Three East Coast inns where you will feel welcome traveling solo or with a friend and be close to shops, galleries and restaurants.
By Karen Feld
Dogs are always welcome at the Wilburton Inn in Vermont—and they host Doggie Slumber Parties four times a year. . . . . . . . . . . . .
Now is the time to take that mini-trip you crave. And when you stay at these three East Coast inns for a week or a weekend getaway, you’ll never feel alone or lonely. The innkeepers immediately make you feel right at home and part of their gracious family. At the same time you’ll have as much privacy as you crave. And safety for a woman traveling solo is not an issue at any of these unique inns, each a short distance from shops, galleries and restaurants. All emphasize service as well as ambiance, personal touches and a welcome retreat with a unique personality.
Creativity at the Wilburton Inn, Manchester, Vermont
Three decades ago the Levis family bought this 30-acre property that includes a historic mansion, cottages and villas on a hilltop in Manchester, Vermont. For this colorful family, running the inn is a lifestyle as well as a business. As innkeeper, Melissa Levis, a vivacious New Yorker says, “They didn’t buy it to run it like a Hyatt.”
Albert, the patriarch of the family, is a psychiatrist and scholar who married one of the Sisters Rosensweig. His two talented daughters—Melissa and Tajlei—dabbled in show business and now, along with Albert’s two sons, they have carved out their own niche at the Inn. Albert, an octogenarian, is thrilled to share his theory of conflict resolution and the creative process with guests. Walk the lush grounds and tour his large sculpture garden and Museum of the Creative Process, which houses works by American expressionist artist, Henry Gorski.
During one of my visits I called the front desk for a light bulb and a well-spoken young man arrived promptly. I was surprised to learn that he had been working there for 30 years since he looked so young. Little did I know it was Max, one of the family inn keepers.
Even Jetson, Melissa’s canine concierge, welcomes guests, who are welcome to bring pets. The Levis family includes guests at their dinner table to participate in sing alongs, discussions and other activities. You’re in for a real treat on Wednesday evenings during the summer. Earth Sky Time Farm owned by Oliver Levis hosts an outdoor farm-to-table vegetarian feast for inn guests and locals. You’ll feel at home dining on locally sourced food and listening or dancing to live music. Seating is family style and your hosts make sure everyone is engaged in the festivities.
Oliver Levis bakes delicious homemade breads and you’ll enjoy real VT maple syrup with your pancakes at breakfast. Don’t think for a moment you’ll be dining alone—unless you want to. Family members will invite you to join them. And the conversation will never bore!
Wilburton Inn, 257 Wilburton Drive, Manchester, VT 05254; 802-362-2500 Rates from $190 to $390; www.wilburtoninn.com
Magic at The Mansion on O, Washington, DC
If you’ve ever fantasized about spending a weekend in a luxurious but bona fide log cabin right in the heart of the Nation’s Capital or desired to sleep in a room with an authentic Tiffany window, the Mansion on O is for you. Guests check in and never want to leave.
The Mansion has been a well-kept secret in Washington since February 14, 1980, when H.H. Leonards purchased it to create her own world. “It’s a figment of my imagination,” says Leonards, the “proprietor and creator” of the house. “This is my vision. It’s like a huge Rorschach test.” Each one of the hundred plus rooms room is located in an interconnected townhouse that blocks off the hustle and bustle of Dupont Circle, converting it into–a private retreat that attracts many well-known guests. The Mansion also offers a museum and abundance of shops. “H” and husband Ted Spero, are hands on managers.
Chelsea Clinton celebrated her Sweet 16 here. Other guests have included Kim Basinger, Carly Simon, Sly Stallone, Melanie Griffith, Arlo Guthrie, Alec Baldwin, civil rights icon Rosa Parks and the late author Studs Terkel. Top government officials and high-powered business travelers have also stayed there. I myself was a guest at the wedding of singer/songwriter Paul Williams’ that took place at the Mansion. But since most guests want to remain anonymous, the 19th Century red-brick row houses have no signage. Even if you ask for a celebrated visitor by name, no such person exists unless you know the specific room in which he or she is staying. Codes to the doors are sent via e-mail to guests so they can enter and exit discreetly. “High-profile people disappear here,” says Leonards. I can’t think of a safer place for a woman traveling alone.
