Close your eyes and think of the perfect summer getaway. No matter who you’re traveling with or what your interests are, we’ll bet that at some point that perfect weekend is going to include a body of water, an Adirondack chair and a tall, cold beverage. We won’t disappoint. The following quick escapes are designed for minimal hassle and maximum pleasure, whatever your taste may be.
1. FUN FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY
Here’s a family getaway with, truly, something for everybody. Less than two hours from downtown Westport, Breadloaf Mountain Lodge & Cottages in Cornwall Bridge is an epicenter of weekend activities from bird-watching to motor sports.
Of course you’ll call ahead, but you make more than just simple reservations here. This Orvis-endorsed inn has a concierge service that rivals any Manhattan luxury hotel. Whether you’re looking for fly-fishing instruction or simply want to kayak or tube down the Housatonic, the staff at Breadloaf is ready and willing to help. And for the kids, there are auto and go-kart racing facilities in nearby Lime Rock. If you’re a family of hikers, the Appalachian Trail is right outside its back door. “I tell them turn right to go to Georgia and turn left for Maine,” says Marty Iannone, owner and manager of Breadloaf. A professional arborist and avid fly fisherman, Iannone couldn’t imagine anything better than to have his own fishing lodge in the woods. When the opportunity came up to buy an abandoned inn, a struggling restaurant and a rundown tackle shop on the Housatonic, he took a deep breath, sold his thriving tree business in New Haven and bought them all.
In addition to the rustic main lodge, there are five luxurious air-conditioned hillside cottages complete with kitchens featuring granite countertops, bathrooms with double showerheads and oversize tubs, and screened-in porches for whispering kids who would rather count fireflies than sleep. Twilight at Breadloaf brings magical things: the flowers and trees light up from within, and good-tempered worker-bees set up tables with marshmallows and graham crackers for S’Mores, throw a match on a carefully constructed bonfire, and let the night-time festivities begin.
And there’s more. When making your reservation, you can order a “Chill & Grill Cart” — with aprons, mitts, grilling forks and wire baskets, spices and oils, plates and cups — to be delivered to your cottage. The concierge service can provide groceries for three complete meals with the right wine or ice-cold beer, but for those who prefer to shop, there’s a Saturday morning Farmers’ Market just ten minutes down the road in Kent. Better yet: In the pre-dawn hush, the Chill & Grill Cart, with all the dinner mess, is wheeled away.
For families who need a break from kitchen duty, there’s also a fine restaurant called the Woodland in Lakeville, a twenty-minute drive away. Close by in Kent there’s the Fife’n Drum, a French bistro called RSVP in West Cornwall, and, by all means, do not miss the Wandering Moose — a breakfast joint with a slamming screen door, situated on the hill just after you pass through one of the few remaining covered bridges in New England. (Make sure to blow your horn or let the children shout when you’re halfway through.)
If you can get out of town on Friday, it’s worth it to get an early start. Ignore Mapquest and your GPS and avoid Route 7 by snaking your way over to Route 58 and heading north toward Danbury. It’s a beautiful winding road, punctuated by those little blue “scenic route” signs that remind you that you’re on vacation. If you must start your weekend on Saturday morning, don’t eat breakfast before you go: stop on the way at the Olde Blue Bird Inn in Easton. This little joint, family-owned for a couple of generations, has the best muffins in the world and an atmosphere more at home than home.
When the weekend’s over, drive home in the dark, mindlessly following your GPS down the shorter but construction-blocked Route 7 — you’ll want to stay as late as you can in Cornwall Bridge. The kids will be asleep in the backseat anyhow.
2. THE ULTIMATE INDULGENCE
At first, $1,900 a night may seem a bit much for even the most shameless indulgence. After all, you are going to sleep for eight hours of that overnight stay. But oh, those waking minutes …
Winvian is a gorgeous resort and spa set on 113 graceful, rambling acres just outside of Litchfield, with eighteen whimsical theme-based cottages created by a handful of madly talented architects and interior designers. It’s obvious they were given free reign to build their wildest dreams into a place to stay. There’s a tree house, a beaver lodge, an artist’s bungalow, a log cabin and a greenhouse. You can have drinks in a silo or a helicopter; sleep in a stable or under an indoor waterfall or a tent.
