The well-to-do small town of Farmington is 10 miles west of Hartford and serves as the international headquarters for a surprising amount of big corporations, including United Technologies.
What puts Farmington on the map for visitors is the Hill-Stead Museum and its assemblage of exquisite objets d’art, French Impressionist masterpieces and Japanese woodblock prints.
For people who love the outdoors, Farmington is served by two long distance trails: The Metacomet Trail and the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, on the course of 19th-century waterway and railroad.
Connecticut’s largest public golf facility is right here too, and there’s some top-class shopping to be done at the Westfarms Mall and a few minutes away in West Hartford Center.
1. Hill-Stead Museum
If you only see one thing in Farmington it has to be this museum at a palatial Colonial Revival house from 1901. Constructed for the industrialist Alfred Atmore Pope, the building is a collaboration between his daughter Theodate Pope Riddge, one of America’s first woman architects, and the firm McKim, Read & White.
But even more important is what’s inside the 19 rooms open to the public, kept as they were when Theodate, who inherited the property, passed away in 1946. Hill-Stead is bursting with invaluable decorative arts, rugs, furniture, prints and most famously fine art.
The collection is especially rich in Impressionism, with Monet, Degas, Manet, Mary Cassatt, Eugène Carrière and James McNeill Whistler all represented.
Also noteworthy are the woodblock prints by Hokusai, Hiroshige and Utamaro, engraving by Albrecht Dürer and correspondence by the likes of Henry James and Mary Cassatt.
The grounds are also essential, drawn up by Warren H.
Manning and with a one-acre sunken that was redesigned by the famed landscape architect Beatrix Farrand.
2. Stanley-Whitman House
One of the oldest houses in Farmington is preserved and open to the public as a museum.
A classic New England saltbox, the Stanley-Whitman House was built around 1720, and you’ll get an idea of its age right away when you see its leaded windows and overhanging upper floor.
That overhang is ornamented with four delicate drop pendants, and the house is divided into two symmetrical halves by a large central chimney.
Go inside and you’ll be sent back to colonial New England, poring over period decoration and fittings, and picking up lots of riveting details about colonial life.
Outside are historic stone walls, raised bed gardens and a pastoral apple orchard.
3. Farmington Miniature Golf & Ice Cream Parlor
Two treats are combined at this family-friendly attraction, in business since 1962. The 18-hole golf course is beautifully landscaped, with holes fringed by neatly trimmed shrubs, immaculate lawns and sprinkles of colour from flowers.
At the quaint little parlour overlooking the course there’s a head-spinning assortment of flavours to pick from, some standouts being birthday cake, crushed ginger, Kahlua chocolate chunk and salted caramel-covered pretzel.
There’s also a choice of soft serve and sorbet flavours, and seasonal options like country pumpkin.
Come for a cone, cup, sundae or milkshake, or opt for something savoury like a hot dog, chilli or taco.
4. Farmington Canal Heritage Trail
The ambitious Farmington Canal was constructed in the 1820s to link New Haven by water with the interior of Connecticut and Massachusetts.
But within a few years of its completion, the railroads had become a more efficient means of transport and the canal was converted for trains.
As of 2019 85% of the New Haven and Northampton Railroad bed in Connecticut (some 58 miles) has become a walking trail, along evocative old railroad corridors and canal towpaths.
There’s thrilling old infrastructure on the way, including canal aqueducts and the last surviving set of locks on the canal in Windsor.
The largest remaining gap in the walk is just south of Farmington, across Plainville into northern Southington.
5. Rattlesnake Mountain
There are marvellous rocky landscapes in the south of Farmington at this basalt landform, rising to 230 metres and part of the Metacomet Ridge.
That 200-million-year-old fault shoots north through Connecticut for 100 miles from Long Island Sound to the Massachusetts-Vermont line, granting majestic views from its cliff-tops.
That’s just what you’ll find at Rattlesnake Mountain, which can be accessed on the Blue-Blazed Metacomet Trail and has views for miles over western Connecticut from the top.
As with other peaks on the ridge, Rattlesnake Mountain has a microclimate that gives rise to some plants not normally found in Connecticut.
On the trail you’ll come to Will Warren’s Den, a cave with a story harking back to the earliest days of colonisation in Farmington.
A plaque reads, “Said Warren, according to legend, after being flogged for not going to church, tried to burn the village of Farmington. He was pursued into the mountains, where some Indian squaws hid him in this cave.”
6. Farmington River Trail
A fine offshoot on the Canal Heritage Trail, the Farmington River Trail departs from the main route before rejoining it 18.2 miles away in Simsbury.
Ideal for walkers, joggers, inline skaters and cyclists, the trail is paved and can be accessed at several points in Farmington.
It follows the course of the old Central New England Railroad, on the banks of the Farmington River, through forest, farmland and meadows.
7. Complexity: A Puzzling Adventure
Farmington has a highly-rated puzzle solving attraction at Complexity: A Puzzling Adventure.
For the uninitiated, Escape Rooms are ideal for date nights, families of team building.
You’ll need to call on all of your problem-solving abilities and sense of teamwork to work your way through clues to escape a room within the hour time limit, and it’s hard not to get caught up in the drama.
