Day one of our New England road trip saw us chasing fall colour through Connecticut’s rolling Litchfield Hills capped off with dinner at Winvian Farm and overnight at one of America’s most luxurious properties – The Grace Mayflower.
Now for a completely different side to Connecticut. We begin at Yale in New Haven for an excellent free tour. On to Wooster St where Colin Caplan from Taste Of New Haven lets us in on the story behind pizza that is different to Boston, New York or just about anywhere else the North East. We end our day at the quaint village of Essex and an inn that has been serving food, drink and lodging since 1776.
Day two and where else but Elm St would you start a tour of one of America’s most famous Ivy-League universities? Yes, we’re on Elm St in New Haven Connecticut aka Elm City.
Named by Readers Digest as Connecticut’s best free tourist attraction, tours led by Yale undergraduates are fun and enlightening. You not only learn about the college and its architecture you also get a damn fine lesson in American history.
Five US Presidents – George H.W., George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, as well as Gerald Ford and William Howard Taft, were just some of the notable alumni. Former First Lady and US Senator Hillary Clinton, two current Supreme Court justices, and inventors Samuel F.B. Morse (Morse code) and Eli Whitney (the cotton gin), as well as countless politicians and movie stars all, call Yale their alma mater.
Architecture nerds will be in heaven with magnificent constructions by the likes of Eero Saarinen, Frank Gehry and Philip Johnson, but it is the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and James Gamble Rogers’ Sterling Memorial Library that will take your breath away. More Gothic cathedral than purpose-built study space complete with nave, the design of the Sterling Memorial Library deftly inspires silence.
The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library is an architectural masterpiece inside and out. Over a hundred translucent Vermont marble panels filter sunlight to guarantee the precious treasures within may be displayed without damage. These rare pieces include the Gutenberg Bible and Audobon’s Birds of America. The glass tower of books and a warm glow emanating from the marble panels dominates the interior, making it more like an elaborate sci-fi film set than a library. Unmissable.
New Haven Pizza
Taste of New Haven’s Colin Caplan will tell you on his pizza tours that the Elm City is no one-horse pony. It’s where the hamburger, the lollipop and New Haven pizza all began. What is New Haven pizza, you may ask? Colin like many other New Haven natives is very protective of what they call ah-beetz.
When Sargent Manufacturing directly transported unskilled labourers from Amalfi to this little part of New England, they brought their families, their history, their dialect and their love of food. They would ‘a pizza’ which eventually became ‘ah-beetz’.
Those displaced southern Italian families yearned for the tastes of the old country. When Frank Pepe opened Connecticut’s first pizza place in 1925, he and others learned to compromise on both ingredients and style. Coal not wood-fired ovens and while the local (inferior) tomatoes were still hand-crushed, mozzarella became better known as ‘mootz’.
Frank also was crazy enough to throw local, little neck clams, garlic, oregano and some grated Romano on the long, cold-fermented dough and the white clam pie was born. A sprinkle of red pepper flakes is optional but highly recommended on this pie. Now queues of Yale students, tourists and pizza aficionados start queuing most days before midday at Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana.
The Griswold Inn and Essex
‘The Gris’ has been operating continuously for 242 years. Somewhat of a miracle, considering the river port village of Essex came close to annihilation at the hands of the British during the war of 1812.
Steeped in history, the Gris maintains an otherworldly presence. Thirty-three charming rooms are unfussy yet supremely comfortable, furnished with antiques and period reproductions. Leonards the suppliers of beds to the most famous historic home, the White House, also furnish the Gris.
The Gun Room might seem a little overwhelming for Australians but they’ll instantly feel at home in the Tap Room. With a ceiling of crushed clamshells and horsehair coloured by two hundred years of tobacco and wood smoke, there are several beers on tap, making it the place to sing the night away after some fine New England fare.
Approximately halfway between New York and Boston, Essex is one of the prettiest villages in New England with flawless colonial and federal era homes. The town is encircled by the Connecticut River on three sides. Named as the “Perfect Small American Town” in 1,000 Places to See Before You Die it is everyone’s idea of small-town America.
We arrived days before Halloween so Main Street’s sidewalks and front yards were decorated with eerie jack o’lanterns, headless scarecrows and spooky witches. The locals really get into the spirit of the holiday competing in the Scarecrows of the Three Villages Competition for the spookiest lamppost in town.
Next on our New England road trip ‘the Ocean State’ Rhode Island – where Australia made world sporting history and the Gilded Age’s robber barons built their summer ‘cottages’ as opulent as Versaille.