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The Coastal Traveller at The Mayflower Grace

The Coastal Traveller at The Mayflower Grace

Washington, Connecticut

The more that one experiences extraordinary leisure properties, the more classifications take on resonant meaning. The most consequential is the difference between an inn, a hotel, and a resort, and how the three distinct categories differ.

We can put aside considerable overlap that now exists between the three as hospitality, competition, and choice have advanced. Of this triumvirate, the inn can lay claim to being the oldest lodging concept, dating back at least to the time of the Roman Empire. It was always smaller, more authentic, the coziest of them all.

At The Mayflower Grace in Washington, Connecticut, the perspicacious hoteliers take pride in noting that their property is decidedly an inn. Even so, that meaning has evolved. Nowhere is that more clear than at this remarkable find deep in the back roads of Litchfield County, among the southern foothills of the Berkshires.

The impressive Grace Hotels portfolio has carved out a sweet spot, generally with 30-odd room boutique properties in exquisite surroundings. Driving to The Mayflower Grace through tiny unspoiled towns like nearby New Preston, the countryside gently rises and falls, dotted with postcard-quality trees and ponds that appear as if arranged. There is an air of rustic freedom and solitude.

Arriving here feels a bit like being transported to a very updated vision of a 1940s cinematic classic like Christmas in Connecticut cleverly spliced together with The Philadelphia Story. I haven’t found its like in any hotel recently evaluated.

The historic main house at The Mayflower Grace began life long ago as a boy’s school, and was endlessly converted and expanded. Today, every inch of it exudes Forbes star-ratings and Relais & Chateaux standards, with a colonial New England dignity and quietude engrained in vintage wood. The library is a treasure—a serene throwback to the pre-digital delights of reading in the ideal setting. The quaint parlor across the lobby serves a high tea that is staggeringly popular with regulars who could afford to take high tea anywhere—including London—but who faithfully return here.

The verandah is an appealing, comfortable space off the bistro area that encircles guests with flora and a captivating tableau. Decorated aesthetically with ferns that invite the natural world inside, it’s a delightfully unique dining spot.

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The room I sampled was, I believe, a junior suite. Generous and tranquil, it is anchored by a hearth and mantle gas fireplace, with vaguely French-Italianate décor. The canopy bed that dominates the space is a gloriously ornate affair that beckons for TV viewing, blissful somnolence, and possibly ruling 18th century France.

One of my very few complaints is that the television was a bit outdated for an escape of this magnitude. Small matter though. Other, better visuals abound. There’s a spacious porch outside of twin floor-to-ceiling doors, with a wonderfully framed view of a trimmed lawn bordering the light forest beyond.

The bathroom is refined and understated, with a simple and smart glass-enclosed shower stall and soaking tub, all stylishly wood-paneled. A discrete dressing vestibule is adjacent. The massive entertainment unit/library is liberally stocked with books ranging from spy pulp to W.E.B. Griffin. A gorgeous welcoming bottle of Sancerre white wine and a stack of honeycrisp apples were lovely, enhancing the enjoyable task of settling in. Decanted port wine and crystal glasses sitting in front of the fireplace with three perfect cookies was another thoughtful touch.

Objets d’art arranged around the room add a homey quality, and something more. It seems friendly and familiar. That calls out for appreciation. The Nespresso coffee maker was handy, to sit and reflect on the surroundings. My guestroom was in the Allerton cottage next to the Spa House. Crossing between the two, and elsewhere, there is a seamless sense of privacy that infuses the air throughout this place.

Guest rooms around the property have been going through a contemplative refurbishment under the discerning eye of General Manager, Monica Neumann. An innkeeper of extraordinary vision, Neumann has decided to maintain the country inn sensibility of the rooms and suites, focusing mainly on new carpet, bedding, and updates to electronics and amenities. Ably assisted by hotel manager Alison Schuman, also an expert hotelier, Neumann is preserving a rare and agreeable form of hospitality in an industry too often taken with trends.

It’s equally clear that immense deliberation went into staffing at The Mayflower Grace. Servers and support staff are unfailingly polite and seem genuinely psyched about the upgrades and changes underway. That’s hard to find even in many luxury accommodations. It speaks volumes about how the inn is lovingly run.

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Dining and Spa

The formal dining room at The Mayflower Grace is as dignified as five-star meal service gets, reminiscent of stellar establishments like NYC fixture Aureole. The soundtrack to the early evening (Brazil 66, Sinatra, Nat King Cole) signaled a slightly elder crowd that likes to kick it old school. But as the night progressed, a younger element streamed in to enjoy gastronomic delights among acres of magic-reinforced forest, insulating guests from the baser things in life, however briefly.

With so much of the dining world striving for the tragically hip, there’s still plenty of room for this kind of tasteful elegance. It’s most becoming of the Relais & Chateaux hotel collection, of which The Mayflower Grace is a deserving member.

I happened by during mid-week, traveling alone, so I had the place mostly to myself for a bit. Executive Chef Isaac Olivo, late of The Peninsula New York, is reformulating the menu ahead of a full relaunch and renaming of the restaurant. Gourmands will love his surprising, inventive take on classic cuisine (chocolate foie gras anyone?) and will revel in his palette of flavors and textures. It’s Contemporary American informed by seasonal pantries. Expertly made lump crab cakes seduce; optimism-inducing carrot soup soothes; the most delicate pan roasted halibut you will find anywhere overwhelms. The food is fairly brilliant, befitting this inspired chef.

The Mayflower Grace describes its freestanding Spa House as “luminous,” and it’s an apt word choice. This 20,000-square-foot wellness center may literally look like some people’s idea of heaven. Sumptuous designed, the white-themed main relaxation room has a supernatural quality with majestic windows that look out on a placid lawn and forest. Active guests will find everything from tennis in summer to snowshoeing in winter, with gym, yoga, and Pilates facilities. The indoor pool rocks.

During my stay, I was pleased to experience their flawless 50-minute Swedish. It was a revelation. Suffice to say that all massage is not created equal, even at high-end spas. The finest practitioners combine a healer’s wisdom with a Zen-like intuition for the power of touch. This was my experience at The Spa House.

That was followed with their Pure O2 Facial, infusing a worn face like mine with pure oxygen along with a treatment employing Bio-Suisse certified organic extracts and medical-grade actives. The deep knowledge and clinical expertise of the therapist was reinforced by a calming demeanor, further enhancing the experience.  Spa House at The Mayflower Grace has earned a whispered reputation as one of the finest facilities in all of New England. Without waxing poetic, this is richly justified.

Meeting Your Better Self in Splendor

In his novel, Cloud Atlas, author David Mitchell wrote, “Travel far enough, you meet yourself.” That may or may not happen at The Mayflower Grace. But embraced by the contented opulence found here, you may very well meet your better self. That’s every bit as good. I throw around lots of superlatives when describing great hotels that have elevated hospitality to an art form. The Mayflower Grace is such a place.

Lofty adjectives aside, it is a stunning and skillfully managed spot to eat, stay, and spa. It is also quintessentially Connecticut, reifying a singular notion of hospitality.

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