July 15, 2012

Kayaking on the Farmington River - Collinsville, Conn.

Ahhhh. Sun, warmth, and water.
This is what summer is all about.
Have you been taking advantage of this amazing summer weather???

Perhaps you've been to the beach, attended a few picnics, or maybe even gone hiking

All very well and good. Here's one more suggestion: A fantastic few hours spent kayaking on the Farmington River. 

Don't own a kayak? No problemo; neither do we. Simply head to Collinsville Canoe & Kayak - set in a lovely spot by the river in a quaint, adorable little town in central Connecticut - and rent one. 

Rental costs are very reasonable, but vary depending on how many people you want in your kayak - and for how long (see costs outlined below). 

My husband and I each opted for our own kayak - just $12 for one hour, and that includes the life jacket and your paddle. If you are really enjoing yourself in the water and go beyond the hour, they'll charge you a few dollars extra for each additional 15 minutes. 

It was pretty much the perfect day. The weather was fantastic, the sun wasn't too hot, and the water was calm and an ideally refreshing temperature. 

Today's Stefcations Highlights:
My husband eyeing the paddleboards.
  • What You'll Find: Kayaking on the Farmington River - a most amazingly refreshing day in the outdoors. 
  • Where You'll Find It: Collinsville Canoe & Kayak, 41 Bridge Street, Collinsville, Conn.
  • When to Go: The season starts around May 1 and runs through to around October. Rental hours are M-W & F from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Sat. 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; and Sun. 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (FYI: If you're headed there on a summer weekend, it's usually wise to make a reservation. I called the morning of and was fine.)
  • What It'll Cost: $12 for a solo kayak for one hour. Tandem (two-person) kayaks are $20 per hour. These prices include the life jacket and paddle. You can also opt for daylong (3 hours or more) on-site rentals (solo kayaks = $40 per day; tandems = $50 per day). There is even an option, for an extra charge, to take the kayak for up to 24 hours off-site. 
  • By the Way: You can rent other things here, too. Namely, bicycles for the nearby Farmington River Bike Trail, which overlooks the river, or paddleboards. As I learned today, Collinsville Canoe & Kayak occasionally offers paddleboard yoga! I hear it's a great core workout. Might have to try that next...

July 3, 2012

Storming Gillette Castle - East Haddam, Conn.

It's not your imagination; that's a castle! Gillette Castle,
a beautiful and totally unique 24-room mansion,
found on the Connecticut River.

Beautiful, cloudless Sundays in July are a rare commodity here in New England - and the perfect excuse for spending the day by the water or breaking in a new pair of hiking boots.

Seeking to accomplish both of these things (whilst continuing on my never-ending quest to soak in my fair share of Vitamin D), I headed out on the first glorious day of July to Gillette Castle State Park in East Haddam, Conn.

I'm rather ashamed to admit that I'd never before set foot in this place. It's one of those landmarks my friends had all seemed to frequent on their grammar school field trips, but for whatever reason, I'd never had the pleasure.

Let's just say it was worth the wait.

Here, on 184 acres of what was once the estate of a famous stage actor named William Gillette, you'll find hiking trails galore, fantastic views of the Connecticut River, picnic areas, a campground, and lots of enchanting little stone-lined bridges and paths. There's even a visitors' center shop and a grill serving food and ice cream in case you're starved by the end of your trip.

But the real star attraction is the 24-room stone castle, a mansion designed ingeniously by Gillette himself.

Today's Stefcations Highlights:
Boarding the Chester-Hadlyme Ferry.
  • What You'll Find: An honest-to-goodness stone castle (no, really!), perched above the Connecticut River, surrounded by plenty of hiking trails and scenic views. Located in Gillette Castle State Park, 67 River Road in East Haddam, Conn.
  • When to Go: The grounds are open year-round, while the castle itself is open from Memorial Day through Columbus Day, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (with a special Christmastime season). If you'd like to take the Chester-Hadlyme ferry to get here, it runs from late April through November.
  • What It'll Cost: The park itself is free. Roam the trails, picnic by the lily-padded ponds, or longingly watch the boats and jet-skis speed by on the Connecticut River. For the self-guided tour of the castle, it's $6 per person and $2 for kids ages 6-12, with no charge for kids under 5. The ferry, should you choose to take it, is $3 per car (bring cash).
  • By the Way: Reportedly, the castle is a sight to see during the winter season, when it's decorated for the holidays. 

Lots of (mostly light) trails to choose from;
check out the park's hiking map here.
Gillette, a playwright and actor who back in the day was best known for portraying Sherlock Holmes on stage, was clearly a very cool guy with a flair for more than just acting.

No stranger to drama, he designed his home (where he lived from 1919 until his death in 1937) to feature all the wacky things you'd picture in mystery novels - including secret passageways and hidden mirrors through which he could covertly observe his guests from afar without them knowing it.

At the same time, this place is a museum and a true work of art. Every wooden door and latch is carved with an ornate design (no two doors in the place are exactly alike). Artifacts and correspondence from Gillette's lifetime grace the various rooms - down to the "cat bell" that summoned Gillette's 15 cats for dinner every evening. (Love it!) Tour guides stationed throughout will happily share entertaining anecdotes with you. There's an art gallery. Even the light switches are funky little artistic creations.

And, um, it's a castle.

Tourists on motorcycles
enjoyed the park, too.
The day I visited, the place was bustling with activity. People of all ages were strolling around - young couples, families with baby strollers, even tough-looking motorcycle dudes in muscle T-shirts, who I caught attentively snapping photos of the castle's stone walls and the surrounding flowerbeds.

There were also rehearsals going on the park's small outdoor stage, where actors from a local theater troupe were practicing for an upcoming production - about, what else, Sherlock Holmes. (If you want more detes on this, you can find them here.)

So if you're up for a little fairy tale of an adventure, you can find it - no matter what your age - right here in the heart of Connecticut.

Fantastic views of the Connecticut River
from Gillette's estate, also known as the Seventh Sister.

Enjoy a picnic by the one of the park's lovely lily ponds.