Each of the themed suites is outfitted with high speed internet and multiple Cable TVs. Explore the seemingly endless rooms in the Mansion and discover hidden doors, passageways, signed celebrity guitars and other memorabilia. Objects of art in the lobby are constantly changing. Be sure to look up at the hand-painted ceilings and find the hidden wine cellar. The Mansion is definitely for those with an artistic eye: every niche is filled with antique puppets, Remington bronzes or dime-store tchotchkes. What’s more, everything in the house is for sale–just ask. And that includes the Miss USA 1988 crown, Austin Felix’s shoe from the Olympics and Prince’s purple Rain jacket.
Mansion on O reception room with Tiffany Glass and filled with antiques and collectibles. . . . . . . . . . . . .
Each room has a different theme, meshed with the unexpected. The two-story Log Cabin Suite features a fish tank in the headboard, a Frederic Remington sculpture, a flowered sink with a love story enameled around it and New Age music. The secluded Art Deco Penthouse Suite–with walls painted purple, peach and turquoise–has a private elevator, a patio, a full kitchen, six televisions and two bathrooms as well as a Jacuzzi. The unconventional ceiling fan is built from bicycle gears and fishing poles.
“The house pulls people together,” says Leonards, who also provides conference rooms, an outdoor heated swimming pool, a garden and a fountain. “People are so singularly focused in this city, then they come here to forget who they are, and they go out and do something very cool.”
Mansion on O, 2020 O Street NW, Washington, DC. 20036; 202-496-2000; Rates from $350 to $1250; www.Omansion.com
A Whimsical Getaway in Connecticut
The secured gates of Winvian Farm in lush Morris, CT., offer no clue as to what I found in this pristine and peaceful 113-acre sanctuary, a two hour drive from Manhattan. Upon arrival at the 18th century main house, tastefully restored with wood obtained from old barns on the property, I was greeted warmly, offered a chilled glass of Prosecco and directed down Meadow Lane to my cottage, aptly named Stable.
Although it’s been many years since I rode a horse, this cottage recalled my equestrian days with its décor, including vintage boots, saddle and a stack of “Chronicle of The Horse” publications. The three-story loft-like structure built into the natural landscape provides views of nature from all sides, creating a world far from the city. I couldn’t wait to relax in the sunken whirlpool tub and steam shower on the lower level surrounded by views of greenery.
The property has space to roam, laden with vegetable and flower gardens where my toy poodle romped. Guests can swim in the 40-foot heated pool set in a large meadow or sit quietly and read or paint. The property is surrounded by several thousand acres of parkland with trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding in the fall and cross-country skiing in the winter. Each cottage is equipped with bikes for guest use.
When the Smith family purchased the estate in 1948, they renamed it Win-Vian, a combination of their first names. In 2007, current family members converted the historic property to a luxury hotel and spa. Juxtaposed against the traditional, the result is a unique, somewhat whimsical, collaboration of 15 architects. Each of the cleverly designed cottages adheres to a designated theme.
Charter Oak, the largest cottage, appealed to me from the moment I saw the large fruit-filled apple trees in front. It was built around a 300-year-old massive Charter Oak tree that stands in the center of magnificent stonework separating the living room from the bedroom. The cottage houses a silo and screened porch, perfect to catch a glimpse of deer snatching apples at dawn. I learned that during the Revolutionary War in Connecticut, soldiers hid their ammunition in the Charter Oak Tree. There’s also a water fall shower and a whirlpool tub.
