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WHY GO: Not many people outside – and even within – Connecticut have ever heard of Killingworth CT. In a wedge of land equidistant from Long Island Sound and the Connecticut River, this rural town is about as “hidden gem” as it gets. Several years ago, there wasn’t much here but farmland and the woodsy swimming hole of Chatfield Hollow State Park. But now, you’ll find a hip and tranquil 5-bedroom Inn, a lavender farm that’s become one of the most visited attractions in Connecticut, a can’t miss wetlands boardwalk, several good restaurants, and country stores galore.
WANDER/HIKE/WALK: Boardwalk at Chatfield Hollow State Park. If you do nothing else in this wildlife rich 400-acre State Park, traipse across an inland swamp on the 825 foot long Paul F. Wildermann Boardwalk at Chatfield Hollow State Park. In late fall, Mother Nature displays her own preparation for the holidays with red berries and green leaves of the Winterberry Holly against bare trees.
The park itself is a diverse topography of rock ledges and outcroppings, waterfalls, forest, swamp, and ponds (the largest a popular swimming area) – and worth a few hours for some soul-healing “Forest Therapy” (yes, that’s a real thing).
VISIT: Lavender Pond Farm. Just two miles from Clinton Crossing Premium Outlets and Chamard Vineyards, this peaceful, plant-based place is located on a country lane named, incongruously, Roast Meat Hill Rd. Tourists seemed to have discovered this very tucked away 25 acres of serenity, as Lavender Pond Farm was named “Number 1 Attraction in Connecticut” in the 2017 USA Top 10 Reader’s Poll. Lavender has been used as a sleep aid and bug repellent for eons, and lately as a natural way to calm mild anxiety and restlessness, so it makes sense that travelers are seeking this pretty little purple plant out at its source. Over 20,000 people visit New England’s largest lavender farm in season.
Lavender Pond Farm owners, Chris and Denise Salafia, opened the property to the public in 2014. Denise, a dance teacher, and Chris, a “software guy” who “rode a desk for 25 years” and now get’s to ride a tractor, tend to 10,000 lavender plants and a gift shop featuring plant-based products made from lavender blooms and oil on site – including essential oil, teas, sachets, jewelry, candles, soaps, lotions, gels, and jellies. Their Smart Flower ™ solar system – solar panels in the shape of a flower – generates 97% of the farm’s energy needs. The Farm is also available as a wedding venue – where the lucky wedding party gets a lift to the altar in a restored red Ford Truck. But you don’t have to get married or buy anything to visit Lavender Hill Farm. “Most people come here just to hang out, it’s so beautiful.” Open daily 10-4.
EAT: Killingworth has several restaurants very close to each other on Route 81, each with its own distinct personality – and each with its champions. The most recommended, Cooking Company, is an upscale artisanal food market (sharing a driveway with a pharmacy, bake shop, and Feed Store) that gets bustling-busy mid-day, with its offerings of custom sandwiches (mine: Maple Smoked Turkey on Baguette), salads, soups, and other choices from heaping ready-made platters in a glass case – to take out or eat in on a few tables. Locals out for a fancy Italian dinner, or who just want a glass of wine and small bite at the large wrap-around bar, go to La Foresta, just down the road a few hundred yards from the Cooking Co. The Copper Skillet Family Restaurant is that “Cheers” kind of local un-fancy spot where everyone knows your kid’s names. (In the multi-purpose Killingworth Village, a shopping center that encompasses a package store, bank, the New Great Wall Chinese Restaurant, Pizzeria Davinci, and June’s Outback Pub, the Copper Skillet is right next door to the resourcefully named Nerds To Go – “the guys who fix your IPhone”). The Country Clover Leaf Store – a general store attached to the gas station around the central rotary – sells deli sandwiches – a great on the go alternative. Also on the rotary, you’ll also find Killingworth Café – home style cuisine in a rambling white farmhouse.
STAY: Chatfield Hollow Inn. Mitch and Tema run this upscale guesthouse like a fine machine – with a heart. Set beside a small pond on a farm known for its culinary mushrooms, the Chatfield Hollow Inn experience begins with Tema’s warm greeting right outside the front door, and then into a fragrant, candlelit two-story living room straight out of Dwell Magazine. The quirky-modern-country Chatfield Hollow Inn is the antithesis to the typical doll & doily chintz B&B, with an aesthetic best described as “Mid-Century Modern meets Daniel Boone.”
