Essex & Old Lyme
Just a few weeks ago I ventured to one of the most idyllic parts of New England. The Connecticut shore boasts many perfect seaside towns and villages, but arguably I may have found two of the best noodling around Essex and Old Lyme. In the spirit of full disclosure, Essex is on the Connecticut River, but the easy access to Long Island Sound counts for me as a qualifier as a seaside town.
Taking a quick exit off the jungle of traffic on Route 95 brings you directly into Old Lyme, a historically pleasing little town chock full of charming homes, stately mansions, a vibrant arts community and albeit, a tiny downtown, it has boatloads of character. Just up the road from the adorable building that houses the Lyme Art Association, I pulled into the wide, circular drive at my bed and breakfast, the Bee and Thistle Inn shaded by a gorgeously, massive Japanese chestnut tree and was transported to a calmer, quieter place. As I stepped inside I was cheerfully greeted by the manageress of the day and shown to my room- a handsome, sumptuous bed, lovely appointments and beautiful antiques made for an easy transition to a weekend relaxation state of mind. Dinner at the Inn was fabulous. They offer 1/2 plates on the menu and the portion was perfect complimented by a great wine list and an attentive staff. The grounds offer sweeping views to the river and restful spots to read with a glass of wine in a soft breeze. In keeping with the strong arts heritage of Old Lyme, the tree branches at the inn served as a venue for an artist’s interpretation of giant shells suspended above the lush green back lawn. The garden showcases yet more sculpture amidst blooming perennials.
After a short drive northwards along the river I arrived in pristine Essex and it was even more picture perfect than I remembered. The village is a lovely melange of antique shops, pretty homes and one of my favorite shops for updated, classic ladies and menswear, J Alden Clothiers. The proprietor, Jim D’Alessio is one of the most fashionable and engaging men I know. With a discerning eye for style and composition, his shop is a must-visit for the perfect cashmere sweater, well tailored shirts, a great shoe collection, fantastic accessories and more, all pleasingly merchandised. His trusty lab, Winston, lets out the occasional, friendly woof to greet visitors and then resumes his resting spot in a mini-living room complete with a mantel and lifestyle reading material for total shopping immersion comfort. Jim is a merchant extraordinaire-he is gifted at his craft.
I pressed onwards with a keen eye for antiques and Essex has plenty of good offerings. A quick visit into English Accents Antiques was akin to popping into a country manor house as they offer a full complement of period pieces as well as some amazingly hard-to-tell-they-are reproductions. Shopkeeper Burton Kaplan is an approachable gent making for a comfortable visit-not often the case in antique shops with period pieces.
I found far too many houses that I wanted to buy in town. The temptation to be impetuous and just buy one was nearly overwhelming, but I resisted. I did however promise myself that I would make more frequent trips to this little bit of Connecticut as I barely scratched the surface of all of the area’s riches.