Pretty As A Picture
“I paint from the top down. From the sky, then the mountains, then the hills, then the houses, then the cattle, and then the people.”
– Grandma Moses
The great Pastoral artists and their subsequent contemporaries operated from a fundamental wish to take the complex and reframe it as simple, the pressures of city life driving a ‘back to nature’ movement even long ago. Connecticut’s Litchfield Hills region fills a similar need for its denizens, the covered bridges, honor-system farm stands and quiet inns the restful weekend to Manhattan’s pedal-to-the-metal week. This is our window into Litchfield’s essential people and places, each story a colorful brushstroke in a portrait of artful living.
Shades of Blue: Scenic Area Ahead
Hiking Kent Falls
462 Kent Cornwall Road, Kent | No Phone
The Litchfield Hills are awash in natural beauty, their broad, green pastures and babbling brooks the stuff of storybooks. This makes for great hiking, especially at Kent Falls State Park. Head through one of Connecticut’s quaint covered bridges before ascending a short but steep trail to the breathtaking falls.
Shades of Green: A Dairy Tale
The story behind the budding Arethusa kingdom is a feel good one: the high-powered owners of Manolo Blahnik USA fall in love with a bucolic Connecticut corner and through a series of fortuitous turns, find themselves restoring a defunct dairy farm to its former glory (and then some). Plucking the best of the best in their respective fields and bringing them to work in the dairy, farming, cheese making and restaurant operations, Tony Yurgaitis and George Malkemus have demonstrated a clear passion for their products that extends far beyond the bottom line. And after spending a day behind the scenes, we can safely say that contrary to modern marketing messages, happy cows actually come from Arethusa.
556 South Plains Road, Litchfield | No Phone
See where the magic happens. Visit this working dairy farm, which is home to champion and award-winning cows. (It’s also the site of Manolo Blahnik’s now legendary charity shoe auction each summer).
Arethusa Farm Dairy
822 Bantam Road, Bantam | (860) 361-6600
Walking into the Farm Dairy storefront on Bantam Road, the smell of yesteryear wafts over you. Fresh cheeses, yogurt, giant slabs of fresh butter, eggs, and some of the best ice cream we’ve ever tasted are on offer, as well as the addictively good coffee milk. The connection to the farm’s pride in production is omnipresent, and the growing emphasis on cheese has yielded the excellent Crybaby Swiss, Arethusa Blue, and Europa (a Gouda). We had to stop ourselves at two hulking bags of take-home goodies.
Arethusa al Tavolo
828 Bantam Road, Bantam | (860) 567-0043
The third jewel in the crown is Arethusa’s Italian-influenced fine dining tavern, al Tavolo. Naturally, farm fresh ingredients are paramount and spotlighted on Chef Dan Magill’s sophisticated menus. A specialty foods market and catering will be the next forays for the company. “When you have a sense of place, you go with what feels right,” says Yurgaitis before bidding us adieu. At Arethusa, what feels right has yet to steer them wrong.
Shades of Gold: A Connecticut Yankee’s Retreat
155 Alain White Road, Morris | (860) 567-9600
Down a country road flanked by towering trees lies Winvian Farm, a Relais & Chateaux hideaway built on a centuries-long history as a Wall Street escape. A wonderfully restorative combination of hard-working, personalized service and utter privacy, the resort is a constellation of cottages spread over 100 acres, each a unique design that has taken its cues from local culture. Bypass the usual check-in desk humdrum and pour yourself a drink instead, settling into the 18th-century main farmhouse and its historical, firelit hospitality. Spend the night in the aptly named Beaver Lodge, a composite of heated river rocks and stick canopies, or the charming Artist bungalow adorned with stained glass windows or our personal favorite, the Library, a literature lover’s refuge filled with creature comforts beneath a magnificent skylight. Perhaps the loveliest (and most prevailing) Winvian theme is that of nature in balance, the link to the outdoors never further than your cottage rocking chair and the wildlife show before it.
The Restaurant at Winvian Farm does the ‘de rigueur’ one better under former Daniel Boulud disciple Chris Eddy, developing ‘seed to table’ dishes from ‘the ground, up’ cooking. The passion for sustainable slow food is one you can taste on the seasonal, daily menus, and nearly all of the ingredients are grown on the property.
Finally, a Winvian Farm stay would not be complete without a visit to the light and spacious spa, nestled in an intimate, wooded corner. Though the treatments are thoroughly therapeutic, the post-massage window seat looking out onto a quiet meadow is worth the price of admission.
Shades of Brown: Keepsakes Found
Antiquing is a weekend sport in Connecticut, and Litchfield County is home to some of its star competitors. Jeffrey Tillou Antiques is an 18th and 19th century specialist located in adorable downtown Litchfield. A delightful array of home goods of both the rare and rarer variety, Privet House is a shopper’s delight. Further south in the ‘antiques capital’ of Woodbury is Madeline West Antiques, a collection set in a beautiful five-room house cataloged by color. Then there is G. Sergeant Antiques whose exquisite period furnishings are rivaled only by their headquarters in a romantic old converted barn. Finally, there is Mill House Antiques & Gardens, whose tranquil gardens and former grist mill environs are beautiful antiques in themselves, but the 17-showroom displays are definitely worth the hours. Happy treasure hunting!
Shades of Red: Farm to Table (and Back Again!)
After spending your days in a lush, country reverie, a restaurant’s variation on the ubiquitous ‘farm to table’ theme rings with a different kind of truth. Fall in love with two area standouts, one a longtime Litchfield veteran, the other an elevated new exemplar.
West Street Grill
43 West Street, Litchfield | (860) 567-3885
This 25-year standard setter is a cozy and consistent purveyor of elevated, New American favorites. Lively service beneath a welcoming green awning in the heart of downtown Litchfield is the other half of West Street Grill’s enduring appeal. Ask for an outdoor table if the weather permits, some of the best seats in the house.
223 Litchfield Turnpike, New Preston | (860) 868-9354
We’ve saved the very best of Litchfield Hills for last with Community table, one of the freshest, most appealing restaurants we’ve tried anywhere. A white Colonial exterior welcomes you to a modern but infinitely cozy A-Frame dining room with a decidedly Scandinavian-chic vibe. An impressively stocked New England-style bar serves as the restaurant’s heartbeat, while an illuminated moose presides over the business of eating, drinking and communing, all activities which Ct’s patrons enjoy to the fullest. Upbeat tracks from the likes of Washed Out complement the ebullient dishes from the James Beard Foundation-honored kitchen. Case in point: a starter that can only be described as the cheeseboard of our dreams, and a series of wicked good cocktails.