Yankee magazine has been celebrating New England for three-quarters of a century, but even after all these years, there's still room for surprise.

In its 75th anniversary issue, on newsstands this week, the magazine named Kent, Conn., population 3,000, the best town in New England for fall foliage.

Kent trumped better-known destinations on Yankee's list such as Stowe, Vt.; Camden, Maine; and Amherst, Mass., for the honor.

"It was really cool, frankly, to be able to say that the best place to go for the foliage experience might be a place you never thought to go," said Yankee magazine editor Mel Allen. "It's not what we expected."

The leaf-peeping destinations, showcased in Yankee's September-October issue, were judged in 14 categories - fall color, scenery, vistas, water, drives, hikes, culture, farmers markets and farmstands, orchards, parks, covered bridges, whether they are "uncrowded," shopping, and a final combined category for food and lodging.

Kent scored 58 points out of a possible total of 70 (zero to five points per category, as determined by Yankee staff).

"Kent came out higher than any other town," said Allen in an interview. "It has one of the nicest scenic drives, Route 7; the Appalachian Trail cuts right through town; it has the Housatonic River and some of the best antiquing in New England, plus a famous inn," the Inn at Kent Falls.

He said Yankee, which is based in Dublin, N.H., devised the point system to include a variety of attractions and amenities because "the foliage experience is not just getting in your car and driving for 30 miles for pretty roads and stopping and taking photographs. The experience has to do with having picnics and going to farmstands. Yes, the scenery, but also the culture. Maybe there is an orchard, a restaurant, a covered bridge, a beautiful museum. You're not just using your eyes."

The town of Kent had no advance warning of the honor, but first selectman Bruce Adams said the area is known for its autumn beauty.

"We do get a lot of people coming through here during what's known as leaf-peeping time," he said in a phone interview.

Adams said Kent is about a two-hour drive from New York City and closer to three from Boston. "But there's no direct route to here from anywhere, which is why we live here," he said.

Following Kent on Yankee's list of 25 towns are Bethel, Maine; Manchester, Vt.; Williamstown, Mass.; Middlebury, Vt.; Camden, Maine; Waitsfield, Vt.; Conway/North Conway, N.H.; Sandwich, N.H.; Rangeley, Maine; Blue Hill, Maine; Woodstock, Vt.; Waterville Valley, N.H.; Amherst, Mass.; Grafton, Vt.; East Haddam, Conn.; Walpole, N.H.; The Cornwalls, Conn.; Litchfield, Conn.; Jackson, N.H.; Jeffersonville, Vt.; Shelburne Falls, Mass.; Montgomery, Vt.; Stowe, Vt.; and Hanover, N.H.

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