5 Great Escapes
Ever feel the urge to get away for a few days? Even a 48-hour respite from daily routines can feel like a rejuvenating vacation, if you choose your destination wisely. Here are five inns and B&Bs that are close enough for an easy weekend sojourn, but far enough away to make you feel like you’ve left your cares behind.
A Tree’s Namesake
Glows in Connecticut
The Copper Beech Inn, Ivoryton, Connecticut
The tattered handwritten sign I spot in the musty old antiques store says it best: “Grandma bought it, Mom got rid of it, and now I am buying it back.” Helping me buy back our grandmothers’ tchotchkes (sorry, heirlooms)—and then some—is my sister, my travel companion on this overnight hiatus from homework, husbands, and household hassles. Our plan? To explore Connecticut’s Lower River Valley & Shoreline, a paradise for arts and antiques aficionados, from a luxurious home base: The Copper Beech Inn, one of the region’s most exquisite bed and breakfasts.
Forget shabby chic. The Copper Beech positively exudes impeccable elegance. Posh? Yes. Pretentious? Decidedly not. The lovely 1880s Victorian manor house, whose outdoor verandas and enclosed porch overlook a picturesque English country-style garden, has been meticulously restored to feature gleaming expanses of polished mahogany and marble, stunning period furnishings and oil paintings, velvety Oriental carpets, cozy fireplaces, and flower-filled sitting areas.
And it is situated in an area teeming with cultural pursuits. In addition to scores of antiques shops (there’s even premium outlet shopping close by for those who prefer their purchases new), the surrounding countryside is home to many galleries, several fine museums (including the renowned Florence Griswold Museum and the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts), theaters (Ivoryton Playhouse, the nation’s longest continually running summer stock theater, and the Goodspeed Opera House), and such unique experiences as the seasonally operated Essex Steam Train and Riverboat Ride.
Tuckered out from our own day of activities, we are delighted to loll around our sumptuous peach-and-cream-colored suite; its bay window overlooks the tree for which the inn is named. From there, we amble down to the inn’s crown jewel, The Ivoryton dining room, which more than lives up to its reputation for exceptional country French cuisine. Indeed, the galette de crabe starter (Dungeness crab cake with shrimp mousse) and the homard FranÃ§ais aux truffes entrÃ©e (sautÃ©ed lobster with Madeira, brandy, cream, and fresh truffles) are truly magnifique. And the next morning’s full hot breakfast—we feast on fresh-baked flaky croissants, fluffy blueberry pancakes, and crispy home fries—is equally calorie-worthy.
And while ours is a girls-only getaway, the Copper Beech is known for romantic rendezvous, so I vow to return soon with one of my favorite canoodling companions. (Fortunately for my husband, our Lab wouldn’t be able to make it up onto the tall old-fashioned four-poster bed, anyway.)
Get Away—Far Away
Manor House Inn, Bar Harbor, Maine
There are times when an average weekend jaunt just won’t cut it, and you feel the need to get on the open road and hit the gas. When the urge struck me, I loaded my Honda with CDs and sandwiches and drove—heading almost to the end of the country. When my traveling companion and I finally reached our far-flung destination of Bar Harbor, ME—a 470-mile drive from Westchester—the historic Manor House Inn greeted us like a sunrise, its cheery yellow buildings standing out against the nearby Maine waterfront.
Manor House Inn, a member of both the Select Registry of Distinguished Inns of North America and the National Register of Historic Places, is actually composed of a hodgepodge of buildings, all of which surround a central courtyard garden. Most guests choose to stay in the 22-room, 1887 mansion, restored to its original splendor by innkeepers Ken and Stacey Smith. Those who want a touch more privacy can choose one of the two freestanding, Shaker-style garden cottages and have a little one-room bungalow all to themselves. I passed on these options, however, in favor of the 1897 chauffeur’s cottage, where I relaxed each morning on a private porch overlooking the garden gazebo. All of the rooms are furnished with charming Victorian antiques, period accessories, and big, comfy beds—and that’s about it. Be warned: the Manor House is for those who are serious about getting in some R&R; many rooms are devoid of TVs, DVD players, telephones (there is a courtesy phone in the main house), WiFi access, or, as I heard many travelers bemoan throughout my trip to Bar Harbor, cellphone reception (but, hey, that’s what happens when you head into the mountains).
