Recently, I experienced a day trip I’ll never forget.
A one hour drive to the FarmCoast of Rhode Island and Massachusetts revealed a one-of-a-kind combination of farms, villages, beaches and harbors — far removed from the fast-paced environment that we ironically call civilization. Consisting of the small Rhode Island towns of Tiverton and Little Compton and often quaint southeastern Massachusetts communities of Westport and Dartmouth, I felt like I made a mid-life discovery into the future of our New England travel.
For starters, the constant mix of farm land juxtaposed against the coast often creates a scene that, if was painted in an art class, would be given a low mark because of “not being realistic.” The scenes do indeed almost look make-believe. I could have looked forever at the horses grazing on seemingly endless shaded rolling lush green hills leading to deep blue waters. I was mesmerized by an imperfect stone wall joining a winding dirt road, an open field and trees of varying heights serving as a trailer to the water. It goes on and on, every step of the way. The travel postcard industry should pack up and base their “picture-perfect” products entirely here.
True to my budget travel ways, I took in this free scenery as much as I could within a five-hour trip, and also managed to stay within a $40 budget. I first stopped to sit at a table by the water for a cup of tea at Coastal Roasters at 1791 Main Rd. in Tiverton. It was times like these that I wish I was a coffee drinker, as the freshly brewed aromas were fabulous. At least I had the sweet smell of the coastal breeze, though.
Next, I visited the Provender at 3883 Main Rd., an unassuming gourmet food store housed in a stunning, old Victorian building with a welcoming wraparound porch. I munched on a delicious lemon square — an excellent choice although not really good timing as lunch had not arrived yet. Provender also makes sandwiches, so this would be a convenient stop in the future and a real character-filled alternative to those generic, dime-a-dozen sandwich shops we frequent while on travel. The employees there treated me so nicely, like family, and did so with every other person that came into the store. You certainly didn’t feel any of that “rush-rush” vibe that we feel so deeply at similar stores in the suburbs.
Tiverton Four Corners acts like the commercial center of FarmCoast, but not what you’d think. You won’t find any strip malls, open air concept shopping centers or even a conventional or an overly precious trendy travel downtown district here. Instead, Tiverton Four Corners features a concentration of various historical building styles where you’ll find galleries, boutiques, other locally-owned shops and a few places to eat (including the aforementioned Provender). You really have to get out of the car and navigate through the nooks and crannies of this area to fully appreciate the downtown district. Don’t forget to visit Gray’s Ice Cream, too, at the corners of routes 77 and 179, downtown, for some wonderful homemade ice cream. Gray’s ice cream stand has been in business for more than 80 years and always seems to bring in a steady crowd. My former neighbor, the lovely Thelma Mullen grew up in the area, and spoke fondly of Gray’s. After my first visit here many years ago and sampling a cup of strawberry cheesecake ice cream, I knew exactly what she meant.
While downtown Tiverton has a nicely understated appeal, what put me over the top in this area was taking Seapowet Ave. and Neck Rd. from the downtown intersection to experience one of the best scenic sensory overloads of all time — salt marsh, farms with open fields and a small beach area with glimmering waters leading to almost a midwest-like stretch of flat country road. Sit back and enjoy these scenes before returning to this post…
From Tiverton, I had a decision to make. Should I drive down south to Little Compton, or go back up north to catch Route 177 to Westport and Dartmouth? We had visited Little Compton a few times and absolutely loved the small town charm, the solitude of the place, and the fantastic views of the ocean at Sakonnet Point. I was in the mood for some Johnnycakes (sweetened cornmeal flatbreads) at the Commons Lunch, downtown, and a stop at the Wilbur General Store for a trip-back-in-time mom and pop business shopping experience. Although not a drinker I also wanted to visit Little Compton’s Sakonnet Vineyards, a highly regarded and scenic vineyard where the microclimate and rich soil are reportedly similar to the coastal climates of Northern France.
Having been to Little Compton before, and with time running out, I decided to visit Westport and Dartmouth — two towns that I have always wanted to further explore.
What I found in my couples of hours here is that the Dartmouth and Westport on commercial, often frantic Route 6 is a completely different animal than the rural, coastal core of these two towns. Yes, I had been to Westport’s Horseneck Beach before (one of the best sandy ocean beaches in all of New England!), but had made a beeline there instead of taking the time to know Westport and bordering Dartmouth.
Westport is flat-out beautiful. The commitment to farming and open land, the Mayberry RFD feel of the central district, the winding country roads that lead to nowhere, the well maintained older historical homes, and the scenic harbor splendor of ancient Westport Point help make Wesport an understated gem.
How come no one knows about Westport? It has vacation-quality appeal without calling itself a vacation destination. Here’s a shining example, Westport Town Beach…
From Westport Town Beach, I drove more winding, rural back roads to Padanaram Village in Dartmouth. Padanaram was once a prominent 18th century shipbuilding center and a minor 19th century whaling port (nearby New Bedford was once regarded as the whaling capital of the world). Today, Padanaram stands as a quaint harbor village with good bones, plenty of colorful waterfront scenery and a need to slightly revitalize before being considered in the top echelon of New England harbor destinations. With that being said, I truly enjoyed walking the quiet main and side streets, as well as having a very tasting spicy quahog and delicious, generously served lobster grilled cheese sandwich at the waterfront Sail Loft restaurant at 246 Elm St. People dining on the deck here seemed content, leisurely talking about things going on in their towns over food and drink. While admiring the harbor scene, I thought, “These people are so lucky to live in the area.”
Whether walking by the sea or driving with the car windows rolled down, the air smelled sweet everywhere, the feeling was laid-back and I had to constantly remind myself that I was less than an hour from Boston, Providence and Newport. This quarter-tank road trip certainly took me into another world — and a beautiful one at that — close to home. You never forget something that moves you deeply and I know that the FarmCoast area will reside in my human internal memory scrapbook for a long time. Better yet, I can hardly wait to return for some fall foliage scenes, blankets of snow covering the farm land in the winter, and the laundry fresh air of spring bringing a sense of refreshment to us hardy New England types. Given the scenic topography of this region, however, I suspect it’s refreshing in the FarmCoast region any time of the year.
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