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Scituate, MA, a hidden travel gem

Scituate Harbor, Scituate, MA (photo by Eric H.)

Hidden New England travel destinations -- Quiet, quaint, charming small New England towns to visit


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Article and photo (Scituate Harbor, Mass) by Eric H.

When visiting New England, we suggest considering taking the road less taken. While most of the well-known areas in New England gets lots of press in the media and in travel guides, there are a gold mine of other destinations you can call your own special discovery. Some of these places encourage overnight stays while others are better as day trips. Whatever the case, these communities confirm that "authentic New England" still exists in an area where some surrounding places are becoming overly hyped and over commercialized:

Connecticut

Chester -- This quiet, small upscale town near the Connecticut River exemplifies the charm of Connecticut, looking like something out of a Hollywood movie portraying the region. Main Street is quite picturesque with its tall white steeples and limited but nice variety of restaurants and shops. Combined with equally impressive Essex, Old Saybrook, Old Lyme and the lower profile but pleasing Deep River, Chester makes for a very nice stop along the way in south central Connecticut.

Lebanon -- There's not much going on in the 55 square miles in Lebanon other than agriculture, but if you like town commons, then this is the place to visit. The charming village green is almost one mile in length, making it a must-see for those seeking scenery, tranquility and a real New England presence. Located in east central Connecticut, Lebanon is less than an hour to Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun (casinos).

Pomfret -- Pomfret could very well be the prototype for a quintessential New England town. Located in the "Quiet Corner of Connecticut," Pomfret doesn't really have a defined town center but the Congregational Church, the lush, expansive town green and the leafy Pomfret School across the street give the town a classic New England look. Also near the town green is the Vanilla Bean Cafe, a cozy, 1840s farmhouse ideal for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Even nicer, they have outdoor seating so you can enjoy the wonderful small town vibe of this hidden gem of a town.

Maine

Biddeford Pool -- Biddeford in southern coastal Maine is primarily an industrial town with some cleaning up to do, but the Biddeford Pool section ranks as of New England's best scenic coastal drives, courtesy of the rocky Maine coast, a two-mile sandy beach, sailing opportunities and spectacular ocean homes. We recommend touring Biddeford Pool, as part of your vacation in Portland, Old Orchard Beach, Kennebunkport or Ogunquit.

Blue Hill Peninsula -- Shipbuilding and trading by sea put Blue Hill on the map from 1792 to the late 1800s. Today, quaint Blue Hill Peninsula is one of the quintessential coastal Maine regions, graced by the sea and small charming villages (Blue Hill, Brooklin, Brooksville, Castine, Penobscot, Sedgwick and Deer Isle/Stonington) with antique stores, art galleries, old inns and restaurants with wonderful seafood. Blue Hill can stand on its own as a great Maine vacation, or as a day trip complementing a vacation in beautiful Camden or Acadia National Park.

South Berwick -- Located on the NEw Hampshire border and close to southern coastal Maine towns like Kittery and York, South Berwick is a classic, well-maintained mill town that features appealing older homes in well-kept tree-lined neighborhoods and a small friendly downtown with a few shops and restaurants and overall village-like vibe. South Berwick might sound like many other New England towns, in that regard, but also wears a bowtie as the home of the prestigious Berwick Academy prep school. A true hidden New England destination, you have to drive about 10 miles off Route 95 to enter this truly beautiful little town.

Southwest Harbor, Maine -- Bar Harbor gets most of the press when it comes to Acadia National Park, but Southeast Harbor has its own charm that is preferable to visit in many ways. It's less commercial, has fewer crowds, doesn't pander to the souvenir crowd and offers great access to the purest mountain/ocean combination that makes Acadia National Park so special.

Massachusetts

Lee -- This small Berkshire town used to be considered a stop along the way whether it was the highway Howard Johnson's or getting gasoline -- but Lee has emerged as one of the most pleasing destinations in western Massachusetts. Scenic and cultural (nearby is the famed Tanglewood Music Festival and several museums and theater companies), Lee is located in the valley of the Housatonic River between the Taconic Range and the southernmost extent of the Green Mountains. What emerges from this location are splendid mountain and hill views, fine lake swimming at Laurel Lake, and a fine variety of restaurants and inns. Not as high profile as Lenox and Williamstown (both great places in their own regards), Lee is an unsung hero, of sorts, beautiful to look at and fun to be in.

Pocassett (Cape Cod) -- Just 10 minutes over the Bourne Bridge, Pocassett is the Cape Cod that people envision -- with less crowded ocean swimming, places to take a peaceful walks in the salt-air, and charming seaside Cape homes with families having cookouts. Pocasset has very little to do with the honky-tonk, hectic, busy Cape Cod that is becoming increasingly apparent. It's also an advantage that you don't have to drive too far into Cape Cod to get the region's true flavor.

Scituate -- This is Cape Cod without the traffic, and going over bridges. On the ocean 30 miles south of Boston, Scituate has the beaches, a lighthouse, great seafood/seaside restaurants, a terrific downtown with interesting local shops and charming Cape-style homes to make it one of the great Cape Cod communities that isn't even on Cape Cod. We recommend the Mill Wharf Restaurant as a great New England dining spot with wonderful views of Scituate Harbor and fresh seafood that is second to none.

West Brookfield -- West Brookfield, in central Massachusetts, remains unspoiled and scenically beautiful with large colonial, federal and Victorian homes centered around a huge town common where the community comes together for events ranging from little league baseball to a Christmas festival. It is also home to the famed Salem Cross Inn, a historic Colonial New England restaurant with some wonderful regional fare and ambiance. West Brookfield is a small, isolated town, void of much development but big in community spirit. West Brookfield was once known as Podunk, which just about explains it all in regards to its rural presence.

