Summer in Connecticut is made for trips to the beach, and fall is perfect for scenic drives in the countryside. The holiday season lights up December, making shopping excursions or family visits bright. But the long, bleak months in between don’t lend themselves to going anywhere except from the car to the living room. Which is too bad, because there are plenty of options. Here are just seven suggestions, enough for a weeklong mid-winter staycation.
1. Relive some wintery history. In 1779, Israel Putnam’s troops spent the winter encamped at what is now Putnam Memorial State Park in Redding. Called “Connecticut’s Valley Forge,” the site is one of two Connecticut state parks dedicated to events of the Revolutionary War. (Fort Griswold, in Groton, is the other, and is also starkly beautiful this time of year.) Starting at the statue of General Putnam and his horse escaping would-be British captors by dashing down a flight of steps, you can follow a self-guided walking tour that takes you past historic sites, original and reconstructed, in a quiet, remote setting.
2. Drink a toast. Connecticut’s vineyards might seem like warm-weather attractions, but many are open year-round (check the Connecticut Wine Trail website) and some are especially suited to the darker days of winter and early spring. The tasting room at Maugle Sierra, in Ledyard, feels like a secluded ski lodge with its wooden beams. And at Gouveia in Wallingford, a stone house on a hill with a wall of windows makes for a cozy spot to view the fields below, which are stunning in any weather.
3. Bring your tote bag. Most farmers’ markets pop up in summer and close by Halloween, but a few continue to offer produce, prepared foods and crafts year round. The biggest of these is in Coventry, where the summer market moves indoors for the season. But you can find other markets around the state, from Hartford to Guilford. The Department of Agriculture has a list of winter markets by county, and the Farmers’ Market Trail website has a few more.
4. Take a drive. Wandering along country roads isn’t just for leaf-peeping. In the state’s Northwest corner, the rolling Litchfield Hills look just as beautiful with a dusting of snow. The small towns here are gathered together in groups, making it easy to hop from one to the next. The boroughs of Litchfield and Bantam and the village of New Preston concentrate restaurants and shops in small, distinctive centers. Pretty towns like upscale Kent and Cornwall, home of the famous West Cornwall Covered Bridge, line up off of Route 7. Further North, Falls Village, in Canaan, and Norfolk, have their own quirky rural charm.
5. Think small. As in, compact downtowns that pack things to do close together, where you can spend all day. In Putnam, not only is the downtown area completely walkable with convenient parking, it’s also known for several antiques emporiums where you can spend hours browsing the finds of various dealers on multiple floors. If you get overloaded on antiques, other shops and restaurants are just steps away. Another option is Seymour, similarly small and antique-filled, but with its own unique atmosphere.
6. Take to the water. From the comfort of the indoors, of course. If you live in Eastern Connecticut you (and your kids) are probably well-acquainted with Mystic Seaport and Aquarium. But for another look at the creatures of the deep, head to Norwalk and the Maritime Aquarium, which features special exhibits (one on hand-made lighthouses runs through January 21), an Imax theatre, and is devoted exclusively to Long Island Sound. The aquarium is located in SoNo’s bustling business district, so a visit can be combined with shopping, dining, or strolling.
7. Find flowers. It might seem like all the colors of nature vanished with the fall leaves, but they didn’t - they’re just indoors, under glass. In New Haven, the grounds of Yale University’s Marsh Botanical Garden are dominated by the imposing 1878 Marsh Hall. But the real draw here is the greenhouses, where plants of the desert and the tropics bloom all year. Nearby Edgerton Park has greenhouses of its own, including a conservatory where rainforest plants thrive all year. And the park itself, with its carriage house, paved paths, and fountain, is a perfect for a walk on a brisk winter’s day.