The road trip is the most American of all forms of travel. For a nation of car lovers, the open road is a symbol of freedom. Of course, in its classic form the road trip is transcontinental in scope. Dozens, perhaps hundreds of times I have looked out of a rain-streaked window in the Northeast and dreamed of palm trees and cloudless skies. No boundaries or customs posts stood in my way; all that was required was a decision to set out along an uninterrupted ribbon of asphalt. Given the current pandemic, however, road trips have acquired a wholly new significance. Many would-be travelers who find the thought of airplanes unappealing are assuaging their wanderlust with journeys by car. So, finding my own travel horizons still restricted, I decided to embark on a tour through Connecticut, southwestern Massachusetts and New York State.
Leaving Manhattan, we headed northeast to join Route 7 at Danbury. Ninety-five miles from New York, the pretty town of Washington is the place where Connecticut suddenly becomes unmistakably New England, with white church spires, classically proportioned houses and tidily mowed expanses of public green. Here, the landscape of the Litchfield Hills is open and rolling, with folds in the land containing a succession of small lakes. On the town’s southern outskirts, an unobtrusive sign indicates the driveway leading to the Mayflower Inn & Spa, a 30-room country house hotel set on a 58-acre estate. The shingled 19th-century mansion was originally converted into a luxury hotel by Robert and Adriana Mnuchin (parents of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin) who sold the property in 2007. Ultimately, it became part of the Auberge Resorts Collection, and since 2018 the group has been engaged in a major renovation, led by interior designer Celerie Kemble.
At the front entrance we were greeted effusively by a doorman who assured us that valet parking was still available — frequently it isn’t nowadays — and that he would attend to our vehicle once he had dealt with our luggage. We were checked in by a receptionist protected by a screen of plexiglass. After a brief glimpse at the library and the parlor, where Kemble’s talents for vibrant and eclectic interiors are on full display, we were escorted to our room in the nearby Speedwell Cottage.
Our Premium King room was smaller than we had expected. The ceiling was quite low and much of the room was taken up by a curtained four-poster bed. Traditional furniture included a handsome chest of drawers and a round occasional table. The recent refurbishment was most apparent in the bath, which was spacious and well-lit, with marble surfaces, floral pattern wallpaper, a heated floor, two sinks and a walk-in shower. Everything seemed brand new, and indeed I suspect that the soaking tub had never been used, as its metal bath plug refused to retract, allowing the water to run out. On a future occasion we would opt for a higher category providing more space, maybe a Signature King Room With Fireplace.
The renovation of the Mayflower is most evident in the main dining area, the Garden Room, which now has a bright contemporary look. The walls are adorned with colorful murals, painted in imitation of prints by the 18th-century English entomologist and engraver Moses Harris. The design is fresh and imaginative, but those expecting the kind of intimate setting typical of many New England properties may be disappointed.
As the weather was warm and settled throughout our stay, nearly all the guests opted to eat outside on the terrace overlooking the Shakespeare Garden, with its box hedges and colorful flowerbeds. There, waitstaff with masks and gloves flitted between the widely spaced tables. Their mood seemed cheerful and the quality of the service was high. The menu and wine list were accessed via QR codes and read on our cell phones, an efficient but charmless process. Currently, the hotel is experimenting with a succession of chefs-in-residence, each of whom stays for a three-month stint. At the time of our visit, the kitchen was helmed by Victoria Blamey, formerly of the Gotham Bar and Grill in New York.
As the weather was warm and settled throughout our stay, nearly all the guests opted to eat outside on the terrace overlooking the Shakespeare Garden, with its box hedges and colorful flowerbeds.
The lunch and dinner menus were virtually identical. My scallop ceviche with leche de tigre (a citrus-based Peruvian marinade) was delicious. On other occasions I tried the broken burrata with slow-roasted tomato, and the yellowfin tuna tartine with eggplant and tomato vinaigrette. Among the mains, the wagyu skirt steak with black garlic-and-peppercorn sauce was a standout, but the lobster roll was disappointing.
The chief amenity at the Mayflower is its huge multilevel spa, located a three-minute uphill stroll from the main hotel building. At present, this magnificent facility is open, but its activities have been curtailed. The whirlpool and indoor pool are in use, but there are no large classes, and the fitness area is limited to just four people at a time. Fortunately, the resort offers multiple ways to keep fit, including cycling, hiking, kayaking and tennis. Throughout our stay, we were consistently impressed by the positive attitude of the staff, who were clearly striving to make the best of things. Surrounded by acres of protective woodland, the property still offers tranquility and a refuge from many of the more unappealing aspects of our current reality.
