The house of the (literary) spirits

Anthony Champalimaud has brought Troutbeck, a stone manor house and 45-acre estate dating from 1765, sensitively and sympathetically back to life.

Do you pronounce your name Anthony or Antony?” I ask my host, the first time we meet, on a late winter’s evening in the cozy bar at Troutbeck, his thoroughly lovely hotel in Amenia, New York. “Well my mother calls me Anthony,” he replies, despite the spelling, pronouncing it with a hard “T” and silent “H.” “And if it’s good enough for her…”  

Well, precisely. Anthony’s mother is the internationally acclaimed interior designer, Alexandra Champalimaud, whose design projects — among a vast slew of clients and celebrated hotel names — include The Carlyle in Manhattan, the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles and The Dorchester in London. Along with his wife, Charlie, and with his mom, Alexandra, also on board — a setup which might look inherently risky on paper but which plays out beautifully in real life — Anthony Champalimaud has brought Troutbeck, a stone manor house and 45-acre estate dating from 1765, sensitively and sympathetically back to life.

Originally the home of the poet, farmer and naturalist Myron Beecher Benton and, later, the literary critic and civil rights activist Joel Elias Spingarn, Troutbeck had long been a gathering place for writers, politicians and social reformers. Mark Twain, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sinclair Lewis and Ernest Hemingway have all been guests here at one time or another, and the literary associations of the house and its friendly ghosts are around. 

You could happily spend a day in Troutbeck’s library, unearthing serendipitous treasures like “Surinam Now and Then” or an early edition of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.” Some of the rarer volumes sit behind mesh grilles but are nonetheless accessible (tip: hold the panel in the middle by its inner edges and give a good yank), but mesh or no mesh, the rewards for digging are great. A first — perhaps only — edition of “The Eternal Male” by Omar Sharif? Irresistible reading, I’d say (at least for a male); a Christmas card signed “Langston Hughes,” which flutters from an innocuous-looking paperback volume of verse? Random to say the least. And magical.

“I wanted this to be a proper house, with proper service, rather than a hotel,” Anthony says. And that’s just what it feels like, a well-run house, comfortable but never showy, with original hardwood floors, repurposed furniture and pieces made by local artisans. There are some lovely old rugs, zingy upholstery, wonderful beds with Frette linens, along with white-tiled bathrooms that are an object lesson in simple restraint, rendered deluxe with Malin+Goetz products. 

Other pluses include wood-burning fireplaces in the library and living room, a sun room with a pool table and an inviting pantry where you can help yourself to delectable treats from the Smeg refrigerator, signed for on an honor basis. Food is taken pretty seriously at Troutbeck but avoids that kind of pretentiousness that is often the downfall of country restaurants. In the informal, light-filled dining room, you might follow a chowder or Scotch egg salad with black bass or loin of lamb, everything sourced locally where it makes sense to do so, from local farms and top Hudson Valley producers. And, in addition to the main Manor House, with its 17 bedrooms, there is Century Lodge, a four-bedroom historic cottage; Century Annex, with 12 guest rooms; and Garden House, another four-bedroom cottage — all with living rooms and kitchens, for a quiet couple’s retreat or full-on, intergenerational family get-together. Troutbeck, naturally, is dog-friendly. 

As for Amenia, it’s an easy and rather lovely drive up from New York City, or indeed from almost anywhere in the Hudson Valley, although I am partial to the train. I took Metro-North all the way from Grand Central Terminal and, voyeur that I am, watched with some fascination as, after Southeast, (where you change trains, except at rush hour, when services are direct), the passengers start to thin out. The final stretch to Wassaic, which is the end of the line and the station for Troutbeck, just seven minutes away, felt like a cocktail party — or would have, if only there had been a bar car.

Back in March when I first visited Troutbeck, there was snow on the ground in Dutchess County and the fires were lit. Although I drank gin and tonics with my habitual slice of lemon at the bar, glühwein, the German mulled wine, might have been more the ticket. Relatively late in the season, there was still good skiing at Catamount and on the Mohawk Mountain, 15 miles away.  

But now it’s early summer and I’m back. The outdoor swimming pool with its bar and grill is open (I’m loving the Kenyan “kikoy” towels on the chaise longues) and at my back I hear the thwick-thwack of tennis balls from Troutbeck’s two tennis courts — the summeriest of sounds. 

Anthony Champalimaud fly-fishing. Photograph by Nicola Franzen for Design Hotels.

“Optimism is what you need,” Anthony says as he gets togged up, assembling his rod and whipping out a landing net like a gladiator flourishing his shield. Down by the Webatuck Creek, just steps from the Main House, he is kindly giving me and my 14-year-old son a lesson in fly-fishing. He’s a great teacher, Anthony, demonstrating the “two o’clock to 10 o’clock” casting action with the grace of a butterfly alighting on a leaf. “Don’t flick from the wrist,” he says in his smooth, soft voice, ever patient, but even at this early stage I’ve a gnawing feeling that I will never fully master the art.

Troutbeck, it transpires, is a sporting paradise. Besides swimming and tennis and fly-fishing on the Troutbeck estate, there are bicycling and hiking trails in the Harlem River Valley (the hotel has bikes at your disposal), horseback riding at Millerton and Millbrook nearby and English riding lessons at Pine Plains just over 10 miles away. There’s canoeing and kayaking on the Housatonic River in West Cornwall, Connecticut, and more hiking still on the Appalachian Trail, close by in Kent, Connecticut. At the Mashomack Polo Club in Pine Plains there are matches every weekend from now through the end of September, while there’s hunting, shooting and some fine angling to be had over at Tamarack Preserve in Amenia, just a few minutes from Troutbeck. Orvis Sandanona shooting grounds and Lime Rock Race Track are but a hop, skip and a jump.

When you’ve had enough of sport, think about a tour of the Millbrook Vineyards & Winery, with the all-important tasting to follow. Speaking for myself, I can never tire of a crisp Hudson Valley Chardonnay. The same, as by now you will have doubtless surmised, goes for Troutbeck, too.

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