Fall Getaways

 

October is one of our favorite months here in Connecticut, and it’s not hard to figure out why. The hills and valleys—and even the town greens and front yards—come alive with color. The air is crisp and sometimes frosty in the morning yet often pleasantly mild at midday—and fragrant with the aroma of fallen leaves. There is a renewed energy in fall after the languors of summer, and a desire to get out and explore. And guess what? On the pages that follow, we’ve got some great places in Connecticut for you to go spend a happy day and night or two.

The Inn at Stonington,

Stonington

Is there anything that we love about Stonington in summer that we don’t love even more in fall?
The views of Long Island Sound, for instance, get even longer and bluer at this time of year, when the air clears and cools down, and the horizon comes into sharp focus once again.
The narrow, charming lanes of Stonington Borough once again grow quiet and serene, populated more by residents than by hard-charging daytrippers.
The activities along the waterfront, such as fishing and boating, remain in season, and there’s a lot more elbow room for both. The summer fishermen may have disappeared, but the fish haven’t gone anywhere.
The town’s shops and restaurants are notably less crowded; it’s always nice to command the full attention of the shopkeeper and the server.
The price of some things comes down. For example, a second-floor seaside room at The Inn at Stonington cost $260 on a weekday night and $349 on a weekend until Sept. 7, when it dropped down to $250 and $310 (with a further reduction to $190/$240 come November).
So that is where we’ll begin, at the inn, in Room No. 7, a model of simplicity, good taste and comfort with a big, luxurious bath, a gas fireplace and a small balcony that overlooks Stonington Harbor and Fishers Island Sound. The inn has a pleasant, homey vibe and it’s right in the middle of things on Water Street, which makes walking here and there around town a very easy thing to do. It also serves complimentary wine and cheese in the evening and a continental breakfast, both of which make this an easier place to love.
Of course, other good places to eat are easy to find in Stonington Borough. Just up the street from the inn is Noah’s, a classic neighborhood restaurant that serves three good meals a day, has its own bakery and bar, and big front windows that open onto the passing scene. On the water right behind the inn is Skipper’s Dock, specializing in seafood (of course) and offering a big Sunday brunch every weekend during fall and winter. Also nearby and worth checking out are Dogwatch Café, overlooking the bobbing masts of Dodson Boatyard, and Milagro Café, a tiny, colorful spot that serves very good Mexican food.
     Once you pull away from the table, you will want to do some walking through the borough. You can do this randomly and probably not go too far wrong, but a far better idea would be to pick up a copy of “Historic Walking Tour of Stonington,” a fact-crammed pamphlet available at many locations in town. They probably mean the town is “historic” rather than the tour, but in any case the pamphlet describes a loop down Water Street, past the Old Lighthouse Museum to The Point (a wonderful place for watching the sun set) and then back up via Main Street. Along the way are many historic houses and buildings, as well as local businesses, all described in the write-ups.
Not on the tour but nearby are the Velvet Mill Studios on Bayview Avenue. Here, artists and craftspeople labor during the week on the site of the historic American Velvet Mill, then open their doors on weekends to sell their paintings, ceramics, weavings, photography, prints, sculpture and more. Some of the galleries are open seven days a week, so be sure to check the website at velvetmillsstudios.com.
For those who can’t imagine going to Stonington without getting out on the water, there are now coastal cruises aboard the Gansett to keep in mind. Gansett is a handsome wooden 50-foot passenger vessel that plies the waters between Dodson Boatyard in Stonington and the Plimpton Dock in Watch Hill, R.I., every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Running through the end of October, these cruises are a great way to get up to Watch Hill for a few hours and maybe even have a drink on the porch of the magnificently restored Ocean House there. See oceanhouse.ri/yachting.php for details. For more information, call 860-535-2000 or go to innatstonington.com.

 

