Saturday 23 February 2019

East Coast Charm: Did you know Ireland has direct flights to Connecticut?

The souvenir-sized US state of Connecticut has upped its game when it comes to downtime, says Eimear Rabbitt

Autumn or Fall in New England is captured in all its rustic elegance outside the Connecticut State Capitol building in Hartford
Autumn or Fall in New England is captured in all its rustic elegance outside the Connecticut State Capitol building in Hartford
In living colour: New Haven is an autumnal paradise
Literary buffs will get a kick out of visiting Mark Twain’s family home in Hartford

Eimear Rabbitt

An easy drive from both New York and Boston, Connecticut is well known in America as a gateway state - allowing for a quick escape to bigger and better-known tourist destinations. But what about spending time in one of the smallest states in the US itself?

That was my plan, and I found the Constitution State has really upped its game when it comes to down-time.

"Connecticut is beautiful in the Fall", is the first thing I heard when I told those in the know of my travel plans. I was visiting in autumn, and was expecting plenty of quaint, leaf-strewn Connecticut towns. I wasn't disappointed when, just a short drive from Bradley International Airport, we landed at our first overnight stop - the town of Simsbury.

Feeling like I had just stepped onto the set of the Gilmore Girls, I was immediately taken by the authentic, All-American feel of the town and the charming Simsbury Inn, where we spent the night. However, it wasn't the only place I found myself gawking at the mix of charming and stately homes - both magnificent and traditionally American in their building style.

A highlight of my trip was the fascinating tour of the Harry Potter-esque campus of one of the world's most famous universities - Yale (yale.edu). In a short hour, we were shown around the sprawling city campus by a 21-year-old economics major who left us impressed - both at the history and anecdotes of daily life at the €47k-per-year uni - but also at how she managed to handle her studies while volunteering for charity, enjoying a busy social life and a senior position in the ballet society.

Instead of a standalone campus removed from every day life, Yale buildings are a centre piece of one of Connecticut's biggest and bustling cities, New Haven. Here, I found myself taking a city tour by party bike (elmcitypartybike.com), drinking beer and munching on pizza from centuries-old family joint Peppes, just one of many popular eateries in the city's 'Little Italy' (its white clam pizza has been voted No.1 in America). We also made a quick stop at Louis Lunch, said to be the birthplace of the American hamburger. Today, the owners still don't allow ketchup and serve burgers between two slices of toasted bread.

Literary buffs will get a kick out of visiting Mark Twain’s family home in Hartford
Literary buffs will get a kick out of visiting Mark Twain’s family home in Hartford

As well as food and built heritage, Connecticut is famous for its natural beauty. Nowhere was this more glaring than the coastal town of Madison. Here, we enjoyed the beachfront views just outside the door of the impressive Wharf at Madison Beach Hotel - a huge hit with wedding parties - before devouring a steak in the hotel's bustling restaurant.

I stayed at The Homestead. Built in 1958, and remodelled several times, all 15 bedrooms have been individually decorated (my room even had a fireplace).

Madison is within a short drive of a number of attractions, including The Essex Riverboat & Stream Train (essexsteamtrain.com), a leisurely way to take in the State's lush greenery - from the comfort of your seat with a drink in hand. Running for 46 years, the journey lasts two-and-a-half hours, bringing passengers to Deep River Landing, where they board the Becky Thatcher riverboat for a cruise along the Connecticut River.

The train also boasts a first class carriage for those looking for armchair luxury and the Margaritas pack a punch!

In living colour: New Haven is an autumnal paradise
In living colour: New Haven is an autumnal paradise

If you're a Julia Roberts fan, stop nearby at the picturesque seaside town of Mystic - location for the movie Mystic Pizza and a popular photo opp for fans. Easy on the eye, the town boasts one of the country's biggest maritime museums, Mystic Seaport (mysticseaport.org), which brings you back in time as you stroll through its New England coastal village and working shipyard. It's also home to the world's oldest whaleship - the 1841 Charles W Morgan - which tourists are free to explore.

For literary fans, Mark Twain's family home in Connecticut's capital, Hartford, is also worth a visit (marktwainhouse.org). Born Samuel Clemens in Missouri in 1835, Twain lived in this house between 1874 and 1891, penning some of his most famous works and bringing characters like Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer to life. The fully restored house gives a fascinating insight into his life and times.

Aptly named the 'Constitution State', Connecticut is also steeped in Native American history - a lot of which is documented in the most impressive Mashantucket Pequot Museum (pequotmuseum.org). With interactive elements and archive material among a huge array of exhibits, the museum - spanning five levels - brings to life the story of the Mashantucket Pequot tribe and charts the rich cultural history of Native Americans in the northeast.

Today, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation own and operate the largest resort casino in North America, Foxwoods (foxwoods.com), which, as well as seven casinos, hotels, restaurants, spas and golf, also boasts a shopping outlet. But if you are looking to explore the museum before heading across to enjoy a roll of the dice and hitting the shops for some bargain hunting, make sure to give yourself plenty of time. It deserves it.

As does the shopping. I also got a chance to sample Connecticut's other outlet - Clinton Crossing Premium Outlets (premiumoutlets.com). I left impressed with the deals on offer at the 70 stores, departing for the airport with a much heavier case... and a much lighter purse.

Don't miss

Fish is a must-try in CT - the Artisan Restaurant in West Hartford's Delamar Hotel, the Madison Beach Hotel and Millwrights in Simsbury (millwrightsrestaurant.com) have some excellent fish courses.

Get there

Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) flies direct year-round from Dublin to Bradley Airport, just outside Hartford, Connecticut (bradleyairport.com). One-way fares start from €169, when booked as part of a return trip.

Eimear was a guest of Bradley International Airport (bradleyairport.com).

For more, see ctvisit.com.

Stay

Eimear stayed at the West Hartford Delamar Hotel in West Hartford (delamar.com), The Homestead in Madison (homesteadmadison.com) and the Simsbury Inn (simsburyinn.com).

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