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Scenery and Spots Along Southern New England Countryside

Do you know what are there 134 Miles of Yankee Charm? Green hills, a rocky coast and white-steepled Colonial towns — that’s the definition of southern New England, and every summer traffic thickens as travelers swarm in search of it. In eastern Connecticut, where farms and Colonial homes provide much of the scenery. The territory is small and the crowds are dense, yet still some of the loveliest spots in Connecticut, Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts somehow elude the crush and remain known only to insiders.

On a meandering road trip between two standard tourist spots — Sturbridge Village, Mass., and Newport, R.I. — this less known, often achingly beautiful New England reveals itself. And some scenes that aren’t on the postcards await, too, in the towns that already seemed most familiar.

To set the New England mood, start in Sturbridge, at Old Sturbridge Village (daily admission, $6 to $20), one of the country’s most famous restored historic villages, but also one of its most charming. Wander the dusty paths among over 40 antique buildings containing everything necessary to small-town life 200 years ago and watch the costumed employees work at old-time crafts.

When you’re primed for a taste of today’s countryside, leave Sturbridge on Route 131, veer right onto Route 169, and drive out where fast-food restaurants are nonexistent but horse farms and general stores are commonplace.

MILE 9: Morse Farm Stand No one does New England bounty better than the Morse Farm Stand in Southbridge (at 993 Route 169). Multicolored produce spills from crates, local bakers supply more than 20 kinds of pies, and hanging flower pots the size of beach balls find their way from there to the street lamps of local towns. But corn is the star: the favorite variety is called Mirai (pronounced me-RYE), a Japanese word that means both “the future is coming” and “taste.” It is so sweet that one customer drives two hours from Cape Cod twice a month or so to buy it, said the stand’s owner, Randy Morse. Feast your eyes, make your own purchases and drive on south into Connecticut.

MILE 19: Pomfret Slow down for a look at the pre-Revolutionary War homes of tiny Pomfret. Then stop for lunch at the funky, folksy Vanilla Bean Cafe , known to serve up specials like venison stew, wild mushroom quesadillas and legendary clam chowder ($5.25). Try a cold sarsaparilla or birch beer, two of the over 30 flavors made by Hosmer Mountain soda, a local brand for nearly 100 years. It’s still sold in glass bottles, the better to preserve the fizz, Hosmer Mountain says. Pass on the pie; another dessert is just down the road.

MILE 22: Route 97 Although Route 169 is labeled a Connecticut scenic highway, leave it now to turn right onto Route 97, which runs roughly parallel. A lightly traveled two-lane road lined with old gnarled oaks and stone walls, Route 97 is often overlooked, despite offering a charming, winding route and hills with higher elevations. A couple of miles down, We-Li-Kit Farm (No. 728) in Abington offers 33 more reasons to go this way. That’s the number of flavors of ice cream it makes — all 16 percent butterfat, one of the farm’s owners, Linda Rich, said. The top seller is Road Kill, made of vanilla cherry swirl, white chocolate chips and walnuts. Savvy customers order waffle cones — they’re made fresh for every order.

MILE 32: Hampton Wind down the Main Street of little Hampton, but before stopping to admire its Victorian farmhouses and elegant colonials, take a detour by turning left down Hammond Hill Road (if you pass the Hampton General Store you’ve gone a little too far). Descend a few hundred feet into a small valley where meadows stretch for about a mile on either side. A slightly elevated area where a small creek crosses under the road is a good place to stop and take some photos. Little but the sound of an occasional tractor interrupts the quiet.

MILE 42: Canterbury Back on Route 97, drive through the towns of Hampton and Scotland before turning left at Route 14. In Canterbury, stop at the gracious Federalist structure once owned by Connecticut’s official state heroine, Prudence Crandall (Routes 14 and 169; 860-546-7800; admission $3; open 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday). It was here in 1832 that Crandall ran a school for the daughters of wealthy families. The parents were outraged when she admitted a young black woman. The white students withdrew, and Crandall responded by opening the first school for black young women and girls in New England. She endured protests, arrest and, briefly, imprisonment before finally closing the school in 1834 after a mob nearly tore the house apart. It’s now a museum that tells Crandall’s compelling story, including her ultimate vindication — the state awarded her a pension in 1886 in acknowledgment of the earlier injustice.