Wrentham -- Swim at Lake Pearl, enjoy a classic New England farm stand and its beautiful countryside at the Big Apple and walk the tree-lined small downtown including a diner, ice cream shop, candy store, Italian deli, old-fashioned hardware store, banks housed in big, old homes and one of the nicest New England town commons around with a beautiful gazebo. It's the perfect New England place to have a picnic or read a book. Wrentham is a great day trip from Boston or Providence.

New Hampshire

Bristol -- Not impressed with becoming flashy and trendy, Bristol looks and feels old with a serviceable, homey downtown and the great advantage of being located on beautiful Newfound Lake. Near the famed White Mountains, Bristol is highly recommended as a launching pad to this great region of north central New Hampshire.

Dover -- Dover, near the southern New Hampshire seacoast, offers a truly impressive revitalized attractive downtown with myriad restaurants and shops, and a concentration of big, old impressive homes. While not a pristine community, Dover has enough downtown appeal to recommend as part of a visit to more vacation-like places as nearby Portsmouth, N.H. Hampton Beach, N.H., and York, Maine. Dover is New Hampshire's oldest permanent settlement (1623) and is home to the Woodman Institute, the only Garrison in New Hampshire in its original form (from 1818).

Milford -- With a town common as the centerpiece of a downtown recognized nationally as displaying excellence in preservation, Milford looks very familiar but somehow harder to find in a generic, cookie cutter society. It is the place to grab a donut and cup of coffee at the local breakfast place, say hello to each other on the street, and pretty much do all your shopping through local merchants. It's nice to see that towns like Milford still exist. It also doesn't hurt that Milford is wonderfully located, near the great Mt. Monadnock region and terrific Currier and Ives-like towns like Peterborough and Keene.

Rhode Island

Little Compton A rural farming community by the sea, Little Compton in southeast coastal Rhode Island is one of the last true examples of a a New England Colonial atmosphere tradition without the need to sell t-shirts and trinkets on their historic presence. With the only town common in Rhode Island, Little Compton features a compact downtown with some stores, the famous Commons Lunch featuring Johnny Cakes (cornbread), several pleasing farm stands, Goosewing Beach for recreation, and in Adamsville, Gray's, which might be the oldest continuously running general store in the United States. Sakonnet Point offers a great, expansive view of the Atlantic Ocean. Little Compton has many fine examples of 18th and 19th century colonial architecture, with a few 17th century structures remaining. Little Compton is also home to Sakonnet Wineries, the largest winery in New England. It may or may not be of interest that Little Compton is the only place in the United States that has a monument in tribute to a chicken -- the Rhode Island Red, originally bred in Adamsville, a part of Little Compton.

Tiverton Four Corners -- Tiverton Four Corners in southeast coastal Rhode Island is on the National Register of Historic Places and today features a relaxed, different feel from the typical tourist destinations that rely on commercial trappings to attract visitors. Tiverton Four Corners does have its share of nicely run shops (art galleries, clothing, toys, home and garden, yarn, etc.), restaurants and a famed ice cream stand (Gray's), but the predominant appeal of Tiverton Four Corners is how uncommercial the area feels. Riding the bike trail, going to the beach, taking in the fresh air and admiring the 300 years of historic places (like the proud 1800s buildings) is unlike almost any other experience in southern New England. Other towns may have the parts that Tiverton Four Corners has, but perhaps because of its relative isolation and lack of promotion, this special Rhode Island community has a place in our hearts as one of New England's true masterpieces.

Warren -- This eastern Rhode Island coastal town -- located upon the east bank of the Warren River, an arm of the Narragansett Bay-- used to look pretty shabby, but now has an imperfect chic charm to it with antique stores, nice dining choices and a working class spirit that makes this community seem so real. Warren is a perfect complement to a vacation in the better known, close-by Rhode Island communities of Newport and Bristol

Vermont

Grafton -- A creek meandering through the Village and houses, shops and churches dressed in 19th century architecture create a relaxing southeastern Vermont community, the perfect getaway for your Vermont vacation. Grafton is home of the Old Tavern at Grafton, a famous restored 1801 inn with quaint lodging and dining for those in search of staying in quintessential Vermont.

Newfane -- Mick Jagger might have vacationed here and it's one of the most photographed areas of Vermont, but Newfane doesn't feel rushed, trendy or precious. It is a true Vermont town -- validated by being listed on the National Register of Historic Places -- perfect for strolling, biking, swimming, shopping at the country store and picking berries in the summer, enjoying the spectacular fall foliage in the fall, nearby skiing in the winter at nearby Haystack, Mt. Snow and Stratton Mountains, and visiting a maple sugar house in the spring.

Wilmington Although Wilmington is somewhat popular, we still consider it a hidden gem when compared to better known Vermont vacation communities such as Killington and Stowe. Wilmington, located in the Deerfield Valley in southwestern Vermont's Green Mountains, doesn't initially jump out at you as an unforgettable place. It may seem, in fact, like your hometown. But after a while, Wilmington grows on you. Perhaps its the surrounding beautiful countryside with mountain views everywhere. Maybe it's the pristine Harriman Reservoir, perfect for a mountain family swim or picnic in a perfectly secluded area. It could be the downtown -- not too big, not too small -- with enough restaurants and shops to keep busy yet not hurried. Whatever the case, Wilmington pleases the soul as a total vacation package that doesn't even know it's a great travel destination. That is the charm of Wilmington.


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