Traditional Stonington Borough, Conn., never quite
understood the modern concept of strip malls, outlet stores, chain
restaurants and hotels, and hokey souvenir stores serving as the
backbone of their prideful community. For us travelers in search of the
"real New England," that's a true revelation.
Unspoiled and thoroughly content with just being itself, this small southeastern Connecticut borough is a classic New England seaside community with a 17th and 18th century feel every step of the way through the narrow, tree-lined streets. It is the oldest borough in Connecticut, chartered in 1801. The quiet, untouched village-like setting features wonderful Greek Revival, Federal and Colonial architecture, a beautiful, picturesque harbor, interesting little shops, majestic old churches, great "neighborhood" restaurants and a solitude that makes you feel like your miles away from everything. Late in the day, the streets are virtually empty which allows residents and visitors to feel totally at peace. It's just you, the fresh ocean air and a few birds chirping. If you have visited more commercial New England communities and were disappointed by the commercialism and crowds, then Stonington Borough is the perfect New England getaway for you.
Once the first time visitor crosses over an old bridge and enters peaceful Water St., it's easy to understand that those who know Stonington Borough regard it as perhaps as the best representative of true New England living. Those narrow streets offer a remarkably compact sampling of older homes right up on the sidewalk and on top of each other. Residents sit on their front porches reading the newspaper, most likely returning from a leisurely stroll at the jam-packed Tom's News and General Store. Tom's has it all from food and video rentals to newspapers. Tom's proudly bills itself as "having the only ATM in the Borough!" To not have an ATM every 20 yards in a New England town is a true relevation.
Several antique shops grace Water St., and vicinity, including the one-of-a-kind Devon House Antiques (French and English country antiques). Galleries, book stores, a great old-fashioned toy shop, and understated gift shops create the ultimate anti-mall. It's rare to find such an impressive array of shops that isn't self-conscious about its greatness.
The most memorable part of Stonington Borough is the entire place. It would be an injustice to isolate one area such as the gazebo behind the Main Street that affords breathtaking views of the harbor and the charming seaside homes, or the New England coastal views of Rhode Island at the end of Water St. The gazebo and harbor views are indeed worth the long drive, but in retrospect what is most memorable is one's internal snapshot of the entire stretch of the village -- sort of like an establishing shot in a movie. Only this establishing shot is more real than anything you'll ever see in a movie. It can't get more authentic than being in the heart of New England, courtesy of Stonington Borough.
The stroll through town, the shopping, and relaxation by the harbor build up to seeking a great place to dine. Stonington Borough has several choices, but our top choice is Noah's (113 Water St.). If the waitresses were any nicer to the customers at Noah's, they might displace Barney and Friends as the world leaders in getting along with other people. From the moment you walk into this breezy, small, quaint, seaside restaurant, you feel right at home. The people are just so pleasant here, treating adults, children, toddlers and babies with equal warmth and affection. The food, by the way, is absolutely fresh and flavorful. For lunch, a baby mixed green salad tasted like it arrived just minutes ago from the farm. The clam chowder burst with a tangy flavor and plenty of clams. Fettucine with basil pesto was so good that we wanted to consume more several pounds of this addictive concoction. We, being so health conscious, said, of the delightfully tasty pan fried flounder, "Ah, who cares if it's fried?" After finishing our lunch, we learned that Noah's has a fine bakery with a great variety of warm breads, cookies and desserts. The aromas make you want to take up permanent residence. We were told that Noah's makes its own breads, desserts, ice creams, salad dressings and cream soda. Our waitress also pointed out that Noah's offers a romantic, candlelight dining experience for dinner. A romantic dinner and offerings like proscuitto wrapped monkfish, grilled spice rubbed mako shark, potato crusted cod and spinach ravioli of beef and fennel will surely have us coming back soon.
Stonington Borough's only lodging is the Inn at Stonington, which offers offers 18 individually decorated rooms with fireplaces and Jacuzzi tubs, and a great view of Fisher Island's Sound. Nearby Mystic, CT, offers more lodging choices and is a sweet seaside town with a highly-regarded aquarium, myriad shopping opportunities without getting too obnoxious, a sense of history, and the magnificent ocean for you to enjoy. Also nearby are renowned casinos, Mohegan Sun in Uncasville and Foxwoods in Ledyard.
Stonington Borough is a true hidden gem. The State of Connecticut does a fine job of promoting this wonderful place, but outside of the state, Stonington Borough is not on the top 10 list of anyone's travel guide. If marketing health guru Kevin Trudeau wrote about Stonington, perhaps the book would be called Great New England Communities They Don't Want You To Know About. It's definitely an undiscovered jewel, yet sure to please the visitor in search of the best New England has to offer. Mystic CT, in southeastern coastal Connecticut, doesn't have the perfectly manicured look of some high-end, polished New England travel destinations, but then again, sea captain towns were never meant to be that way.
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