Connecticut River Valley
The Connecticut River, New England's longest, flows southwards 410 miles from its humble source at Fourth Connecticut Lake, just 300yd from the Canadian border. It forms the state boundary between Vermont and New Hampshire, before snaking its way through Massachusetts and Connecticut until it meets the Atlantic at Long Island Sound.
Despite its depressing reputation as the ‘filing cabinet of America’, Connecticut’s capital city, Hartford, is full of surprises. Settled in the 17th century by Dutch traders and, later, Puritans fleeing persecution in Massachusetts, it is one of New England’s oldest cities and as such boasts an impressive array of sights and museums.
The rolling hills in the northwestern corner of Connecticut are sprinkled with lakes and dotted with forests and state parks. Historic Litchfield is the hub of the region, but lesser-known Bethlehem, Kent and Norfolk boast similarly illustrious lineages and are just as photogenic. An intentional curb on development continues to preserve the area's rural character.
A skyline of masts greets you as you arrive in town on US-1. They belong to the vessels bobbing ever so slightly in the postcard-perfect harbor. There's a sense of self-satisfied calm and composure in the air – until suddenly a heart-stopping steamer whistle blows, followed by the cheerful cling of a drawbridge bell. You know you've arrived in Mystic.
During its golden age in the mid-19th century, New London, then home to some 200 whaling vessels, was one of the largest whaling centers in the US and one of the wealthiest port cities. In 1858 the discovery of crude oil in Pennsylvania sent the value of whale oil plummeting and began a long period of decline for the city, from which it has never fully recovered.
The Gold Coast
The southwestern corner of Connecticut, otherwise known as the Gold Coast, was once home to potato farmers and fishermen until 19th-century railroads brought New Yorkers north. With their blue-chip companies they transformed Fairfield County into one of the wealthiest regions in the USA, with the affluent town of Greenwich at its heart.
Five miles east of Mystic on US 1, Stonington is Connecticut’s oldest ‘borough’ and one of the most appealing towns on the coast. Laid out on a peninsula that juts into Long Island Sound, the town's compact footprint is scattered with photogenic 18th- and 19th-century houses, many of which were once sea captains' homes.
Travelling south from New Haven, you enter Fairfield County via affluent Westport, dubbed 'Beverly Hills East' for its popularity as a retreat for artists, writers and film stars. Despite its links to the rich and famous, the town otherwise bears no resemblance to Beverly Hills whatsoever.
Bethlehem is Connecticut’s ‘Christmas Town’ and every year thousands of visitors come for the Christmas Fair (www.ci.bethlehem.ct.us) and to have their Christmas mail hand-stamped in the village post office. The town’s religious history extends to the founding of the first theological seminary in America by local resident Rev Joseph Bellamy.