Each cottage is exquisitely appointed, from luxurious linens to up-to-the-minute technology, a fully stocked bar and a couple of bicycles so you can zoom around the grounds. But lushness aside, that seemingly exorbitant price tag includes breakfast, picnics, lunch, snacks in the spa, afternoon tea and cocktails overlooking the rolling lawns, croquet games and perennial gardens. It also includes an extraordinarily fine evening meal experience prepared by Chef Eddy, who earned his reputation working with internationally acclaimed chef Alain Ducasse and alongside Daniel Boulud and Jean Michael Bergounoux.
A gentle warning, however: Although you’ll probably want to spend most of your time in the über-luxurious spa, treatments are not included. But, after all, you are there to splurge, no? With its spacious lounges, wood-burning fireplace, sauna and hydrotherapy tubs, there’s everything to feed both the soul and the body. Moreover, its line of beauty and skin products is all natural — not a manmade ingredient in any of them.
Should all of this make Winvian sound a little intimidating (a misconception underscored when you have to announce yourself at a serious security gate), know that the resort is anything but. Once the family home of Merrill Lynch cofounder Win Smith (Winvian is a combination of his name and his wife’s name, Vivian), the main buildings are restored to their original elegance with nostalgic touches. The kitchen has the original scuffed-up, dull red-and-white linoleum, a corner hutch in the dining room is filled with Win and Vivian’s wedding china and there’s a portrait of the beautiful Vivian herself over a fireplace in a room that was once the living room. To make the place even more welcoming and warm, Winvian’s owner and manager are family, Maggie Smith and her daughter Heather.
Here’s a complete luxury getaway, only an hour away, with inventive packages that invite a romantic escape, a yoga wellness stay or just sinful indulgence. Sound fantastic? Go ahead. You’re worth it.
3. FOR THE ADVENTUROUS
If your idea of fun requires horsepower, consider planning your trip around flying an open-cockpit fighter plane. Based out of the homey little Westerly, Rhode Island, airport, flight instructor and charter pilot Mark Simmons arranges thrill excursions in his privately owned AT-6 Texan, the aircraft used by the United States and more than thirty allied nations to train their fighter pilots during World War II. The plane seats two, one behind the other, and although there is a glass enclosure over the cockpit, you can opt to slide it back and have the 150-mph wind in your hair.
What a way to start a Saturday! But this kind of adventure deserves to be packaged with other fuel-injected activities. Minutes from the airport is Misquamicut State Beach, a stretch of waterfront so fun-packed it has its own website. Start by looking up Tom Jasulavic at the Purple Ape jet ski rental and sports shop. After you’ve rented a couple of 110-horsepower Yamaha jet skis, Tom, who is also president of the Misquamicut Beach Association, will fill you in on what’s happening in the area. He needs to be your best friend for the weekend.
Of course doing tough-guy things means you can eat road kill and sleep in the parking lot, but you may want to mix it up a little. Stay in nearby New London at the historic Lighthouse Inn, a grand mansion built in 1902 as a summer home for steel magnate Charles Guthrie and landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted, the guy who designed Central Park. The main house is a little too formal for anyone who spent the afternoon blasting around at high speeds, but behind the mansion is the Carriage House. With an outdoor fireplace overlooking its own private pool, the Carriage House is perfect for enjoying the early evening, barefoot and newly showered, dressed in sweats and nursing a beer.
When you’re feeling fully “restored,” walk over to the main house and have dinner in the tavern, the informal dining option at the Lighthouse. With its polished wood-paneled walls, the room is warm and elegant. Live music plays late in the evening.
Sundays are always bittersweet. Happy to have another weekend day, but Monday nags. To take your mind off the office, throw your luggage in the trunk and drive north to Plainfield, a small town in northeastern Connecticut, a section of the state known as the Quiet Corner. Towns here are so lightly populated and isolated that most don’t have a mayor or a chamber of commerce.
But Jim Evans laughs at that. Jim works at Excalibur Powersports, a Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki dealership that has an Eagle Rider rental division. Life at Excalibur is anything but quiet, and, as long as you have a valid motorcycle license, Evans can set you up with plenty of noise: a Yamaha cruiser or a Honda Gold wing. He’ll give you a route that will take you on a peg-sparking ride through rustic New England — plenty of blind curves, roller-coaster hills and eateries with typical biker food (you know, oversize breakfasts, fatty hamburgers and fries).
