Under the spell of Little Women in New England

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By Isabel Conway

New England and locations in Massachusetts are poised for an influx of ‘Little Women’ movie fans to locations throughout the state that feature in the much talked of period-drama starring our own Saoirse Ronan.

NEw England houseThe stunning period-drama, featuring a star-studded cast which also includes Laura Dern, Meryl Street and Emma Watson was filmed in stately homes and classic New England farmhouses across the state. A ballroom scene was shot at Boston’s Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel and Prescott House, a beautiful mansion across from Boston Common, reflecting affluent Beacon Hill life in the late 1800s.

 A string of locations, including some monumental houses open to the public are sure to become tourist attractions because of the widely praised movie, based on the classic novel by Louisa May Alcott.

Travel Times passed by a few sumptuous properties and manicured gardens that were chosen as locations for Little Women during my late autumnal road trip in New England. The birthplace of the United States, New England is brimming with colonial era ambience, culture and history.

Our road trip covering swaths of Massachusetts, part of Connecticut and a flit around the Rhode Island coastline was not without the odd hazard such as getting lost in a storm that killed our GPS signal, encountering belting rain and freeway grid lock.  It started on a high note though. The four times weekly year round Aer Lingus winter service – a daily route operates from March 29 until October 9, 2020   – from Dublin direct to Bradley Airport outside Hartford, Connecticut aboard a brand new Airbus A321 neo LR is a welcome surprise. We are upgraded to business class and cocooned in comfort and well- being for just over six hours in the air.

Lulled into happy mode we take charge of our gleaming KIA white saloon automatic rental from Hertz. My companion Ann efficiently sets up the ‘Never Lost’ GPS navigation and we hit the road.  We are a little disappointed not to be setting off as Thelma and Louise had done in the hit movie in a shiny low slung convertible, but the skies were ominous.

The plan is to kayak in the Berkshires, hike a famous walking path, discover white sand beaches, mountain views, brilliant fall foliage and over indulge on lobster and blueberry pie. Zig zagging back and forth across western Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, we enjoyed classic clam chowder and fresh seafood at the lovely Madison Beach Hotel (www.curiocollection3.hilton..com/madison )  on the Connecticut Madison shoreline with its own private beach.  In  Newport where our boat trip was cancelled due to bad weather we drowned our disappointment with more steaming bowls full of clams, potatoes, onions, bacon and cream at  22 Bowen’s Wine Bar & Grille  (www.22bowens.com).

Newport’s biggest attraction, apart from America’s Cup style yachts in its harbour and cruises out to sea are its gilded age jaw dropping homes that hug the Rhode Island cliffs. Known as summer “cottages” they were owned by the richest of the rich who liked to outdo each other in extravagance and status.

Next year marks the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower when the hardy one hundred early settlers arrived from Plymouth England, ill equipped for the misery and harshness of their new surroundings. At Plimoth Plantation (www.plimoth.org) which overlooks Cape Cod, the colony comes alive at a faithfully reconstructed 17th century village outside the picturesque town of Plymouth where the new arrivals first settled.  The costumed residents are faultlessly portrayed by actors speaking in authentic old English as they go about their daily chores.  Visitors who fancy mingling with them can hire pilgrim clothing.

 Another outstanding open air museum in neighbouring Connecticut ‘Mystic Seaport’  (www.mysticseaport.org) replicates a 19th century coastal village. The gruesome tragic history of whaling, once a mainstay of New England’s wealth, unfolds aboard an original whaling ship the Charles W Morgan. Below deck visitors get an insight into the appalling working conditions crews endured.

Wherever you come in New England Irish heritage is cherished and you notice a special sense of camaraderie with visitors from home.  Philip Taylor who runs a cosy bar restaurant The Trail House Kitchen and Bar in New Adams (renowned for its grills and generous portions) went home and fetched his charming second generation Irish mother Joan (85) to come and meet us for ‘the craic’.

North Adams in north western Massachusetts  close to the famous 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail, is the setting for Tourists Welcome Hotel (www.touristswelcome.com) which has won awards for its eco- friendly design. The back to nature tranquil hideaway blends easily into the forested surroundings. Entering old beech forests on ancient paths once used by indigenous peoples we hike a small portion onto a stretch of the Appalachian.

New England’s atmosphere laden Inns have offered lodgings to weary travellers since the 1600’s and are highly recommended for their personal attention and charm. We were lucky enough to stay at two outstanding examples. Up in Madison Irish born Ann McCarthy, manager of  luxurious Homestead  (www.homsteadmadison.com) Inn gave us a cead mile failte welcome . We had earlier got hopelessly lost when the GPS packed in on tiny roads leading to Madison after we left Hartford.

Our round about pilgrimage to the Connecticut State capitol was to visit the Victorian turreted grand house where Mark Twain, author of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer lived with his family. An adjoining museum showcases the life and times of one of America’s greatest literary figures and humourists. In its time one of the grandest neighbourhoods some boarded up big houses were due for demolition whilst others were clearly squats in this rundown area.

Another stand out inn experience came a few days later at the Inn at Yarmouth Port, Cape Cod (www.theinnatyarmouthport.com) run by hospitable retired opera singer Kathleen and her husband Chuck for whom this former sea captain’s house is a restored labour of love.

Boston town houseNo visit to New England is complete without a couple of nights in Boston, among America’s first major cities, complete with imposing architecture and powerful citizens as well as distinct neighbourhoods, including a strong Irish presence going back centuries

Our base was one of the new city landmarks, the Boston Harbor Hotel, convenient to the legendary Freedom Trail which takes you past reminders of Boston’s history. Landmarks include The Moffat House from  ‘Little Women’  (Prescott House) 55 Beacon Street and The Boarding House  set in Gibson House Museum at 137 Beacon Street, both of which will be familiar to all who enjoy the  coming of Age period drama ‘Little Women’ made with a €40 million budget.

Isabel was a guest of Discover New England  Tourism www.discovernewengland.org See also www.bostonusa.com;  www.massholiday.iewww.ctvisit.com and www.visitrhodeisland.com; For the Berkshires www.berkshires.org  She flew Aer Lingus (www.aerlingus.com)outbound  business class on the comfortable new Airbus A321  neo LR  Dublin-Bradley Hartford, Connecticut. The  year round service operates daily from March 29 until October 9 and four times a week in the winter months. Her return flight was on the daily Boston-Dublin service, from €241 economy fare.  Hertz (www.hertz.com )offer a  wide selection of good value rental vehicles from the airports. In Boston she stayed at Boston Harbour Hotel (www.bhh.com) close to highlights like harbour cruises, the Freedom Trail , Boston Aquarium and North End (Little Italy).

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