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Jewels of the North
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Witches and Hot Pot
A Lightning Tour

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The Island of Crete

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Ancient Rome
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Some tips on
Living Simply

A River Valley & Shoreline

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By Pat Mestern

We were lucky enough to visit Connecticut River Valley & shoreline during the last weekend in September so were in time for the Durham Fair. A day at Connecticut’s largest agricultural fair is recommended for everyone whether they have rural roots or not. You’ll need a map, and a free day, to get around the spacious grounds. The fair, founded in 1916, is amazing for the fact that its physical mass comprises not only the fair grounds but the village common as well. After the flower, horse, cattle, goat, sheep and llama shows, take in the women’s exhibits, agricultural museum and exhibit tents. The midway is always an attraction as is ongoing stage entertainments. Food plays an important role in any fair. We always support church and non-profit groups. One of the highlights of Durham fair is a deep fried onion - not just any onion, folks. Read on. A large Spanish onion is "flowered" into sixteen pieces then dipped in batter. Its nooks and crannies are coated with very fine crumbs, several times. It is then deep fried and served with a cup of mayonnaise dip nestled in the middle of its "petals." This treat is too large for one person to eat, so bring along a friend who loves onions.

There are nineteen major, five district and twenty-three local and six 4-H fairs held in Connecticut July through October, so there is no excuse not to visit at least one. But Durham fair is really the biggest, best and comes highly recommended.

Communities along Connecticut’s shoreline are among the oldest in the U.S.A. and deserve at least one full day of exploration. Each is unique and special with beautiful, vibrant main streets that embrace a well kept village common. All have architectural gems that can be best seen by strolling tree-lined streets. Madison and Guilford are well worth your attention. Hyland House in Guilford is a stunning example of late 17th, early 18th century architecture. A tour of the house shows where old (c1660) and new (c1700) have been sympathetically joined. Diamond paned glass windows date part of the house to c1660. Five fireplaces feed into the huge central stone chimney that can be best seen from the storage room on the second floor. The chimney appears to be holding up the house. Ask about the wooden staircases from second floor to attic area, and strangely, up the side of the chimney in the attic. Also in Guilford, a State Museum is housed in the c1639 Henry Whitfield House that is the oldest stone home in New England.

Fireplace in Hyland House

Finish your day with a forty-five minute cruise through the Thimble Islands on the Sea Mist out of Stony Creek Dock in the little village of Stony Creek.

Our accommodation for one evening was at By The Sea B & B, in the Indian Neck section of Branford, one block from the shore, overlooking the Sound and Thimble Islands. After supper and before breakfast we enjoyed a walk along shore road and quiet side streets.

One evening meal was taken at Le Petit Café on the Green, in Branford. The restaurant has only two seatings per evening so reservations are highly recommended. You will not be disappointed. Wait staff is knowledgeable and friendly. Service is impeccable. Food is superbly prepared and skillfully served. The chef’s expertise with fruits and vegetables, the choicest meat and freshest fish ensures a dining experience not easily forgotten. It is difficult to leave room for innovative appetizers and main course, when one is served fresh baked crusty bread with a bowl of sweet butter. If sea bass with “light touch” coating and warm fresh figs is on the menu, do try it, along with red date flavoured creme brulee! A second trip is certainly in order to sample all the house specialties.

Worthy of mention is the book fair held in large tents on the Green in Branford during the last weekend in September. Browsing a book fair, then eating at Le Petit Café is my version of heaven on earth.

The Nature Conservancy named the Connecticut river valley one of the top forty places on earth worth saving. One of the best ways to see the river valley is from the water and one of the most unique ways to get to the boat is by a train that steams through area flora and fauna. Views from the river boat includes Gillette Castle, Goodspeed Opera House and Swing Bridge. Valley Railroad Company, established in 1971, gives a nostalgic journey along a stretch of river valley. Riders are surrounded by the smells and sounds of a steam locomotive, iron wheels on iron rail and train whistles echoing through the valley. This is nostalgia at its best!

While in the area, the villages of Essex and Chester await your exploration. Give yourself lots of time for exploring two of the best small towns in America. Both are quantessential new England villages with tree-lined streets and marvelous early American architecture. Essex is gem-perfect. Plan to have lunch at the Griswold Inn with its fireplaces, interesting taproom and collection of charmingly themed dining rooms. Chester is nestled in the rolling green hills of the lower river valley amidst state forests and scenic byways. Chester center is a one-block-long village with such a “home town” feel to it you will not want to leave. Be sure to see the fantastic rocks sculptures languishing on a front lawn just around a corner, and within walking distance from the center. The local cemetery too is well worth a visit. Ask locals to "point the way."

White Griswold Inn

Cross the Connecticut River near Chester on one of the oldest operational ferry services in the U.S.A. for a good look at Haddam, East Haddam and Moodus. A drive through Haddam and East Haddam reveals a rolling countryside with lakes, old farmsteads, state parks, historic homes, colonial architecture and ancient store walls that wind across hill and dale.

Moodus, where a dozen textile mills once provided employment for area residents during the 1800's, is better known now for its famed "Moodus Noises," unusual and strange audible seismic rumblings and cracklings that are frequently heard and felt. Moodus lies on very unstable ground as a "noisy" fault line runs directly under the area In the same area, Devil’s Hopyard State Park includes Eight Mile River with its pretty waterfall and gorge.

The c1794, three storey, gamble-roofed Thankful Arnold House in Haddam is restored to c1810 with period furnishings, and local history collection.

For the ultimate dining experience, check out the city of Middletown that has more than twenty five restaurants that suit all tastes and pocket books. While in Middletown, take a walk or drive through the college campus, located right in the middle of the main area to see excellent examples of various architectural styles.

End your day by attending a performance at the c1876 Goodspeed Opera House, rescued from demolition and restored to its former glory in 1963. Looking around the restored interior of the building, one can only praise those people with the vision to see what an architectural gem the buildings held. Musicals are Goodspeed’s forte. Reserve tickets in advance to avoid disappointment.

We had the pleasure of staying at the award winning Inn at Chester for several nights and enjoying several meals in their nicely appointed dining room. The Inn at Chester fulfills all criteria for a ultimate New England Inn experience. Delightfully appointed room, great dining facilities and friendly staff made our stay special.


  • For area information
    • Connecticut River Valley & Shoreline V.C.
      393 Main Street
      Middletown, Connecticut 06457

      Essex Steam Train & Riverboat Ride, Railroad Avenue
      P.O. Box 452
      Essex, Connecticut

      Goodspeed Opera House
      Goodspeed Landing, Rte #82
      East Haddam, Connecticut 06423

      Thimble Islands Cruise
      P.O. Box 3138
      Stony Creek Dock
      Stony Creek, Connecticut 06405

  • Information of fairs in Connecticut

  • For information on the Durham Fair

  • Accommodation includes
    • By The sea B & B
      1 Maltby
      Branford, Connecticut>

      The Inn at Chester
      318 West Main Street
      Chester, Connecticut 06412

  • Local Restaurants
    • Le Petit Café
      225 Montowese Street
      Branford, Connecticut

  • Contacts for restorations and museums include
    • Hyland House
      Box 229
      84 Boston Street
      Guilford, Connecticut 06437

      Thankful Arnold House
      Next to Haddam Green
      Corner of Hayden & Walkley Hill Rds.
      Haddam, Connecticut

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