OLD SAYBROOK

>> Old Saybrook Lodging and Dining Suggestions

Saybrook Point Inn & Spa, 2 Bridge St., Old Saybrook. (860) 395-2000 or (800) 243-0212.

>> Old Saybrook Lodging Suggestions

Deacon Timothy Pratt House B&B, 325 Main St., Old Saybrook. (860) 395-1229.

>> Old Saybrook Dining Suggestions

Terra Mar Grille, 2 Bridge St., Old Saybrook. (860) 395-2000. Click here to read capsule review.

Aleia's, 1687 Boston Post Rd., Old Saybrook. (860) 399-5050. Click here to read capsule review.

The Cuckoo's Nest, 1712 Boston Post Rd., Old Saybrook. (860) 399-9060. Click here to read capsule review.

ESSEX / CENTERBROOK / IVORYTON

Essex is one of the quintessential small towns that, like Litchfield and Stonington, define the best of Connecticut. Indeed, in 1996 author Norman Crampton rated it "the best small town in America." Settled in 1635 around a wide harbor near the mouth of the Connecticut River, it was a haven for shipbuilding in the past and is a haven for yachting today. Just south of Steamboat Dock along Novelty Lane are the historic Dauntless Club, the Essex Corinthian Yacht Club and, on an ever-so-watery point between the river and Middle Cove, the posh Essex Yacht Club. The historic structures here and elsewhere in town are detailed in a walking map, available at the Connecticut River Museum.

Besides the waterfront area, uptown Essex has a cluster of historic structures at Methodist Hill. Facing tiny Champlin Square is the imposing white Pratt House (circa 1732), restored to show Essex as it was in yesteryear. The period gardens in the rear are planted with herbs and flowers typical of the 18th century. The adjacent Hill Academy Museum (1833), an early boarding school, now displays historical collections of old Essex. Next door in the academy's former dormitory is the Catholic Church and, next to it, the Baptist Church, one of only two Egyptian Revival structures in this country.

Connecticut River Museum, 67 Main St., Essex. Restored in 1975 from an 1878 steamboat warehouse, this cupola-topped structure at Steamboat Dock is living testimony to the maritime, economic and cultural heritage of the Connecticut River Valley. The main floor shows changing exhibits. A recent one consisted of small boats from the museum's collection, including a shad boat that worked on the river and a birch bark canoe owned by the late newsman Charles Kuralt, who lived in Essex. Upstairs, where windows on three sides afford sweeping views of the river, is the permanent shipbuilding exhibit. The highlight is a full-size replica of the first American warship, David Bushnell's strange-looking Turtle, built in Essex in 1776 as a secret weapon to win the Revolutionary War. There's also a model of a Dutch explorer ship that sailed up the river in 1614. Boats built and used on the river are displayed in the museum's boathouse. The property also includes a small waterfront park with benches and the 1813 Hayden Chandlery, now the Thomas A. Stevens maritime research library. (860) 767-8269. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 to 5. Adults $4, children $2.

Essex Steam Train and Riverboat, 1 Railroad Ave., Essex. They call it a journey into yesteryear, but it's also a great way to see and savor the area. With its whistle tooting and smokestack spewing, the Valley Railroad Company's marvelous old steam train runs from the old depot in the Centerbrook section of Essex through woods and meadows to the Connecticut River landing at Deep River. There it connects with a riverboat for an hour's cruise up past Gillette Castle to the Goodspeed Opera House and back. Narration highlights the history, folklore, flora and fauna along the way. The two-hour trip into the past is rewarding for young and old alike. Railroad buffs enjoy the working railroad yard, vintage rail cars and exhibits gathered around the National Register landmark depot. The Essex Clipper dinner train runs two-hour excursions on weekends in a vintage luxury dining car, Friday and Saturday at 7 and Sunday at 4, June-October (also Thursday in July and August). The fare with dinner is $49.95. (860) 767-0103. www.essexsteamtrain.com. Train and Riverboat trips run five or six times daily in summer, Wednesday-Sunday in late spring and early fall. Train and boat, adults $16.50, children $8.50.

>> Essex / Centerbrook / Ivoryton Lodging and Dining Suggestions

Copper Beech Inn, 46 Main Street., Ivoryton. (860) 767-0330 or (888) 809-2056. Click here to read capsule review.

Griswold Inn, 36 Main St., Essex. (860) 767-1776.

>> Essex / Centerbrook / Ivoryton Dining Suggestions

Gabrielle's, 78 Main St., Centerbrook. (860) 767-2440. Click here to read capsule review.

DEEP RIVER