An alternative base in the Litchfield Hills is provided by our recommended Winvian Farm (93), located 10 miles to the northeast.
Having explored the charming colonial-era towns of Washington, Kent, New Preston and Litchfield, we took to the road once again and headed north, via Salisbury, to Lenox in southwestern Massachusetts. Much of the 60-mile drive along Route 7 follows the lovely Housatonic River. Lenox is famous as the location of Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, as well as The Mount, a huge house built by novelist Edith Wharton.
The atmosphere of seclusion and rural serenity; the cheerful and obliging staff; the spectacular spa complex; the ideal location for exploring the Litchfield Hills.
Lower room categories are not particularly spacious, despite being relatively expensive.
Although the resort is located two hours’ drive from New York, the nearest major airport is Hartford’s Bradley International, from where you can be picked up in one of the property’s Land Rovers.
Located 2 miles to the southeast of town, Blantyre is a 24-room manor house hotel, set on a 110-acre estate. The Gilded Age mansion — one of 12 such piles in the vicinity known as Berkshire Cottages — originally belonged to Robert Warden Paterson, a Scottish immigrant who had made a fortune from the sale of turpentine and soap. Blantyre first became a hotel in 1981 and was purchased in 2016 by its present owner, Linda S. Law, a Silicon Valley real estate developer. (Former owners include film director and co-founder of United Artists, D.W. Griffith, and the hotel’s connection to the movies has been carried on by John Williams, who wrote the scores for “Star Wars” and “Harry Potter” films while in residence.) Since its acquisition, Blantyre has been the subject of a multimillion-dollar renovation.
Stopping in the porte-cochère, we were greeted by a receptionist. Registration formalities are now completed at the entrance, not inside, and among the paperwork I was required to sign was a Massachusetts Travel Form, stating that we were traveling either from a “lower-risk state” or had proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
To my annoyance, I discovered that I had reserved a Standard King Manor House room — the mistake was entirely mine — and as the hotel is currently allowed to operate at a maximum 50 percent occupancy and was full, it was impossible to upgrade. (In addition to accommodations in the mansion, Blantyre offers rooms and suites in the Carriage House, 400 yards away, plus four self-contained cottages.) Our room turned out to be comfortable, but relatively small at 250 square feet. Aside from the bed, there was space only for a small sofa and a writing table. The bath, which had evidently recently been reappointed, was large enough to contain a soaking tub as well as a wet area for the (powerful) shower. We had little reason to complain, but next time I shall be sure to book a Deluxe King Manor House room (540 square feet) or above.
Much of Blantyre’s appeal derives from its spectacular public areas, notably the Great Hall, with its huge fireplace and ornately carved woodwork, and the Music Room, a more feminine space, with a grand piano, intricate plasterwork and peacock-blue furnishings. In normal times, a pianist plays nightly before dinner, but the practice has been temporarily discontinued.
The recent modernization of Blantyre resulted in the creation of two restaurants: the Conservatory for fine dining and a bistro. The latter incorporates a wood-paneled bar, from the walls of which large black-and-white signed photographs of actors, including Anthony Hopkins, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, gaze benignly down. (Lenox is home to a well-regarded theater group, Shakespeare & Company.) At the time of our visit, the dining options were restricted to star chef Daniel Boulud’s bistro, which currently occupies the main dining room, a lovely space with an intricate parquet floor, Wedgwood-blue upholstery and filigreed Murano chandeliers. For dinner, I enjoyed tuna crudo, followed by a superlative rack of lamb. The dishes may have been standard fare, but the quality of their preparation was exceptional. Throughout the meal, the service was friendly and attentive. In these COVID-afflicted times, the restaurant does not serve lunch, and breakfast is brought to your room in a series of plastic boxes.
Other aspects of Blantyre have also fallen victim to the virus. Surprisingly, the mansion’s huge outdoor terrace overlooking the grounds was not in use, and the spa was closed. Although Blantyre is still grand, atmospheric and exceptionally comfortable, the property feels as though it is in suspended animation.
The magnificent public areas; the hospitable staff; the huge terrace overlooking the sweeping grounds.
Standard King Manor House rooms are small and should be avoided.