Okay, so you forgot to get your motorcycle license (just like you forgot to run the New York City Marathon last year). So you need an alternate activity for Sunday. Take the New London ferry to Block Island where you can make total fools of yourselves on mopeds all day long. Mopeds may be a compact type of power, but the Block Island Express ferry is no ordinary ride. A sleek, 160-foot Catamaran, the Jessica W blasts across the Sound at 35 knots (that’s over 40 mph!) and offers her passengers such amenities as an enclosed air-conditioned observation deck, satellite TV and an espresso bar. You won’t be bored during the seventy-minute trip.
Once docked at Old Harbor, trudge up to the Harborside Inn and have lunch on the porch before ducking behind the building and renting mopeds (or bicycles for the more athletic). The island is just over nine miles around, with very, very challenging hills (think twice about those bikes) and beautiful views of Block Island Sound, towering bluffs and old lighthouses. For the adventurous souls with diving experience, there are several shipwrecks to explore, including a German U-boat.
At the end of the day, before a twilight ferry ride back to New London, stroll along the harbor. There are a handful of historic hotels that give a pleasant nod to a sweeter era, when ladies carried parasols and men wore starched shirts, even in the summer. The original pilot of that World War II fighter plane may well have had a very dry martini at one of these storied old inns.
4. THE ART OF ROMANCE
The perfect romantic weekend getaway should involve three key elements: a gorgeous room, a fireplace and a candlelit dinner for two. Add the ease of finishing off your wine and simply walking upstairs to your four-poster bed and … need we say more?
Voted “most romantic place to have dinner in Connecticut,” the Bee & Thistle Inn in Old Lyme easily lives up to its reputation. Built in 1756 as a residence for Judge William Noyes, a name that sneaks up on us in Fairfield as a street name, the noble two-storey home is now a sensuously indulgent bed-and-breakfast where guests feel like they have come to visit an elegant, gracious old friend. The rooms are lovely, private and plush — most with fireplaces — and guests are invited to enjoy a glass of wine in the parlor before dinner. The food is exemplary and the service impeccable, so on any given evening you’ll find a few locals in the dining room, too. The complimentary breakfast, however, is for the inn’s guests only.
Lovers who feel the need to venture outdoors for a stroll will find a surprising cache of American art just down the street. An impressive yellow building with four colossal Ionic columns was a boarding house in the 1800s and a favorite summer hangout for New York City artists, especially Impressionist landscape painters like Childe Hassam and Willard Metcalf. The house and its outbuildings served as studios and galleries for many years, even after the lady of the house, the redoubtable Florence Griswold, passed away. In 1947, the estate, with its lush perennial gardens of hollyhocks, phlox and delphiniums, was re-created as the Florence Griswold Museum.
Should you, for one reason or another, feel the need for more verticality, take a short drive to the town of Essex. If this doesn’t remind you why we all live and love it here, nothing will. Nestled on the banks of the Connecticut River, the town reeks of “quaint” without the “Ye Olde Internet Café” phoniness. Stop in for a drink at the historic taproom at the Griswold Inn, where the live music ranges from sea chanteys (!) to Dixieland jazz. On Friday nights a veritable mob turns out to hear and sing along with the Griswold Inn Banjo Band. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!
5. SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
Whether you’ve got friends in town or are traveling with another couple, figuring out where to go and what to do might take a little more planning than normal. You need to have guy-things and girlie-stuff and activities for couples, and maybe some culture thrown in, great food, a cozy bar and, whaddya think, a drive-in movie? The perfect destination to have all that and more is Rhinebeck, New York. Less than a two-hour drive, on a historic stretch of the Hudson River where the landed and wealthy once summered in appallingly large mansions, Rhinebeck still manages to be picturesque, accessible and user-friendly.
At the village center, the Beekman Arms bills itself as the oldest continuously operating inn in America, welcoming travelers for nearly 250 years. The inn itself, set back from the street and surrounded by a sweep of lawn, shade trees and gardens, still looks much like it did when guests traveled by horseback. But considering the age-old country mouse/city mouse thing, you might not want to stay in the center of town.
