Great Weekend Escapes
Sometimes you just have to get away from it all, and even a night or two will do. Here's where- and without spending too much time getting there.
(page 1 of 2)
Great Weekend Getaways
Many good reasons to hit the road again
Somewhere between the day trip and the full-blown vacation is The Getaway—a not too long, not too short, not too close, not too far respite from the daily grind. Here are some of our favorite places to relax, revive, rejuvenate, retreat, rekindle, recharge and—when all else fails—shop!
By Nancy Claus Giles
With a twist
Distance: 1.5 hours
Cruising down I-84 into Pennsylvania with the Pocono Mountains looming large, past a series of marts (K- and Wal), I land in the tiny village of Milford, PA (population 1,684), founded in 1733. My instructions were to drive to the light (Yep, the town has only one stoplight and seems darn proud of it) and turn right. I am instantly enchanted.
“Milford has the charm of a small town but with a bit of a twist,” says Sean Strub, who is the editor of Milford Magazine, the owner of The Muir House Inn and Restaurant and six-year resident who acts as unofficial cheerleader for the town—“a good twist, largely created by the influx of new residents and weekenders—mostly Manhattanites.”
There is plenty here to cheer about. Nineteenth-century architectural gems abound: Grey Towers, the former residence of governor Gifford Pinchot, designed by Richard Morris Hunt; Calvert Vaux, who designed Belvedere Castle in Central Park, did the original post office (now a gallery); John Roebling, who engineered the Brooklyn Bridge, created the bridge that spans the Delaware River just down the road; and Frederick Law Olmstead of Central Park fame even designed the town cemetery for heaven’s sake. Private residences include work by McKim, Mead & White.
Milford has long drawn an artsy crowd. In the early part of the 20th century, Milford was the location for many silent films; D.W. Griffith directed two films here and others were made starring Lionel Barrymore and Mary Pickford. The prolific Western writer Zane Grey lived and wrote here; his home is now open to the public.
Faces about town could include Frank McCourt, Eric Bogosian and designer Todd Oldham (he has a live-in tree house built 60 feet off the ground!). Spartina author John Casey is said to write in a tent that he has pitched in the woods near his house.
What to do when visiting?
There are antique shops and galleries aplenty (I liked The Artery and the APA Fine Art Gallery). For outdoorsy types, the Delaware Water Gap National Park is just a hop, skip and jump up the road from Milford where you can fish, hike or bike to your heart’s content.
The Milford fluviarchy (or network of waterfalls to us plain folk) is one of the largest in the country. Raymondskill Falls is breathtakingly beautiful; there’s lots of trails to explore to boot. Kayaking or tubing down the Delaware River is another perfect way to laze away a hot summer’s day.
There’s The Museum of the Pike County Historical Society, which houses the flag that cradled President Lincoln’s head as he lay mortally wounded on the floor of the Ford Theatre.
And there are plenty of eateries including La Petite Provençe for pastries and Fretta’s Italian Salumeria for Italian delicacies. Fine dining options include Strub’s Muir House, Waterwheel Café & Bakery for Euro-rustic fare, Dimmick Inn & Steakhouse for a little bit of everything, with a soupçon of whimsy (the steak sandwich is described as “served on those stupid toast points with a lonely onion ring on top”).
And there’s Milford Cemetery for the offbeat. Now I wouldn’t normally recommend visiting a cemetery for a weekend getaway, but when the cemetery in questions is designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, it’s worth a quick (or not) detour.
Where to Stay
The Muir House, a former barn turned rooming house turned inn, features a romantic candlelit dining room with wood-paneled walls, a grand piano in the bar and the tantalizing smells of fine cuisine being prepared. There are three sweetly creaky rooms upstairs outfitted with all the creature comforts: Frette towels, fluffy featherbeds. One caveat: music plays until 11 p.m. or later, so if you’re an early-to-bed type, bring your ear plugs. In the morning, muffins, scones and croissants await in the common area. Rooms range from $110 to $175 a night (570-296-6373, www.muir house.com). Other options include the Hattree Inn (888-272-1234, www.hat treeinn.com), right in the center of town, and Pine Hill Farm (570-296-5261 www.bbonline.com/pa/pinehill) at the edge of town.
A low key dairy town
Distance: 1.5 hours
Millbrook may be better known, but Millerton, in the northeastern corner of Dutchess County, is well on its way to becoming a destination. Just a square mile in size (population 925), the town already has the requisite upscale coffee shop, a restored moviehouse, the tony equestrian shop Salem Saddlery (the sister store is in North Salem), antiques galore and the wonderful Gilmor Glassworks where you can observe glass being blown or pressed. And you might even spot nearby neighbors Meryl Streep and Michael J. Fox on the street or in the shops.