In normal times, the recently upgraded spa offers a eucalyptus steam room, a relaxation lounge, a spa cuisine menu and a meditation garden.
While planning my trip I’d toyed with the idea of returning to Wheatleigh (97), a deservedly famous country house hotel just a short walk from Tanglewood. Instead, I decided to try somewhere new. Located almost within sight of Blantyre, the Miraval Berkshires spa resort opened in July this year. Set on a slope, overlooking a golf course, it comprises a number of white barnlike pavilions, joined together by a web of covered walkways. This design ensures that the resort can function throughout the year. New England winters can be hard; Lenox is at an elevation of 1,200 feet; and the nearest ski resort, Butternut, is just 14 miles away. Although the enclosed corridors are doubtless practical in the snow season, walking along them feels rather like being in an airport. Having checked in at the dedicated reception area, I set off to the social center of the resort, the Great Hall, but found myself gripped by the strange apprehension that if I made a wrong turn I might find myself boarding a flight to London by mistake.
Fortunately the Great Hall itself has more character. At its center is Roost, a café, bar and lounge area with a log-burning fireplace, exposed stonework and a steeply pitched ceiling. Double doors lead out into the resort’s huge garden, which contains both an outdoor swimming pool and a Zen raked-gravel garden for meditation.
Our King Bed Room turned out to be on the second floor, and from its window there was a view of the forested Berkshire Hills. My immediate impression was that it had been designed chiefly for sleeping. Aside from an astonishingly comfortable bed, covered with a duvet and backed by a leather headboard, there was little furnishing other than a small round table and an armchair. The neutral color scheme was restful, but rather anonymous. And although the bath came with twin sinks set in charcoal-gray marble and a powerful walk-in shower, it lacked a tub, or anything that might have suggested luxury and indulgence. Due to the health emergency, room service has been suspended and it was only by accident that I discovered that daily housekeeping currently has to be requested.
The main Harvest Moon restaurant is a large raftered space that also seems utilitarian, a place for refueling rather than gastronomic pleasure. As might be expected at a spa resort, the portions were relatively small, and the dishes had been designed with their calorie content in mind, but overall the food was well-prepared and flavorful. The service was friendly rather than polished.
Despite COVID, the spa complex was open and massages were available. However, the spa’s indoor pool was closed. The enormous fitness center was completely deserted, and the adjoining studios for yoga, Pilates and spin classes were also empty when I passed by. Most people at the resort seemed either to be signing up for outdoor exercise sessions or taking advantage of the property’s extraordinarily comprehensive menu of outdoor activities. Given the unusual circumstances, I found it hard to arrive at a definitive judgment, but it seems likely that Miraval Berkshires will mature into a highly regarded destination spa, garnering the kind of accolades that have already been bestowed on its sister properties in Tucson and Austin.
After four days in the Berkshires, we hit the road once again, heading west to the magificently scenic Hudson Valley. This is sometimes referred to nowadays as a “cultural corridor” thanks to its once industrial, now fashionable towns of Beacon and Hudson, and its major art institutions, Dia:Beacon and the Storm King Art Center, both of which build on the artistic patrimony left by the 19th-century Hudson River school of painters.
The exceptional spa and fitness center; the astonishing range of activities, which run from archery to Zen meditation, plus everything in between.
The architecture is practical rather than aesthetically pleasing.
To make the most of the resort, it is important to research the experiences offered and to make reservations for activities prior to arrival.
Our next stop was Troutbeck, a hotel located near the town of Amenia in Dutchess County, New York, set amid 250 acres of wooded grounds. Turning off State Route 343, we headed down a private road, past a pond and over a stone bridge that spanned a shallow trout stream. At the top of a slight slope stood a weathered stone building with a slate roof. Originally built in 1765, Troutbeck has an illustrious history. During the tenure of the Benton family, it played host to Mark Twain, Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. A century later, it was purchased by Joel Elias Spingarn, a professor of comparative literature at Columbia University and the founder of the publishing firm Harcourt Brace & Company. Spingarn would invite literary giants of the era, including Ernest Hemingway, to spend time in restorative natural surroundings.