Bar Harbor’s main thoroughfare is an easy downhill stroll from the Manor House steps. There, you can head out into Frenchman’s Bay on a whale-watching or nature-spotting cruise (I spied a bald eagle from a glorious 151-foot, four-masted schooner named the Margaret Todd), catch a comedy show at the Improv Acadia, amble down the shore walk, or grab a spot on a bench and watch the boats sail in and out of the harbor. When you tire of being around the bustling crowds, head to the gorgeous wilderness of Acadia National Park. The first sunrise in the United States can be seen from the peak of the park’s Cadillac Mountain. Hike around the nature trails for as long as you like, but stopping for afternoon tea at the Jordan Pond House, famous for its warm, flaky popovers, is a must (request an alfresco table for a picnic-like experience).
Sadly, dinner is not offered at the Manor House Inn, but there are many fine restaurants within walking distance, and it seems as if one dish is on everyone’s mind: lobster. One daring establishment even concocted a steamed, buttered lobster ice cream (for journalistic reasons, I had to try it; it tasted like a typical vanilla scoop with an unnaturally chewy center and a lingering seafood aftertaste—yuck!). It’s best to stick to the more traditional offerings at the Poor Boy’s Gourmet (207-288-4148), where a mean lobster po’ boy is served, or at the waterfront Terrace Grille (207-288-3351) overlooking the docks of the Bar Harbor Inn. But whatever you do, save room for Stacey Smith’s sumptuous breakfast. She offers waffles with homemade strawberry sauce, ham-and-cheese quiches, and still-warm muffins, cakes, and scones, but I still dream of her homemade French toast stuffed with cream cheese and fresh Maine blueberries. Now that’s a breakfast that will keep you full for the long drive home.
Rittenhouse Square Bed & Breakfast, Philadelphia
Every so often, the traditional bed & breakfast experience can feel just too darn relaxing. Sometimes, after all of the sitting, soothing, soaking, calming, contemplating, lounging, and de-stressing, you want to get up and actually do something. Wouldn’t it be nice to have the advantages of a small city at your disposal?
Look no further than the Rittenhouse Square Bed & Breakfast, a luxurious 1911 carriage house located right in center city
Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of opportunities for pampered relaxation at Rittenhouse Square, whether it’s curling up with Godiva chocolates and a bottle of Fiji water on ultra-soft, triple-sheeted Anichini beds, or by stepping out from under the hot stream of the Grohe waterfall showerheads into the fluffiness of Frette robes in the marble-tiled bathrooms. You can unwind from your afternoons on the town with a complimentary wine reception each evening, and cozy up to a warm fireplace, either in your room or in the Victorian drawing room. If you head to the tranquil cafÃ© for homemade muffins and pastries, artisan breads, and fresh fruit in the morning, all you will hear is the clanking of teaspoons against fine china.
Once you’ve had your fill of quiet time, though, plug back into the real world. For a high-tech evening in, each of the B&B’s 15 rooms (expanding to 22 in the near future) features a large flat-screen plasma TV with 100-channel cable and wireless Internet access (computers are available in common spaces if you don’t want to lug your laptop with you). But make sure you have time to get out and enjoy the City of Brotherly Love. A 24-hour concierge is on hand to help you navigate the shops, sites, museums, concerts, and world-class restaurants within steps of the ritzy Rittenhouse Square.
What’s your poison? If it’s gin, head over to the Continental Midtown (215-567-1800), a swanky, swinging eatery (think hanging rattan chairs and conversation pits) known for its top-shelf martinis. If rum is more to your taste, sample the Cuban and New American food at Cuba Libre (215-627-0666), a Havana-style restaurant with more than 60 varieties of rum to choose from to concoct the eponymous libation. Afterward, catch a concert at the Kimmel Center for Performing Arts (215-893-1999; www.kimmel
center.org), home to The Philadelphia Orchestra (and, this month, other great performers like Emmylou Harris), or catch acoustic acts and up-and-coming singer/songwriters at the Tin Angel (215-928-0770). Walk around the historic district to see homes dating back to the 18th century, visit art museums and galleries, or attend one of the events on the waterfront at Penn’s Landing. And, when the snack-attack arrives, you can be sure to find a gooey cheesesteak out there with your name on it.
