Grace Kelly style, good manners and a great tan—some things never go out of fashion. The same is true of these historic retreats. A few have had face-lifts, some have preserved their natural beauty, all are worth a visit—be it for a weekend retreat or a weeklong escape.
ANYONE WHO HAS BINGED ON THE SHOWTIME SERIES THE AFFAIR is a little obsessed with Montauk. Also known as “The End,” Montauk is where the Hamptons, well, end. It has captured the imagination of visitors from Walt Whitman to the Kardashians. Describing the scenery, one wrote, “I stand on some mighty eagle’s beak, eastward the sea absorbing … . The wild unrest, the snowy curling caps … seeking the shores forever.” We’ll let you guess if it was Walt or Kim who penned it.
Gurney’s is both old and new. Built in 1926, it is a Montauk institution, and a series of recent renovations have made it hip, yet not gaudy. The hotel sits on eleven acres on the dunes above the beach
It has the only Olympic-size seawater pool in the U.S., with the water pumped in from offshore, filtered and heated. It also has the only license on the East End for an on-ocean beach restaurant.
Translation: drinks and bites on the sand.
Montauk, New York
Gurney’s features 146 rooms, suites and beachfront cottages, each with dramatic ocean views. The rooms are fab, but it’s the 2,000-foot-long private beach that’s the real draw. In addition to the de rigueur spa services at Seawater Spa on-property, it’s a veritable world tour with Roman baths, a Finnish rock sauna, Russian steam room and a Swiss shower. In the summer months, spa day passes are not sold; you must book a service to enjoy the facilities. There are five restaurants on-property, including a seaside outpost of Manhattan’s Scarpetta, serving signature classics as well as seasonal dishes, fresh seafood and a world-class wine list.
Rooms start at $325 per night in summer; gurneysmontauk.com
Montauk proper can be a bit crowded and overwhelming, so our advice is to stay put. Why leave The Beach Club with its sunny yellow and white beach beds and toes-in-the-sand service? Of course there’s surfing or you could book a sailing lesson at Sail Montauk or even go fishing. But really, why? What makes Montauk Montauk is immersing yourself in the laid-back vibe and letting that nice waiter bring you a yummy pineapple mojito.
THE ADIRONDACKS MIGHT GET ALL THE MOVIE FAME, but in the late nineteenth-century there was a greater concentration of grand resort hotels in New Hampshire’s White Mountains than anywhere else in America. Omni Mount Washington is one of the three that remain. The hotel is surrounded by 800,000 acres of White Mountain National Forest. Guests have been coming to the outdoor playground since Thomas Edison himself installed electricity in the hotel. Fun facts: The International Monetary Fund was created here and at one time there was a stock ticker wired directly to Wall Street. The resort sits at the base of Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast. Though it’s well-known for skiing and winter sports, it is also a perfect midsummer getaway.
OMNI MOUNT WASHINGTON
Bretton Woods, New Hampshire
The sprawling red-roofed resort looks unchanged from the outside, but inside the rooms are modern and cozy, many with fireplaces. The vast spa spans 25,000 square feet and offers every service imaginable, many in treatment rooms with mountain views. There are indoor and outdoor pools, both heated.
The Omni caters to families, even offering family-style accommodations with adjoining rooms. For true luxury, book the Tower Suite, which features two adjoining towers, one with a king bed and private marble bath and the other with a separate living area with a sofa and half bath. These rooms are only accessible by a private stairwell. But the real reason to visit this property isn’t to stay in your room, it’s to get outdoors.
Rooms start at $289 per night in summer; omnihotels.com
No need to head to Costa Rica for a zipline adventure. Bretton Woods is home to one of the longest zip lines in New England. You’ll soar through the White Mountains on a series of treetop zip lines, cross suspension bridges and more. The three-and-a-half hour tour consists of nine cable zip lines and two adventure sky bridges suspended above the forest floor. Rates begin at $99 per person.
