In the picturesque Hills of Northwest Connecticut, Torrington has a vibrant central business district sprinkled with some striking buildings for a town of just over 35,000. The countryside around Torrington, especially west in the Litchfield Hills, is nothing short of idyllic, and is even better from the patio of one of the area’s wineries.
For that matter, Torrington is a perfect launch-pad for an indulgent adventure, calling at vineyards, a distillery and an artisanal chocolatier on a quaint dairy farm.
Back in town, the opulent Warner Theatre dates from 1931 and is a wonderful place to catch a show.
1. Warner Theatre
Drawing your gaze on Torrington’s genteel Main Street are the marquee and sign of an Art Deco wonder that has been here since 1931. Warner Brothers opened this movie palace as a branch in their nationwide chain of theatres, this one designed by one of the preeminent Art Deco architects, Thomas W. Lamb.
The Warner Theatre closed as a cinema in the early 1980s and after a local grass-roots campaign was saved from demolition and reopened as a performing arts venue.
The auditorium is astonishing for its intricately stencilled ceiling, enormous star-shaped light in silver and gold and the French-made gold brocade draperies on the curtain, walls and lobby landing.
Check out the Warner Stage Company’s season of Broadway musicals and plays, as well live music, dance, movie screenings and simulcasts from the Met Opera.
2. Burr Pond State Park
As you laze on the beach at the 85-acre Burr Pond you might be interested to know that the entire scene before you is man-made.
This body of water was formed in the middle of the 19th century by damming a series of streams to power three sawmills, a tannery and, most important, the first condensed milk factory in the world.
Gail Borden (1801-1874), the man who discovered the process, founded the factory in 1857 and in the next decade condensed milk was in high demand by the Union Army in the Civil War.
The factory burnt down in 1877, but you can learn all about its story at the state park.
With a steep, rocky shore, the pond is in 438 acres of woodland and watched by lifeguards in summer when you can get something from the snack bar and rent a boat.
The Blue-Blazed John Muir Trail departs the State Park to the south, on its way through a series of protected natural spaces in Torrington.
3. Sunset Meadow Vineyards
Draped on a romantic hillside Listed as one of the top 101 wineries in the United States by the Daily Meal.
Sunset Meadow looks after 40 sun-kissed acres of vines, oriented south-west and catching the sun’s last rays in the evening.
There’s an elegant tasting room, open Thursday to Monday, where you can try the winery’s flavourful assortment, including a Merlot, a Cabernet blend among the reds, and white varietals like Riesling, Vidal Blanc, Chardonnay and Cayuga White.
For something out of the ordinary there are some experimental wines, aged in rum barrels or infused with coffee (Root 63). Keep an eye on the calendar for events, like a wine and chocolate pairing session, a pop-up market, live music and food trucks.
4. KidsPlay Museum
Parents in Torrington with littler children will find a fun, nurturing and educational environment at KidsPlay Museum.
The hands-on, multisensory exhibits here have been designed to broaden children’s understanding of the sciences, the arts and the everyday world.
For a brief summary, kids up to the age of 10 can experiment with magnetic construction at the “Magneato Table”, settle down with a book at the “Literacy Tree”, build 3D towers on the “Light Table”, put on a performance at the stage area, come up with wacky “Lite-Brite” designs, play out everyday transactions at the replica Grocery Store and Diner, and see the world from the inside of a soap bubble on the “Bubbler”. The museum also has a stimulating soft play area only for children under two and constantly holds special classes and events for national holidays.
5. Torrington History Museum
The Torrington Historical Society sits on a row of striking buildings along Main Street, together with the Francis of Assisi Church, City Hall and the Torrington Savings Bank.
In the society’s complex is the Torrington History Museum, the Hotchkiss-Fyler House Museum (up next) and the John H. Thompson Research Library.
The museum deserves your time, documenting the area’s story from prehistory to the 21st century.
The permanent exhibition is “No Place Like Home”, which uses a rich inventory of historic items to detail industrialisation, immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries, the role of the Naugatuck River on the town, and community life down the years.
Also compelling is “Pursuit of Precision: Hendey Machine Company 1870-1954”, covering a mainstay of the town’s economy and the high-quality precision machine tools that the company manufactured.
The best bit here is a machine shop with a working lathe, sharper and milling machine, driven by a system of pulleys and leather belts.
6. Hotchkiss-Fyler House Museum
On the same site at 192 Main Street is a sumptuous Chateauesque house with a jumble of gables, dormers and a circular turret with a conical roof, built in 1898. The property was designed by the well-known architect William H.
Allen for the Republican politician and businessman Orsamus Fyler, who had served in the Civil War 30 years earlier.
On the grounds is a carriage house, while the building now containing the Torrington History Museum also belonged to the family and was rented out.
The Hotchkiss-Fyler House stayed in the family until its last occupant Gertrude Fyler Hotchkiss passed away in 1956 and bequeathed the estate to the Torrington Historical Society.
The house has been kept as it was when Gertrude was living here, and has parquet floors, fine wood panelling, murals, stuccowork ceilings, gas and electric chandeliers, and a catalogue of decorative arts belonging to the family.
The interiors radiate charm at Christmas when the lower floor is decorated with Christmas trees and lights.
7. Connecticut Valley Winery
Out in the bucolic Litchfield Hills, the pocket-sized Connecticut Valley Winery is run by the Ferraros, a husband-wife team, and has picked up a raft of awards in the last decade.
You can mull over that picturesque landscape by the fireplace at the winery’s deck, in a sea of vines.
