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The arrival of autumn brings a Crayola box of colors to the backroads of New England — mostly in the form of shiny vehicles snaking along Massachusetts’s Mohawk Trail and Vermont’s Route 100. Indeed, the popularity of the region’s annual fall foliage spectacular makes it near impossible to see the forest for the cars, but myriad roads diverge in the yellow woods. The trick is to take the ones less traveled. Those would be in Connecticut, particularly in Litchfield County, and particularly in mid-October. Known as the “Foothills of the Berkshires,” the county sits about two hours north of New York, an hour west of Hartford, and 100 years back in time. Driving north along U.S. 7 from New Milford, Conn., taking a detour or two between the vibrant stands of maple, birch, and beech in Kent, Conn., you get the feeling this is the place where “antique” first became a verb. Our Litchfield fall foliage tour takes you across Bull’s Bridge — one of two covered bridges open to cars in the state. After that, you’ll want to turn east on Route 128 (where you’ll cross the other, the West Cornwall Covered Bridge). Then make a left on Route 4 and experience the splendor of Tyler Lake and Mohawk State Forest. On to U.S. 202. The stretch between New Hartford and Litchfield is a veritable arboretum of scarlets, oranges, and golds studded with classic New England farmhouses and churches. Take a right on to 202, in Lichtfield, and you’ll find the Tollgate Hill Inn & Restaurant, a maple-red building which began life 255 years ago as the Captain William Bull Tavern and continues to welcome guests to its sumptuously appointed rooms and award-winning restaurant. Call ahead (860-567-4545) and indulge. The Tollgate is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Then again, so is practically the entire town of Litchfield. Back in the early nineteenth century, the village blocked railway development and was thus able to maintain much of its colonial charm. But don’t expect to see frocked women and men in tricornered hats strolling around the Village Green and neighboring streets. For that, go to Colonial Williamsburg or Sturbridge Village. Litchfield isn’t about kitsch. It’s about history. The Litchfield Congregational Church, with its soaring steeple and Greek Revival architecture, ranks as one of New England’s most significant buildings — and, in the fall, one of its most photographed. And did you know that America’s first law school was in Litchfield? An attorney named Tapping Reeve founded the Litchfield Law School in 1774 in a house that still stands on South Street. Recently renovated, the building features an exhibition that tells the story of the school, including the accomplishments of Aaron Burr, John Calhoun, Supreme Court justices, state governors, and other distinguished alums. Not all of Litchfield’s history is ancient. Connecticut’s first established winery, the Haight Vineyard (860-567-4045), has been in operation here since 1978. A sun-dappled drive along Route 118 will bring you to the vineyard’s sylvan setting, where you can sample Haight’s chardonnays and rieslings and take tours Monday through Saturday from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. and Sunday from noon until 5 p.m. For a quick lunch along with a view of the turning trees on the Village Green, try Aspen Garden Restaurant (860-567-9477), a local favorite with a heated patio for those bracing New England afternoons. A more sophisticated dining option — and more glorious foliage — lies southwest of Litchfield, off Route 45, at the Boulders Inn (1-800-55-BOULDERS). Set in a century-old stone-and-wood farmhouse on Lake Waramaug, the Boulders enjoys a reputation for impeccably prepared American cuisine and an amply stocked wine cellar. The glass-enclosed Lake Room and outdoor terrace look across the lake to the many hues of the forest. Given the generous portions served at the Boulders, you might consider a pre-dinner hike at either Pinnacle Mountain or the tower trail at Mt. Tom State Park — both of which afford stunning views of the changing leaves as well as the area’s many bird species. Boulders also offers its guests bicycles, canoes, paddleboats, and rowboats. Like many New England inns, the Boulders fills up quickly during “leaf peeping” weekends. You’re better off going during the week or finding friends to impose on. And even if you don’t find a place to stay, remember that at this time of year, in this part of the world, true beauty lies in the journey, not the destination. To ensure that you get the most out of that journey, remember that peak foliage season in New England generally begins around mid-September and runs through late October, although dates obviously vary somewhat from year to year. Connecticut, where the foliage nearly always comes slightly later than in the areas farther north, is among the six New England states (including New York) that have set up “fall foliage” telephone hotlines to give tourists advice as to when best to appreciate nature’s bounty. The hotline numbers are: Connecticut (800-CT-BOUND); Maine (800-533-9595 or 888-MAINE-45); New Hampshire (800-258-3608); New York (800-225-5697 or 800-CALL-NYS); Rhode Island (800-556-2484); and Vermont (800-VERMONT).

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