Over the river and through the (luxe) woods

If you’re still undecided where to spend the holidays in this extraordinary year, if social ‘bubbles’ are going to oblige you to exclude extended family and friends from your own table or prevent you from visiting theirs this November, then why not call it quits and think of a Thanksgiving vacation instead?

True, New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo is urging us to hold off unnecessary or nonessential travel as we go to press, but Connecticut and New Jersey still form a “safe” partnership with New York. In short, we can travel among these states. Massachusetts is permissible too without quarantining upon return, but may require more caution. So, let’s keep it nice and local. At the ‘refreshed’ Mayflower Inn & Spa in Washington, Connecticut, instead of tiptoeing around Covid, as if it were the nasty thing it undoubtedly is, they have embraced it. Well, metaphorically speaking, that is. Encouraging those who are now working from home to work from Mayflower instead, their smart “Work, Learn and Play in Connecticut” program provides a dedicated business concierge to help you with your office admin and tech needs, as well as tutoring for your older kids. (And for any kids reading this, believe me, if ya gotta do schoolwork, there’s no better place to do it than at the Mayflower.) A childcare service, meanwhile, will take care of your younger ones, when you go off and do whatever it is you want to do when your working day is through (or before it has even begun.) At Mayflower, that might be anything from hiking the trails, to therapies in the hotel’s world-class, 20,000-square-foot spa — one of the very best in the Northeast — to cocktail classes with the bar team or parlor games in the renovated parlor.

Add a celebrity chef, April Bloomfield, of New York restaurant The Breslin fame (see this month’s Wonderful Dining,) who is now the Mayflower’s Chef-in-Residence, and the Mayflower’s Thanksgiving Feast should be an especially swell affair. Expect a traditional three-course menu with “all the trimmings,” as well as appealing options for non-turkey eaters.

Chefs with big city Michelin stars to their name now decamping to the country seems to be a thing right now. Up at Blantyre in the beautiful Berkshires of Western Massachusetts, a hotel that I wrote about at length in Wanders last year, wagmag.com/ah-back-to-blantyre/ internationally acclaimed chef Daniel Boulud’s three-month pop-up, which was due to end in October, has been extended through the end of February 2021. The holidays, which have always been wonderfully atmospheric at this storied, Gilded Age property, will now have an added dimension — food that absolutely sings. It will be complemented with wines from Blantyre’s renowned cellar — more than 8,000 bottles at the last count.

Oh, and one more thing to add. Blantyre has recently scrapped its “no children under 16” rule, and now welcomes children from the age of 8. That’s a very good thing in my view, showing younger guests that there is fun to be had in beautiful surroundings. (And not to put too fine a point on it, but I’ve lost count of the number of times I have seen young children in expensive hotels behaving infinitely better than their parents.)

How safe are hotels exactly? Only you can decide your comfort zone. What I will say is that all the hotels I have looked at for this month’s Wanders have adopted the strictest Covid protocols, while still managing to retain the elements of luxury and escapism that any upscale hotel stay should include.

If you like to be beside the seaside, even out of season — and personally I very much do — head down to Cape May, New Jersey’s southernmost point, this month. Congress Hall, an impossibly grand, ocean-facing hotel which has recently celebrated its 200th birthday, stakes its claim as the oldest resort in America, but it is bang up to date with its Covid protocols. UV-light technology for sanitizing, air purifiers in public rooms and enhanced HVAC cleaning systems show this hotelier — like the rest on this page — is taking its responsibilities seriously. Plus, those cobweb-clearing sea breezes also play their part. Thanksgiving dinner is à la carte at Congress Hall, which suits many diners and I’m particularly taken with the website, which happily announces: “Children under 4 are free.” (It’s not every day you see restaurants giving away children.)

Without any inconvenience to guests and barely any interruption of service, the most stringent protocols are followed, too, at Troutbeck, the stylishly restored, historic property with strong literary associations in Amenia, New York. Just seven minutes from Wassaic, the last stop on Metro-North’s Harlem Line (the hotel will pick you up in its swish X7-Series BMW,) Troutbeck feels like the country house you wish you had — laidback, understated, never showy but supremely comfortable. Log fires blaze in the living room and library, with the sound of cocktails being shaken at the bar — always the best sort of background music. And although currently open to hotel residents only, with the arrival of Gabe McMackin, of Michelin-starred The Finch in Brooklyn as new executive chef, the food at Troutbeck — honest, authentic, of the land but not fancified, is better than ever. There’ll be much to be thankful for at Troutbeck this holiday season — if you can work the trick of a reservation.

From the Lower Hudson Valley, it takes roughly 12 hours to drive to Blackberry Farm, the celebrated Relais & Châteaux property in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, where a butcher, a baker, a forager and a cheesemaker all work together with a great chef to create one of the most exciting culinary experiences in all of North America. Once upon a time, any time before March this year in fact, I would have thought twice about driving such a distance when a direct flight from New York down to Knoxville takes less than two hours. But along with Covid has come the need to adapt. My own time clock has been recalibrated and I find myself enjoying driving long distances — relaxed, unwound, unmasked.

I won’t be visiting Blackberry this month of course, because Tennessee is a restricted state and besides, the hotel is fully booked over Thanksgiving for — wait for this — the next two years. But I do hope to return one day soon. As they say down on the farm, and it’s worth remembering any time of the year, not just at holiday time: “We’ll handle all the details while you reflect on all your reasons to be thankful.”

For more, visit blackberryfarm.com, aubergeresorts.com/mayflower, blantyre.com, caperesorts.com/congress-hall and troutbeck.com.

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