The Connecticut Valley Winery is open on weekends between February and December, to sample some multi-award-winning wines.
Chardonel is a varietal from a Chardonnay-Seyval Blanc hybrid and Spumonte Muscato is a fruity sparkling wine from Muscato grapes, while the Black Tie Cabernet Franc and the Chianti are the standouts among the reds.
8. Topsmead State Forest
In the late-1920s this exquisite Tudor Revival summer house was commissioned for Edith Morton Chase, whose father Henry was the first president of the Chase Brass and Copper Company.
The two-storey, half-timbered building is posted near the top of a rise in the Litchfield Hills and ensconced in partially walled gardens scattered with juniper, lilac and holly.
Edith Morton Chase bequeathed the house and its extensive wooded grounds to the State of Connecticut in 1972. You can take guided tours to admire the house’s exceptional workmanship on the second and fourth weekend of the month between June and October.
Afterwards unwind with a picnic on the grounds and set off on foot to see more of these 600 acres.
9. Litchfield Distillery
There’s a distillery run by three brothers and making a variety of spirits a stone’s throw from Torrington.
Litchfield Distillery sources its corn, wheat and barley locally, and produces its Batchers range of bourbons, gins and vodkas in small runs.
Among the eight different whiskeys are coffee, cinnamon, vanilla and maple-infused versions, as well as cask strength, port cask finish and double-barrelled bourbon aged ten years for aficionados.
What’s special is that if you call ahead and book a free tour any day of the week, on the hour from 11:00 to 17:00. You’ll be talked through every step, from field to still to barrel, before moving to the cosy tasting room to see how all this hard work pays off.
10. Thorncrest Farm & Milk House Chocolate
A fine partner to a tour of Litchfield Distillery is this dairy farm and chocolatier nearby in Goshen.
Thorncrest Farm is so proud of its facilities and the welfare of its cows that you can just show up from Thursday to Sunday (10:00-15:00) to take a peek at the stable free of charge.
Book ahead for a private group tour on these days, during which you’ll see a milking demonstration, and taste some of the farm’s rich chocolate.
This is made from 100% Fair Trade cacao nibs.
At the boutique-style shop there’s a tempting selection of gourmet chocolate boxes, truffles, caramels, bars and chocolate-covered fruits.
You’ll be pleased to know that ingredients are sourced on the farm where possible, like mint grown in the garden.
Thorncrest Farm is also a creamery, producing non-homogenised milk and yoghurt.
Be sure to pick up a bottle of the milk infused with Madagascar vanilla.
11. Mohawk Mountain Ski Area
Established as long ago as 1947, Mohawk Mountain Ski Area is one of the oldest ski facilities in the state, but also regarded as one of the best across New England.
You can get there in just 20 minutes from downtown Torrington, and you’ll find it all on the north-west slope of the 359-metre Mohawk Mountain.
There are 25 well-groomed runs, the longest of which is the Deer Run at 1.25 miles, and 14 lifts serve the slopes.
Snowboarders are well-catered for and night skiing is available on 12 of the runs, which is as good as it gets in Connecticut.
Mohawk Mountain was also one of the first to experiment with snowmaking, now giving great coverage 95% of the total skiable area.
You’ll never have to leave the mountain for meals either, as there’s cafeteria-style dining at the Main Lodge and a full-service restaurant here at Pine Lodge.
12. Action Wildlife Foundation
This wildlife sanctuary is a relatively small enterprise, with drive-through safari, enclosures to visit on foot and a petting zoo.
On the safari you should see sika, fallow and white-tail deer, as well as emus, but you may need to keep your eyes peeled as the paddocks are so large.
Among the park’s other species are Russian boar, Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs, Watusi cattle, Asian water buffalo, llamas and North American bison.
The petting zoo will make a child’s day, and has friendly goats and a donkey to feed.
There’s also a small zoology museum with life-sized models of animals from around the world, together with interactive displays including antlers shed by animals at the sanctuary.
13. Wright’s Barn & Flea Market
On a little lane off the road to Gothen there’s a multi-dealer antiques centre in an idyllic old dairy barn.
Before becoming a flea market this grand wooden structure had spent ten years as a dance club for Litchfield County teenagers between 1965 and 1975. The barn holds 20 dealers, selling all kinds of interesting bits and pieces, like furniture, jewellery, glassware, collectibles, musical instruments, paintings, ceramics, books, vintage home appliances, tools, lighting and reproductions.
Now with a cafe, Wright’s barn has the advantage of being cosy and warm in winter and refreshingly cool in summer.
14. Sunnybrook State Park
In 464 acres to the south-west of Burr Pond State Park is a peaceful place for walking and fishing trips coursed by the east branch of the Naugatuck River.
This park is the south-western trailhead for the Blue-Blazed John Muir Trail, winding for two miles from Burr Pond State Park via the Paugnut State Forest.
The paths at Sunnybrook intertwine with the boulder-strewn river and a little pond, while a narrow boardwalk traverses a sensitive patch of wetland.
15. Pursue the Clues
You’ll need to book in advance and can’t show up on the day, but at Pursue the Clues you’ll encounter a witty and creative take on the escape room concept.
There’s a choice of three rooms to solve, each with a 60-minute time limit and ideal for groups of four to six.
Each experience has a unique, original story in which you’ll go undercover, save lives and solve crimes.
You’ll need critical thinking and deductive reasoning, but most of all you have to work as a team, as different perspectives rather than intelligence are the key to getting out in time.