The transformation of the town from dairy to desirable began in 1978, when Carol and Robert Sadlon renovated the 1904 Grange Hall (which had been running XXX films) into a three-screen theater specializing in first-run, independent and foreign films, with an art gallery and a café as added bonuses. Then the Sadlons renovated Simmons’ Way Village Inn, a 150-year-old town landmark. (Old-time baseball great Eddie Collins was born in the Simmon’s Way Inn in 1887. Fans can ask for the Collins Room.)
Current owners of the Inn (and former White Plains residents) Jay and Martha Reynolds fell in love with the nine-bedroom Victorian Inn at first sight. “We use the whole house as our own and invite guests to it,” Martha says. True to her word, after preparing a scrumptious brunch of caramelized apple pancakes and eggs Benedict, she switched gears from innkeeper to tour guide to show me the area. Driving into the countryside, I had a feeling this was what Westchester must have looked like a few generations ago.
What to do when visiting?
Taconic State Park, two miles north of Millerton, offers swimming, boating and camping. Rather bike? The paved path on the old railroad bed, The Harlem Valley Rail Trail, runs through farmland, beaver ponds, wetlands and woodlands.
For horseback riding, Western Riding Stables (518-789-4848) offers a variety of riding experiences including overnight trips. (In the fall, moonlight trips include dinner by campfire.)
Where to Stay
Simmons’ Way Village Inn (53 Main Street, 518-789-6235), has nine antiques-furnished rooms. Winter rates are $100 to $150, with breakfast included. After May 1, rates are $130 to $200. The restaurant is open Wednesdays to Saturdays, and there’s brunch on Sundays.
Nearby, The Troutbeck Inn in Amenia (845-373-9681) is an impossibly romantic country estate with a garden house, indoor and outdoor pools, and naturally, a trout stream. Rooms range from $650 to $1,050 for a weekend, including six meals.
Brandywine Valley, DE
A house and garden tour (history lesson at no
Distance: 3 hours
What the Rockefellers are to New York, the du Ponts are to Delaware. And in the Brandywine Valley—a picturesque region straddling Pennsylvania along Delaware’s northern border—you can visit four du Pont estates: Hagley Museum (302-658-2400, www.Hagley.org) where the du Pont dynasty was born, Nemours (a.k.a. America’s Versailles), Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square PA, (www.longwood gardens.org) and Winterthur (800-448-3883, www.winterthur.org), the 1,000-acre farm Henry Francis du Pont built, which today displays 85,000 American antiques, one of the world’s most complete collections. While you’re at it, you’ll pick up 200 years of history spanning three generations of the du Pont family.
Make your first stop the 1802 Hagley Museum, and do take advantage of the quick overview of the company and the complicated family tree of players (Trust me, this will come in handy as you continue your visit from estate to estate). Then hop on the trolley to the first du Pont family manse, Eleutherian Mills, a charming Georgian-style home, which sits high on the banks of the Brandywine and looks over a drop-dead gorgeous garden (who knew a vegetable garden could look so elegant?). Inside, find antiques and memorabilia of five generations of du Ponts. (The manse is closed for renovations until early 2005, but the gardens, mills and machine shops are open.)
Nemours, a modified Louis XVI French château with an astounding 47,000 square feet of interior space surrounded by 100 acres of formal gardens (considered to be among the finest examples of French-style gardens in the country) and 100 acres of forest, may be a wee bit smaller than Versailles (with only 102 rooms on 300 acres vs. 700 rooms on 1,800 acres). But everything here feels larger than life, like the one-square acre reflecting pool, or the dining room that could comfortably seat 78(!) guests, lit by the biggest chandelier I have ever seen.
The library alone contains four centuries of art—from 16th-century paintings and 17th-century tapestries to cute little china animal figurines.
In the lower level of the house, there’s a gym with an old-fashioned steam box, an exercise horse (with tooled leather saddle, it looks like a precursor to the one immortalized in Urban Cowboy), bowling alley, movie screen, shuffleboard table and billiard room. The boy toy tour ends with a visit to the chauffeur’s garage, an autophile’s dream with a 1951 Silver Wraith Rolls Royce, 1960 Phantom V (comparable in size to today’s Navigator!) and a 1933 Buick coupe with rumble seat.
