Well, hello, Internets. It’s been a while. My day job kept me away from blogging for a bit, but I’m returning with another edition of the Favorite Places series.
This week’s interviewee is Jan Mann, author of Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket. Jan is a professional day tripper and has been traveling around the Nutmeg state for years. She writes about the best spots in Connecticut to have a picnic. Obviously, I had to ask her about her favorite places.
How long have you lived in Connecticut, and what brought you to the state?
My family moved to Connecticut when I was three. I spent my childhood and into my early twenties in Hartford. Since then I have lived in various nearby towns, Manchester and Middletown for the longest periods, then a few years each in Glastonbury and Windsor, where I currently reside.
What is your favorite town or region?
I really don’t have any favorites, but I am a product of my childhood, and because I was born in Cape Cod and spent my childhood summers there, the shoreline is a strong magnet. And, I grew up in Hartford, so I love the cultural opportunities here and in other cities – historic homes, theater, museums, great restaurants.
For contrast, you can’t beat Connecticut’s picture postcard towns and villages, especially in the northeast section of the state and Litchfield County; both areas exude a sense of history and small-town charm. Mystic, the number one tourist spot in Connecticut, stands alone in my estimation. The distinction is well-deserved because of its diverse attractions – something for everyone.
Favorite place in Connecticut to be outdoors?
I love the outdoor activities available in Connecticut: Hiking and swimming in the state parks, kayaking in lakes and rivers, tubing on the Farmington River, and ferry tours of the Thimble Islands. And, because my passion, along with day tripping, is picnicking, I appreciate the fact that all these venues have picnicking facilities.
For quieter times outdoors, strolling along Main Street, Essex, lunching on grilled hot dogs and apple cider in the fall at Lyman Orchards in Middlefield, and shopping at boutiques in any small town.
Favorite place in Connecticut to be indoors?
One of my favorite indoor places is Downtown Cabaret Theatre in Bridgeport, because it’s such a neat place to picnic (picture red cloth tablecloths) while enjoying a play. There are so many great small theaters in Connecticut, such as Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam. Here we picnic at their outdoor picnic tables either before or after the play.
I also enjoy the various Historic Homes & Gardens, like the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Gillette Castle State Park in East Haddam, New Britain Art Museum in New Britain, and the Mark Twain House in Hartford. After a delightful tour inside we can picnic outside on the lawn.
Restaurants you take out-of-towners to?
Although I do not consider myself to be a restaurant critic, I have enjoyed many good seafood restaurants along the shoreline. In Hartford County, I have never gone wrong with a Max restaurant. For casual dining, out-of-towners love Shady Glen. I discovered this restaurant and dairy bar in the sixties when I lived in Manchester, and still enjoy it to this day.
If I am anywhere near UConn, a stop at the Dairy Bar for my favorite ice cream is a must. Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream Shoppe is in close contention, as well as . . . uh oh, I better stop, there are so many good ones!
Favorite Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter activities to do in Connecticut?
In the summer I want to be near the shore, in the fall I am drawn to Litchfield County for the foliage, especially Kent Falls and Cornwall Covered Bridge, in Kent and West Cornwall (only 7 miles apart) and Hopkins Vineyard, in New Preston, where the foliage across Lake Waramaugh may be the prettiest in the state. The spring is the ideal time to visit Mystic to beat the summer crowds, or to hike to the Heublein Tower at Talcott Mountain State Park in Simsbury, or any hike for that matter.
Winter? It used to be cross-country skiing. White Memorial Conservation Center in Litchfield, the state’s largest nature center with 35 miles of trails was ideal if you had your own skis. I must be getting soft because these days I’d rather be inside visiting some of the state’s first class museums.
Jan Mann is the author of Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket, a day tripping, picnicking and recipe book, now in its 3rd Edition. She has traveled throughout the state during the past six years speaking at libraries, men’s and women’s clubs, civic organizations, newcomer’s clubs, garden clubs and other organizations about the state’s leisure-time activities. She is currently working on her second book about a solo cross-country trip she took to visit ten national parks.0