Everyone knows about Mystic, which is one reason I’d rather visit Essex. Of course, Mystic is very nice (that’s why everyone goes there). But Essex has charm.
This small river town is so charming it’s nearly intoxicating. Its tree-lined streets dotted with some of New England’s finest examples of early colonial and federal architecture, its antique shops, specialty boutiques, restaurants, marinas and its maritime history make it a perfect fall-foliage destination.
That’s why I would choose to spend 26 low-cost and leisurely hours in and around Essex.
First, find a parking place. By foot is the only way to explore, see and experience a village.
Begin with LUNCH:
- Olive Oyl’s (77 Main Street) offers reasonably-priced gourmet soups, sandwiches and salads for carry-out.
- Ken and I share a Paesans sandwich (Genoa salami, provolone, roasted red peppers, lettuce, tomato, sun dried tomato tapanade — $7.25) with a cup of Nantucket Chowder ($4.25). We want to save room for mid-afternoon snack, because get-aways are all about treats. We carry our take-out over to Essex Park, and eat overlooking the water.
AFTERNOON: check in at the Griswold Inn (36 Main).
- The inn is the oldest continually-run inn/tavern in the U.S. It was also used as a film location for The Collinswood Inn, for the 1960’s soap opera, Dark Shadows. And notice its clever, history-referencing phone number (860-767-1776). The guest rooms are furnished with antiques (no televisions; instead they pipe in classical music). The collections of Marine-inspired art and guns are museum-quality, and the Taproom restaurant brims with colonial ambience. Bonus: the rates are as reasonable as they get for historic, charming inns in southern Connecticut. ($105-$305, depending on season and room size/amenities)
- After you’re checked-in, walk around the best little town in America. Enjoy the boutiques, the architecture, the foliage and the seaport air.
- Don’t miss De Paula Jewelers (23 Main). Philip A. De Paula is a master goldsmith and gemologist who creates his own designs in-house. The shop offers a great selection of estate jewelry as well as classy costume jewelry for those of us who admire pretty baubles but need to respect the limitations of the monthly budget.
- Give your feet a break and sit down at Essex Coffee and Tea (51 Main). Must taste: the caramel chocolate brownies and the miniature coconut macaroons!
- And visit The Connecticut River Museum for an enjoyable overview of the history of this place (67 Main, Admission $8 adults, $7 Seniors and AAA members, $6 students, $5 children, under 6 years–free). This is also the place to book a river cruise on a historic schooner–but don’t expect to get a last-minute reservation.
EVENING: enjoy the unique features of the Griswold Inn
- Because this is a leisurely escape, we’ll put our feet up in our room for a bit, read, listen to music, perhaps even cat-nap. Then we’ll dress in something evening-ish.
- We rarely enjoy a heavy meal in the evening. The tapas-inspired menu at Griswold’s wine bar is perfect for our favorite way to spend and evening, in relaxed tasting and sipping. Maybe well sample tater tots, black bean and corn relish with lime cream; Wyoming beef sirloin with gorgonzola flan; and grilled flatbread with proscuitto, arugula, Bosc pear and pomegranate glaze. Their buy two get one free deal means it would cost us less than $20 to sample and share three plates. Of course we’d sip one or two of their more than 50 wines, and also choose a couple of artisanal cheeses to close out our wine-bar experience.
DAY TWO, 9:30-ish
- After enjoying a bagel and tea from across the street at Essex Coffee & Tea , we’ll check out and take a short drive over to Lyme, to visit the Florence Griswold Museum (96 Lyme St, Lyme).
- Formerly a boarding house, this became a significant artists’ colony in the early 1900’s. Childe Hassam and some of the country’s most notable artists gathered here to paint the Connecticut landscape, sparking the transformation of French Impressionism into its American form.There is so much going on here in the history of the buildings and grounds, in the collections and archives, that it requires at least a couple of hours to get an overview.Serious art and history buffs will want to explore the museum’s website in depth before arriving, which will enrich their experience. We’d fully immerse ourselves in the artists’ landscape, thinking like artists, taking time to sketch and make word paintings, thinking about the lives of the American Impressionists and pulling as much enjoyment out of this place as we can. When we return home, we will have been inspired by the history of the art colony, having our vivid impressions & memories to serve as material for future drawing, painting and writing. (Tue-Sat 10-5; Sun 1-5, with extended hours and special exhibits in October. $9 adults, $8 seniors, $7 students, 12 & under free).
EARLY AFTERNOON: Lunch at The Old Lyme Ice Cream Shoppe & Cafe (34 Lyme Street, Old Lyme)
- Homemade, handcrafted soups, sandwiches, salads and, of course, ice cream, prepared by people who prize quality ingredients and quality service! Oh, boy!
- And we head home blissfully happy and content because we got away in low-cost, leisurely style.
You’ll smile too.
What’s you’re get-away style?