The weekend is almost here. Are you looking for something to do? Whether you’re up for a daytrip with your children or a shopping trip with your bestie, Jan Mann’s entertaining and informative book Cruising Connecticut with a Picnic Basket can help.
Now in its third edition, the book details 42 daytrips in 11 different categories ranging from Historic Homes and Gardens to Wineries and Water Fun. Destinations span from Connecticut’s Quiet Corner in the northeast to the shoreline to the Litchfield Hills, and many places in between.
Although her book was originally published in 2006, Mann, who lives in Manchester, still cruises the state updating and promoting it. She made a stop in Meriden this week for a book talk at the library, where she gave the inside scoop on some of the quirky people and little-known gems she has uncovered in her travels.
Quirky Collectors to Mystic Discoveries
Those quirky people include the Boothe brothers of Stratford (born in the 1860s) who were such avid collectors that they ran out of room in their homestead. While many would have solved that problem by getting rid of a few things, the brothers took another tack. They built or bought surrounding buildings to house their massive collections of everything from horseshoes to baskets. Stop by the historic and unusual Boothe Memorial Park and Museum and take a look for yourself. The museum accepts donations for admission.
One of Mann’s little-known gems is the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center (admission $8 for adults, $5 for children), a quiet spot amidst the tourism bustle that is Mystic. Mann spent a lot of time in the seacoast town researching her book. She devotes a whole section to Mystic.
“Once I got into Mystic, I couldn’t get out again!” she shared.
Another of her favorite discoveries can be seen on the grounds of Gillette Castle in East Haddam (admission $6 for adults, $2 for children 6–12). Most visitors focus entirely on the stately stone structure and panoramic views of the Connecticut River below, completely overlooking the beautiful pond near the castle. This time of year the pond is covered with pink, white and fuchsia water lilies—a perfect place for a picnic.
The Picnic Basket
Speaking of picnics, they are what sets Mann’s book apart from other Connecticut travel books. Each of her trips includes a picnic, complete with a menu—and recipes. Many of the recipes are her own or from friends or acquaintances. Several, however, were contributed by respected Connecticut chefs. Her picnic for Roseland Cottage in Woodstock (admission $8 for adults, $4 for children 6–12) even includes the family’s original 1873 recipe for almond macaroons, given to her by the site manager. She updated it a bit, though. The original called for scalding, blanching and pounding the almonds into a smooth paste “one or two at a time.” Mann uses a blender.
The picnics in Mann’s book go beyond the traditional checkered tablecloth and picnic tables. (Those are in there, too.) They include a tailgating picnic, an indoor picnic at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre in Bridgeport, and shopping picnics, too. One of her favorites for this time of year is a stroll along the quaint Main Street in Essex, with window shopping, a stop in the maritime museum, and a picnic in the conveniently located park.
While her book offers picnic suggestions, Mann urged the audience to take any opportunity for a spontaneous picnic day, even if they don’t have her suggested fixings on hand.
“I’ve taken peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on my picnics. Believe me, with a glass of wine, they taste pretty good!” she laughs.
The Start of the Cruise
Cruising Connecticut grew out of an obsession with wildflowers, Mann related. She spent one winter and spring scouring the state for places to find them.
“I had so much fun, I decided to travel around the state to see what else I could find,” she said. Those travels eventually turned into her book, though it took her about 20 years to finish it. She was busy working and raising kids.
“Life got in the way,” she said. But once she retired, she was finally able to publish it.
Two of Mann’s original wildflower-hunting trips made their way into Cruising Connecticut. One of them is Flanders Nature Center and Land Trust in Woodbury. There, on a half-mile trail, she and a friend identified 35 different species of wildflowers!
Since the book was originally published, she has updated it twice. The newest version includes an addition in nearby Wallingford--Gouveia Vineyards. After discovering it, Mann became so enchanted she just had to add it to the book. The atmosphere is so welcoming that children can even visit, she says.
So next time you’re faced with a beautiful day and some free time, take a look through Mann’s book. You can purchase a copy in most Connecticut bookstores for about $16. Or stop by the and borrow it. While you’re there, check out the myriad of free and discount passes the library offers. They just might have one for your destination.