If your taste runs to the even more eclectic, book a stay in Treehouse, which is a childhood fantasy suspended from trees 33 feet off the ground with trains on the second story. Helicopter is built around a 1968 US Coast Guard Sikorsky HH37 Sea King Pelican used in rescue missions. The plane was discovered in an aviator’s graveyard and restored to look like the one used in the film, “Top Gun.” I’m not sure I’d want to awaken and see a 17,000-pound helicopter in my bedroom, but a cozy futon, bar and entertainment center is welcoming inside the fuselage. To carry out that theme, helicopter service from White Plains is offered.
The Treehouse Cottage and the Camping Cottage’s spa tub. . . . . . . . . . . . .
Did you ever wonder what a beaver must feel like in his den? The cottage named Beaver Lodge is reminiscent of just that with views of Beaver Pond and woods. Appropriately named, Golf, offers eight holes of putt putt. Since I‘m an artist, I’m eager to stay at the Artist Cottage based on a 1920’s artist’s bungalow with a gingerbread exterior and stained glass windows. It is complete with an adjacent studio with easel and canvas so guests can engage their artistic imagination in a perfect setting.
I never would have guessed that the luxurious spa was once the site of pigpens. Now the Berkshire pigs are kept elsewhere on the property. The spacious retreat offers a sun-filled lounge overlooking a fountain and the well-manicured gardens. Susan pampered me with a REN Bespoke facial to re-hydrate my skin. This included a relaxing hand and arm massage. The experience was one of complete relaxation. REN skin care, which originated in England, offers products made from plant and mineral extracts.
Executive Chef Chris Eddy, who trained under Alain Ducasse and Daniel Boulud, utilizes organic ingredients grown on the expansive gardens or nearby farms. The Chef’s signature dish is an exquisite Peking Duck breast served seared with corn ragout, balsamic onion petals and bacon foam. The individual milk chocolate souffle with cardamom anglaise, was decadent. The Green Room, one of three dining rooms in the main house, felt a bit formal, but we were immediately welcomed with the smell of a wood burning fireplace. The look was sedate elegance with brocaded curtains, Oriental rug, forest green and dark wood walls. The fresh, local floral arrangement on each table was a bright touch. The extensive wine list (representing 13 countries and more than 500 labels) is varied, but pricey. Selections by the glass are limited.
After dinner, I stopped downstairs to have a nightcap with the charming and amusing General Manager, Paolo Middei, who was lured from Italy to run the property. He filled me in with challenging and colorful details. For example, part of the helicopter’s tail had to be removed to fit the cottage; the pigs were getting sunburned in the open fields so the five mamas and 14 piglets were moved to the forest. There are three full-time gardeners; and the chef pulls vegetables personally from the garden.
When I was ready to say good night and walk back to our cottage, Middei said there had been “a black bear sighting with her cubs on the property,” so he arranged for one of the staff to drive me. Although only two hours from the city, it reminded me of my safari in South Africa: Rangers had to escort us back to our cottage.
Before departing the next morning, I enjoyed a full breakfast on the outdoor terrace overlooking the lush, manicured gardens. I was delighted to discover fresh figs on the menu along with truffle scrambled eggs, homemade pastries and Brioche French toast with real Maple syrup.
I’d recommend this property as an idyllic private getaway for those desiring quirky accommodations and calming spa treatments in a rural setting with magnificent fall colors. Although the unconventional accommodations may not be ideal for those with physical limitations or those who anticipate luxury in the traditional sense, it’s a delightful getaway for those who want to be pampered with luxe spa treatments and stay in an unusual and eclectic venue with high tech amenities juxtaposed with the ambiance of an historic country property.
Winvian Farm, 155 Alain White Road, Morris, CT; 860-567-9600; Rates from $499 to $699, Sept and Oct are $899 to $1499; www.winvian.com . . . . . . . . . . . .
Karen Feld is an award-winning writer who wrote a syndicated column on the Washington-Hollywood connection for many years. She launched The Buzz column in The Washington Examiner and was Washington editor of the Delta Airlines in-flight magazine, and #FlyWashington Magazine.