Tucked away along the coast of Connecticut is the seaport town of Mystic. With a myriad of activities to choose from, families can easily spend a long weekend exploring US maritime history in a friendly, affordable atmosphere. After spending five days in this charming area, where history is everywhere, it would be hard to say which is the better focus – antique shopping? Sailing on the Long Island Sound? Touring the art museums and galleries? Visiting the world’s largest casino? Enjoying the numerous fairs, festivals and swap meets? Eating lobster three times a day?
Watching the restoration of a hundred-year-old ship using techniques passed down through the centuries is not something easily forgotten. But Mystic is much more than a history lesson. It also offers Hollywood glamour, charming shops and delicious seafood dining. The folks of Mystic have done an amazing job of meshing old with new, of combining the area’s rich history into adventures for all ages.
A fun educational family trip or charming romantic weekend
The banks of the Mystic River have been filled with ships since the 1600s. Between 1784 and 1919, more than 600 vessels were built along the river. Today the New England Yankee heritage is, according the local chamber of commerce, “intact in charming villages surrounding classic town greens; scenic farm roads and ancient stone walls; waterfronts bustling with fishermen, ferries, and yachts.”
Mystic is actually the area between the towns of Groton and Stonington and is located on the Mystic River which flows into Long Island Sound. Hollywood has made Mystic famous as the location of the 1988 movie “Mystic Pizza” and as the backdrop for scenes in 1997’s “Amistad.” Guests who stay at the Inn at Mystic will enjoy spending their nights at the same hotel where Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall spent their honeymoon. Lucky guests may reserve the suite itself.
We arrived at the Inn At Mystic late in the day, just in time for afternoon tea. There were a dozen or so guests nibbling on a bounty of pastries and hors d’ouevres, including especially notable warm-from-the-oven popovers with homemade raspberry jam. We sipped our tea, served in a sterling silver tea service, in front of a huge window with a comforting and romantic view of the Mystic Harbor. The Inn (www.innatmystic.com), close to the Seaport Museum and the Aquarium, offers, free of charge, use of canoes, kayaks and small sailboats. The Innkeeper, Jody Dyer, is a charming, ebullient hostess. She is an early riser who often can be found paddling in a kayak to meet the sunrise. Many of the inn’s 68 rooms have wood burning fireplaces, patios or balconies. Room rates include an incredible full breakfast where the best bacon I’ve ever tasted was served. Dyer told me they offer as much local cuisine as possible. All seafood on the menu has been caught in the wild; all flour and breads are made with organic ingredients. Milk comes from an antibiotic and hormone-free supplier in Rhode Island. The filet mignon, salmon and lobster were outstanding
There are many things to do in Mystic but a must is to enjoy and explore the Seaport Museum (www.mysticseaport.org), 19 riverfront acres hosting a reconstructed 19th century seafaring village. There is also a children’s art museum, exhibits, tall ships, shops, a planetarium and restaurants. The museum is also a spectacular working shipyard. Built on the grounds of the 18th century shipyard, the museum was started in 1929. Visitors may tour one of the tall ships, cruise the harbor or go aboard or inside more than 500 vessels. Especially magnificent is the “Charles W. Morgan” – the last wooden whale ship in the world. She is one of four National Historic Landmark vessels at the Seaport. “The Morgan,” first launched in 1841, is undergoing major restoration at the seaport and visitors may watch as centuries-old craftsmanship is taught and 19th-century tools and techniques are used to lovingly restore their ocean treasures.
We descended below the Morgan’s deck and looked up at the ceiling. Small, green, triangular glass ornaments offered the only glimmer of daylight. Officers had more in their quarters; lowly shiphands but a few. I gazed up to wonder and to think of all those dark, scary, freezing nights at sea with nothing but this small prism of glass to give a sliver of light. The Seaport is also a renowned Collections Research Center with nearly 1.5 million photographs dating back to 1840, thousands of paintings, ships plans, ship models or participating in educational opportunities like living aboard “The Joseph Conrad” or “The Brilliant” during weekend and afternoon sailing schools and overnight programs.
The Mystic Aquarium and the Institute for Exploration (www.mysticaquarium.org) can fill another day of adventure. There are opportunities to pet penguins and swim with beluga whales. The aquarium also offers a 3D motion ride, a rock wall, and a trip through an Amazon rainforest. Dr. Robert Ballard, discoverer of the Titanic wreck and president of the Institute’s Foundation, has a permanent Titanic exhibit on the grounds.
If you visit in the fall, be sure to take a trip to Clyde’s Cider Mill and watch cider being made by the oldest steam powered cider mill in the U.S. Foxwoods Casino is a just a few miles away; with 5 million square feet, it is the world’s largest. Museums, a nature center, beaches, parks and golf will keep everyone busy.
Olde Mystic Village offers moms a chance to peruse lovely antique shops, art galleries and jewelry makers. There are dozens of fascinating museums, cafes and historic buildings as well.
For complete information on Mystic, visit www.mystic.org where magical adventures await. Photos: The Seaport Museum is home to elegant ships and a working shipyard. Visitors meet beluga whales at the Aquarium while quaint shops offer antiques galore.
Photos by Larry Shiflet