Driving through the rolling hills of Litchfield County, there's a certain sense of history that isn't obvious in the more populated suburbs. Route 7 winds its way up the fertile Housatonic River valley, leaving behind the faster paced towns of Fairfield County and opening up to some pastoral views north of New Milford.
Hiking and History
One of the first pieces of Kent's history that travelers encounter is located a few miles south of the town center. Bulls Bridge is home to one of only three 19th century covered bridges remaining in Connecticut. The charming wooden bridge was originally built in 1842 and spans the Housatonic, still supporting motor vehicle traffic. There is parking on the west side of the bridge and several trails, including part of the Appalachian Trail.
For more outdoor adventure, continue north to one of the most popular destinations in the area. Kent Falls is a 295-acre state park with dramatic scenery. The main attraction can be glimpsed from Route 7, but pull into the parking lot and get on your walking shoes for a better view of the falls.
After welcoming visitors with a reproduction covered bridge, the park opens up to a wide field and several cookout sites with tables and grills near the meandering stream. The falls provide a spectacular background, with the tumult of water rushing down the 70-foot rocky cliff.
Alongside the falls is a steep trail constructed with steps and several platforms for viewing different sections of the falls. The trail isn't long; however it is steep. The top of this stepped trail connects with another trail that crosses above the falls and winds its way down the less traveled side back to the base parking lot.
Kent Falls State Park is open daily from 6 a.m. to sunset. There is a $9 parking fee on weekends from Memorial Day through October. The best time to enjoy the park is during the week. But if you must go on a weekend, arrive early. The parking lot fills up quickly and the parking attendants close the lot until spots open up.
Shopping and Eating
After climbing the many steps at Kent Falls and getting in touch with nature, leave the picnicking crowds behind and grab some sustenance back in town.
Although there is not a huge variety of luncheon spots, there are enough to serve this town of about 3,000 residents and its many visitors.
For a sandwich or wrap, Panini Cafe, located at 7 Old Barn Road, is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Tuesday. The deli serves some breakfast items, as well as many creative pressed sandwiches. Finish up your lunch with some refreshing gelato, also served here.
For a family-friendly meal, head over to The Villager at 28 North Main St. This eatery has an diner feel with wooden chairs and tables. The Mexican-inspired dinner menu serves entrees such as Pork Carnitas Soft Tacos and Tableside Guacamole, while the breakfast and lunch menus offer everything from Eggs Benedict to burgers, sandwiches and salads.
There is one shop that is destined to be a favorite, no matter what your age, and that's Belgique. This tiny yellow building is unmistakably nestled in the middle of town and serves up delectable European chocolate treats, including pastries, handmade chocolates and coffee drinks.
On a smoldering spring day, we tried every flavor of ice cream, including Salted Caramel, Chocolate and Ginger, which was the favorite with its creamy base studded with pieces of spicy crystallized ginger. We also beat the heat with a cold chocolate drink, which tasted like a chilled cup of melted chocolate, it was that rich.
Also cooling off with some Belgique ice cream were Teresa Wojtak of New Britain and Katie Wojtak of Berlin, CT. This mother and daughter often take day trips to Kent.
"It's a very European feeling here," said Teresa Wojtak, who is originally from Poland.
"Walking around the stores and restaurants, everyone is very friendly," said daughter Katie.
After a chocolate boost, take on some shopping in and around Kent's Main Street. Kent is small enough to peruse in one day, yet has enough variety for many different shoppers.
On the southern edge of the town center is is R.T. Facts. Owners Greg and Natalie Randall travel up and down the East Coast plucking unusual and trendy finds from varied sources. The interior of the shop displays distinctive home decor, such as large antique mirrors, hanging lanterns and a variety of occasional tables. Outside, the garden is filled with sculpture, immense planters and stone furniture.
"We look for unique current antiques," said Greg Randall, "and we specialize in antique garden ornaments."
Also along and adjacent to Kent's North Main Street are a variety of shops, including Rolling River Antiques, which is crammed with everything from furniture to mirrors to decorative knick knacks, Pauline's Place offering estate jewelry, and the House of Books, a quaint shop located in a colonial house right on North Main Street.
Kent blends old-world charm with current shops and eateries, all of which make this northwestern Connecticut town a beloved destination for everyone from bikers to big-city weekenders.