by NIGEL WRIGHT
IF AT the end of a hot Algarve summer, you feel like some crisp autumnal air, clear blue skies and chilly evenings by the fireside, then there is no better destination than the New England states of Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.
The trees, particularly the maple, cloak the hillsides in the most amazing autumn colours; their reflections in the still blue waters of the lakes turn the landscape into something quite magical.
The main entry point to New England is Boston, an attractive city along the Charles River. On this occasion, however, we concentrated our attentions further afield and travelled 2,500kms through the four states using a hire car. Our journey began on Boston’s North Shore in Salem, once a centre for the clipper trade with the Orient and still an attractive bustling sailing port. However, it was the notorious witch trials of the late 17th century that made the town famous – 14 women and five men were hanged. Nowadays, Salem is full of ‘witchy’ tourist sites and is a must for the celebration of Halloween, when the town is bristling with images of witches, ghosts and ghouls and there are pumpkins on every doorstep.
The coast of Maine
We meandered north along the beautiful coast of Maine, with its many rocky inlets and islands, staying in Boothbay Harbor, Blue Hills and eventually Bar Harbor, the gateway to the gorgeous Acadia National Park. Our favourite town was Camden with its picturesque harbour full of large sailing ships and serving outstanding seafood. Acadia is small in area and quite remote, but is the second most visited of all the USA’s National Parks. Here the bald granite outcrops, surrounded by beautiful forest, mystical coves, white sandy beaches and a dark blue sea, rise to around 450 metres, and from the highest point on Mt Cadillac, you have a wide vista of the whole coast up and into Canada.
The Hills and Lakes of New Hampshire and Vermont
It was a 300kms drive across Maine and New Hampshire to our next overnight stay at Woodstock in Vermont. The sun was shining, the roads quiet and the views always enchanting with trees turning every possible shade of red, orange and gold. We stopped to admire Lake Sunapee, a favourite quiet retreat for the more discerning New England tourist. Woodstock is a very popular destination for the leaf peepers, those who flock to this area in the autumn. You have to pay peak season rates in mid-October and booking any accommodation around the time of the busy Columbus Day holiday weekend is better done in advance.
Woodstock is an attractive small town with grand houses surrounding the oval village green. It has excellent restaurants and is a great place to stay in the winter if you want to ski on nearby Killington Mountain. There are many tourist attractions and we particularly enjoyed Sugarbush Farm, where a range of wonderful maple syrups and some surprisingly good mature cheddar-type cheeses are made.
Quechee Gorge is close to the town and has been rather generously described as Vermont’s Grand Canyon. Nevertheless, it is pretty impressive and there are good hiking trails nearby. The Farmers’ Diner at Quechee is the perfect place for an American breakfast. Sit inside a converted railway carriage, forget about diets and cholesterol levels, and enjoy eggs, hickory-smoked bacon with hash browns and all the trimmings, washed down with steaming hot coffee while listening to bluegrass music on the Wurlitzer Juke Box. Fabulous!
The last leg of our journey took us south of Boston and then east on to the long bent arm of Cape Cod. It is a land of wide sea views, sand dunes, pine trees, small lakes and beaches that seem to stretch forever. The Cape Cod National Seashore Park has a range of interesting walking trails and at the park centre you can watch some excellent presentations on the geology and history of this area.
Provincetown is the capital of Cape Cod and was where the Mayflower first landed in 1620 to take on water before proceeding to what is now Plymouth, south of Boston. Provincetown is a busy fishing port and a vibrant centre of arts and crafts with great shops. It is also well known as the gay capital of Massachusetts. What is less well known is that half the population is of Portuguese origin due to immigrants attracted here by the fishing opportunities in the 19th century.
We left New England with many happy memories. We stayed in a mixture of hotels, motels and B&B’s. The service in these establishments and all the shops and restaurants we visited was outstanding. The American people here are really friendly. When they say, “Have a grrrrreat day”, they really do mean it!