WHY GO: Because there are no fudge shops here; just serpentine rivers, a quaint harbor, an anachronistic winery, a rustic flower and animal farm, one of the most highly regarded indie bookstores in the country, Connecticut’s only beach resort, and the best lobster roll on the East Coast.
Things To Do In Clinton and Madison CT
VISIT: Barberry Hill Farm, Madison; If you’re looking for eggs warm from the henhouse, if you need a bunch of flowers cut for your 4’ vase, if you’re in the market for organic produce or just want to stand among sheep, cows and chickens to feel like a farmer for a few minutes, come to Kelly and Kingsley Goddard’s 25 acre working farm. Recently heralded in New York Magazine as a great place for weddings, Barberry Hill is as rustic and authentic as it gets, and if you arrive during a busy time, you may be put to work. Former High School English teacher Kingsley took over his Dad’s farm – what he describes as a “typical farm at the turn of the century” after his Dad passed away. It’s a fascinating look at a vanishing way of life. Informal tours offered, but call first.
STROLL: Down to Clinton harbor. Gazing out onto Clinton Harbor – at brush and bungalows on a crescent of sand called Cedar Island – you’d be forgiven if you believe this is Block Island circa 1957. Weathered gray shacks, floating docks that have seen many seasons, and mostly modest motor and sailboats share a protected area with a wealth of shore birds in a salt marsh bounded by state parkland. Families are drawn here for crabbing and kayaking. It’s idyllic in that decades old way when lingering over a rapturous lobster roll while watching boats purr back to dock is a highpoint of the day.
DO: Rent a Kayak at Indian River Marina; Clinton Harbor is the terminus of both the Hammonasset and Indian Rivers, which thrust northward from both sides of the harbor like U of Texas “Hook ‘em horns.” Rent a kayak at the tiny and charming Indian River Marina owned by a genial Rob Chase, who makes sure that all patrons don life-vests and gives each a laminated map showing a variety of touring options. The most popular, bringing you into close contact with egrets, herons and the occasional osprey, snakes down the romantic weeping-willow studded Indian River, into busy Clinton Harbor where you dig your paddle deeply and quickly into the ebbing tide in order to get across a narrow, but busy channel, then up the grassy Hammonasset. Daily Memorial Day to Labor Day (April to May by appointment). $30 for 2 hours, $70 for full day (8 hours).
BEACH IT: Hammonasset Beach State Park. Exciting things are happening at Connecticut’s largest public beach – with two miles of sandy sea-front, concession stands, changing rooms, a new Nature Center building, viewing platforms, fishing areas, biking trails, campgrounds – in three distinct areas. Improvements are ongoing, so if you’ve been here in the past, come back for another look.
SHOP: RJ Julia Booksellers, Madison. In its 26th year, this two-story Independent bookstore, with a wide assortment of reading material, brings best-selling authors and notable writers to this tony Connecticut shore-town. You may meet authors both famous or (as yet) undiscovered; events are eclectic, entertaining, intimate and fill up fast. Be sure to make reservations. And even if you can’t make it to a reading, plan to sit in a comfy chair and “meet some new books.” It’s the ultimate rainy-day pleasure.
SHOP: Clinton Crossing Premium Outlet Center – draws budget-conscious fashionistas from all over Connecticut and the world. Barney’s, Saks Fifth Ave. and Donna Karan, among many others, separate bargain hunters from their Benjamin’s.
What to Eat In Clinton and Madison CT
SNACK: on a lobster roll from Lobster Landing. Enea and Cathie Bacci own what has to be one of the last (and best) authentic lobster shacks in Connecticut, if not the whole Eastern seaboard. Fifteen bucks gets you a toasted roll brimming with chunks of lobster drizzled with butter. Stepping into the weather beaten shed you’ll probably find white-bearded Enea in rubber apron, cracking just-caught, steaming lobsters while a high-school girl hacks the meat into bite-sized pieces. Nothing fanciful and not a conveyer belt or piece of machinery in sight.
