In New England, the food is excellent, the natives are friendly and you’re never far from the next quick-stop-get-the-camera beauty spot
When Americans want to get around America they fly. To me, this seems perverse. I was raised on dozens of road movies, where the heroes would drive aimlessly into the desert, or drive late into the night, stopping at lonely motels. Waiting for the shuttle at LAX isn’t quite the same thing.
But you can still discover small-town America on a road trip, and you don’t need to spend weeks venturing into the Midwest or the Deep South.
The back roads of New England offer a juicy slice of real America and because the distances are relatively small, the six states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont lend themselves perfectly to a fly-drive holiday.
New England is sometimes described as twee and over commercialised, but go beyond the most obvious tourist sights and you’ll find a region of tightly-bound communities proud of their history and traditions. If you follow the coast south from Boston you arrive at Cape Cod, as perfect as a postcard with its white clapboard houses, quaint antique shops, cosy inns and lighthouses.
Another option is to drive north out of Boston - as I did on a dazzling late summer’s day - where the three-storey mansions with their neat, crewcut lawns soon give way to turkey farms, swordfish shacks and weatherbeaten signs advertising Live Bait and Tackle. In small towns with familiar names - Newbury, Camden, Essex - you’ll see duck ponds, wooden churches and fried clam shops. In Ipswich I passed an old man selling boxes of strawberries from the hood of his pick-up truck.
In Maine, tourism is the biggest industry and it is said that locals resent the convoys of vehicles that crawl up the coast all summer long. But I found Mainers delightful. Drivers would wave me into traffic and when I stopped in the street and unfurled a map there seemed to be queues of people ready to offer directions.
The highlight of Maine’s rugged granite coastline is Acadia National Park, 58 square miles of lakes, forests and beaches. Here you’ll find Mount Cadillac, the highest point on the Eastern Seaboard. Appropriately, you can climb to the peak without leaving your car, along a 27-mile loop road. If you get out at the top and follow the marked hiking trails you have a good chance of spotting beavers and bald eagles.
New Hampshire is as famed for its shopping as it is for its stunning scenery. With no state sales tax, it has become home to a string of outlet shopping villages where designer clothing and sportswear are so ridiculously cheap that British visitors can be seen running down the aisles hyperventilating as they fill their trolleys with bargains.
A good way to calm down is to take a scenic drive along the 34-mile Kancamagus Highway, which weaves its way across the White Mountains between North Conway and Lincoln, reaching an ear-popping 2,855ft at Kancamagus Pass. There are numerous places where you can park and trek off to waterfalls and woods.
Over the border in Vermont, Stowe is one of the northeast’s premier ski resorts. This is where the von Trapp family made their home after fleeing Europe during the war. It’s easy to see the appeal: mountains, forests, fresh air and hilltops ideal for running over to the tune of Do-Re-Mi.
Even in summer Stowe’s many excellent hotels and ski lodges do good business. A six-mile paved trail shadows the main road, passing corn fields, dairy farms and red barns. I borrowed a mountain bike and joined the parade of joggers, bladers - and a few brave souls taking an old-fashioned stroll.
One thing you must do before leaving Vermont is take a tour of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory in the small town of Waterbury. It’s a real Willie Wonka experience and costs just $3 for adults with under-13s free. Samples are included.