Travel review: Connecticut - Looking for a New England?

Putnam is one of the most picturesque towns in Connecticut and during the summer the river is lit up by fire.
Putnam is one of the most picturesque towns in Connecticut and during the summer the river is lit up by fire.
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Craft beers, lobster, and treetop activities combine to make a perfect getaway for Richard Sutcliffe.

LUNCHTIME drinking can be fun, and particularly when the sun is shining.

So, on recently finding myself at a new craft brewery deep in the picture postcard state of Connecticut as the temperature gauge nudged beyond 90C, what better way to while away a couple of hours than enjoying a relaxing few pints before tucking into the local delicacy of lobster for lunch?

Dock Time, the signature brew of the newly-launched Stony Creek Brewery that couldn’t be more refreshing if this beautifully cool lager had fanned me down at 60-second intervals, was the lunchtime beverage of choice and as I started another pint while gazing out over the River Branford from a sun-baked terrace, there really was no place I’d rather have been.

What I hadn’t factored in, however, as I took in the idyllic setting and savoured every mouthful of the nearby Lobster Shack food truck’s delicious offerings was that my next stop-off on a whistle-stop tour of New England involved a rather more energetic activity than enjoying the sunshine.

I was heading to Empower Adventure Center, where the plan was to not only negotiate five zip-wire lines through a forest but also a military-style cargo net and – worst of all – a high-wire traverse endurance test that wasn’t designed for someone with four newly-quaffed pints in the belly.

Which is how, an hour or so after draining that final drink, I found myself 45ft off the ground in a forest, not daring to look down and attempting to stay upright on said high wire while clinging on to one of several small dangling ropes that were supposed to aid movement from one tree-top to the next.

Momentarily frozen to the spot despite being safely strapped in via a harness and with sweat that carried a distinct whiff of Dock Time by now pouring off me, I still had half of the distance to cover. Going back made as little sense as trying to get my knees to inch forward.

I was told afterwards that my face was ashen-white as I, finally, re-started. I am also told that my tongue was resolutely stuck out, a well established Sutcliffe-trait when concentrating on anything from the washing up to deciding on what lunchtime tipple to enjoy.

Eventually, the other side was reached. Relief? You betcha. Even if there were two more 650ft zip-line courses to negotiate.

These, though, proved a breeze and, by the time burly instructor Dan was congratulating our party on a “job well done” as we handed in the kit, there was an undoubted sense of achievement at having completed a course that many New England companies visit as key team-building exercises.

After such a testing but ultimately thrilling experience, the only thing to do was once again enjoy some of those delightful craft beers that have transformed the drinking scene in America.

No city and very few towns in New England remain untouched by the phenomenon of micro-breweries, which is how I happened upon a true gem of a pub called City Steam Brewery in Connecticut’s capital, Hartford.

Not only does this place brew its own beer but the selection of bar games on offer meant a fantastic final night of the trip was had by all.

It wasn’t all down to the beer, either, with my time since that first – and last – attempt at zip-lining having underlined why Connecticut truly is a state that has something for everyone.

I’d experienced plenty of other thrill-seeking experiences, the most enjoyable being a once-in-a-lifetime chance to enjoy a spin in the type of sports car usually reserved for film stars or millionaires.

A gleaming $250,000 white Lamborghini Gallardo was my vehicle of choice ahead of a sleek-looking red Ferrari and the feeling as I was chauffeured around the track at 90mph can only be described as “exhilarating”.

When it came to my turn to get behind the wheel, the speed may have come down markedly but the sensation was the same.

Driving to the KC Stadium or Hillsborough in my trusty Ford Fiesta as this newspaper’s chief football writer will never be the same again.

Nor will I look at any of our Yorkshire rivers in quite the same way after spending an enjoyable two-and-a-half hours floating down Farmington River in the summer sunshine with only a large rubber ring for company.

“River tubing” is great fun, as long periods of quiet contemplation when nature pulls you downstream mingle with dramatic rapids than can topple the unsuspecting.

For those who prefer their holidays to have a pace as slow as the Farmington, Connecticut still also has plenty more to offer.

A barbecue cooking school at The Silo, a quaint farm in New Milford, was good fun, the added bonus being we were able to enjoy the food afterwards.

Likewise, a stroll around picturesque towns such as Litchfield and Putnam offers a view into the past as white-spired churches, immaculate wooden houses and village greens rub shoulders, while a similar sensation can be had when wandering along a wildlife trail that used to be the railroad that once linked Boston and New York.

The presence of these two ‘big brother’ cities is why Connecticut and its New England brethren sometimes suffer when trying to lure overseas tourists.

Now, though, there is a feeling that being situated so close to New York, in particular – the Stony Creek Brewery where I enjoyed such a wonderful liquid lunch is just 80 minutes by train from the Big Apple – can be turned to an advantage.

Those that make the effort will not be disappointed.

• Richard flew to Boston with Virgin Atlantic from London Heathrow, return flights priced £555 including all taxes and charges. www.virgin-atlantic.com He hired a vehicle with Affordable Car Hire (www.affordablecarhire.com) from Boston Logan Airport, prices from around £150 per week. For further information on all the attractions he visited in Connecticut, please visit www.discovernewengland.co.uk and www.discoveramerica.com

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