For a great family adventure, river tubing is available at the Bretton Woods Adventure Center, where guests can enjoy a float down the Ammonoosuc River. River tubing is available starting June 17 and runs through September 4. Rates begin at $20 for a two-hour rental.
No old school resort would be worth its caviar without offering horseback riding, archery and tennis, on red clay, natch.
WHO WANTS TO JUST VISIT THE GRAND HOMES OF NEWPORT IF YOU CAN STAY IN ONE? Families like the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers escaped the steam of summer to their cliffside “cottages” overlooking the Atlantic. The Chanler is the only mansion on the Cliff Walk, a winding, 3.5-mile oceanside trail, where we mere peasants can bed down for the night. Originally built as a summer home for a New York congressman and his wife, an Astor heir, the hotel is basically Downton Abbey with Wi-Fi.
THE CHANLER AT CLIFF WALK
Newport, Rhode Island
We’ll start with the butlers. There are bath butlers, who will draw your tub Arthur-style with bubbles, rose petals and champagne. There are beach butlers, who will drive you from the mansion to a Newport beach in the hotel car, setting up your chairs and umbrellas and a gourmet picnic lunch. And chauffeur butlers (OK, they don’t call them that, but I’m on a roll), who will ferry you around town from point to point in one of the hotel’s house cars.
There are only twenty rooms to choose from, which might seem easy, except that each room has its own distinct flair, decorated for various historic periods. The Empire Room is a personal favorite, which has soaking tub adjacent to the writer’s desk. The four-star Spiced Pear restaurant on-site provides the option for a chef’s table experience, or you can just enjoy the signature tasting menu. After dinner, or really anytime, grab a complimentary s’mores kit and head out to the fire pit on the lawn. The property was originally called Cliff Lawn; the reason becomes obvious when you see the rolling expanse of green dotted with Adirondack chairs. Teddy Roosevelt visited when it was Cliff Lawn, but we can’t confirm he enjoyed s’mores.
Rooms start at $975 per night in summer. You can also book the entire property for a special occasion, rates available upon request; thechanler.com
It’s Newport, you do the mansions. And The Chanler makes it easy. The concierge will organize admission tickets and itineraries. The chauffeur butler will whisk you there and drop you off, avoiding tricky parking at this popular venue. If you only have time for one tour, The Breakers is a don’t-miss. But for a little more subdued peek at the past, try The Elms or Rough Point, the estate of Doris Duke. Rough Point has been left more or less the way it looked when the tobacco heiress lived there (she died in the early 1990s). It doesn’t have the same museum feel of the other mansions, though the lived-in look is a relative phrase when applied to the dwellings of billionairesses.
BREAK—THAT MOMENT WHEN A WAVE FREES ITSELF FROM THE OCEAN and some lucky surfer takes it for a ride. Rhode Island is not likely the first spot that comes to mind when dreaming of a surf-inspired getaway. But the tiny state’s first boutique hotel, The Break, just might change all that. This retro-chic hotel in Narragansett harkens back to the ’60s, when local surf legend Peter Pan rode the waves and the seaside village was a hub of activity. (Of course, beach cocktails and surf-spotting are also perfectly acceptable reasons to book a stay.)
THE BREAK HOTEL
Narragansett, Rhode Island
Centrally located to all four Narragansett beaches, the Point Judith Lighthouse and the Port of Galilee, this hotel is all Montauk meets Santa Barbara. Each of the sixteen guest rooms and suites is brightly decorated in shades of navy, turquoise and orange, with high-end amenities (Apple TV and complimentary iPads, waffle robes and heated bathroom floors for starters). Grab the complimentary tote bag from your room and hit the beach or, if you want to avoid all that sand, hit the heated outdoor pool and sun deck. The hotel’s restaurant, Chair 5, is named for a lifeguard chair on Town Beach and offers upscale “shack fare.” Funnel clam cake with bacon powder anyone? Buffet breakfast of small plates, they describe it as “breakfast tapas,” is included in the room rate.
