Old Saybrook, one of the oldest towns on the Connecticut coast, has lured visitors over the years with its proximity to public beaches and conveniently located boat and yacht marinas, positioned where the Connecticut River meets the Long Island Sound. Not surprisingly, summer is the town’s busiest season. But warm weather pleasures aside, there’s plenty to do here year-round as I discovered during a recent visit.
“Old Saybrook doesn’t go to sleep in the winter,” a local innkeeper tells me, “but it does become quieter.” Indeed, as I stroll down Main Street with its quaint wrought iron lampposts adorned with cheerful wreaths, I hear none of the jarring sounds typical of larger cities. A pack of dog walkers and joggers pass me on the sidewalk and either flash a smile or raise a hand as a friendly gesture. Boutiques, galleries, antique stores, cafes and historic homes line either side of the thoroughfare that extends from the train station all the way down to the waterfront. My stay revealed Old Saybrook to be a relaxing respite from the fast-paced lifestyle of New York City.
A Star of Stage and Screen
The town is very proud of its most famous former resident, legendary film and theater star Katharine Hepburn. In fact, the arts center that opened in 2009 in the former town hall space is named in her honor. The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center, or “The Kate” as locals call it, hosts theater and dance performances, film screenings, lectures and other events in addition to housing a small museum devoted to Hepburn’s life and career. The museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 10am to 2pm although it is possible to schedule a tour outside of these hours. Dedicated Hepburn fans can also visit Harbor Books on Main Street for a selection of books all about the luminary actress.
Bikes and Hikes
A very bicycle-friendly locale, the area has a 10-mile bike loop that takes you from the downtown area to the Saybrook Point Marina and meanders beside the Long Island Sound before curving back up north. If you prefer walking to cycling, the Fort Saybrook Monument Park has a mostly flat path that winds through the marsh and highlights details of Old Saybrook’s history via storyboards posted along the way. For more strenuous hiking trails, neighboring Rocky Neck State Park and Hammonasset Beach State Park provide options.
The Deacon Timothy Pratt Bed and Breakfast is one of the oldest homes in the area, dating back to 1746. The inn has retained all of its colonial elegance while still offering modern luxuries such as in-room Jacuzzis. If you book the romance package for your stay, you’ll find chocolate truffles and a bottle of champagne waiting for you in your room. The staff is also happy to arrange in-room massages for couples or singles, and each room is equipped with a fireplace to ensure maximum comfort and a romantic ambiance on cold winter nights.
When I arrive at the inn, I am offered complimentary port wine. I enjoy my aperitif while warming up in front of the parlor fireplace as two other guests play a competitive game of chess in another corner of the room. Breakfast the next day is served on fine china and consists of home baked goods, fruit and yogurt (egg dishes are added on weekend mornings). I inquire if the inn has hosted any famous guests recently. “We get people from all over,” innkeeper Connie Corbett tells me, “From Europe, Russia, and quite a few from New York. And maybe they’re famous…you never know!” Of the couple that recently visited from Russia, Corbett said “instead of having the port wine at dinner, they had it for breakfast.”
Where to Eat
Next door to the bed and breakfast is another colonial-era structure, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and formerly known as the James Soda Fountain. Anna Louise James, the first African American pharmacist in the state of Connecticut, ran the soda fountain from 1917 until 1967. Today, the space is home to Tissa’s Le Souk du Maroc, a Mediterranean food market and café. In addition to the Moroccan spices, teas and treats, you’ll find sodas and ice cream still for sale here as a nod to the soda fountain’s storied past. Although the hanging sign out front reads “Tissa’s Le Souk du Maroc,” the sign on the building’s awning still advertises the James Soda Fountain. The owner of Tissa’s says she’s happy to display both business names because so many people have fond memories of the former soda fountain.
A few blocks south of Aspen on Main Street, the Penny Lane Pub provides a more relaxed atmosphere for dinner or drinks with live music on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. The pub has recently started a “Women and Wine” series featuring a four-course lunch with wine pairings and a brief talk from a wine expert. The next installment is tentatively scheduled for the last Thursday in February. Call or check the venue’s website for further details.
For an excellent cup of coffee, there’s the Paperback Café. A jazz quartet plays every Saturday and Sunday during brunch hours (11:30 am to 1:30 pm) and a full breakfast and lunch menu is available every day.
Go to visitoldsaybrookct.com for information on upcoming events and things to do in Old Saybrook, CT.
How to Get There: From New York City, take the Metro North New Haven Line to New Haven and switch to a Shore Line East train to Old Saybrook. If staying at the Deacon Timothy Pratt Bed and Breakfast, call to arrange for free transportation from the train station to the inn.
Photo: Elizabeth Rose, Paperback Cafe