Above: Goat Cheese Gnocci with lamb bolognese, wilted arugula and minted ricotta from Artisan Vermont
Photograph: Jeff Woodward
When you’re in the mood for a weekend trip that involves amazing meals and local flavors—or if you’re the type of vacationer who talks dinner plans while still sitting down at lunch—consider these destinations, all within driving distance. Each treats culinary pursuits as the main course by offering cooking classes, wine tastings, fine dining or farm visits.
HYDE PARK, NEW YORK
The Culinary Institute of America
Some of the country’s future culinary stars rule the kitchens at the Culinary Institute of America restaurants in Hyde Park, and you can taste their best dishes at Bocuse, Ristorante Caterina dé Medici and American Bounty. Bocuse brings modern techniques to classical French cuisine in a chic, contemporary setting; Ristorante Caterina offers authentic regional Italian in a dining room overlooking a rose garden and the Hudson River; and American Bounty is the CIA’s farm-to-table restaurant that works with area farms, cheese-makers, artisan bakers and wineries. Though you don’t need to call far ahead, reservations are accepted up to sixty days in advance. Upcoming special events: a Cider Week and Apple Fest in early November, a Black and White Truffle Dinner on December 9, and a French Champagne Christmas on December 10. You can also sign up for Saturday enthusiast cooking classes or for two-to five-day boot camps. Nearby food purveyors worth a visit include Taste NY Market, Sprout Creek Farm, Millbrook Vineyards and Winery, and Prospect Hill Orchards. For a serene setting, stay at Buttermilk Falls Inn & Spa, with seventy-five acres overlooking the Hudson; it’s adjacent to the organic Millstone Farm, which provides the veggies and eggs for the on-site restaurant, Henry’s.
WATCH HILL, RHODE ISLAND
The Ocean House
Anchoring this charming seaside town, the award-winning Ocean House is not only home to five restaurants including the fine-dining Seasons, but the resort recently opened a new 3,000-square-foot Wine and Culinary Education Center and also hosts frequent food-and-wine weekends with field trips to local vineyards, cheese-makers and more. This season there’s a Culinary Boot Camp on October 10 and 11 with cooking classes and wine pairings and in early November, a special course on preparing an elegant, make-ahead Thanksgiving feast. For the Farm & Vine dinners on October 7 and November 4, guest chefs and wine experts from other Relais & Chateau properties will prepare four-course dinners focusing on ingredients from a local farm. Oenophiles can indulge in a wine making and tasting weekend October 30 to November 1, with tours of nearby Jonathan Edwards and Saltwater Farms vineyards; guests blend their own wines and bring home a case of their vintage. Side trip? Check out the Matunuck Oyster Bar in South Kingstown for oysters on the deck, or sign up for the Matunuck Oyster Farm & Lunch package to take a tour of the farm in Potter’s Pond.
White Hart Inn
The circa-1806 White Hart Inn reopened in the Berkshires last year, the elegant country outpost having been saved by a group of investors including best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell. And now Bon Appetit has recently named the Dining Room at White Hart one of America’s Best New Restaurants for 2015. British Chef Annie Wayte, also an inn investor and the talent behind Nicole Farhi’s New York and London restaurants, changes the menu almost every weekend depending on what she and Chef Paul Pearson acquire from local purveyors. A rotating list of musicians play on the porch here on weekends, and there’s also a more casual restaurant at the inn called the Tap Room. The Appalachian Trail runs right through Salisbury, so there’s excellent hiking nearby as well as skiing at Butternut and Mohawk. More foodie pursuits? Sit down to tea at the Harney & Sons Tea Room in nearby Millerton, New York, or scope out the year-round Millerton Farmer’s Market.
The Four Columns Inn
A southern Vermont landmark, the classic Four Columns Inn was recently restored by the Mallory family who owns the Delamar Hotels in Greenwich and Southport. Home to the first true farm-to-table restaurant in the country, predating the famed Alice Waters by four years, the original Four Columns attracted high-profile visitors such as Mick Jagger and Sting, and its restaurant sourced only vegetables and meats from the gardens and chickens and pigs raised on-site. Now the newly reopened inn will continue its farm-driven tradition under the guidance of Chef Frederic Kieffer of Artisan at the Delamar Southport. “Our philosophy is to try to incorporate all the small farms that we can, and Vermont has so many,” says Chef Frederic. Expect Artisan Vermont to be slightly more casual but with the same quality and a menu that takes advantage of local grass-fed beef, game bird and elk, while offering Artisan favorites such as the seafood chowder and gnocci lamb bolognese. The inn has sixteen luxurious rooms, and the mountainside property feels like a sanctuary with its gardens, hiking and snowshoeing trails, and kayaking; guests also have access to the private Hermitage ski area. Foodie adventures nearby: Visit the Newfane Café & Creamery in town for locally made ice cream; pick fruit at Dutton Berry Farm or Dwight Miller Orchards; or tour the Grafton Village Cheese Company.
Central Provisions and Vinland
Cited as one of America’s top restaurant cities by both Bon Appetit and Food & Wine, Portland, Maine, has an outstanding food scene—and you can only scratch the surface in one weekend. Noteworthy restaurants include the newer Central Provisions and Vinland as well as longtime favorite Fore Street, plus independent coffeehouses, brewpubs, bakeries, food trucks and sandwich shops such as Duckfat. With the coastal location, expect an abundance of fresh seafood. The historic Old Port neighborhood is quaint and highly walkable. If you’re looking to stay in town, check out The Press Hotel in the Old Port, a boutique hotel and spa set in the building that once housed the printing press for the Portland Press Herald. Fifteen minutes from downtown, there’s the Black Point Inn in Prouts Neck, a historic hotel overlooking the ocean.