The Mansion at Bald Hill

South Woodstock

We’ve figured out why it’s really called the Quiet Corner: When you visit, you’re too awestruck by the beauty surrounding you to say a word. With rivers and lakes, forests and farms, B&Bs and antiques shops aplenty, it’s hard to find a more charming and peaceful area of the state. And there’s no better time to visit the northeast corner than fall, when the foliage is in all its glory.
For your home away from home, it’s gotta be the Mansion at Bald Hill, a historic landmark in South Woodstock. This secluded B&B is hidden from the road by dense woods and accessed by a long, winding driveway, but once you arrive at the mansion you’re greeted by everything a mansion should have—open space, white columns, stone walls and lush gardens. With four stories and 21 rooms, the 13,000-square-foot mansion was built by heiress Roxanna
        Wentworth Bowen in 1892 and used as her summer home. It’s now serving as a B&B with six spacious rooms (three of which are suites), including the Bald Hill Suite, a comfortable room with a fireplace, king-sized bed, window seat, private bath with a claw-foot tub, and an adjoining room with a pull-out sofa.
There’s also an onsite restaurant—a recent addition by the new management, co-owners Joel Theriaque and Scott Plantier (who double as incredibly talented chefs), and general manager Janet Waterman. Dining is spread out through different rooms on the first floor and on the terrace. We especially love dining in the formal library, decorated in green and gold and featuring a fireplace (one of thirteen in the house) and floor-to-ceiling bookcases filled with books, photos and other keepsakes. The food is, in a word, terrific. The native sweet corn salad and baked onion soup au gratin are great starters, and standout entrées include the grilled nine-ounce filet mignon, pan-seared diver scallops with jumbo shrimp and sesame-seared tuna. Whatever you order, add on a side of lobster mac ’n’ cheese—you won’t be disappointed. After dinner, enjoy a drink or two at the bar in the sitting room adjacent to the library.
In the morning, head downstairs for a great breakfast, freshly prepared by Scott and Joel and served in the sitting room. Enjoy scones, muffins, fruit and yogurt parfait, plus a main dish such as the delectable Bananas Foster French toast with bacon.
While it’d be easy to spend the entire weekend at the mansion (and believe us, you’ll be tempted), there’s plenty around for those who want to venture out. Nearby attractions include Roseland Cottage, a National Historic Landmark that was once the summer home of philanthropist Henry C. Bowen and his family. Available for tours, the cottage will also host its Fine Arts and Crafts Festival Oct. 16-17. Be sure to also check out Roseland Park, a serene spot with more than 60 acres of wooded land set along Roseland Lake, where the Bowens used to host their annual Fourth of July parties.
For an authentic British tea shop experience, visit Mrs. Bridge’s Pantry, which offers a tearoom serving lunch and a shop carrying giftware, tea and other food items. Antiquers, you might want to spend some quality time perusing McClellan Elms Antiques for early country, folk art, Americana and primitive antiques.
Taylor Brooke Winery, on the Connecticut Wine Trail, is also right down the road. After a tasting and a self-guided tour of the vineyard, toast a lovely fall weekend with a glass of their own Autumn Raspberry.
And here’s a unique way to check out the fall foliage: up in the air. Head to Brighter Skies Ballooning for a spectacular sunrise or presunset balloon flight, complete with breakfast and champagne. Experiencing the breathtaking scenery of northeastern Connecticut from the basket of a big, beautiful hot-air balloon is something you’ll never forget.
For more information, call (860) 974-3456  or visit mansionatbaldhill.com.

 

Foxwoods Resort Casino

Mashantucket

Sometimes you want to get away from “it all” without having to drive all over the map. Handcuffed to our steering wheels as so many of us are, it’s wonderful in itself to be someplace where you can get where you’re going—restaurants, cool shops, maybe a show—on your own two feet. Someplace like Foxwoods!
This time we stayed at the gorgeous MGM Grand Hotel, and from the moment we stepped into the soaring lobby, we knew we’d come to the right place. We’re not gamblers, but we had few doubts we could keep ourselves otherwise entertained. The plan was simple: Eat, drink and be merry.
Top of my list was to try a couple of the new restaurants MGM Grand has added to the Foxwoods galaxy. We led off with dinner at Shrine since we’d heard so much about it and were duly dazzled—both by the over-the-top decor and chef Kevin Long’s interesting selection of pan-Asian dishes. The menu’s a crowd-pleasing mix of traditional favorites (General Tso’s Chicken) and original creations. Highlights were an ethereal sashimi dish of yellowtail, jalapeño, sriracha and sweet onion ponzu; lobster Rangoons; Mongolian skirt steak and the addictive wok-cooked rice vermicelli noodles with shrimp and char sui pork.
The next day we had a delightful buffet brunch at Michael Schlow’s famed Alta Strada. The spread—scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy, applewood-smoked bacon, along with veal meatballs, pasta salad, marinated mushrooms, smoked salmon and assorted salads—was my idea of the perfect mix of breakfast and lunch dishes.
That night nothing would do but Paragon, Foxwoods’ crown jewel. There, in the luxe 24th floor aerie, we feasted on escargots with preserved lemon and roasted garlic, oxtail stew and velvety Wagyu “eye of the rib-eye” steaks with oyster-and-mushroom sauté. High on the list of
         Paragon’s outsized delights are the sublime jazz stylings of cool cat Jack Madry on the baby grand.
When we weren’t reveling in one superb culinary offering or another, we did find time for other things. Shopping, for example: We took an iPad for a test drive at MacAppeal, ogled the sparklers at Chopard and picked up a gift or two at Grand Effects. We also spent a fascinating couple of hours immersed in the RMS Titanic disaster at Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, a display of dishes and silver, decorative elements, jewelry and other personal belongings recovered from the ocean floor, along with the haunting stories of the fates of many of the passengers. (If you hurry you can still see it. It runs through Oct. 3.)
I’d have to say that one of the pleasantest aspects of the weekend was our visit to MGM Grand’s truly beautiful G-Spa. We each had a Swedish massage, then prolonged the blissful relaxation for quite a while lounging by turns in the spa’s handsome indoor pool area (no one under 21 allowed) and out in the sunshine on the adjoining outdoor terrace. The view is a multicolored foliage tapestry as far as the eye can see.
Now, I know I said we don’t go in for gambling, but after a couple of whatever those tasty cocktails we had at Shrine were, we opted to make a quick foray into the casino. Why not, right? I planted myself at a slot machine, made a dismal show of it and was weary of the incessant bleeps, buzzes and pulsating lights when I realized I’d completely lost track of John. After walking around and around for probably 10 minutes, I finally found him—at a blackjack table! He was ready to call it a night, too, he said, and made a beeline for the cashier’s window—he’d won $465! (Time spent on the casino floor: 45 minutes.)
Even with that little windfall, our weekend was a bit of a splurge. And we loved every minute of it.
For more information, visit foxwoods.com or mgmgrand.com.

