The mood to wander from home hit recently, even if only for a night or two. My sweetheart and I decided to get in the car and look for great food and wine, lots of shopping, a bit of exploration, a relaxing place to stay, and, above all, something different from our hometown of Fairfield County, Connecticut.
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New York? Been there.
Boston? Done that.
How 'bout Nantucket? Nah, too crowded in summer and too quiet the rest of the year.
With a search engine at my fingertips, AAA maps, and some great word-of-mouth suggestions, my favorite travel companion, Ron, and I were off on a New England road trip that would, in a few short days, include Vermont, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.
Our first stop was 230-miles from Fairfield County to Barnard, Vermont's Twin Farms. The location was so exclusive its entrance was an unmarked iron gate that that was buzzed open on our arrival.
As we drove into the 300 acres of rolling Vermont fields, mountains, lakes, and gardens, we were instantly at ease. This retreat combines first class service with lush master suites; private cottages; blazing fireplaces; Jacuzzis; a game room; a fitness center and spa; a Japanese furo or hot tub; ski slopes; kayaking; fishing and guided hiking trails. There is no need to leave the property.
The Main House, built in 1795, serves as the property's hub and offers guests dining and living and guest rooms and a library. This historic house was formerly the summer residence of the Hawaii-based Twigg-Smith family, well-known private contemporary art collectors.
Rooms and cottages each offered a distinct and eclectic flair, reflected through architecture and interior nuances, all designed by New York's Jed Johnson and Alan Wanzenberg. We stayed in the Asian decorated Orchard Room, with its dark wood furnishings and vibrant red chaise lounge, eclectic artwork, two fireplaces, and a large marble and stone-shower bathroom. This served as a perfect compliment to the breathtaking mountain views around our cottage,
The cost was all-inclusive, which translated into our accommodations, fabulous four-star meals, wines and spirits, activities, and lots of little extras that were offered throughout the visit. No tipping was necessary and requests were easily met. Chef Neil Wigglesworth prepared daily menus based on fresh local ingredients and paired the meal with appropriate wines from their 26,000-bottle wine cellar.
Bidding farewell was so hard we accidentally took our room key home with us.
Next we steered our car closer to home and started looking for something off the beaten path. As wine aficionados, we decided on New Hope, Pennsylvania and Frenchtown, New Jersey, both bordering Bucks County neighborhoods. These towns house a few soon-to-be popular wineries, quaint bed and breakfasts, lots of antique shops, and a scenic drive along the Delaware River.
Frenchtown is a town full of culture, art and hospitality. Unique shops, local cafes, and a diverse residential population of about 1,500, makes up this delightful artisan destination. After a day of sightseeing and shopping we headed back to Route 32 to Indian Rock Inn and Restaurant for a hearty "New England-meets-the-Mediterranean-style meal. This is where the locals hang out, sing and socialize over a cocktail and unwind from the day. We did too, minus the singing.
Time to rest. This time we landed at Chestnut Hill, a lovely bed and breakfast, owned by Linda and Rob Castagna, on the Delaware River in the tiny town of Milford. Plush private accommodations included private baths and Jacuzzis; heated floors and towel racks televisions; and a to-die-for four-poster bed with cotton quilts and soft sheets. Admittedly, it was one of the best night's sleep we've ever had. The next morning we awoke to a scrumptious breakfast of stuffed French toast and then headed to Bucks County, Pennsylvania for the vineyards.
Our first stop was Joseph Maxian at Sand Castle Winery. Maxian's Czechoslovakian lineage in winemaking plays a major role in his wine making. As a seasoned viticulturalist, Maxian recognized that the Pennsylvania land and climate was prime for growing Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling grapes on the same field. Today, Sand Castle is one of the few wineries exclusively growing European vines on the East Coast. In 1988 this 72-acre estate released its first vintage to the public. The underbelly of this operation, where large stainless steel vats and oak barrels age the wines to perfection, is 30 feet below the ground and keeps the wine at a perfect temperature. Maxian's future plans include building a chateau that will house tasting and special events rooms, an outdoor patio overlooking the river and vineyard and a touring facilities for his frequent wine symposiums.
Next stop: working our way through the hippy-style village of New Hope, PA. There we found Crossing Vineyards, the polar opposite of Sand Castle. Crossing Vineyards was established in 2000 and produced its first vintage in 2002. Crossing practices more modern, state-of-the-art wine making. Tom Carroll Jr., formerly an actor in California, convinced his parents, Tom Sr. and Christine to help him bring his dream, to own and operate a hometown vineyard, to fruition. Housed on 15 acres and in a 200-year-old estate, the Carrolls have created a contemporary winery and a venue that produces true to the land light wines and then helps visitors pair those wines with food.
After leaving we decided to settle in at The Mansion Inn, a 1865 Victorian manor home with creaky wooden floors, crystal chandeliers, floor to ceiling windows accented with billowy drapes and stunning archways. Our room had a simple grace, full of antiques, lacey linens and a pristine bathroom. After our complimentary champagne cocktail, we enjoyed an elegant dinner of saucisson en croute, monkfish Osso Bucco, veal tenderloin with crab imperial, and a warm bread pudding with brandy cream sauce. Homemade cookies and a glass of sherry greeted us back in our room. A good night's sleep was next on our list.
