Madison is a gem of a town, located on the bucolic Connecticut shoreline. This tiny village is blessed with some of the cleanest and least utilized beaches on the entire Long Island Sound. It enjoys a classic New England Coastal ambiance that feels light years away from Midtown Manhattan. In truth, you can hop on Metro-North to New Haven, cross the platform to connect to the waiting Shore Line East train and be there in just over two hours. Even if you only have time for an overnight getaway, 24-hours spent here feels like a bona fide escape.
You can walk to everything in this compact, culture-filled hamlet, or bring your bike and pedal away. The pace here is delightfully slow and will allow you plenty of time to smell the salty sea breeze that permeates the air. Get ready to discover Madison.
Madison’s public beaches have won multiple awards for their clean water. Motorists are required to display a resident beach tag from Memorial Day-Labor Day, but local inns and hotels lend guests these passes. For car-free visitors who are walking or cycling to the beach, no tag is necessary. The beaches are only a few minutes stroll from the town center and provide bike racks. The Long Island Sound is usually bathtub-gentle, but lifeguards are on-duty all summer. Surf Club is the largest of the town beaches. It offers a snack bar, bathrooms, changing facilities and showers, while maintaining a suggestion of solitude. The view is lovely and on a clear day, you can see straight across to the North Fork of Long Island. If you have procrastinated and still want to catch Indian summer’s last rays, the relatively shallow waters of the Sound usually stay warm at least through September.
Madison is regarded as one of the premier birding spots on the East Coast, especially during the annual fall migration. Hundreds of colorful species regularly pass through town on their journey south. The town beaches and Hammonasset Beach State Park are excellent sites to view these winged creatures spectacular display. The Audubon Shop, located in the center of town on Boston Post Road, is a great resource for birders throughout the Northeast. Besides selling a variety of gear, the shop schedules nature walks each autumn weekend, some geared just for beginning birders.
Whether you are a casual bookworm or a serious lover of literature, Madison is home to one of the best independently owned bookstores on the East Coast, R. J. Julia. Besides an eclectic collection, they host over 350 events annually, so chances are there will be a lecture, book signing or reading during your visit. The helpful staff is committed to putting the right book in the right hands, so service is in-depth and personal. You are invited to browse for as long as you like, and are welcome to bring your potential purchase into the adjoining café. Sip potent espresso and munch on an award-winning cupcake as you contemplate your book choice. R.J. Julia is located on Boston Post Road, where you will find a cluster of charming, independently owned retail shops to suit your diverse shopping whims.
If you are a cineaste, the Madison Art Cinemas has two state-of-the-art screens that run a fine program of art-house films. If you’ve been meaning to catch the latest documentary or foreign film at the Angelika, it may well be playing here.
The local arts community has created “The Sculpture Mile,” where you can experience a changing series of sculpture and statues right in downtown. This public art installation merits a stroll, preferably with a camera at the ready.
The picture-perfect Madison Green hosts a free concert each Sunday evening at 6 p.m., all summer long. Spread a blanket and bring a gourmet cheese plate from Foxglove and Madison, one of the loveliest specialty food shops in the region. They serve a menu of yummy grilled cheese sandwiches, perfect for a picnic. Go international and order an Italian-inspired basil, mozzarella and roasted tomato combo, or stick close to home and try the “Swamp Yankee” featuring local cheddar with a hint of blueberry preserves. Purchase your beverage at the Madison Wine Exchange, where the friendly staff will graciously help you find the perfect vintage to accompany your fromage.
Where to Eat in Madison, CT
Perhaps the biggest surprise in this patrician town is the active food truck scene located next to the village green. At High Tide Gourmet, the menu features a mouth-watering lobster roll. Don’t expect a roll filled with cold, mayo-heavy lobster salad, as you would in Maine. This is a proudly Connecticut roll, with the lobster meat piping hot and drenched in nothing but butter, served on a grilled and butter-slathered hot dog bun. One bite and you too may be converted to this Southern New England seaside specialty.
For something with a completely different but equally delicious flavor profile, try Taco Pacifico. The California-style Mexican menu features salsas and guacamole made fresh daily, fish tacos stuffed with the local catch and warm homemade tortilla chips.
If you are in Madison on Friday afternoon, you are in for a locavore treat. The farmers’ market hits the town green at 3 p.m. Live music accompanies the ultra-fresh fruits and veggies.
For a sit-down meal, stop by Bar Bouchee. You may think you have stepped into a Left Bank bistro, thanks to the imported zinc bar, swanky vibe and French menu with authentic main dishes like Steak Tartare and Sole Meuniere. Start your meal with a traditional Gallic aperitif, perhaps a Lillet Blanc or Kir Royale. Save room for dessert, because the cloud-like profiteroles with warm chocolate sauce are irresistible.
The Tidewater Inn is a cozy Bed and Breakfast. Choose one of eight tidy rooms or the sweet private cottage. The inn offers excellent value when you consider all the goodies that are included, not to mention the attention owner Victoria and her loyal staff lavish on guests. The evening wine and cheese reception features Connecticut wines and an artful arrangement of cheese and seasonal fruit. Breakfast is a multi-course showstopper, served with home-baked goods aplenty. Beach chairs, towels and tourist information are given with a smile.
For a room with water views, book your stay at the Madison Beach Hotel. The hotel hosts the Grassy Strip, a free weekly outdoor music and film festival. Though there is much to do around town, on a hot day, you may find yourself lingering in the cool confines of your private patio.
How to Get to Madison, CT from NYC
Take Metro-North from Grand Central Station to New Haven. Purchase a lifetime permit for $5 and you may bring your bike on board. The permit can be purchased at window #27 at Grand Central. The Shore Line East commuter train meets Metro-North right across the platform, so transferring trains couldn’t be simpler. Your bike is transported gratis on the Shore Line East. The Madison rail station is an easy walk or short cab ride to the village.
Photos: Madison Beach Hotel, Tidewater Inn, ctvisit.com
Allison is a native New Yorker, who has lived in Rome, Tuscany, Melbourne, Toronto and Los Angeles. She frequently contributes travel pieces to Family Travel Forum, using her own children as guinea pigs as they travel the globe. She is fluent in Italian and Spanish and laughably adequate in French. Her background as an Early Childhood Educator gives her an added understanding of what it takes to travel with kids in tow. She firmly believes that the most important part of education takes place outside of the classroom, on the road, around the world. She never misses a chance to sample local delicacies, as her love for travel goes hand-in-hand with her love for food and wine. Follow Allison at @gourmetrav.