September 30, 2018
For a few precious weeks every year, New England explodes into a kaleidoscope of colour. The air is crisp, harvest is underway, and farmers’ markets are overflowing with ripe fruit and gourds. So when is the best time to visit?
For the more northern states of Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire, peak viewing season is typically around early to mid October. Further to the south, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut see their leaves turn later, with colour often lasting until November. Kicking things off in Boston, we’ve picked a handful of highlights for a fabulous fall adventure…
Any self-respecting tour of New England should start or end in Boston. When Halloween fever takes hold, one of the best places to stroll is through the narrow streets of Beacon Hill, past tall redbrick townhouses adorned with tasteful pumpkin displays. Once home to literary and political heavyweights such as Louisa May Alcott, Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, Edward Kennedy and John Kerry, it’s the city’s most desirable and affluent neighbourhood.
Massachusett’s Berkshire mountains satisfy the rural New England fantasy of every visitor, and they combine this with a cluster of small towns that punch way above their weight in terms of cultural and intellectual pursuits.
Highlights include the Norman Rockwell Museum in the quintessential New England town of Stockbridge; progressive and arty Great Barrington which has its own currency, and lofty Williamstown, home to the Clark Art Institute and elite Williams College, consistently ranked as the best liberal arts school in the USA. In the former Arnold Print Works in prosperous North Adams is the largest contemporary art gallery in the USA at MASS MoCA. The opening of the institution in 1999 paved the way for a cultural and recreational resurgence in and around the city.
As New England’s most significant mountain range, the White Mountains are technically part of the Appalachians and cover about a quarter of the state of New Hampshire, extending into western Maine. The major highlight for motoring foliage-seekers is the Kancamagus Highway, an outrageously scenic drive that crosses the Kancamagus Pass into the skiing and kayaking hotspots of North Conway and Jackson.
Once the home of the America’s Cup, Newport is still obsessed with yachting but beyond the waterfront lies an elegant town full of renovated buildings, white-spired churches, clapboard B&Bs and a grandiose millionaire’s row. Bellevue Avenue is where America’s wealthiest families built their extravagant mansions – or “summer cottages” – during the Colonial and Victorian periods through to the Gilded Age. Visit during the autumn months when their mature gardens are at their most golden.
For a spectacular fall foliage experience that’s well off the tourist track, head for the 30 miles of hiking trails in Connecticut’s Sleeping Giant State Park about 11 miles north of New Haven. A two-mile-long stretch of rocky mountaintop resembling a large supine giant gives the park its name. A unique microclimate creates unusual thermals in warmer weather; keen birders should pack binoculars as it’s not uncommon to spot red-tailed hawks, and turkey vultures trying to catch one. White-tailed deer, red foxes, chipmunks and raccoons also make a home here.
Not to be confused with its hippie namesake in upstate New York, Woodstock, Vermont is an extremely well-off and well-to-do town in Windsor County named by National Geographic as ‘One of America’s Most Picturesque Villages’. Despite its rarefied air, rural traditions remain and the surrounding farmland is dotted with classic New England red barns. Nearby Billings Farm and Museum offers a taste of Vermont-style living throughout October with pumpkin and apple celebrations, wagon rides, a harvest weekend and a barn dance.
Much further north on the coast of Maine, occupying most of Mount Desert Island, is Acadia National Park – the only US National Park in New England. There’s a lot of ground to cover here, and the leaf-peeping opportunities are both remarkable and extensive. One of the best ways to orient yourself is by driving the Park Loop Road, a 27 mile route that connects the park’s forests, mountains, lakes and rocky coast. Best foliage viewpoints are at Otter Cliffs, topped with densely-packed spruce trees, and Cadillac Mountain, the highest peak on the Atlantic coast between Canada and Brazil.
Virgin Atlantic operates a daily flight to Boston from London Heathrow airport.