 

Delamar Southport

Fairfield

A t the turn of the millennium, some residents of the village of Southport—that genteel subdivision of Fairfield—decided that what their burg needed above all else was more commercial real estate. Plans were laid to build a mixed-use complex at the intersection of Old Post Road and Rennell Drive, with a hotel, condominiums, restaurant and office buildings occupying a 5-acre plot. Alas, the project was foreclosed on in the middle of construction. But  then, last December, the Greenwich Hospitality Group—owners of the opulent and much-admired Hotel Delamar in Greenwich—swept in and bought the hotel for $6.8 million, and in no time turned a mere shell of a building into a luxurious three-story, 45-room, white clapboard-sided and dormer window-accented hostelry that was sold out in its second weekend of business (in June), suggesting a ready and willing market after all.
As of this writing, it’s still a work-in-progress. An eagerly             anticipated three-squares-a-day restaurant featuring fresh seafood, prime beef and local veggie dishes Mediterranean-style, complemented by a heavily Southern French wine list, has yet to materialize. Optimistic projections are that the doors will open by year’s end). The official “menu of services” for the hotel’s onsite spa—open to guests only—is pending, although visiting lovebirds are offered a couple’s massage as part of a “romantic” weekend package. Furthermore, the most opulent accommodations continue to be tweaked: a two-bedroom Governor’s Suite will soon join the hotel’s Presidential Suite (a penthouse with three bedrooms, a chef-quality kitchen and library) and three junior suites (each sporting its own decorative theme by prominent local interior designers, one being an upscale “beach house” in gray, white and lime green by Westport’s Kathy Hodge).
What we found in our own room, a superior standard, was more than choice enough to please us: marble entryway and bathroom (the latter featuring Bulgari toiletries), queen four-poster with down bedding and Italian linens, wet bar with microwave and minifridge, gas fireplace, flat-screen TV with HBO, and an almost-too-comfortable bedside lounge chair with ottoman. A selection of original artworks is part of a collection that spreads throughout all rooms and into the hotel’s public spaces—some of it on loan from Southport Gallery and some commissioned from prominent local pop artist Steven Vaughn, all of it available for purchase.
Chief among the new Delamar’s assets is its Route 1 proximity, about a mile from the center of Fairfield and three or four from downtown Westport. Both offer hijinks aplenty, but here’s a couple of must-dos: Take in a show at the undeniably gorgeous Westport Country Playhouse (The Diary of Anne Frank runs all this month), and stop for a treat at Fairfield’s magnifique French patisserie Isabelle et Vincent. Sit in the parlor by the fire, enjoy “coffee and” (we’re partial to the petit fours, macarons, madeleines and sables), order some delectables for an a friend (the store now ships nationwide) and worry about the calories on Monday.
Though it’s obviously a lot sleepier, we’d also recommend taking time to explore Southport itself. Its commercial center has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1971, and while the little shops are few, they’re unlike most little shops you’ll find anywhere else—from Barbara Barbara, offering a fascinating (and seemingly bottomless) collection of jewelry and other trinkets, to Switzer Pharmacy, the kind of independent neighborhood joint you thought went out with “Happy Days.” Equally retro in spirit, Driftwood Coffee Shop whips up great grilled breakfast dishes, sandwiches and egg creams.
Be sure to head out and ogle the stately mansions that line Harbor Road across from the grounds of the Pequot Yacht Club—private, but we found that no one objects if you take five here and share a daydream or two while enjoying the harbor views and the stars above. For dinner, we loved Paci, located in a renovated freight depot on the eastbound side of the Southport train station. In between being transfixed by the railroad-clock image projected on the wall and the Metro North trains rumbling above us, we tucked into superb regional Italian cuisine: fiori di zucca (squash blossoms filled with goat cheese, parmigiano and whole milk ricotta) and linguine alla vignole, dressed with a dozen plump littleneck clams sitting proudly in their perfect shells.
For more information, call (203) 259-2800 or visit thedelamar.com.

