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Last Green Valley: Northeastern Connecticut

Last Green Valley: Northeastern Connecticut
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Last Green Valley: Northeastern Connecticut
Photo/Art by Lisa Sacco

The Last Green Valley in northeastern CT (and MA): An oasis of peace old-time nostalgia. Trails to hike, places to stay, meals to eat, gifts to buy, and what to do with the kids.

Last Green Valley: Northeastern Connecticut
Illustration by Beth Griffis Johnson
Last Green Valley: Northeastern Connecticut
Photo/Art by Lisa Sacco
A bucolic setting in Brooklyn, home of the Golden Lamb Buttery and the Brooklyn Fair, held every August.

When You GoYankee-recommended places to hike, stay, eat, and shop in Connecticut’s Last Green Valley.

The skies don’t lie. From on high, looking down along the East Coast at night, we’re blazing away like Times Square squared, a crazy quilt of sparks illuminating the darkness. Look at us, everyone–our name in lights! A river of suburban wattage from Boston to Washington, visible from planes and satellites, flowing more or less ceaselessly.

Except … over there. A distinct patch of northeastern Connecticut and a bit of Massachusetts that’s noticeably still, remarkably dark. A break in the unrelenting mass of artificial brilliance that lights the night. So much so that airline pilots use this patch of darkness as a point of reference. And by day, it’s green. Deeply, profoundly green. The Last Green Valley, so they say.

Of course, it’s not really the last. But it is the last good-sized, unspoiled spot on the East Coast city-sprawl continuum: more than 1,000 square miles of peace and old-time nostalgia pressed between the Quinebaug and Shetucket rivers. A wide, quiet corridor of pretty villages and dreamy landscapes hidden within one of the most densely populated parts of the country. With Worcester to the north, Hartford to the west, and Providence to the east, this gorgeous chunk of green and its 35 rural towns are so precious, they’ve been federally recognized since 1994, when Congress conferred its mouthful of a designation: the Quinebaug and Shetucket Rivers Valley National Heritage Corridor. “Green” is more than just a word in this oasis: More than 70 percent of the Last Green Valley remains field, farmland, and forest.

Naturally, that means a superabundance of hiking, biking, and birding. Not so long ago, in fact, this region was known as “The Quiet Corner,” until its more recent incarnation as the romantic and appealing Last Green Valley. It could also just as easily have been called “The Friendly Corner,” once you begin exploring the intimate shops, offbeat cafes, and secret spots sprinkled liberally amidst the greenery.

But 1,000 square miles is a lot to explore in a weekend. Conveniently, Route 169, Connecticut’s second-longest National Scenic Byway, glides smack through the middle of the Last Green Valley. Thirty-two charmed, dotted-green miles running north to south, from Woodstock to Lisbon: a string of lovely little towns hung together like cool New England pearls, and not a mall in sight.

Using 169 as the compass centerline, we set off from Lisbon, heading north and taking detours wherever curiosity or a wandering stone wall called us on. Here are some highlights of what we found, along with some alternatives for exploring on your own.

Last Green Valley: Northeastern Connecticut
Photo/Art by Lisa Sacco
A stop off Woodstock Hill defines the valley’s rural character.

‘Scenic Road Next 32 Miles’

With a sign like that to point the way, it’s a little like setting out for Oz. Right off, at Canterbury Cones, winner of our “most creative use of a recycled bus” award, latticework conceals the wheels of this sleek tin can on the outskirts of Canterbury, and jaunty shutters flip up to reveal a world of ice cream flavors.

Not long after, we take a quick detour up a winding road into Brooklyn, and feel a sense of anticipation as The Golden Lamb Buttery looms into view. With 1,000 acres spreading around this rehabbed barn, the Buttery has been an institution since 1963, as famous for its celebrity clientele (eager eater Roger Clemens landed his helicopter in the field) as for the four-star meals that emerge from its minuscule farm kitchen. The predinner appetizer is a leisurely hayride over the grounds, and new owner Katie Bogert, granddaughter of the original owners, will greet you personally.