Originally built in 1765, Troutbeck has an illustrious history. During the tenure of the Benton family, it played host to Mark Twain, Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
The property’s latest incarnation began with major investment in 2017. The progress of the renovation has since been stalled by the pandemic: A spa and fitness center are still under construction, and little attention has so far been paid to the exterior of the main building, with parts of the roof and a number of the window frames being in obvious need of replacement. Our visit did not get off to an auspicious start. It was raining when we arrived, there was no one to help with the luggage, and the receptionist, shielded from my irritation by plexiglass, informed us that our room would not be ready until 4 p.m. at the earliest, due to the deep cleaning required between occupants. My mood improved, however, after a tour of the public rooms, which have been sensitively modernized without erasing any of their patina.
Having stored our luggage, we headed to the dining room for lunch. A more contemporary space with blond wood tables and striking semicircular olive-green banquettes, the restaurant provides a setting for the New American cuisine of chef Gabe McMackin, who previously earned a reputation, plus a Michelin star, at the Finch restaurant in Brooklyn. My appetizer of watermelon salad, with sea kelp, cucumber and anise hyssop, was unexpectedly delicious, and it was followed by outstanding ricotta cavatelli with sweet corn, Sungold tomatoes, chanterelles and Jimmy Nardello peppers. Lunch was a foretaste of things to come: Throughout our stay, the food was admirable — with the solitary exception of a pork rack that was slightly overcooked — and each meal brought a frisson of anticipation.
Troutbeck comprises 27 rooms and nine suites distributed between the main house, Century Lodge and the Garden House. At around 4:30 p.m. we were informed that our Grand Double room was finally ready. There was still no one to help with the bags, and we were obliged to struggle up a narrow flight of stairs unaided. Our room had been sealed with a strip of paper by the housekeeping staff, a symbolic gesture that nonetheless was quite reassuring. Inside, we found a large modern space, with two king-size four-poster beds, a writing desk with built-in power sockets, a charcoal-gray sofa and a pair of wingback armchairs. The peach-colored walls were unadorned, and the room seemed quite austere, though not uncomfortable. The bath appeared to have been recently modernized. Clad in white tiles, it came with two large pedestal sinks, a shower above the soaking tub, a heated floor, Frette robes and Malin + Goetz bath products.
Overall, we felt content. Until, that is, we tried to adjust the temperature control, which was stuck at 65 degrees. Having more than 30 years’ experience with recalcitrant hotel air-conditoning systems, I tried everything I could think of before finally calling reception. My request for assistance was received with what sounded like astonishment. Eventually, the voice on the phone suggested with a degree of finality, “Maybe open the window; that often makes the heating kick in.”
In retrospect, it was an experience that seemed emblematic. Troutbeck is disorganized and the service, other than in the restaurant, is half-hearted. It could be a wonderful property, and maybe in the post-COVID future it will be, but for now it is best suited to refugees from New York, who want to exchange a claustrophobic apartment for somewhere that offers fresh air, a swimming pool, a tennis court and opportunities to go fishing, hiking and biking.
Although we do not currently recommend any other hotels on the east bank of the Hudson, a promising new boutique hotel, The Maker, opened in the city of Hudson shortly after our trip. I intend to stay at the property as soon as possible to see if it fulfills its apparent potential.
The sense of literary and political history; the pretty setting beside a trout stream; the delicious New American food; the atmospheric and inviting public areas.
The lackluster service (except in the restaurant); the dilapidation of some parts of the old building’s exterior; the unappealing swimming pool.
There are numerous stables in the vicinity, and trail rides through the picturesque countryside can easily be arranged.
Rather than continuing down the Hudson Valley, we had decided to head west into the Catskills. Crossing the river on I-84 at Beacon, where the stately flow is nearly a mile wide, we drove for another hour and a half, gaining elevation and entering country that became progressively more wild. The DeBruce hotel is located at the southern edge of 700,000-acre Catskill Park, overlooking the banks of the Willowemoc Creek, a trout stream that is a tributary of the more famous Beaverkill.
The 19th-century inn stands on a grassy slope, surrounded by trees, next to a quiet road. It soon became apparent that despite recent investment this remains a relatively rustic property. Twin Farms it is not. Still, the young woman at reception was charming, and the main lounge, with its polished floor, beamed ceiling and walls covered with framed maps, was calm and dignified.
Upstairs, our room (one of 14) came with a small sitting area furnished with a leather chair and a chaise longue, a bedroom mostly taken up by a king-size bed covered with a down duvet, and a small bath with white tiles, a single pedestal sink and a walk-in shower with strong water pressure. Although sufficiently comfortable, these accommodations fell short of the required standard.