Complexity has four cleverly designed rooms, and these tend to vary according to the amount of people that can take part.
For instance, The Blizzard is for 2-6 players and involves a race against time in the face of an impending snowstorm, while at the Pirate Ship (2-8) you have to locate a hidden treasure before the crew returns from the shore.
8. Farmington Library
A top-notch local amenity, Farmington Library is especially valuable for parents with smaller children.
For youngsters there’s an expansive book collection and a colourful interactive play area.
Older people can escape to a quiet corner with a book or get some work done in peace.
The library catalogue is enormous and complemented by computer terminals, free Wi-Fi, a 3D printer and an extensive DVD collection.
There are all kinds of community programs, including music performances, art exhibition and expert talks in a wealth of fields.
9. First Church of Christ, Congregational
The spire atop this historic church at 75 Main Street can be seen for miles around.
The clapboard building in the Greek Revival style, has been standing since 1771, although the congregation goes back another 120 years.
In 1841 the First Church of Christ, Congregational was involved in a significant event in American history.
The African slaves who had revolted aboard La Amistad were sheltered on their release from custody by Austin Williams, a local abolitionist who set up a dormitory building for them while they awaited their return to Africa.
During that time they were regulars at this very church.
10. Westfarms Mall
One of the top malls in the Greater Hartford area is on the boundary between West Hartford and Farmington.
The name is a portmanteau of both towns, and there are more than 160 stores and services at your disposal in Westfarms Mall.
The four anchors are Nordstrom, Macy’s, JCPenney and Lord & Taylor, and the range of stores is at the upper end of the market, including Louis Vuitton, Michael Kors and Tiffany & Co.
These are matched with the sort of brands you’d hope to find in any mall, like H&M, Foot Locker, Sephora, Apple Store and Banana Republic.
Westfarms Mall has no lack of dining choices, from California Pizza Kitchen to P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, and these have their own outdoor store-fronts instead of being clustered in a food court.
11. Tunxis Country Club
Farmington claims the largest golf complex in New England, all of which is public.
Tunxis Country Club has 45 holes of championship golf, combined with seven bars, a 150-guest banquet venue and an outdoor pavilion that can accommodate 250. Naturally the courses take centre stage, and there are three to choose from.
The oldest is the 9-hole Red Course, landscaped in the early 1960s.
The signature is the White Course, known for its tricky island greens and views of the Farmington River.
The Green Course has a links-style layout with gaping sand traps and large bodies of water.
Green fees range from $25 to $49. To rediscover your touch, Drive45 is the club’s driving range with high-end shock-absorbing mats ($20 for 175 balls).
12. West Hartford
Next door to Farmington, West Hartford is a city with the kind of downtown that pulls in people from far and wide.
The Center, on Farmington and South/North Main Street, has been the core of the community since the end of the 17th century and remains somewhere to shop, dine and stroll.
Local businesses take precedent in West Hartford Center, at fashion boutiques, jewellery shops, toy shops and design stores.
Food-wise all bases are covered, whether you’re hankering for gyros, pizza, kebabs, sushi, oysters, tacos or tapas.
Since the early 2000s a new mixed-use development, Blue Back Square has cropped up, blending seamlessly with The Center’s historic architecture.
Together with chains like Barnes & Noble and Cheesecake Factory, the Square has a luxury Cinépolis with in-theatre dining and 359 fully reclining leather seats.
13. West Hartford Reservoir
Right on the line between Farmington and West Hartford is a popular recreation area incorporating six large reservoirs.
The space is vast, at more than 3,000 acres under a thick layer of woodland and with more than 30 miles of paved and gravel trails to navigate.
The highest ridge is traversed by the Metacomet Trail, so can be reached from Farmington’s Rattlesnake Mountain.
You could head off in search of the Revolutionary War Campsite near Reservoir #6. This was the scene of an encampment by Continental Army soldiers in 1778, evidenced by the visible remnants of stone-lined fireplaces.
14. Winding Trails
Not so much a visitor attraction, Winding Trails is a non-profit outdoor activity center, preserving the environment for the people of Farmington and neighbouring communities.
In gorgeous natural surroundings, the center provides the facilities and wherewithal for boating, swimming and tennis in summer, as well as cross-country skiing in the winter.
Members can sign up for ski lessons, and there’s a program of guided ski tours throughout the season.
Winding Trails also stages all kinds of seasonal events, culminating with fireworks on the 4th of July.
Unfortunately Winding Trails is private and only accessible to members of guests of members.
15. Batterson Park
This park around a former reservoir actually belongs to the city of Hartford, even though it is outside the city limits in Farmington and West Hartford.
Batterson Park covers roughly 600 acres, much of which is occupied by the pond, given to the city by the Water Department in the late-1920s.
At the time of writing the park was in a state of flux amid questions about whether the space will continue as a public park or be developed for residential or commercial purposes.
For that reason the trails are overgrown, but you can use the boat launch if you have a kayak.
On the water you’ll see turtles surfacing and if you keep your eyes peeled you may see bald eagles overhead.