MILE 79: Mystic Turn back onto Route 169 south to Route 32, then rejoin the masses on Interstate 395 south. A left-hand turn onto Route 32 will lead, after several miles, to Interstate 95 north; take Exit 90 for Mystic. Most visitors stop there for Mystic Seaport, the Museum of America and the Sea ( general admission $18.50). But for a real taste of the salt, head to the Seaport’s Boathouse where you can rent a small wooden sailboat ($20 an hour) or rowboat ($15 an hour). After enjoying views of Mystic’s downtown drawbridge and picturesque harbor from the water, return the boat and go into town for dinner and a quiet night in a B&B.

MILE 105: Kenyon’s Grist Mill Back on I-95 north in the morning, cross into Rhode Island, exit to Route 138 east (Exit 3A) and drive through a rural, level landscape, with a feel of the sea nearby, to Kenyon’s Grist Mill, 21 Glen Rock Road (off Route 138) in Usquepaugh. A gristmill has operated at this spot on the picturesque Queen’s River since 1690, according to the owner, Paul Drumm III. There are no regularly scheduled tours, but if you’re lucky, you can watch the two 5,000-pound granite grindstones turn just as they did when the current mill opened in 1886. Pick up a bag of fresh cornmeal — the muffins or pancakes you make with it later will be a revelation.

MILE 110: Kingston You never know what you’ll find shelved at Allison B. Goodsell Rare Books at 2528 Kingstown Road (Route 138), across from the University of Rhode Island in Kingston — or in what century it might have been published. It could be a book of etiquette from the 1880s, or a 1777 two-volume memoir by Capt. James Cook about his voyages on the H.M.S. Resolution (in May, the price for a copy at Goodsell’s was $4,800). Along with the books, old maps, prints and postcards abound.

When you’ve finished browsing, walk across the street to the circa-1802 Helme House, with studios on the grounds and a gallery of the South County Art Association that’s been open more than 60 years. A gift shop sells pottery and other works made on the premises .

MILE 123: Jamestown Continue on Route 138 as it winds through rural Rhode Island, past meadows crisscrossed with farmers’ old stone walls, and then crosses the soaring Jamestown-Verrazano Bridge over sparkling Narragansett Bay. The village of Jamestown is overshadowed by Newport, which is better known and far more populous. But the waterfront is quieter and has several galleries, restaurants and shops. Jamestown is also the access point for the Jamestown-Newport Ferry . Park your car, get some provisions and take the boat out into the bay (a single-day round trip is $16.50).

MILE 124: Rose Island Instead of taking the ferry all the way to Newport, debark at Rose Island and have a picnic at the Rose Island Lighthouse, which is owned and maintained by a nonprofit group. The island feels like a vessel itself, situated as it is right in the middle of the bay. You are guaranteed a gorgeous, 360-degree view. There’s also an overnight experience available here ($165 to $195 for two), including full use of two beaches, for those who don’t mind bringing their own food and cooler. The privacy is complete after the day’s last visitors to the island leave on the ferry at 4 p.m.

MILE 134: Newport From Jamestown, drive out onto the two-mile-long Claiborne Pell Bridge, which soars some 215 feet above the bay, and into the familiar scenes of Newport. Save the mansion tours for later and go out onto Ocean Avenue, which rounds the end of the island and encompasses Brenton Point State Park. You’ll find plenty of green space, ample parking and a near-constant breeze that cools the warmest day and riles an already restless sea. It also makes for perfect kite flying. Look skyward at Brenton Point, and you can nearly always see colorful kites swooping and soaring. If you’ve thought to bring one of your own, unfurl it and join in. You’ll have plenty of contemporaries for company, no matter what your age.

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