A few minutes away is Whistlewood, a seven-room bed-and-breakfast not visible from the main road and smothered by perennials. Maggie, the owner and hostess, is beautiful, gracious and beloved by both guests and locals. Each room has its own personality, some with a Jacuzzi, a private porch or a fireplace. But the real charm is that Whistlewood is also a stable, and there is something ethereal about watching a grazing horse or breathing in the smell of freshly baled hay.
Both country mice and city mice would do well to dine at the Beekman Arms upon arrival in Rhinebeck on Friday night, especially if arriving late. The kitchen is open late, and the inn’s tavern is a Hudson Valley version of Cheers, complete with overhead beams and an open-hearth fireplace. But let’s cut to the chase …
For the boys: Begin your Saturday with a stroll across the street from the Beekman to the Rhinebeck Smoke Shoppe. What’s so special? It’s one of the very few tobacconists in the United States that sells Cuban cigars — legally. Open since 1929, the store has a stock of pre-embargo Cubans that will send any cigar aficionado over the moon. Then get in the car and drive out to the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, a museum of antique aircraft. There’s an air show that features planes from both world wars, and depending on the weekend there could also be an exhibition of antique motorcycles, a gathering of Model Ts or car club get-togethers.
For the girls: Drive north a half-hour to Olana, the home and passion of famous American painter Frederick Edwin Church. Even if you have no idea what the Hudson River School of Landscape Painting is, you will find this home an inspiration. That someone would care so deeply that the design and furnishings in his home would honor the glory of the Persian Empire is remarkable. And the view off the porch is spectacular.
This may sound silly, but take a quick trip over to Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson (you’re only a few miles away). The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts is a gloriously shiny metal space-age building designed by Frank Gehry and worth the few minutes it takes to find the campus. Just get out of the car, stand and look it at, marvel and go on your way. You’ll be glad you did.
On your way back to Rhinebeck, stop at some of the many antiques stores that line the main streets here, especially in the town of Red Hook, which has about a dozen shops all within a one-mile radius. The Red Hook Antiques Center on Route 199 is worth a look just for the fact that it’s housed in an old art deco movie theater. You can still see remnants of the screen and the original slip-shade sconces. Look a bit further and you’ll see traces of the building’s original purpose — as a nineteenth- century church. It’s a rare pleasure to find so much history in one building.
That should pretty much take care of your Saturday. That night should be an early
dinner at Le Petit Bistro on Market Street. Make reservations in advance, because you won’t be the only one who knows that. If you have to eat at the bar because the restaurant is booked, don’t feel slighted. Dinner at the bar is almost better. Everyone’s chatty after a couple of glasses of wine. Afterward, if you want to feel like kids again, take in the late show at one of the few remaining drive-ins in the country, the Hyde Park Drive-In, just fifteen minutes down Route 9. (Do you really care what’s playing?)
If you didn’t stay up till all hours watching the second feature, you can get an early start on Sunday morning. Start by grabbing a quick coffee and breakfast pastry at the Calico Restaurant and Patisserie, a very tiny café and bakery on Main Street. But plan your Sunday around a lunchtime feast at one of the Culinary Institute of America’s campus restaurants. Leave time for a stroll, because the CIA at Hyde Park is a collection of proud red brick buildings, stark white gazebos, formal gardens and an Italianesque fountain, all situated on a wide hill overlooking the Hudson.
After lunch, the boys can spend a few hours touring Hyde Park, the historic home of President Franklin Roosevelt, and immerse themselves in WWII artifacts, including a re-creation of FDR’s war room in the adjacent museum. (Don’t miss the basement, which houses the polio-stricken President’s hand-controlled 1936 Ford Phaeton.)
For the ladies, the nearby Vanderbilt Mansion is every bit as commanding as the Breakers in Newport, with its gilded ceilings, formal gardens, separate gatehouses and stables. The Livingston family home, now known as the Mills Mansion, is unparalleled opulence — with a fifty-foot dining room table and a master bedroom that is a re-creation of Marie Antoinette’s boudoir. Tours of the mansions in Hyde Park and nearby Hudson River towns are glamorous, yet humbling, history lessons.