Last Green Valley: Northeastern Connecticut
Naturally as we meander northeast to make our way back to 169, we sample the homemade selections at We-Li-Kit ice cream in Abington–then stop to admire the majestic Roseland Cottage in Woodstock, a bold, salmon-colored Gothic Revival confection with its own bowling alley and Victorian garden. A leisurely dinner on the patio behind The lnn at Woodstock Hill is the last thing I remember before falling into a plump canopy bed in a cozy corner room.
After all this effortless prettiness, we’re slightly unprepared for a side trip into Putnam. Billed as an antiques mecca, the town is comparatively gritty, but then it’s a fine line between shabby and chic these days, isn’t it? Putnam is well worth poking around in. Check out Antiques Marketplace, right in the town center; it’s got everything, from a samurai hat for $280 to Christmas ornaments from the late 1800s. Granted, a stream of motorcyclists zooms by our outside table at 85 Main (think of it as the noisy section of “The Quiet Corner”), but the place is hopping, the food is good (oysters are delivered fresh three times a week), and it’s the kind of spot where a biker dude will tear into a salmon salad.
Add to that the town’s River Trail, a 1.3-mile walk that hugs the meandering Quinebaug River, with interludes of rapids, kayakers, ducks, and a stone archway. And did I mention Bella’s Gourmet Market, next door to 85 Main? Possibly the best gelato I’ve ever tasted (and I’ve lived in Italy). On the same block, Victoria Station Cafe offers espresso and homemade pastries, and intimate nooks where the local knitting club hangs out.
Off the Beaten Track
But of course it’s the backdrop that makes the Last Green Valley special. And by now we’re itching to experience a few of the 130 miles of trails crisscrossing this corner of Connecticut. Mashamoquet Brook State Park on Route 44 in Pomfret is one of countless green spots; this one offers hiking trails and dozens of picnic areas sprinkled along the water. An initial steep ascent flattens out into John Muir-like woods, ferny glens, old stone walls, and paths crossed with slithering roots. Follow the red dots to Wolf Den, where, according to local legend, Israel Putnam shot the last she-wolf in the area.
Heading farther west to intersect with Route 198, we pass campgrounds galore, but if you’re in the mood for a late-day picnic, keep going to Diana’s Pool in South Chaplin, a hidden spot with more than a hint of drama. Keep a sharp eye out for the small street sign pointing the way. (If you hit Route 6, you’ve gone too far.) Slabs of rock and giant boulders create pools, falls, and natural picnic perches. A perfect place to soak tired feet.
Continuing on to Route 6 and heading back east toward Hampton, we come to one of the most unusual places in the Last Green Valley, the largest alpaca farm in Connecticut. At Safe Haven we meet the youngest of more than 100 residents–a five-day-old cria–and the fabulously eccentric owner, transplanted Texan Edie Roxburgh. “I saw an ad in Martha Stewart,” Edie recalls. “It said, ‘An investment you can hug.'” Plus, the gift shop–yarns and sweaters–is an education in texture and color.
Our final green moment in the Last Green Valley? Still River Cafe in Eastford, north of Natchaug State Forest, has garnered raves from the New York Times, and its Sunday brunch earns every star. Owned and run by two former attorneys, this place treats produce with reverence, and elegance is as effortless as breathing. Husband Robert Brooks works the organic garden; wife Kara cooks and designs the dishes, some of the prettiest food you’ll ever see. Bring your phone so the staff can guide you in. (Some locals may not give you directions, since Eastford was a dry town until the cafe applied for its wine and beer license.)
When we came home, we made plans to go back to the Last Green Valley, a breath of nostalgia mixed with a modern-day sensibility. There are more wildlife preserves to explore; heirloom turkeys, Highland cattle, and bison to enjoy; more villages and first-class dining to savor. I can’t imagine a nicer place to get lost in, or to fall off the map while springtime emerges all around.
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When You Go — Yankee-recommended places to hike, stay, eat, and shop in Connecticut’s Last Green Valley
Have you ever been to the last green valley?