Island Sound, this region has sprouted stone wall-girdled farms since the first Europeans arrived. Almost anything that will grow in New England seems to grow a little bigger, a little sweeter, and a little juicier here. Drive slowly enough to make the locals crazy, for you’ll never know when you’ll want to stop at a card table next to a mailbox to buy strawberries still warm from the sun or, later in the season, an armload of sweet corn.
On the north end of the peninsula sits the historic district of Tiverton Four Corners. Joseph Taber’s mill from the 1700s is long gone, but the village is replete with gift shops, antique dealers, and local fixture Gray’s Ice Cream, the perfect place for a coffee cabinet (that’s Rhody-speak for a frappe, or, to non-New Englanders, a milkshake). 401-624-4500; graysicecream.com
A Real Grind
Since at least 1700, a grist mill has been the raison d’etre for Adamsville, a flyspeck Little Compton village with one foot over the Massachusetts line. Historic Gray’s Grist Mill turns Narragansett Indian Flint Corn, a white cap flint corn, into “jonnycake meal” for Rhode Island’s signature pancake. The mill usually operates around midday and sells the cornmeal next door at Gray’s Daily Grind. 508-636-6075; graysgristmill.com
Life of Pie
The choice is yours. Buy fresh fruits for dessert at Walker’s Roadside Stand in Little Compton or walk next door to Wilma’s at Walker’s Bakery & Cafe and splurge on one of the most beautiful fruit pies you’ll ever see. Wilma’s also has sandwiches, quiche, and salads. The bakery and cafe will reopen by Memorial Day, while the stand will be ready late June. Stand: 401-635-4722; Bakery & Cafe: 401-635-8424
In Your Cups
Southward down the peninsula, Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard traces its roots to 1975. This pioneering winery offers a Napa-like experience on the New England coast. Mature vineyards produce a range of white and red wines available for tasting and sales. Bring your own picnic (or buy it at the farm stands along the way) or trust to luck at the cafe for a feast at the tables on the grassy lawn. 401-635-8486; sakonnetwine.com
CONNECTICUT . . .
LITCHFIELD HILLS, CT: The art of living well
No corner of New England is quite as genteel as the Litchfield Hills, the rolling countryside tucked between the Connecticut River Valley and the southern Berkshires. The Yankee enclaves with names like Litchfield, New Preston, New Milford, Roxbury, and Woodbury all have Colonial bones, but the hayfields of their surrounding farmlands have long since slipped into hardwood forest, and their farmhouses often rule over the manicured landscapes of country estates. It is the perfect locale to revive the grand tradition of the Sunday drive, meandering past tree-lined streams that dissect the wooded hillsides and into the little villages with their tidy town greens and high-spired white churches. Be forewarned that a certain amount of house and garden envy is inevitable in this Town & Country landscape. You will surely find a garden center with the perennials you have been coveting, an antiques dealer with the perfect objet you cannot resist.
The catalog of White Flower Farm comes to brilliant, fragrant life at the company’s 5 acres of demonstration gardens in the town of Morris, just south of Litchfield. Even apartment dwellers with no more green space than a window box will find it fun to walk the paths and dream. 860-567-8789; whiteflowerfarm.com
There’s only so much countryside you can see from the window of your car, but if you sign up for a hot air balloon flight with Aer Blarney Balloons, the panorama of the Litchfield Hills will unfold beneath you as the early morning sun throws long shadows across the landscape. (Flights are often near dawn because the air is most stable then.) An hour after liftoff from a grassy airstrip, you’ll set down on a flat spot nearby — all depending on which way the wind blows. 203-910-4955; aerblarney.com
Woodbury is a town where homeowners proudly post the date of construction next to the front door. Roughly 50 years ago, antiques dealers began to set up shop in those venerable homes along Main Street, and the town now claims the crown as the Antiques Capital of Connecticut. Dealers carry everything from Federal-period American furniture to garden statuary and Asian porcelain. antiqueswoodbury.com
There’s no shortage of great restaurants in the Litchfield Hills, but the New American fare at Litchfield’s West Street Grill is the favorite of many locals — and celebs. You’ll probably notice locals glancing up from their rib-eye steaks or asparagus, leek, and goat cheese ravioli in hopes of spotting a TV or movie star trying to dine incognito. 860-567-3885; weststreetgrill.com
Raise Your Glass
Picturesque Lake Waramaug is just big enough to temper the climate so that Hopkins Vineyard in New Preston can grow the grapes they use to produce wines, including a hearty red cabernet franc, a crisp chardonnay, sparklers, and luscious late-harvest dessert wines. Enjoy them at the vineyard’s wine bar with a plate of cheese and pates and a view of the lake that makes it all possible. 860-868-7954; hopkinsvineyard.com
MYSTIC, CT: The seafaring south coast
When the concrete counterweights of the bascule bridge over the Mystic River swing skyward, as they do hourly, you might as well roll down the windows, turn off the engine of your car, and appreciate the clunky grace of the cleverest bottleneck on the Connecticut coast. The wait is a message from the universe that Mystic is — and always has been — a seafaring village, better approached by water than land. Because of its location and other factors, the Mystic River proved an ideal spot for a humming boat-building industry, turning out some of the fastest clippers ever built. The community is more famous in pop culture for pizza than pile hitches, but most visitors still come to get a small taste of what life might have been like in the days of sail.
Stonington’s Bomster fishing family is legendary in southeast Connecticut for its “dry” scallops shucked and packed before the boats ever make port. Kitchen Little at Mystic River Marina lightly breads and deep-fries the scallops for its Bomster Sea Scallop Roll, but will pan-sear them on request. Either way, the specialty sandwich comes on a grilled roll with french fries, tartar sauce, and lemon. The restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch weekdays and breakfast only on weekends. 860-536-2122; kitchenlittle.org
The 81-foot two-masted gaff topsail schooner Argia is based on sailing vessels of the 19th century. It’s broad abeam and steady in these coastal waters as it makes narrated cruises past captains’ houses, scenic islands, and lighthouses. Passengers can help the crew raise and trim the sails — or just sit back and take it all in. For the true romance of sail, book the sunset cruise. 860-536-0416; argiamystic.com
Much of Mystic fixates on human activity on the ocean, but the Mystic Aquarium shifts the perspective to the denizens of the sea. The Arctic Coast exhibit of three connected outdoor pools landscaped with jagged rocks and simulated glacial streams is home to diminutive white beluga whales. Bubble-shaped underwater windows let visitors see them in their element. Explorer Robert Ballard is associated with the aquarium, and one exhibit traces the history of the Titanic from launch until Ballard’s team found the wreck on the ocean floor. 860-572-5955; mysticaquarium.org
Ye Olde Sweet Tooth
For some travelers, a summer outing isn’t complete without a piece of fudge. Franklin’s General Store in Olde Mistick Village makes 21 kinds on premises in big copper kettles. Almost as popular are Franklin’s cinnamon-vanilla glazed nuts. 860-536-1038; mysticfudge.com
Much of the charm of Mystic Seaport lies ashore in the maritime village of coopers and woodcarvers and riggers and merchants, staffed to represent Mystic during its maritime prime in the 19th century. But there’s another village at the end of the docks: the floating world of the seaport’s collection of historical vessels. Ranging from an oyster tonger to a dragger to a 111-foot square-rigger built in 1882, they show just how specialized boats and ships could be. 860-572-0711; mysticseaport.org