Sunday, July 14, 2013

Connecticut: In Search of a Fairy Tale

Published by Leisure and Adventure Travel Magazine

A gloomy but still beautiful day in Connecticut.

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Connecticut: In Search of a Fairy Tale
published by Travel Leisure plus Adventure Magazine

There is a place in New England, where I can picture Hansel and Gretel tracing a burbling brook to a water falls and get lost along the way. Behind charming Federal style houses, I wouldn’t be surprised if I spotted Bambi darting through bushes. By the backyard of my lodging is a path that leads to the woods where I imagine the Seven Dwarves live. Do I live too much in my childhood storybooks? I couldn’t help it when Connecticut‘s enchanting towns call to mind the stories I’ve loved. A stay in this New England state is a chance for me to revisit my childhood, to devour dark chocolate dipped pretzels like Gretel did the gingerbread house, to call on Rapunzel to let down her hair at the Gillette Castle, and to sit on Mark Twain’s desk and rewrite Huckleberry Finn’s adventure.

Once upon a time in Kent

Kent, known as the top foliage town in New England, is one of those small communities that I absolutely adore. Along the main street are quaint bookstores, antique shops, art galleries, cafes and boutiques that made me want to stay happy ever after in this delightful Northeastern town. I could sit outside J.P. Gifford Market, a blend of the old world market in Rome and the new world café in New York, and enjoy an Indian chicken Tikka Marsala wrapped in naan with arugula, tomato chutney and cucumber rait under a red and white umbrella. I could sit there for hours watching locals walk leisurely along the streets like time was on their side.  Or, I could walk over to the House of Books and open the red door to reveal more worlds to me. On the shelves were hand written notes (“I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter. – T.S. Eliot”) that told me that this is not your ordinary big chain bookstore like Barnes and Nobles or even Powerbooks.

Five miles north is the Kent Falls State Park where rushing water cascades 200 feet down to join the Housatonic River. The ¼ mile steep trail can be a challenge but a refreshing reward awaits at the top. When I reached the top, the powerful rushing water, the crowding foliage, and the smell of a new day in the midafternoon silenced me. After the climb, I followed one of the forest trails and sat on a picnic table to enjoy the mist and waited patiently for a reindeer sighting. It was a magical moment even though Bambi did not make an appearance that day.

The prince in a castle

His name is William Gillette, an eccentric actor, writer, and producer, best known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in the 1916 silent film. Gillette built a castle high up on the banks of the Connecticut River in East Haddam in 1919. 

It was closed the day we went to see Gillete’s kingdom, but even just the grounds proved worthy of the drive.  The park grounds feature scenic trails, picnic areas by the pond, and a spectacular view of the Connecticut River where the ferry lazily glides on the still waters. 

I roamed the area within the stone walls that corral the fortress and found a stone arch which led to one of the trails. The green path was inviting. I could almost hear it calling for me to explore its mysteries, but I was a little afraid that I would get lost. Maybe, I thought, if I dropped crumbs to mark my path, I could easily find my way back, but we all know what happened to that story. So I made my way back towards the imposing medieval structure and longed to see the peculiar features that the castle is known for: hidden mirrors and lock protected and hand carved door latches.  Locked out, I  looked up at the stone towers, imagining Rapunzel unfurling her long golden tresses. But there was so much Connecticut had to offer. There was no time for daydreaming.

Following the sweet trail

Salty pretzels dipped in dark chocolate, milk toffee sprinkled with nuts, and a chocolate ganache center coated in rich cocoa: these are the stuff that fairy tales are made of, I think.  It pleased me to know that Connecticut is home to many world renowned chocolatiers  and local chocolate artisans. So it only made sense that I followed the Connecticut Chocolate Trail. 

Pardon the cliché, but I did have a little taste of heaven at the Belgique Chocolatier in Kent where the trail begins. As a matter of fact, the Boston Globe claims “…heaven must be like a box of chocolates from Belgique.” Chef Glissen, the artist behind the dark masterpieces of Belgique, former chef to royalty all over the world, is famous for his artisan house-made chocolates, truffles, and handmade ice cream.

At Bridgewater in Brookfield and West Hartford, the American style premium handmade turtles, toffees, caramel and peanut butter patties look like jewels in silk lined boxes. They can cost a treasure too at $38 for a box of 1 pound assortment.  Bridgewater is renowned, having won several awards and glowing reviews from the culinary world.  The trail continues all over the state with over 8 sweet spots offering edible treasures that I wont trade for rubies or opals.

Huckleberry’s home

Here is where the stories were created, at the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford Connecticut. Here, where Twain, who originally was Samuel Clemens, was the happiest and the most productive in his whole life, is where he breathed life into Huckleberry Finn. Up in the billiard room was Twain’s private domain. This is where he conjured stories while looking out the generous windows, not seeing the cardinals playing in the meadows of Nook Farm and instead seeing the Mississippi River where Huck would have his adventure. I looked out hoping that I too would be inspired and see a story that I could write, instead all I saw were the withering trees surviving winter.

All throughout the house were stories wanting to tell their tale from the large pier glass mirror in the drawing room to the black and silver patterns on the red ceiling in the entrance hall, calling to mind Middle East and Asian Cultures which must have inspired the writer. 

Every room was a revelation, a chance to enter the mind of a great creator. In the Library, the massive oak mantelpiece from Ayton Castle in Scotland had probably heard the numerous poetry and stories that Twain had told his children while they sat captivated, surrounded by artworks and hundreds of books. 
Down the hatch

Once upon a time, the people of Connecticut decided to create a lake by filling it with water from the Housatonic River.  Within weeks, an army of men swarmed the valley to build the state’s largest body of water connecting the city of Danbury and the towns of Brookfield, New Fairfield, New Milford, and Sherman. The people called it Candlewood Lake, and it was good. With mountains rising from its shore and the vast blue Connecticut sky providing a stunning backdrop, the 5,400 acre lake soon became a favorite watering hole for locals and vacationers alike. People from as far as New York were drawn to the lake  to swim, fish, or simply relax. I chose the latter with shrimp for company at Down the Hatch, Candlewood Lake’s only waterfront restaurant located in Brookfield.

It was still a little chilly, but it was nice to sit out by the water and enjoy the fresh catch beer-buttered with coleslaw and fries on the side. Over by the dock, a bunch of schoolboys were loading up their dingy, getting ready for a little adventure, perhaps at a secluded cove.  I sat enjoying the quiet and watched them as their little boat sputtered to a start before it went its merry way down the lake, their laughter trailing behind them.

He loves CT!


Connecticut is beautiful and you portrayed so beautifully, too!

Thanks for the insider tips BTW, Ana!

Have a great week!


Love this! I love new england too, especially maine and the hamptons and obx!

you always take me away with your beautiful words and pictures. kudos!

Dear Ana,

Another beautifully written story!

I didn't know Mark Twain was from Conecticut.
Huck Finn is one of my favorites growing up.

- Arly

CT is beautiful and expensive!
Nicely writ Ms. Ana.


I am enchanted with your story and pics, as always, Ana V.

ganda! sana fairy tale naman sa pinas :-)

take me away. keep taking me away. your imagery is captivating! i want more!

still blissfully lost and longing - Fran

O or Readers digest thanks

Kudos Viajera for an enthralling account of your discoveries!

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