Litchfield Hills, Connecticut
One way to measure the excellence (or mediocrity) of a resort is how pleased you are to be there during lousy weather. I recently had this experience at Winvian Farm. A miserable weather shroud had descended over pastoral Litchfield, Connecticut. Driving through the surrounding hills, I admit to being concerned.
Winvian sits on 113 pristine acres in Litchfield, which Nutmeggers rightly consider the Upper Naugatuck Valley. Geographically and visually, it can also be thought of as the lower Berkshires. People come here to get away from Manhattan, Hartford, and other people. That’s why it’s second-home-heaven for notables like Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep. Ethan Allen also hailed from this part of the state, as well as personages from abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe to cartoonist Seth MacFarlane.
So yes, it’s different here. From the gated entrance to the restored 1775 manor house that serves as front desk, lounge and restaurant, Winvian Farm has that rarified essence. The accommodations are extraordinary, drenched in scenic seclusion, with surpassing amenities and discrete service.
It bears mentioning that Winvian Farm is a member of the Relais & Châteaux luxury hotel group. The affiliation places Winvian at the top of the global resort food chain; it’s a certification that the experience is authentic and soulful. I’ve stayed at several Relais & Châteaux member properties, and always found this to be true. It’s easy to see how Winvian Farm, with its sylvan sophistication, fits within the Relais & Châteaux “La Route du Bonheur,” or “route of happiness,” global network of hotels.
Desiring to create something eclectic and experiential, Winvian relied on 15 different architects to build 18 inventive chalets on the property. I sampled the Woodlands Cottage. For an old-school Lord of the Rings zealot like me, it felt a little entering a guestroom at an elven stronghold. Designed by Vermont architect Troy Osborne, Woodlands Cottage is meant to look like it simply grew there.
The natural light pouring in is tranquil. A giant moss patch in a horseshoe shape protrudes at the bottom of the back porch; perfect for bare feet in warm weather. It’s a thoughtful touch made to look incidental. Many aspects of Winvian are just so.
“Luxury” isn’t the first thing one associates with rough-cut pine and peeled tree trunks, but inside the Woodlands cottage, these materials take on majestic and magical qualities. If it weren’t so recognizable as a lavish escape, you’d almost think someone had dropped magic beans on the spot and the cottage simply sprouted.
Amenities like a Sharp Aquos full HDTV remind you that it’s a resort and not an upscale hobbit’s dwelling, as does the BOSE audio system with auxiliary cable for iPhone connection—the closest I’ve been to dancing in the forest since the world was young. The bathroom is concealed behind an ingenious indoor waterfall, and features finely finished overturned tree trunks as twin sinks, a restorative steam shower lined with river stones, and a powerful Jacuzzi sunken into a heated verdigris marble floor. It’s near genius-level design. I gave the Nespresso coffee system a workout, and sat there admiring it all before dinner.
A protégé of Daniel Boulud and Alain Ducasse, Winvian’s executive chef, Chris Eddy, prides himself on a “pure food philosophy” with a hyper-local pantry fueling his daily menu changes. Eddy’s kitchen radiates a singular vision that reaches the plate utterly intact. Front of the house is serene in firelight, and superbly run.
The night I dined, Eddy served the most exquisitely poached lobster chucks imaginable, beautifully seasoned in sauce Américaine. Several amuse-bouche followed, such as grilled Seppia in Meyer lemon, piquillo pepper, olives and tartar sauce; pork belly in green curry aioli and Brussels sprouts; and pici pasta with lamb ragout with savory and Parmesan.
Eddy’s venison loin in reduction with porcinis was the best piece of meat (of any kind) I’ve had in months, somehow toothsome and tender at once. The bitter Campari granite was aromatic and bracing. The soufflé was what all that warm chocolate desserts should be: lighter than air and yet richer than sin. There was depth and complexity in every dish, making this a sublime dining experience.
I retired, having a little bit of trouble at first with Woodlands’ two-side wood-burning fireplace (which elves lit while I was at dinner). Then all was well.
Of course, if room service the morning after a great dinner is humdrum, it’s a stain on the whole affair. I doubt that ever happens at Winvian Farm; it didn’t happen to me. When they can get velvety truffle scrambled eggs, petit pastries, and fresh coffee to a cabin up the road in 25 minutes (and seem thrilled to do it) then you’re probably in the right place.
As the weather (which I had completely forgotten about) cleared, I took one of the two bikes conveniently parked outside my cottage and rode past some of the others. There’s the whimsical melody-themed “Music,” the temple-like “Secret Society” that has good-natured fun at the expense of Yale’s Bonesmen, and “Treehouse” cottage that sits 40 feet off the ground, as well as others of equal imagination. Departing, I had to marvel at this lush, enchanted sanctuary in the hinterlands of Connecticut.