It is one of the fifty best places in the United States for a scenic drive. So has, National Geographic Traveler and the Rand McNally Atlas, echoed by anyone who has explored the Litchfield Hills of Northwest Connecticut by car. Yankee Magazine has named the village of Kent CT as the peak spot for leaf-peeping in all of New England. But scenery is not the only reason to plan a trip to the Litchfield Hills. The towns in this bucolic area also boast an unusual number of prime dining stops to inspire the palate. Here are two beautiful routes that promise meals as sublime as the setting. Restaurants serve lunch and dinner unless noted. The website of the Litchfield Hills Visitors Bureau, www.litchfieldhills.com, offers more touring and dining suggestions, as well as addresses and phones for area restaurants, and the chance to map a personal "virtual tour"
RIDGEFIELD TO DANBURY
When trees canopy the roads in gold and scarlet, this leafy, hilly region offers an unbeatable autumn panorama and a "color and cuisine" tour might well begin in Ridgefield, a town known for its magnificent Main Street of stately homes canopied by towering trees. Ridgefield's Bernard's Inn is French elegance at its finest, and The Elms offers the creative American cookery of chef Brendan Walsh.
Head out into the rural countryside toward Redding, a town that has fiercely protected its open space, with thousands of acres of unspoiled woodlands and fields to admire along routes 107 and 58 north. Ahead in Bethel is Old Heidelberg, a lively, less formal choice for German fare, with a Bavarian-style beer garden, and happy hour "bratwurst and beer" specials for $5 between 3 and 5 p.m.
North of Bethel, the Inn at Newtown is in the historic district of a classic New England town, and is a fine choice for contemporary New England fare in a historic setting.
Drive back along Route 6 to Danbury and a final gourmet favorite, Ondine, long known for its contemporary French cuisine, served at Sunday brunch and dinner.
NEW MILFORD LOOP
Adrienne, an eighteenth century home with terraced gardens and award-winning American cuisine gets you off to a good start with Sunday brunch or dinner in New Milford. Barbecue lovers may prefer to sample the slow-smoked ribs and pulled pork at the Cookhouse, voted the best in Connecticut.
Continue north along bucolic Route 202 to New Preston and a drive around Lake Waramaug, twice as nice with foliage reflected in the mirror-like lake. You can enjoy lake views while you sample the highly regarded Austrian specialties at the Hopkins Inn.
The village of New Preston has another dining temptation, Oliva known for Italian and Mediterranean specialties (lunch Saturday and Sunday only).
At the junction with Route 202, drive east and detour south a few miles to Washington and one of the loveliest inns in the state, The Mayflower Inn. Back on 202, you might want to make another detour into Mt. Tom State Park, known for its panoramic foliage views. Then it is on into Litchfield, a town on every list of "most beautiful in New England" and a trove of finds for food lovers. On the town Green are West Street Grill, long considered one of the regions best for creative continental dishes, and @ The Corner with a tantalizing menu featuring Southwestern and Italian cuisine. In the countryside, Tollgate Hill Inn lets you dine in Colonial history at a cozy inn dating to 1745.
Follow 63 south toward Woodbury, the attractive antiquing capitol of the Litchfield Hills and two more fine dining choices await. Along the way, a drive through Bethelehem will take you to the highly acclaimed Woodward House whose award winning chef's creativity is evident in artistic entrees and incredible desserts. Carole Peck's Good News Café and John's Café both have won numerous awards for their contemporary American cooking and Zeeburger offers gourmet menu reflects Carole Peck's love of local and farm fresh.
From Woodbury, Route 317 east takes you on a last scenic drive through rural Roxbury to Route 67 east back to New Milford, sending you home filled with happy tastes of foliage and feasting.
For more information on foliage tours and a free copy of UNWIND, a 120-page color guide to lodging, dining and all the attractions in the area contact the Western Connecticut Convention & Visitors Bureau, P.O. Box 968, Litchfield CT 06759-0968, 800-663-1273, or check the Internet at www.litchfieldhills.com.