In Japan, they call it momijigari. In New England, it’s known as leaf-peeping. Come fall, Americans jump in their cars and search out the changing colours of the landscape in Connecticut and other north eastern states.
It all comes down to summer rainfall; some years Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island and Connecticut are ablaze with colour and some years the forests are more muted. It’s late October and for the southern New England state of Connecticut foliage should be at ‘peak’ colour.
After leaving Manhattan late afternoon via Amtrak we overnighted in Stamford, Connecticut. The trees hadn’t got the memo so they were only just starting their annual transformation but, then I peeped my first leaf.
Next morning we drove through the winding roads and pretty villages of Litchfield Hills. Connecticut is only 177kms from east to west so distances are short allowing for plenty of stops to take in the maple, ash, sassafras, beach and cherry woodlands.
This is the America that Hollywood gave us: where covered bridges take tree-lined highways across the river. Small-town America with colonial homes and manicured town greens but unlike the movies, there are next to no white picket fences along Main St.
We left the highway behind and stretched our legs in the perfectly art-directed hamlet of New Preston. Stores made for window-shopping are painted white or grey with red or purple timber shutters. Fall means pumpkins – everywhere. Halloween falls smack dang in the middle of autumn, but pumpkins mean that Thanksgiving is coming.
Next stop Kent. Gilmore Girls fans come here all times of year to geek out and imagine they live in the fictional Stars Hollow. Sunday strollers stop to look at the pretty homes, farmers markets and book sales. Kent is antiquing ground zero in ‘America’s Antique Capital’ and we half expected to see Martha Stewart turn the corner with a fabulous tag sale bargain.
During the peaceful drive through unspoilt woods, we spotted the occasional winter-prepping squirrel or startled deer before crossing the Housatonic River and the historic Covered Bridge at West Cornwall. Architecturally faultless, this little town is home to expert craftsman and Shaker specialist Ian Ingersoll.
We arrive at Winvian Farm in the late afternoon with the wood-fires already taking the edge off the autumn chill. Eighteen unique cottages and a 1795 saltbox house reside on this 7ha Relais and Chateaux resort. Surrounded by tall trees, each of the themed cottages offers guests a very different experience.
Dinner is three or four-course fixe prix at The Restaurant at Winvian Farm. A superb amuse-bouche of poached eggplant with miso, cilantro (coriander) and three squash soup with a glass of fine Henry Bourgeous Sancerre 2015 by the fire was a fitting start.
Greenhouses on the farm supply salad greens, herbs, radishes, beets and fall colour for the eye-catching Beet Salad. Brilliant mains of lamb loin and duck breast were followed ambrosial desserts. A Winvian Roasted Apple with apple granita, maple cream, candied pine nuts and clove foam wasn’t as graceful on the plate as Tanzanian chocolate mousse but both were sublime.
Grace Mayflower Inn and Spa
Our last stop for the day was another Relais and Chateaux property – the ultra-exclusive Grace Mayflower Inn and Spa. Set on twenty-four hectares of elegant gardens and woodland walks, the former 19th-century boys school is the epitome of refinement.
Our Deluxe room in the Allerton Cottage made Downton Abbey look positively shabby. A fresh fruit and cheese plate and chilled water was a welcoming touch in our foyer. This was followed by heart-shaped chocolates and crystal decanted port.
The room was resplendent but not too ornate with textured, toile wallpaper and colonial styling. The feather-topped, four poster bed sported both eau de nil silk draping and Frette linens designed for maximum indulgence. The bathroom? Marble with walk-in shower, double vanity and deep soaking tub, of course. In the morning we discover a large balcony perfect for greeting the morning.
Our overnighter here was too brief to allow a treatment at the legendary 20,000-square foot spa. Word is that super-stressed New York moguls have the Grace Mayflower Inn and Spa on speed dial when tranquillity and privacy is the top priority.
Coming soon: Connecticut Day Two – a look at an Ivy League university, how New Haven pizza became a thing and how a Connecticut inn has remained open continuously for over two centuries.