Taking a road trip sometimes means finding treasures right in our own geographical backyard of Westchester County, Tarrytown and Pleasantville. All three have truly exciting destinations that are worth a few simple stops. A neat little gem there is Prospero Winery, a family owned and operated winery and shop featuring California born grape varietals. Melissa Prospero runs the operation locally and promotes what she calls "every day wine for every day people." The wines are good and come from family recipes. Many of the wines are aged on the property and bottling begins in September. Have a taste - you'll be pleasantly surprised.
After leaving we took I-95 south to I-287 west, then 87 North. Foodies will be thrilled to learn about Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, 80 acres of working farmland, set on a renovated Rockefeller estate built in the 1930s. This is a non-profit venture with educational programs that include cooking classes, lectures, gardening and other events. It is also a unique place to stroll, have lunch in the café, and buy farm fresh produce, eggs and poultry. The greenhouse projects as well as the free-ranging livestock program are one-of-a-kind offerings in the Hudson Valley area. The property also houses the popular Blue Hill at Stone Barns, an upscale restaurant that utilizes ingredients nurtured on the property.
After our visit there it was time to relax. We headed back to I-287, exited in Tarrytown and wound our way up the driveway to The Castle on the Hudson, a majestic 125-year-old castle turned luxury hotel and Equus restaurant that overlooked the Hudson River. This is the ideal romantic escape, complete with spacious guest room suites, over-sized beds, and lavish bathrooms, fireplaces, and rich furnishings. Live jazz serenaded us in the lounge as we sipped cocktails before dinner. I thought this to be more of a corporate destination, but was pleasantly surprised to see couples enjoying dinner and families and friends gathering. Dinner in the garden room included a melt-in-your-mouth tuna tartar Napoleon, escargot bouillabaisse style with wild mushrooms, tender veal sweetbreads with lentils, fresh broiled branzini with salmon roe and spaghetti vegetables, and a decadent pineapple tempura for dessert. The wine list was extensive and the service was perfect.
Back on I-287 we went west to I-87 then north then onto Route 9 north for about 190 miles. We headed to the horseracing town of Saratoga Springs, New York, a Victorian town with history, museums, and parks dating back to the 1700s. More modern amenities include spas, cozy bistros, shops, and inns. The Saratoga Racetrack season runs from July-September, in tandem with Polo season. Saratoga is one of oldest polo clubs in the nation and a favorite pastime dating back to the 1890s. Visitors take heed, this tiny village turns into a raging metropolis in peak season, so plan accordingly. We stopped at Beverly's and sat with the locals for simple comfort food and the best cream of broccoli soup ever made.
The Saratoga Arms, an 1870 Second Empire brick hotel, located on Broadway in the heart of the historic downtown district is a comfortable choice for those who stay overnight. Guest rooms boast period pieces as well as more modern amenities. A hearty breakfast is included, so you're fueled for a day of placing those bets. For dinner we chose Springwater Bistro, the Saratoga Polo Club caterer, Chef David Britton's, popular dining and gathering spot. This is New England fare at it's best.
I love Newport, Rhode Island. So easy to get to (140 miles, I-95 north to Route 138 east over the Jamestown/Newport bridges), this waterfront tourist town has always been a summer beach haven, an autumn attraction for mansion tours, and a holiday spot for festivities. Instead of the mainstream and usual sites we ventured 15 minutes outside of Newport into Tiverton Four Corners, a rural village dating back to the seventeenth century. Here, historic houses, fine art and antique galleries, gourmet food and several wineries can keep one busy for an entire day. We absolutely adored a scrumptious gourmet food shop called the Milk & Honey Bazaar, 3838 Main Road. We were in smelly cheese heaven with charcuterie favorites such as prosciutto di Parma, along with fresh breads, tapenades, and accoutrements we picked up for a fabulous picnic to take at Sakonnet Vineyards & Winery. This 25-year old vineyard highlights their estate grown grapes featuring such local varietals as the vidal blanc. Further up, at Greenvale Vineyards we enjoyed the 2001 Skipping Stone White, a blend of Cayuga and Vidal Blanc. Our last stop was Newport Vineyards, the most modern of them all. All of these wineries feature group tours, wine tastings, special events, live music, and a highly anticipated chef series. It's worth checking out their web sites. What could be better than a bottle of wine, great food, and live jazz in the middle of a vineyard?
Enjoying our anonymity from Newport proper, we decided to hide away at The Chanler at Cliff Walk, a sophisticated European style mansion overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, bordering the last yard of Newport before crossing the line into Middletown. Estate and manor style rooms feature private patios, outdoor hot tubs, comfy beds, gorgeous bathrooms with porcelain vanities and marble showers, first class service, and a tranquil atmosphere. These rooms are indeed meant for couples on a romantic holiday. We treated ourselves to an extravagant dinner at the equally extravagant Castle Hill Inn & Resort located on the west end of Newport's world-renowned Ocean Drive. This oceanfront restaurant is lead by Chef Casey Riley, one of the island's most prestigious chefs. Known for their elaborate weddings and signature wine dinner series, we indulged in everything from native lobster to New York foie gras, seared Georges Bank scallops to Ridgefield Farms beef short ribs braised in Newport Storm Porter, and ended with Belgian chocolate and Grand Marnier soufflé with Tahitian vanilla crème
No passports, planes, security checkpoints, or tourist books needed. Fill the tank up with gas, grab your travel companion (and a map), and just go. No need to forward your calls, check email, or find somebody to cover you at work, you won't be gone long enough to fall behind, but you will feel like you're on vacation.