The Manor House, Norfolk, CT
The towns were tiny, quiet, and darling. The people were friendly, informal, and down-to-earth. The antiques shops were ubiquitous—and affordable. After an hour ride north, it was clear we had entered “The Country.” In case we had any doubts that we were far from “it all,” we had—gasp!—no cellphone reception. This was the real thing.
The Manor House in
We used the inn as a base to explore the region’s charming towns, starting with Stockbridge, MA, about a 45-minute drive away. Check out Williams & Sons Country Store (413-298-3016) simply to experience the wonders of an old-fashioned general store: penny candy, locally made teas and jams, adorable knickknacks, and clever kitchen tools. In keeping with the Americana theme, a trip to Stockbridge’s Norman Rockwell Museum, home to the world’s largest collection of original Rockwell art, might be in order. Stockbridge’s neighbor, Great Barrington, is livelier—hey, it’s got more than one main street—but still quaint.
If you come here in the summer, hike up Monument Mountain, off Route 7, for a spectacular view, or walk down to stunning Bash Bish Falls, off Route 23. And of course, go hear fine music at Tanglewood or see great dancing at Jacob’s Pillow in Lee, MA (about 50 minutes away). In the winter, there’s skiing at nearby Butternut Ski Area in Great Barrington, MA, or Catamount in Hillsdale, NY. The region is also an antiques-lover’s paradise; everywhere you turn, it seems, there’s a shop filled with wooden rocking chairs, old armoires, dainty glass sets, and gorgeous mirrors.
Where to eat? We tried Sweet Pea’s in
You may only be sorry you have to return home. On the drive back, we lamented as we watched the familiar bars on our cellphones creep into view.
The Bird & Bottle Inn in Garrison
I was tired, cranky, and hungry when my husband and I hit the road for our recent mid-week overnight. A scant 30 minutes later I was revived by the bucolic scenery and fresh air of Vermont. All right, we weren’t really in Vermont, but we might as well have been. And best of all? Our destination, a darling historic inn, is located just a few miles over the county border, tucked deep into the woods of Putnam County’s scenic Garrison.
Though I have lived in Westchester more than 25 years, I had never ventured up to the Hudson Highlands region. Do learn from my mistake. Nestled alongside the river between the Bear Mountain and Newburgh-Beacon bridges, this picturesque area is bursting with rustic charm and cultural attractions, and the venerable Bird & Bottle Inn is a perfect springboard from which to experience them.
One of the oldest inns in the state—it dates back to 1761, when it was a stagecoach stop for travelers journeying between New York City and Albany—it reopened last summer after a yearlong restoration by its new owner and delightful host, Elaine Margoles. Rejuvenated, the inn oozes Early American charm. The ground floor houses a map room alongside an inviting dining room with an oversized stone fireplace. Three guest rooms tucked upstairs feature 18th-century furnishings, working fireplaces, and handmade quilts atop antique iron or four-poster beds, and a cozy little cottage is located but a few steps away at the end of a brick pathway.
Of course, you could happily do absolutely nothing here. Or, fortified by Elaine’s homemade breakfast of oversized muffins and fresh fruit, you could set forth and explore some of the area’s cultural highlights. In Garrison, there’s the historic Boscobel Restoration (also the site of an under-the-stars Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival from June into September) and the Russel Wright Design Center/Manitoga, the restored garden, studio, and house of one the most influential American designers of the mid-20th century. The famed Dia:Beacon museum is in nearby Beacon. Or, you could do as we did and hit the links at the breathtaking Garrison Golf Club course, a stone’s throw (or several good golf drives) just down the road, then wander through the antiques and specialty shops along the main street of the quaint 19th-century village of neighboring Cold Spring.
Whatever you do—or don’t—just make sure to return to the Bird & Bottle’s restaurant to savor its fresh seasonal gourmet cuisine, worth a trip even if you can’t spend the night snuggling in front of the fire under one of the inn’s vintage quilts.