Next is Longwood Gardens. This is no garden-variety garden. Longwood is a gardener’s paradise with 11,000 different types of plants on more than 1,050 acres of formal landscapes, meadows and woodlands. The four-acre conservatory has 20 indoor gardens and deserves a full day to appreciate. Don’t miss flowers in the Orchid Display; they are so vibrantly hued, it’s hard to believe they are real.
By the way, Brandywine Valley is called the mushroom capital of the world (each year a festival is held to celebrate the versatile fungus), so here is some free advice: try the mushroom soup served at Longwood Gardens’ Terrace restaurant and cafeteria. Bread is served popover style, baked in (what else for a garden restaurant?) terracotta pots and is perfect for sopping up every last drop.
There’s so much to see at Winterthur that you can spend days exploring the museum. My daughters and I found surprises in every room: a rare scallop-top tea table (one of only a few known in the world) with teacups and saucers neatly perched atop each scallop, hand-painted Chinese wallpaper that du Pont actually built a special room for (wouldn’t anyone?), the only black tea set ever designed by Josiah Wedgewood, using the Pompeii digs as inspiration (ladies hands were thought to look paler against the black). “Du Pont,” our guide says, “was a hospitable man who delighted in pleasing his guests.” There is no chandelier in his dining room because he wanted people talking to each other, not looking up. He even chose the flowers and table settings himself for his parties (he had 50 sets of china to choose from; can you ever have too many?).
The museum is surrounded by 979 acres, including a 60-acre garden. A tram can take you on a 30-minute narrated tour with stops along the way—at Azalea Woods, Magnolia Bend and my favorite, the Enchanted Woods. Toadstool lights, fairy cottages with thatched roofs, a mini Stonehenge, a giant bird’s nest, a meditation maze—all sized for the little ones to romp, explore and fantasize.
Tip: Brunch here is wonderful—choose omelets made to order, eggs Benedict, pork or beef tenderloin, fruits, cheeses, cakes and pies. The French toast (stuffed with cream cheese) made a sinful dessert, topped with maple syrup, whipped cream, strawberries and blueberries. Yum!
Also be sure to stop by the Brandywine School of Painters Brandywine Museum. (Chadds Ford, PA, 610-388-2700, www.brandy
winemuseum.org). Picturesque backcountry roads wind you to the home of the Wyeth Museum, a Civil War-era grist mill famous for its collection of art by three generations of the Wyeth family.
The Wyeths were a talented lot. Patriarch N.C. illustrated Treasure Island, Kidnapped, The Last of the Mohicans and other children’s classics; his youngest son, Andrew, is best known for “Christina’s World”; and grandson Jamie had his first major show by the time he was 20.
Where to Stay
While the Brandywine Valley Inn (1807 Concord Pike, Wilmington, DE 800-537-7772) looks like your typical Best Western from the highway, step inside the Winterthur Suites and go back a few centuries or so. Three rooms are done up in reproductions from Winterthur (in collaboration with the museum) but with modern necessities like in-room 25-inch flat screen TV with DVD player, refrigerator, microwave and coffeemaker and luxury amenities like Hermés toiletries (and for the workaholic, non-Winterthur rooms have unlimited high-speed cable internet access, in-room printers and a 24-hour videoconferencing center). Getaway packages with museum tickets start at $128 per couple per night. The Delaware Château Country package, including admission to Hagley, Winterthur, Nemours and Longwood Gardens, starts at $249 for two nights, double occupancy. Complimentary breakfast each morning.
Where to dine
While Harry’s Savoy Grill (302-425-3000) in Wilmington is known for its prime rib and steaks, the Alaskan King salmon I had here was the best I’ve ever had and the soft shell crabs were pure perfection. Crème brûlée was served just like I love it: crisp on top, warm all the way through. For more casual dining: Buckley’s Tavern on Route 52 in Centreville (302-656-9776), a quirky tavern with a busy bar scene, or for a special occasion, Dilworthtown Inn on Route 202 in West Chester, PA (610-399-1390), a 1770s tavern with inventive American cuisine.
Distance: 1 hour
If you looked up “quintessential New England town” in an encyclopedia, you might well find a picture of western Connecticut’s Litchfield Hills with its quaint covered bridges, white spired churches, winding country roads and charming villages to explore. Bring your checkbook along, there are galleries galore and smart little shops brimful of antiques, crafts and other fabulous finds.
