An Old Saybrook welcome

At the Saybrook Point Inn Marina & Spa in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, the vacation experience transcends the traditional amenities.

When the Saybrook Point Inn Marina & Spa offered me its hospitality recently, who was I to say no?

Nestled in the picturesque, historic town of Old Saybrook at a spot where the Connecticut River meets the Long Island Sound, the inn had long been on my bucket list, even though I already had more than a passing acquaintance with it. We at WAG had done a story on its colorful history for our February 2016 issue. And my sister Gina’s friends Kathleen and Robert Hansen own several businesses in town — including Johnny Ad’s, a guilty pleasure of a fish shack noted for its fried scallops,  lobster rolls, vanilla shakes and doo-wop soundtrack; and the pretty, new, Tiffany-blue Blow Dry at the Beach. 

From the moment I spied the pink Victorian with its triple deck porch that is part of the Saybrook Point Inn’s French country-style complex on one of my family’s trips from Boston, I was determined to stay there. Now with Gina and her feisty Chihuahua mix Fausto once more on the open road — OK, a congested I-95 — I was about to see my dream come true. What I would discover is that while Old Saybrook offers an array of pursuits — from fishing and boating to bird-watching at an Audubon sanctuary to exploring lighthouses and Indian and colonial history — it was the simpler pleasures of writing and breakfasting in bed, taking a yoga class, having a pedicure, eating an ice cream cone on Main Street while window shopping, walking by the water and, especially, renewing old acquaintances and making new ones that held the most meaning.

Old Saybrook is one of those places that prove geography is destiny. 

“What’s interesting about it is that it has no industry, because the water is not deep enough for commercial boats,” says John Lombardo, the inn’s general manager. But industry’s loss would prove to be tourism’s gain. From 1957 to ’80, the inn’s footprint was occupied by another hotel, the Terra Mar, which hosted movie stars and mobsters alike. Frank Sinatra’s yacht docked there. And the 1961 film “Parrish,” starring Troy Donohue, was partly filmed there. But the Terra Mar was also raided by the FBI as a gambling den and fell into disrepair.

Enter Louis Tagliatela Sr. and wife Mary, who bought the Terra Mar at auction in 1980 and opened Saybrook Point Inn nine years later. Today, their children oversee a 105-key operation that is green and pet-friendly. There are 81 rooms and suites in the Main Inn, which also houses the 500-member Saybrook Point Health Club and the spa, Sanno, named for the Latin for “sound of mind and body.” A junior suite shaped like a lighthouse rises like a sentinel from the marina, which has 125 fixed and floating slips, plus a dock for megayachts that can accommodate boats of up to 200 feet, Lombardo says. The Lighthouse Suite has been dubbed “the most romantic room in the Northeast” by Connecticut Magazine and it’s easy to see why with its snuggy, nautical bedroom commanding views that make you feel as if you are one with the sea.

Across the street are the inn’s 24 villas — three buildings of eight, seven of which are completely furnished — for short- and long-term rentals. They stand in the footprint of The Pease House hotel and restaurant (1871-1956), once the place to dine and stay in Old Saybrook. Next to these are the inn’s two guesthouses — the coral-colored Tall Tales, which Lombardo says has a “beachy, contemporary feel;” and the pink-colored Three Stories, a renovation of the 1892 Italianate-style home of railroad engineer William Vars that now contains a rose- and iris-filled garden with Chris Conner’s two-sided wood sculpture of Vars at work and at play with his dog. (The floral gardens at the inn are by GM Lombardo’s wife, Darci, while East Wharf Architects of Madison, Connecticut, Silver Contract Interiors of Stamford and Anne Christie Landscape Design of Hampton, Connecticut, are responsible for the architecture, décor and overall landscaping of the complex respectively.) The South Cove Cottage, a rental property, completes the picture.

With so much to explore within the complex, we had to divide our time carefully between Main Street, about a two-mile walk from the inn, and the complex itself. Everyone should have such pleasant challenges. We took in a show at The Kate, the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center (see related story) after dining on contemporary cuisine at Livs that included a splendid warm pea soup and spicy shrimp and pork dumplings. (We would have traditionally hearty fare, including a nicely battered fish and chips, the next day at Penny Lane Pub, which the Hansens once owned.)

I looked for home items at The Shops at Saybrook Country Barn, browsed Harbor Books and relished a soft-serve vanilla gelato cone at Sweet Luna’s. But the inn kept calling me. I walked the adjacent causeway, reveling in the wind at my back, a shower of sunshine and the exhilarating sight of sea and sky. I did hatha yoga in a subtly challenging class taught by Erin Bartolome at the health club that had me feeling the pleasurably aching effects the next day and had a relaxing pedicure with Samantha Magnotta at Sanno. And Bob, Kathleen, Gina and I relished a “farewell” dinner of shrimp, tuna tartare, veal and pasta at the inn’s Fresh Salt restaurant, framed by a sunset glow.

I might, however, have been just as content to stay in “my” pink house, with its blush accents, soft classical music, morning fruits and scones and room tributes to the great women of Old Saybrook. (I was in the Miss Anna Louise James Room, a vibrant red and green-accented space honoring Connecticut’s first woman pharmacist.)

Not all the great ladies of Three Stories are historic. The grandmotherly Anna Trenta Pratt — a friend of “Mrs. Tag’s,” as Mrs. Tagliatela is affectionately known — lives nearby and serves as the concierge of the building. Encountering her one morning at a desk off Three Stories’ common area, I fell into a conversation about the meaning of life. It wasn’t long before we were exchanging addresses.

Amenities, it turns out, can’t be measured merely in toiletries or minibars. Some reach out to touch your soul as they offer you a touch of home.

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