Manhattan couple, Ken Metz and Forrest King, purchased the property, just a couple of hours from the City, as a country place to bring their young kids on weekends. Chatfield Hollow morphed into a retreat for weary city-folk when, in late 2013, the original 1974 cabin was expanded to five guest rooms. Metz and King hired Tema and his partner, Mitch to run the inn and farm. In short order, Chatfield Hollow Inn has attracted New Yorkers, some Bold Face Names, even, looking for a hideaway, locals in need of a place to sneak away, and countless girlfriend groups for shopping (at nearby Clinton Crossing) and wine-infused weekends.
Pull into the drive of Chatfield Hollow Farm and you’ll pass the Metz/King mid-century-modern home, fruit trees, penned foul, and, farmer-types in flannel shirts and wellies. Continue to the end of the driveway, near the triple garage, and park. If you’re lucky, you may see a sly Blue Heron who has taken to pilfering the goldfish and Koi from ponds and fountains on the property. Tema will help you with your bags, and welcome you into a design forward living room; leather sling chairs, petrified wood accent tables on faux animal pelt rug, large brick fireplace, sculptural wire animal heads, funky table knick-knacks – an eye catching and surprisingly cozy montage.
The small kitchen, says Tema, is always open for guests – with a coffee and tea machine, and fridge for wine or leftovers.
The breakfast sunroom, with unobstructed pond and back-patio views, is also a favorite gathering spot at all hours with its dramatic barn wood topped I-beam table. The steel beams, interestingly enough, are from road and exit signs discarded during a recent upgrading of the nearby Interstate.
And outside, in its own building, the nicely equipped fitness center might be small but “it has everything” – including a view into the woods. Those woods, it should be mentioned, border Chatfield Hollow State Park (see above). Tema and Mitch will be happy to point you in the direction of the dirt roads and trails that lead from the property, past waterfalls and ponds, on a terrific hike into the State Park.
Over the years, Metz and King have added creatures, crops, and gardens to their land, and you’re encouraged to walk around. There’s a fire pit and bee hives (used to pollinate flowers, not for honey). There are vegetable, fruit and flower gardens and newly planted fruit trees, which provide fresh produce, and chickens who lay the best and freshest eggs for breakfast. There are buildings for the 1,000 logs used to grow shitake mushrooms. Mitch and other farmhands learned to grow both those and Oyster Mushrooms, which they sell them at local farmer’s markets, from experts at Cornell University.
One small pond is overrun with lotus plants, and apparently, over 7,000 goldfish – the descendants of several pet goldfish dumped in the water years ago that obviously proliferated like bunnies. A sitting Buddha overlooks the pond in a small meditation nook.
The fifteen or so peacocks in the Peacock Aviary are a constant source of fascination for guests – so several chairs have been placed right by the enclosure so you can sip wine and watch these birds as long as you’d like. Two Black Swans had to be sequestered from the other foul due to nasty behavior, so you’ll find those near the veg garden.
Rooms at Chatfield Hollow Inn
Knotty pine walls have never looked so chic. It’s country gone Brooklyn here, and, in the much requested Madison Suite you’ll find a bold teal accent wall, dark wood floors, contemporary quilt – in Dijon, grey, and white hues – on a comfy bed, oversize flokati pillow, upcycled multi-colored chest of many drawers, modern lighting, and art on walls: Simple, pleasing to the eye and not overly “done.” Bathrooms are spa-quality, with stone tiled walls and floor, frosted glass shower and lots of storage room for toiletries. Stone tiles continue into a double-sized shower, providing the semblance of an outdoor experience – with Kiehl products.
Breakfast at Chatfield Hollow
At 8:30 or 9:30, a “Continental Breakfast” – plates of crisp croissants, tiny banana pancakes, Yogurt-fresh-fruit-granola bowl, sliced cantaloupe, and other morning delights – are set out in the sunroom. Tema is known for his cheesy eggs made and served in a mini cast iron crock-pot, so, unless you’re allergic, don’t leave before eating this most delectable morning treat.
Just the Facts
Room rates from $109 (for 50 sq. foot Twin) to $259 (500 sq ft suite in season), include hot Continental Breakfast, fitness center, wifi. The Inn is closed mid Jan. to Mid March.