Rooms start at $299 per night in summer; thebreakhotel.com
The hotel has partnered with a local surf shop for lessons and rentals. Not quite ready to hang ten? Start off with paddleboarding. Narragansett Surf and Skate has everything you need, from lessons and boards to wet suits for either sport. Private surf lessons are $60 per hour and include all the gear.
This destination is obviously all about the beach, and there are four to choose from.
Roger W. Wheeler State Beach
Just a mile from the hotel, this beach offers calm waters and an updated playground for the kids. Rent bikes, including child seats and trailers from Narragansett Bikes and peddle on over.
Narragansett Town Beach
If you plan to give surfing a go, this is a great spot to learn. Just there to watch? Surfers abound. Join the local crowd at Chair 5 or stroll over to the pier. The beach is a ten-minute drive from the hotel.
Salty Brine State Beach
Tucked right next to the Point Judith waterway, this is the place to watch boats (and the Block Island Ferry) come in and out of Rhody’s largest fishing port. It is just under two miles from the hotel.
Scarborough State Beach
This beach is just a mile from the hotel and is great for the advanced surfer. For others, it’s a great spot to catch a glimpse of someone riding waves. Grab a bike from the hotel and head on over.
IT’S TRUE THAT SOMETIMES WE DON’T SEE WHAT’S RIGHT UNDER OUR NOSES. Just a little over an hour from Greenwich on I95 N. is the idyllic town of Old Saybrook, where Hollywood icon Katharine Hepburn escaped the world. The Saybrook Point Inn offers the rare chance to stay in a lighthouse and dream the world away. Of course, there are more pedestrian rooms available as well, or entire luxury homes.
This is where the Connecticut River meets Long Island Sound and has been drawing those looking for a holiday since the 1870s. The current hotel sits on the site of the former Terra Mar, which had its heyday in the ’60s and ’70s hosting a slew of Hollywood royalty, among them Frank Sinatra, Jayne Mansfield and Tom Jones. In the warmer months, Terra Mar had a sort of Vegas/Miami Beach glam. The hotel has returned to its more sleepy origins, but Foxwoods is just a short drive away.
SAYBROOK POINT INN
Old Saybrook, Connecticut
Guests can arrive by car, train or boat (the marina accommodates vessels up to 200 feet). And feel free to bring Fido, as long as he’s under fifty pounds—he’s welcome in the main hotel and will even get his own bed. With 100 guest rooms, the inn is large enough to offer everything that is expected of a luxury hotel—fine dining, a luxe spa and indoor and outdoor heated pools—yet it still maintains small town warmth.
Saybrook Point offers both a standard hotel experience and an old time B&B stay in one of its historic luxury homes, Tall Tales and Three Stories. These Victorian homes are just steps away from the main hotel but deliver a more intimate experience. Bring a book to enjoy on your private veranda, but leave the kids and dogs at home; the guest houses are blissfully quiet by design.
The most iconic room is in the Lighthouse Suite. Set alone at the end of the dock, we’re sure this room would have pleased the famously reclusive Katharine Hepburn, who placed a “Please Go Away” sign at the foot of her driveway in town.
Rooms start at $300 per night in summer; saybrook.com
Hop on one of the hotel’s complimentary bikes and ride to the nearby “Kate.” The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center hosts an average of 220 shows a year, including concerts, movies, children’s shows, comedy acts, simulcasts from the Metropolitan Opera and a lecture series from the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan. The Met simulcasts sell out, as do any bands from the ’70s and ’80s, like Pure Prairie League and Poco. Ticket prices typically range from $5 to $75; some performances are free.
Didn’t bring a yacht of your own? No problem. Climb aboard Real Escape for an evening sunset cruise. Locals will tell you that what makes Old Saybrook so special is the sandbar at the mouth of the river. It has kept the tiny town from becoming a sprawling port city. Where rivers meet oceans, industry follows, but thanks to that little sandbar, Old Saybrook has—and will—remain a charming seaside town ready to welcome those looking for a little respite from their busy lives.