By Nichole Dupont
Connecticut’s Northwest Corner has long enjoyed a reputation for the finer things that the region has to offer. Quirky restaurants, unique retail shops (including fabulous bookstores) and a thriving antiques culture make the area a hotspot – literally – for a spring drive into the cultivated country. Salisbury is no exception. The historic village is a quaint hub at the crossroads of routes 41 and 44, where the possibility of spotting a beloved celebrity (think Meryl Streep, Martha Stewart, designer Bunny Williams) goes with the territory of good coffee and prime real estate.
1. The drive:
My drive to Salisbury involves a winding, scenic trek south on route 41, which, if you like old barns and farmhouses, is a feast for the eyes. (You may find yourself making several picture stops along the way so be sure to look behind you before you pull off into the pucker brush because tailgating is a norm on this stretch of road.) While some of these structures have the decay reminiscent of an abandoned road in Vermont, most are well kept and still in use. This is evident by the foggy silhouettes of modern tractors in the distant fields as well as the freshly whitewashed homes. And the critters – a herd of scraggy Scottish highlands, a smattering of sheep, noble equines – that line the entry route.
2. Speaking of equines:
Salisbury is home to some beautiful horses and horse country, and it is rare to drive for more than a few miles without encountering an equine or two munching on some spring greens (a.k.a. grass) if the weather suits them. Of course, where there are horses, there is serious horse business. Riga Meadows Equestrian Center
on Route 41 (or Undermountain Road) and Weatogue Stables
both boast state-of-the-art stalls, show rings, lessons and equestrian clinics for horse enthusiasts of all levels, even if you just like to watch from the ground on a summer's day.
3. The Country Bistro:
This little gem is exactly what its name entails. The Country Bistro is tucked away just behind the village’s main drag and is an unassuming, low-ceilinged eatery (with outdoor seating when the wind isn’t gusting at 40 mph) that understands the joie of good food. They serve breakfast and lunch all week and dinner Friday through Sunday, with a menu that highlights authentic French details – shirred eggs, creamery butter, herbed popovers, fragrant coffee, lemon-tarragon dressing and, of course, greens at the end of everything.
4. Everything, in general:
Salisbury, even on a Saturday afternoon, can seem a bit sleepy depending on the season. People take their time here. There’s really no rush, and that’s a good thing, especially once you step into the Salisbury General Store and Pharmacy
. The vintage Ex-Lax thermometer at the entrance to the store is more of a welcome sign than a deterrent to this unofficial town hub that has been in business since 1935. Prepare to get lost; lost in thought, lost in nostalgia, lost in minutia perusing through the shelves and tables of artisan pottery, Roger and Galet bath products (an olfactory trip down memory lane), retro-style linens, quirky Steampunk cards, homeopathic remedies, homemade lemon curd… you name it, they’ve got it.
5. How fair thou art:
Salisbury folks and visitors take their flora very seriously. On any given day in any given season even a casual courtyard could grace the cover of a Martha Stewart magazine. Fortunately, the hunt for flowers and fresh produce is never fruitless. The town is ripe for the picking with major outfits such as the Salisbury Garden Center
on Route 44 as well as (heavenly smelling) boutique shops like the Thornhill Flower and Garden Shop
. And don’t rule out quick stop country charm; Weatogue Farm
(at 78 Weatogue Road) has a self-serve stand that offers flowers, produce and seasonal goodies from May to November. They also have adorable critters roaming around who don’t mind being photographed we’re told.
6. Hitting the trails:
For all of its refined New England charm, with a dash of Nantucket thrown in for good measure (and a prep school), Salisbury has a hard core hiking community blessed with some beautiful vistas and diverse trails. The Undermountain Trail
is the main artery through which most hikers pass to reach the summit of Bear Mountain
, the cool slick of Sage’s Ravine or to connect to the Appalachian Trail. If you prefer not to hike solo, Peter Becks
Village Store on Main Street coordinates a weekly hiking expedition for interested trekkers who want to see a bird’s-eye view of the village.
7. Scoville Memorial Library:
To say that the exterior of the Scoville Library is dour is both generous and an understatement. The Gilded Age monolith (that has since been added to) is constructed from native granite and comes complete with a tower clock which faithfully marks the quarter hours. The interior of the library is a gorgeous monument to the era, complete with vaulted ceilings, arched windows and secret stairwells. The library also boasts a healthy events calendar for patrons of all ages and has 30,000 items within its holdings, not to mention a 15th-century stone carving, sent from England’s Salisbury Cathedral
that sits over the fireplace at the far end of the reading room.
8. Getting baked:
The whole main street smells. It’s a familiar smell and at the source is freshly baked bread. And cupcakes. And coffee. It hardly seems fair that even on a rainy, wind-driven day the pied carb piper of Salisbury is calling and you must follow him into Salisbury Breads
, where fresh-baked baguettes, croissants and sticky buns await. Of course, the moment you step out of the bread store teaming with guilt, they will just be putting the final dollop of chocolate frosting on a sheet of cupcakes at Sweet William’s Bakery
right next door. Resistance is futile. And the espresso is nice and hot.
9. The jumps:
It’s almost too painful to mention this, but it must be done: the ski jumps
. Every year, Salisbury goes out of its way (thanks to the town’s winter sports association) to make the February ski jump championships an extravaganza of winter fun. Of course, the main attraction is watching the athletes whiz down the tower, but ice sculptures, chili contests and a magical winter ball don’t hurt either.
10. Homes, sweet homes:
“God, I’d love to have a house here." This is not an uncommon whisper on a drive through town. Just on Main Street alone, several architectural styles – Federal, Gilded Age, Arts and Crafts, Victorian, Farmhouse – coexist graciously side by side as if they were meant to be together. The Town Hall hardly has the economic austerity of small town New England, yet there it sits, just down the street from the Ragamont House
, an old Grecian revival set back from the street and bursting with antique charm. Further up the road sits a 1920s “villa" that could’ve very well been occupied by Gatsby himself. But if you don’t believe me, ol’ sport, take a house tour
, and see for yourself.