EAT/DRINK: Chamard Vineyards, Clinton. It’s a bit of France on the Connecticut shoreline, and a favorite of bachelorette party celebrations. Sample easy to drink French-inspired wines ($15 or $25 for a Six-Vintage tasting) produced from locally grown grapes as well as from fruit gown in Chile, Washington State and the North Fork of Long Island, in an elegant rustic-refined stone barn. Afterwards, have a bite at open-kitchen Chamard Bistro, which offers “The Best Pomme Frittes in CT” ($6), Asparagus Bisque ($7) a selection of gourmet flatbreads ($10) and signature cocktails in a lovely contempo-earthy space.
EAT/FINE: The Wharf, Madison Beach Hotel. Even if you are not staying here, The Wharf is excellent enough to be considered a destination restaurant. Young CIA grad Chef Brendan Dion, who came onboard in October 2012, doesn’t fuss much with just-picked, plucked or caught ingredients, and Pastry Chef Emily Klug brings a playful note to dessert (deconstructed S’More’s in martini glass is to die for), and the upshot is an incredibly satisfying dining experience. Try the refreshing Big Eye Tuna Tartar with Avocado and English Cucumber ($18), or Cioppino with clams, mussels, lobster, shrimp in sop-it-up broth ($32).
EAT/BUDGET: Bill’s Seafood on the Clinton/Westbrook Border; The bridge isn’t the only thing singing at Bill’s Seafood on summer Sunday evenings. This famous, raucous restaurant, tucked just under the “Singing Bridge” of Route 1 – known for its humming vibrations – hosts an old fashioned sing-along, too. Plop down wherever you want (a sign at the entrance announces, “seat yourself”) whenever you want. If you have a craving for a Guinness, belly up to the bar while deciding whether to sit inside with the band or outside with the singing bridge. The Clam Roll plate ($10.50) comes with thick fries, Alfred Hitchcock-bellied clams and Bill’s signature vinegar coleslaw. The prices are so reasonable, two people can dine on “Bill’s Own Seafood Platter” with shrimp, clams, scallops, flounder, French-fries, onion rings and coleslaw for just $24.95.
Where to Stay in Clinton and Madison CT
STAY: The Madison Beach Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton, Madison. Though they might have every reason to be haughty, the staff of this luxurious, sandy beach set, first-rate farm-to-table dining boutique hotel is some of the friendliest I’ve ever encountered. This eager-to-please attitude begins curbside with smiling valets, and continues throughout your stay; each and every employee exudes a proud sense of ownership. All 33 over-sized rooms (large enough for a family of four) face Long Island Sound, with gleaming white plantation shutters that slide open to reveal your own beachfront balcony – perfect for a romantic glass of wine at sunset. Décor is beachy-keen, with accessories one would expect in a luxury hotel; flat screen TV, free Wi-Fi, cloud-like bedding, glass showers. One note – because floors in each room foyer are tile, noise between rooms tend to be amplified. Ask for a room away from exuberant wedding parties, and it should be fine. Rooms $225 – $450 depending on season include free parking, free wi-fi, complimentary managers wine and cheese reception on Fridays at 5:30.
STAY: 3 Liberty Green, Clinton. The view from the front porch of this immaculately restored colonial home is quite revolutionary; literally. The triangle of land upon which Three Liberty sits was a militia-mustering field during the Revolutionary War, and Clinton itself is rich in American history as well as natural beauty. The interior color palette – strong blues, reds and yellows, reflect the boldness of colonial décor, and extends into 4 quaint Laura Ashly-like rooms. Rooms from $165-$185 include full breakfast, soft drinks and cordials in the parlor 24/7, wi-fi and parking.
STAY: Westbrook Inn, Westbook, is a charming ten-room former Sea Captain’s home. Owners Glenn and Chris Monroe offer a hot, homemade breakfast, complimentary use of Schwinn cruising bikes, and a chance to see a frequent guest; an albino squirrel that has become somewhat of a family pet. $95 – $300 includes hot breakfast, use of bikes and VIP Coupon book for Clinton Crossing Outlet Center.
Easy Getaway From: Hartford, CT (40 miles); New York City (101 miles); and Boston, MA (130 miles.)