Back on 169, we head past Lapsley Orchard (in early May, an explosion of blossoms) to Pomfret. This crisp, tiny, pre-Revolutionary War town, with its wide, Champs Elysees-like boulevard, is pretty and stately, with two top-notch prep schools spreading through the center. At the southern tip of town, the gallery/gift shop Celebrations, housed in a former Victorian B&B, highlights the work of 36 different artists: gifts on the first floor, fine art on the second, and an entire room devoted to tea. Take a moment to check out the Pomfret School‘s little Gothic gem, too: a stone chapel with lovely stained-glass windows.

Quiet as Pomfret is, it’s also the local hotspot: specifically the confluence of Routes 169, 44, and 97, or even more specifically, where the The Vanilla Bean Cafe meets Martha’s Herbary. One is a jumpin’ java joint/restaurant, a favorite of motorcyclists enjoying the call of 169. (They make zingy lemonade fresh daily, with crushed-up ginger.) The other is a tumble of a garden-and-gift shop, with items ranging from frog door knockers to herbs to colorful clothing.

Pomfret is also a great central location for jumping off the main road and exploring the subtleties of the Last Green Valley … which we do, veering over to Sharpe Hill Vineyard in Hampton, and perhaps the best-spent $5 of the trip. At the foot of a 40-acre rise of grapevines, it’s a refined scene right out of Brideshead Revisited. Five tastes for five dollars (“Ballet of Angels”–don’t miss its grapefruit snap), sitting on wicker chairs under wide old shade trees on a sunny Saturday afternoon. A hike to the top of the vineyard reveals panoramic views to Rhode Island and Massachusetts. That afternoon, on the terrace, diners spontaneously applaud a young couple’s engagement.

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

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Updated Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

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6 Responses to Last Green Valley: Northeastern Connecticut

  1. Restful Paws & Rosie B's March 9, 2009 at 10:07 am #

    Being members of the Last Green Valley, we find that the article does not offer equality to the entire region. We being from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and in support of the ENTIRE HERITAGE CORRIDOR, find it rather sad that an article in this magazine either did not listen to/or decide not to bother with a portion of the corridor that is in another State. Is there a specific reason for punishing the members of The Last Green Valley that are in Massachusetts or is there going to be a follow up piece to allow all to try a “taste” of the “rest of The Last Green Valley”?

    Barbara, Maria< Raymond & Rosie Korny

    Relaxation Hosts and Owners & Operators of
    The Inn at Restful Paws and
    Rosie B’s Indoor Swimming for Dogs

    70 Allen Hill Road
    Holland, MASSACHUSETTS 01521

  2. Anne Roser April 11, 2009 at 9:29 pm #

    The whole point of the area is not its commercial base, but the beauty of the rolling hills and orchards and old homes and lack of commericalization. In terms of history, you forgot to mention Old Trinity Church in Brooklyn, one of the oldest standing Episcopal churches in New England and open for summer tours. The area around the Golden Lamb in Brooklyn is one of the most scenic and beautiful, yet that was not well stated. Who cares if Roger Clemons went there? How about the beautiful farm and the acres of pasture and woodlands?
    The Episcopal church in Pomfret, CT near the two prep schools had Tiffany windows…another fact that was not mentioned. While you did highlight some central items, you also missed a lot.

  3. Jennifer McDowell September 17, 2012 at 1:21 pm #

    Northeast Connecticut is so pretty year round, all the little shops and great restaurants, try the Java Jive Cafe in Woodstock in front of the fairgrounds on 169. Great breakfast, lunch and the best espresso drinks!
    call for take out too!

  4. MARY JANE PETERS December 19, 2012 at 12:54 pm #

    I enjoyed the article, just for itself..I don’t believe it was trying to keep any other innkeepers out of the loop..It was just showcasing a particular area!

    Get over yourselves..

  5. Graveyard Grind August 9, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

    Graveyard Grind (Sept. 28, 2013) is now open for registration. The Graveyard Grind is a 62 & 31 mile bike ride and a great way to experience the majestic Quiet Corners of CT and historic grave sites in this area.

    The bike ride is presented by the Woodstock Education Foundation. Its mission is to broaden the sphere of learning for the Woodstock students by fostering partnerships that provide resources to expand the reach of the K-8 public school experience.

    Register by Sept 6th and receive a free commemorative t-shirt!:

  6. MaryAnne September 27, 2014 at 11:57 am #

    I am just inquiring if this is near the Gillette Castle.

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