‘Fall’ing for Litchfield hotels

Only 20 minutes apart, two exceptional Connecticut hotels, Mayflower Inn & Spa and Winvian Farm, are a treat in any season.

Last November I encouraged readers to visit the “refreshed” Mayflower Inn & Spa in Washington, Connecticut. This was not because it was the hotel immortalized in “Gilmore Girls” by TV writer-director-producer Amy Sherman-Palladino, who stayed there (although that would be a perfectly valid reason,) but because now under the banner of Auberge Hotels, which runs the place, Mayflower Inn is once again a hotel at the very top of its game.

A recent dinner and overnight stay reminded me just how much I always enjoy this property, which I have visited under several different management regimes, since I first inspected it as a “mystery guest” evaluator for Relais & Châteaux (of which the hotel was a member) nearly 15 years ago.

With the common areas redecorated and the rooms and large suites refurbished little more than a year ago, I can only repeat:  Mayflower is on top form. And it’s a hotel for all seasons. For sure, the place is at its jolliest in midsummer, when garrulous guests glug glasses of Rosé as they tan around the hotel’s well-appointed pool, glugging still more as the shadows lengthen. But it is also quite wondrous under snow, on a raw January day, say, when the fires are lit and you curl up with a good book on the window seat in the inglenook library. In spring, Mayflower yawns awake again, the woods seem to come alive and the Mayflower Spa, one of the finest in the Northeast and now renamed The Well, offers Forest Bathing (which is where aromatherapy meets tree-hugging) and in the restaurant the root vegetable-heavy menu gives way to local asparagus and other spring veggies.

If all this sounds like an ebullient new advertising recruit’s breathy first press release, so be it. But I‘ve been lucky enough to visit Mayflower in all seasons of the year and I tell you honestly you’d be hard pressed to choose among them. That said, the wonderful Connecticut fall is upon us and were I your prisoner and about to be tortured with, say, chocolate, yes, I might have to admit that the crisp-outdoorsy, leaf-peeping, full-on fall might just have the edge as the best season of all.

As for the accommodations, they are superb. In the first floor Speedwell cottage, for instance, you’ll find two enormous bedrooms and bathrooms, with balconies, verandas, Colefax and Fowler heavy silk curtains and an abundance of fireplaces. Chinese lamps with silk shades and white peace lilies soften the mood, while housekeeping is spit-spot, the ice bucket topped up (my personal luxury) in the morning and also at turndown. 

As for relaxation, just stepping into The Well’s hushed, magnificent all-white garden room, with its luxurious cream sofas and beautiful table lamps masquerading as miniature icebergs, is to have all anxiety slip away. And should you want to leave the property — though frankly I can’t see the point — the charming hamlet of Washington Depot, which boasts Marty’s workmanlike café and the superb Hickory Stick Bookshop, is just a couple of miles away. Come to think of it, perhaps the bookshop is the point.

Of course, small, luxury hotels, at least in a country as vast as the United States, are metaphorically like buses — nothing for an hour and then three at once. That’s to say, you may not come across a single good hotel in 300 miles of driving (if you happen to be driving in Nebraska, say), but then suddenly two appear within spitting distance of each other. That is certainly the case with Mayflower and Winvian Farm, a second, much-loved Litchfield County hotel, only 20 minutes’ drive from Mayflower in the direction of Morris and the Litchfield Hills, which burst onto the scene in a blaze of publicity in 2006.

Occupying a 110-acre farm once the property of Merrill Lynch partner Winthrop H. Smith and his wife Vivian, Winvian (as they named it) was left to their son, Winthrop H. Smith Jr,, who with his wife, Maggie, now the outright owner, commissioned the building of 18 unique cottages on the site. Each was to represent some aspect of Connecticut life, and together all the cottages would form a cohesive, luxury hotel.

No ordinary cottages these, however — and hence the publicity. First and foremost, the Helicopter Cottage (there’s always one sibling that gets all the attention) is a real U.S. Coastguard Sikorsky rescue helicopter, adapted into a guest room. And yes, I’ve stayed in it and yes, it has some crazy angles to negotiate.

Other wacky accommodations include the Stable, Library, Treehouse and Music Cottages, the clue to the cottage “style” contained in the name. And let’s not forget the Stone Cottage, where I once spent a wet Memorial Day weekend trying to convince myself that I had not mysteriously transmuted into Fred Flintstone.

Seriously, apart from the odd silliness where some small comfort has been sacrificed on the altar of unnecessary authenticity (I mean, honestly, even the wash basin in the Treehouse Cottage is made of wood.) The delightful surprise of Winvian is that it absolutely succeeds as a superb, independently owned-and-run luxury hotel, where the service is thoroughly polished and the young staff seems to know what you want before you even realize it yourself.

Guests converge on the ravishingly pretty dining room in the main house for breakfast and dinner, and the mood overall is of a swell house party where, despite the idiosyncrasies of the accommodation, everyone shares a common aim — fun. The wine list undoubtedly helps in this endeavor. It is encyclopaedic in scope. But as the Winvian people themselves say in their brochures, this extraordinary place is all about “graces but no airs” and “no extravagance or opulence, only warmth and treats.”

At the end of the day, or even the beginning of it, at the first blush of spring or in autumn now upon us, that is a terrific mission statement, and all I ever really ask of any hotel.

For more, visit aubergeresorts.com and winvian.com.

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