The town of Litchfield is perfect for a day of strolling, poking around in antique shops (Jeffrey Tillou has a wonderful collection of 18th- and 19th-century art and accessories, and Bradford House Antiques has lots of silver tea sets, flatware and estate jewelry), checking out boutiques chock full of irresistible finds and lunching alfresco at the Aspen Garden restaurant overlooking the village green (and maybe catching a glimpse of resident Meryl Streep). Workshop Inc. was my favorite find with fun and funky clothing from jeans with elaborate beadwork to slinky dresses along with great gift items: hair ornaments, whimsical pjs, earrings of all kinds.
Just three miles out of town is White Flower Farm (860-567-8789), a must- see for avid gardeners. There’s a self-guided walking tour that ends (surprise!) at the garden center store with perennials, shrubs and annuals, all arranged alphabetically (by botanical names, natch) within each section.
Nearby Woodbury is known as “The Antiques Capital of Connecticut,” and there are more than 50 shops to browse through.
But there’s more than eating and shopping. With kids in tow, go visit Lake Compounce in Bristol (860-583-3300), which has 382 acres of roller coasters and water rides. New this summer is Down Time, a 185-foot drop tower that the park says “will leave kids screaming for more.” Or maybe just screaming. The new owners have invested more than $50 million in new rides and attractions. Tickets will be available online this year as well—that’s one less line to wait on.
Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury harkens back to the days when families would pack a picnic, hop aboard a trolley and leisurely ride the rails to the outskirts of town to the “trolley park.” There used to be more than 1,000 of these parks in the United States; today there are only 11. Only 20-acres in size, it has 24 rides including the Big Flush Water Coaster, a sandy beach and spring-fed lake.
Where to Stay
The Dolce Heritage resort, (Southbury, CT 800-932-3466) right in the heart of Litchfield Hills, is a great starting point for exploring the region and also a fun family destination in its own right with indoor and outdoor pools and all the requisite athletic offerings. Have a passion for golf or wine? The Dolce Heritage offers weekend packages to fully indulge (not curb) your enthusiasm. And any place that serves up fresh baked cookies upon check in (other snacks are available all day long as well) gets my vote.
Fall is a perfect season to take in the foliage while you amble along the Connecticut wine trail (see Food Lovers’ Day Trips, page 48) and enjoy a wine weekend at Dolce Heritage. The Wine Masters dinner I attended was fabulous: a sumptuous five-course feast which included crab cakes served with chipotle pepper and braised veal shank with wild mushrooms perfectly paired with six wines from top American estates. The chef and his helpers emerged to an enthusiastic ovation at the end of the meal (They deserved it). The next night, our palates were taught to discern between various Burgundies and Cabs. “This first wine would make a good one-night stand,” an attendee quipped. “But the second I think I’ll marry.”
Getaway packages start at $169 per night for a traditional New England
For a romantic getaway, The Boulder Inn at Lake Waramaug (New Preston, CT 860-868-0541) is a great choice. Massive boulders stacked into pillars give this romantic country inn its name. Chairs and tables are set up outside as well as in the front parlor and restaurant to take advantage of the spectacular view of lovely Lake Waramaug in this quaint corner of the Litchfield Hills. The 1890 stone and shingle mansion was completely restored in 2003, and its five accommodations are small but exquisitely appointed. (Four guest cottages and a carriage house behind the main house provide an additional 16 rooms and suites).
If you and your beloved can tear yourselves away from those rooms, cruise around the lake and see some knock-your-socks-off gorgeous homes, mansions and some more modest abodes, all sharing the same views. Hopkins Inn (860-868-7295), perched at the top of Pinnacle Mountain, overlooks all. But whether you choose to spend the night here or not, stop by the Hopkins Vineyard (860-868-7954) right next door—and bring along a designated driver. (For more information, see page 50.)
Stop at Doc’s Trattoria & Pizzeria (860-868-9415), an unassuming little bistro for pasta and pizza near Lake Waramaug. I did, for a vegetarian pizza loaded with eggplant, spinach, mushrooms and tomatoes. Yum. It’s a BYO establishment, so it might be wise to stop off at Hopkins first, to pick up a bottle of their bestselling Sachem’s Picnic wine. I finished lunch after 3 p.m., and the place was still packed.
When the sun sets, head on back to The Boulders for a leisurely dinner of innovative American regional cuisine with traditional New England influence.
Rooms at the Boulders Inn start at $350 for a queen bed and lake views up to $600 for the Pinnacle suite in
the Carriage house, including high tea and breakfast.
Continue reading for more Great Weekend Escapes