Flattering reviews of The DeBruce in a number of well-known publications have focused on the quality of its tasting menus, and indeed the property seems to have become a foodie destination for weekending New Yorkers. The inn now has a new chef, Eric Leveillee, whose résumé includes a spell at The Rittenhouse Hotel in Philadelphia. We headed downstairs and were surprised to find that the dining room has a minimalist, almost Nordic design, with stripped pale wood and a large metal stove. From our table we could see into the open kitchen, which was a scene of hectic activity. An extremely polite server arrived to explain the menu, bringing with him glasses of Jansz sparkling wine from Tasmania. For a moment it was hard to believe that we were in the middle of the Catskills. The nine courses that followed (with appropriate wine pairings) were all outstanding. Raw local trout with sour cream and cucumber was followed by delicious turbot with beet, cilantro and dill. The highlight of the meal, however, was aged beef with summer berries and hyssop. In each case, the presentation was exquisite.
The DeBruce is set on over 600 acres and offers 5 miles of hiking trails. There is also a private half-mile stretch of the Willowemoc for fly-fishing. Guides are available for both activities. During our stay, however, the majority of guests seemed to spend their time reading in the garden. There are many things to like about the inn, and people who are prepared to accept accommodations that are cozy and comfortable, but not in any sense luxurious, may well be happy here. The nearest property that we recommend unequivocally is Glenmere (95), a lavish hilltop retreat located around an hour’s drive to the south.
The sophisticated cuisine; the friendly and hospitable staff; the pretty and peaceful location.
The inn overlooks a road, (though few cars pass by); despite some investment, the property is still mostly rustic and traditional in style.
Private guides can be arranged for fly-fishing on the hotel’s private half-mile stretch of the Willowemoc Creek.
Retracing our steps, we recrossed the Hudson and headed south. We arrived at the Bedford Post Inn at lunchtime, but as the property’s bistro, the Barn, is currently open only for dinner, we drove into the nearby town of Katonah in search of something to eat. (The inn’s well-known fine-dining restaurant, the Farmhouse, will reopen in 2021.) Since it debuted in 2009 under the ownership of Richard Gere and his then wife, Carey Lowell, the Bedford Post Inn has functioned as a social center for the affluent surrounding area. When we arrived, most of the cars in the parking lot appeared to belong to local residents attending an outdoor yoga workshop.
The inn has just eight rooms, some of which are quite small. We had reserved a King Deluxe With Terrace room, which was sufficiently spacious, not least because of its outdoor extension. The bedroom came with a fireplace and was furnished with distressed-leather armchairs that appeared to have been salvaged from a Ralph Lauren photo shoot. The bath was quite large, with a soaking tub, a glass-enclosed walk-in shower and an extremely effective heated floor.
In an effort to maintain a semblance of normality, complimentary glasses of white wine and a tray of charcuterie swathed in cling film were left outside our door at cocktail hour. And the following morning, a simple room service breakfast — orange juice, coffee, croissants, pastries and fruit — was delivered in clear plastic boxes.
Aside from the restaurants, public areas at the inn comprise just the lobby and a small lounge. However, the pretty walled garden has a stone pavilion with a log-burning fireplace, which provides a cozy place to relax after dinner. The property’s casual restaurant has an expansive tree-shaded terrace, which was virtually full the night we ate there. Its atmosphere did not seem to have been subdued by the COVID crisis, and there was a good deal of chatter and laughter among the guests. Not being particularly hungry after a late lunch, I settled for a salad and moules frites, but my wife was more adventurous and ordered the bone marrow luge — a section of veal bone cut to expose the marrow and then topped with yellowfin tuna — which, she said, was delicious.
Leaving the Bedford Post Inn, we drove for 75 minutes back to Manhattan, the final stretch of our 500-mile circular journey. It had been no great surprise to find that even the best hotels are struggling with the restrictions and limitations imposed by the current pandemic. However, staff are understandably delighted to see returning guests and go out of their way to be more hospitable than ever. And just being out of lockdown, free to wander and explore, brings a rush of optimism and adrenaline that quickly overwhelms any sense of slight disappointment.
Comfortable rooms and well-appointed baths; the pretty walled garden; the friendly and helpful service.
Some rooms are small; aside from the restaurants, the amenities are limited, though a new spa is apparently being planned.
The charming town of Katonah, a 10-minute drive away, has numerous shops and casual restaurants.