 

The White Hart Inn

Salisbury   

There’s no better time than now to get on the road again and head for foliage central. For us that translates into a drive up Route 8 to Route 44, through scenic backroads to Connecticut’s northwest corner and Salisbury’s White Hart Inn, in the foothills of the Berkshires.
We hadn’t been to the inn in ages and were eager to reconnect, especially after hearing owners Scott and Roxanne Bok had just completed a head-to-toe redo of the 19th-century landmark, long the hostelry of choice for parents of preppies at Hotchkiss and Salisbury School. In the process, they converted 26 small, older guest rooms into 15 luxurious (but not over-the-top) suites and reinvented the inn’s common areas.
Now new and old seem to meld seamlessly. From the spacious fireplaced foyer (formerly the registration area), we ascended a graceful winding staircase to Suite No. 8. There we were
         delighted to find an elegant yet comfortable home away from home with a soothing cream-and-gray-blue color scheme, a four-poster bed dressed with Frette linens and a generously sized bathroom that happily married tradition (wainscoting, a pedestal sink) with signposts of the good life (Carrara marble, silver-and-glass appointments).
We could have lingered indefinitely in our comfy sitting room, imagining ourselves back in the 19th century idealized in the Currier & Ives prints on the walls, or enjoying our bird’s-eye view of the inn’s expansive lawn, aka the Salisbury green. But we were eager to try new chef David Miller’s creative cuisine in the Hunt Room, a reinvigorated venue with mahogany beams, warm red walls and a floor-to-ceiling map of Litch­field County c. 1826. Talk about lo­cal, Miller’s menu draws on the bounty of the Boks’ Twin Lakes Farm just down the road. So after toasting with a Bellini made with farm-fresh peaches, we moved on to a dinner of sublime roasted corn soup made from Twin Lakes corn, tender steaks from the farm’s grass-fed cattle and just-picked salad fixin’s. As for dessert, Mil­l­er’s ethereal banana mousse cake won raves from Southern Living and his chocolates, in a dazzle of shapes, colors and flavors, are not to be missed—he owned three restaurants and a chocolaterie in Florida before being lured north by the Boks, and brought his talented pastry chef, Taylor Radan, with him.
The Hunt Room is welcoming to the max, but so too are the inn’s two other dining/gathering spots: the cozy Tap Room and wraparound porch, the latter perfect for outdoor dining—or just settin’. Lots of guests do just that, book or newspaper in hand.
But after lunch the next day on the porch (we recommend the Twin Lakes burger, served with heirloom tomatoes on a grilled pretzel roll), wanderlust kicked in and we were off—to explore nearby Millerton, N.Y., home of Harney & Sons Fine Teas and its charming tasting room/tearoom/shop; the shops and galleries in walking distance of The White Hart (notably, The White Gallery and Joie de Livres, the rare-book and photography gallery at Salisbury Wines); and the glorious Litchfield Hills. Speaking of which, the Appalachian Trail passes right by The White Hart and Connecticut’s tallest peak, Bear Mountain, is due north.
While it’s home to just 4,500 residents, the town of Salisbury, comprising the villages of Salisbury, Lakeville and Lime Rock, is quite the restaurant mecca, with Pastorale, The Boathouse, Interlaken Inn and The Woodland in addition to The White Hart. We decided to check out the newest entry, Café Giulia, brainchild of architect-turned-chef Robert Willis. Verdict: We’d go back in a heartbeat for Willis’ spinach salad with roasted beets, oranges and mint, pan-roasted duck with Bosc pear sauce and blackberry clafoutis.
In fact, after only two days we found ourselves savoring the country life and reluctant to leave—it’s easy to fall into a kinder, gentler pace in these bucolic environs. On the way home, we learned about the Litchfield Hills “Tour des Farms” (860/343-8085, ext. 147; active.com) kicking off at Freund’s Farm in nearby East Canaan Oct. 2, and the Salisbury Fall Festival Oct. 8-10. Time to call The White Hart re availability, not to be beaten out by all the (other) leaf-peepers.
For more information, call (860) 435-0030 or visit whitehartinn.com.

Fall Getaways

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