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Old Lyme, on the eastern bank of the Connecticut River, has a calm and leisurely ambiance — a fine blending of rural and village life with a watercolor wash of cordial gentility. And the residents are an interesting blend, too.

Families come here, and frequently stay, for the clean air, deep woods, sandy beaches, good schools, and diverse recreational opportunities deemed the hallmark’s of a superior education and wholesome living. Likewise, a large contingent of mariners live here, too, taking to the waterways in fleets from April to November. And Old Lyme is proud home to a large population of egrets, herons and osprey who greatly outnumber the people, thanks to both the town government and the State of Connecticut, which have done a superlative job of protecting and restoring acres of habitat. The salt marshes at Great Island, the fresh river waters, and brine and sediments swept upriver at high tide have created a stunningly diverse ecosystem.

No matter when you arrive, look for A.C. Petersen’s Hallmark Drive-In on Shore Road and treat yourself to a Black Hall Mud ice cream cone (sustenance matters) — then head to Griswold Point. Accessible from White Sands Beach and Smith’s Neck Road off Route 156, the Great Island Salt Meadow stretches low and wide, almost primitive in its presence were it not for the boats and lighthouses also visible. Now called the Roger Tory Peterson Wildlife Area, the tidelands around this marsh are among the forty “Last Great Places” in the Western Hemisphere as listed by the Nature Conservancy, to which painters flock — much like the birds.

The first members of this artistic crowd gathered at “Miss Florence’s house” next to the Lieutenant River, where Florence Griswold, the daughter of a sea captain, opened her home to them. Now known as the Florence Griswold Museum, the mansion is now a national historic landmark, having been restored as a history and art museum, featuring room upon room of impressionist and contemporary works in the galleries.

Newer members of the artist crowd are students or faculty at the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts on Lyme Street — a nationally accredited school that offers a degree program in the fine arts, as well as a gallery of works by local painters. And just a few doors away is the Lyme Art Association, which also offers regular workshops and lectures and exhibits regional work as well.

Another favorite spot on Lyme Street is the Bee and Thistle Inn, which has long provided both elegant dining and restful lodgings, and nearby is the iconic Old Lyme Inn, which entices patrons from far and wide with beautiful rooms — and the Side Door, a hip jazz joint featuring some of the biggest name performers in the business. Farther along Lyme Street, in the village center, is the Old Lyme Ice Cream Shoppe, which makes some of the best ice creams, ices, and sorbets on the Connecticut shore, and The Chocolate Shell, with its dazzling show of chocolates and other creative confections.

For a completely different cultural experience, spend a summer afternoon in Sound View, a crowded retro beach colony off Shore Road in which just about every avenue leads to the water and the only real amenities are the sea, sun, and sand; The Carousel Shop, which sells beach chairs and sunscreen for Mom and Dad, tickets on the 1925 carousel, whirling nightly all summer for the kiddos, and splendilicious Italian ices from Vecchitto’s.

Al Ferreira Photo