Since the very earliest of geological times, the waters of New England have drained out through a central valley that would become the Connecticut River after the last ice age 11,000 years ago. The river actually has its source in tributaries reaching into far northern Vermont  and New Hampshire , but it really gathers steam after flowing into the state that shares its name, where it grows to a width of more than 1,000 feet across.
As the major artery of the region, the river was home to a thriving population of Native Americans before Europeans arrived. The river was “discovered” by Dutch captain Adrian Block in 1614, six years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock . Early on, it was a major population center, spawning active trading posts between the Dutch and English New World settlements, and later serving as a conduit for raw materials and manufactured goods from northern New England.
Today, many travelers zip right through the valley along I-91, stopping only to see the sights in the capital city of Hartford . Both north and south of the city, however, are a number of former farming and manufacturing centers with historic house museums and offbeat attractions.
Bradley International Airport (I-91, exit 40, Windsor Locks, www.bradleyairport.com ) serves both Hartford and Springfield, Massachusetts , from its location in Windsor Locks, halfway between the two cities. All of the major car rental companies are available at the airport. In addition, CT Transit (860/522-8101, www.cttransit.com ) also operates bus routes to the city. Take the Bradley Flyer service (BDL), which runs express from the airport to downtown Hartford in about a half-hour. Fare is $1.25.
Amtrak (800/872-7245, www.amtrak.com ) runs trains to Hartford’s  train station at One Union Place; as well as to Windsor (41 Central St.) and Windsor Locks (S. Main St. at Rte. 159). Greyhound (800/231-2222, www.greyhound.com ) runs buses to many area locations, including Enfield (Freshwater Blvd.), Farmington (12 Batterson Park Rd.), Hartford (1 Union Pl.), and Middletown  (340 Main St.).
If you are driving from Boston , the quickest way to Hartford is to head west down I-90, take exit 9 at Sturbridge  onto I-84, and follow that to the end (100 mi., 1 hr. 30 min.). Traveling from Providence , your best bet is to take U.S. Route 6 west, I-395 south, and then double back northwest on Route 2 (90 mi., 1 hr. 30 min.). From New Haven , Hartford is a straight shot down I-91 (40 mi., 45 min.).
CT Transit (860/522-8101, www.cttransit.com ) also operates bus service throughout Hartford and the greater Connecticut River Valley . The E line runs from the corner of Main and Travelers Streets to West Hartford (15 min.) and Farmington (35 min.). The N line runs from the Old State House (800 Main St.) to Windsor center (45 min.), and the U line runs from the Old State House to Middletown  (1 hour). All fares are $1.25. For taxi service, try City Cab (860/416-6587), or pick one up at the taxi stand in front of Union Station.