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Simsbury’s lovely landscapes, roomy residential neighborhoods, vaunted school system and tastefully groomed town center have given the town a coveted lifestyle.

Talcott Mountain offers a dramatic entrance from the east as you curve through the Notch. Route 185 cuts through it, revealing a panorama of Simsbury’s 34.5 square miles of varied topography and the outlines of its original villages. The hills of West Simsbury are a scenic backdrop for fertile farmland that lies along both sides of the Farmington River through Weatogue. Off Rte. 185, Talcott Mountain State Park offers hiking up to the Valley’s most visible landmark, the iconic Heublein Tower, built as a summer retreat in 1914 by Hartford distiller Gilbert Heublein.

At the base of the mountain, two well-groomed farms on Route 185 serve as an informal gateway to the town. Robert and Margaret Patricelli’s Folly Farm is an outstanding equestrian center that regularly hosts horse shows, including an annual charity show. Across the road, Brian Foley and Lisa Wilson-Foley put smiles on faces of passersby with their collection of exotic animals and barns always decorated for the holidays.

A right turn leads into East Weatogue’s historic district, a serene stretch of flat farmland where some of the town’s oldest Colonials look up at pricey contemporary home sites carved into the rugged, eastern-most edge of Talcott Mountain ridge. The district’s seasonal array of farm markets, ranging from funky to fashionable, is a delight. One of these is Rosedale Farms, famous for fresh corn that appears early and stays late. Their vineyard produces award-winning wines and hosts gourmet farm-to-table dinners.

Ahead, East Weatogue Street forks with Riverside Road. Go left and you’ll dip down along a nice stretch of the river, past Warner Nursery. Just across is the town’s lovely “Flower Bridge,” which is faithfully maintained by volunteers. On East Weatogue again, get a bouquet at Ryan Family Flower Farm, and then stop at JL Hall Farm for a beautiful French pumpkin or gnarly gourd.

Moving north, Terry’s Plain connects East Weatogue to Tariffville. On the way is Curtis Park, where Simsbury’s well-oiled youth soccer program performs on groomed fields throughout the spring and fall.

Ahead, a precipitous drop in the river’s level at the Tariffville Gorge tests even the most skillful whitewater enthusiasts. The gorge’s whitewater once provided the power for early Tariffville industries which, in turn, spurred the development of a tight-knit village. One remaining mill building has been converted to studios, with the addition of the trend-setting Present Company restaurant.

Back onto Route 185 at the other end of town, the state’s largest tree, the Pinchot Sycamore, stretches up from below the road to welcome you to Weatogue. Just ahead is the former Pettibone’s Tavern, a local landmark that has been renovated as Abigail’s Grille & Wine Bar.

A right turn on Route 10 leads toward Simsbury’s town center. You’ll notice the elegant Simsbury Inn, as well as a series of simple, peaked-roof wooden homes that were once employee housing for Ensign-Bickford Industries, whose history extends from gunpowder to aerospace. The houses have been recycled into a variety of new uses, including Simsmore Square, where Meadow Asian Cuisine Restaurant, a potpourri of small shops, and the popular farmers market offer an interesting array of choices.

The original Ensign-Bickford Company, now merged into Dyno Nobel, is based in a collection of brownstone buildings assembled around Hop Brook at the intersection of Routes 10 and 167. The landmark First Congregational Church sits on a hill across the street. The Simsbury Public Library, a state-of- the-art resource, is next door. On the hill just down the road, the historical 1820 House Inn on the hill is home to Metro Bis, one of Simsbury’s culinary treasures.

Over the past few years, Simsbury’s center, along the stretch of Hopmeadow Street ahead, has seen a burst of locally grown commercial development, nicely enhanced with tasteful touches put in place by the town chapter of the national Main Street Program. Restaurants are the prime attraction, with 10 of them within walking distance of each other.

A few steps east, The Performing Arts Center at Simsbury Meadows hosts outdoor concerts by The Hartford Symphony as well as attracting a growing number of popular artists like Willie Nelson, Harry Connick Jr, and the Beach Boys. The old train station was recycled as Plan B, a popular beer and burger place. Next door, two old-time hardware stores, Welden’s and Valley Home & Garden, are well-stocked with what you need and what you need to know about it, continuing to defy the big-box trend.

Up the street, the Simsburytown Shops fit snugly into a group of renovated wooden buildings that house Little City Pizza, Popovers Café, Horan’s Flower Shop, the Silver Dahlia and a variety of others. If you poke around a bit, you can also get your pants tailored, get a haircut or a massage, have coffee with your computer, and mail in your tax return at the post office next door.

The prestigious Westminster School’s sprawling woodland campus anchors the northern end of the town center. From here, Route 10 leads to Granby. Highlights along the way include the International Skating Center, the recently opened 168-unit Eastpointe at Dorset Crossing apartments, and the Harvest Café, legendary for its delicious breakfast specials. And don’t miss Necker’s Toy Shop, the best place to get Christmas presents for preschoolers to post-grads.

Head west out of the center on Route 167 a little bit and you’ll pass Millwright’s Restaurant and Tavern, the lovely, restored 18th century gristmill that has received rave reviews. Since its opening, the Mill Commons apartments and Mill Crossing townhouses, just a short walk away, have also earned an excellent reception and are expanding to include more units. Up ahead, Rte. 167 becomes Bushy Hill Road and will take you past Powder Forest, an active-adult community. The Cobb School Montessori appears shortly, and then The Ethel Walker School for girls, with its impressive equestrian center on one side of the road and classic academic buildings on the other.

Straight ahead (in the other direction) and past Simsbury High School, Route 167 becomes 309. Simsbury Farms, a very good golf course, is not much farther. Across the street from West Simsbury Center, Tulmeadow Farm, where seventh-generation farmer Don Tuller has created a large audience of loyal customers for his “locally grown” ice cream.

Take your first left ahead, over to Flamig Farm. Farmers Nevin and Julie Christensen offer a variety of fun family attractions including the Flamig Farm animal zoo, legendary Halloween hayrides and breakfast with Santa. Just west on 309 and up from Tulmeadow, The Master’s School, a K-12 Christian academy, sits on a woodsy hilltop.

The rocky hillsides and forests surrounding West Simsbury’s centuries-old farms are today’s highly desirable frontier for large new homes and subdivisions. Concurrently, the town and the Simsbury Land Trust are using state and local funds to preserve some of Simsbury’s remaining large tracts. While Simsbury is a suburb with all the amenities, it continues to grow as a destination for outdoor enthusiasts with its five state parks and extensive bike trails.

Photo by Lanny Nagler