A Midwinter’s Night Dream

Reverie at the Mayflower Inn

Overlooking a meticulously hedged Shakespeare Garden, classic Adirondack chairs hugging firepits at each corner, the private balcony off our room at the Mayflower Inn & Spa whispered tales of summertime soirees, autumn harvests and spring flings that have been the stuff of dreams for guests for over a century. Now it was Venü’s turn and we indulged in a midwinter’s night getaway where the reverie not only continued, it was ramped up a notch.

The Inn sits on 58 acres of woodlands, gardens and manicured lawns in a secluded corner of northwest Connecticut in the hamlet of Washington in Litchfield Hills. Washington was the first town to be incorporated in the state of Connecticut after the Declaration of Independence was signed. The town was named in honor of the Revolutionary War general and first US president in 1779, who, as the locals like to tell it, slept here during his many travels through Connecticut before, during and after the war. Its history, a storied chronicle of old New England families seeking out and settling in the most bucolic of places, is inextricably woven into landscapes that promise both privacy and playtime.

First opened as an inn in 1920, the family-owned luxury hotel group, Auberge Resorts Collection, operates it today. Like the inn’s owners before them, they found inspiration in the property as a whole, highlighting the locale and the adventures it portends, as the ultimate draw. Auberge Resorts Collection is known for creating one-of-a-kind properties and experiences that capture the essence of the destination and what they’ve done at this Washington, Connecticut hotel is testimony to their expertise and vision.

At its roots, Washington is a farming community set within country estates and a woodland paradise rich with natural beauty. At the Mayflower Inn, this plays out its 58-acre outdoor playground, meticulously landscaped and surrounded by a 3,000-acre nature preserve. Inn-curated activities and leisure pleasures mirror those enjoyed by local residents and visitors for centuries. From swimming, archery, tennis and fly fishing to picnic lunches, nature hikes and tastings at local farms, vineyards and distilleries, to weekend wellness retreats, design summits and more, guest experiences at the Inn showcase the enviable lifestyle of the surrounding community to ensure an authentic sense of place.

When the weather sends guests inside, glowing fireplaces, cozy reading nooks, and a restorative 20,000 square foot spa stand ready to soothe the senses, along with complimentary beverages and inn-baked snacks fresh from the oven to whet their appetite for the culinary delights that await in their intimate restaurants – which is where our story begins.

We arrived at the Inn on a mid-week, dead of winter January day, eager to warm up to the comforts we remembered from a decade ago. Hinting at the homecoming we were about to experience anew, we were greeted with a glass of wine, exceptionally chosen by its resident sommelier, cookies impossible to resist, and heartfelt welcomes from a staff who seemed genuinely delighted to see us, if even for just a one night’s stay.

The décor had changed since our last visit with a total refresh in its public spaces and guest rooms in celebration of the inn’s 100th anniversary in 2020. It was fresh and fun and filled with youthful exuberance, unexpected whimsy and unabashed comfort, signature trademarks of noted designer and tastemaker Celerie Kemble. Through her use of eye-popping color blocks, botanical inspired wallcoverings, antiques and Indian block rugs, she created the sense of place and home that Auberge Resorts aspires to – and that today’s discerning travelers are looking for.

Filled with flowers, our room was large, spacious and colorfully charming with a sink-in curtained and canopied king bed, romance-ready gas fireplace flanked with wing chairs, sumptuous marble bathroom with his and hers sinks, a deep soaking tub, oversized shower, signature amenities from their award-winning spa and a necessary room tucked away for necessary privacy, along with our very own deck with outdoor seating that we mentioned earlier. Fresh fruit was set out on one side table, ginger chai cookies and beverages on another, along with a hand written note by our hosts, inviting us to relax, unwind and indulge with the promise that there was much more to savor during our winter escape, starting with dinner for two in the Garden Room restaurant.

En route to dinner, we stopped in the Tap Room for a drink, relishing the cozy ambiance of the richly paneled tavern and the spirited conversations and shared connections we enjoyed with the bartender and the Director of Beverages and Food for the Inn. The Auberge seeks out staff with a penchant for personal service and memory-making through guest experiences that are tailor made to delight and inspire, qualities that make all the difference in the hospitality industry. Add a resume highlighting their experience at premier restaurants and resorts around the world, and it’s no wonder the people who work at the Mayflower raise the bar in a memorable and special stay.

The personal attention continued in the Garden Room, now under the direction of in-house Executive Chef Jose Ramirez-Ruiz, who hailed from several Michelin star restaurants before joining the Mayflower team as their first chef in residence. His ever-changing menu takes its cue from locally sourced ingredients and seasonality, giving a nod to area farms and purveyors that supply him with garden vegetables, herbs and fruits that play a major role in his perpetually evolving plated dishes. From Happy Valley small farm raised meats to only-at-the-Mayflower Cowbella butter from a Jefferson, New York creamery and freshly baked Sourdough Bread made onsite by the Inn’s pastry chefs, the chef handpicks ingredients that speak volumes about his commitment to creativity and sustainability.

The dinner menu enticed with all manner of culinary gems. We turned to our effervescent host, an expert food sommelier with personality plus, to guide our choices in accordance with his firsthand knowledge of the chef’s specialties and our eagerness to try them all, even selecting the perfect wine to pour and pair with every dish.

For starters, think New England grown Wellfleet oysters, gently roasted and bathed in a frisky whisky sauce; a sampling of artisan cheese hand crafted in nearby Hudson Valley, New York; Chilled Mussels escabeche served with smelt crackers and inspired by a classic Spanish aromatic marinade of olive oil, vinegar, garlic, herbs, and spices; Squash Broth, a rich consommé topped with foie gras and graced with aged veal meatballs, and the inn’s signature, warm from the oven Sourdough Bread, served with creamy Cowbella butter, that we dipped into each of our appetizing dishes and immediately, delightedly, devoured.

Entrees were equally innovative and we savored them slowly to appreciate each nuanced flavor. Grilled Romaine on a bed of cauliflower puree and drizzled with chicken vinaigrette redefined our notion of a dinner salad and quickly became our favorite way to love lettuce. The Three Cheese Gnudi, as our host rightly described, were clouds of deliciousness, puffs of pasta bathed in brown butter, Cowbella of course, and topped with delicata squash and hazelnuts. The Chickpea Pie, enriched with fresh cheese, honey and charred filo pastry, recalled nostalgic memories of dining in Egypt and took vegetarian cooking to a new level for us. Fully sated and beyond satisfied, we were hesitant to order anything else, quickly relenting when the simple grilled tuna, topped with tangy salsa verde, was placed before us. It too was simply amazing and testament to a chef who lets the flavors speak for themselves in dishes designed to make each ingredient a star.

Dessert was a trio of hand-crafted honey ice cream and pear and concord grape sorbets made on the premises and palate pleasing all. Making our way back to our room, we found two cups of herbal tea set out on a silver tray, with bite-sized, inn-made baclava by the bed, a great way to inspire sweet dreams of our evening feast in our country hideaway.

Morning dawned with the unmistakable aroma of freshly baked bread and roused us for breakfast in the Garden Room. Our table afforded a daytime view of the magnificent illuminated tree we admired from our balcony the night before. The grounds of the Inn were made for picture-perfect moments paused in time, day and night, in keeping with the pastoral beauty of the local community – and The Garden Room reflected it in design and décor. Designer Celerie Kemble had the restaurant’s walls hand painted with flora and fauna and butterflies to recreate the setting for a garden picnic. Glass jelly-jar light fixtures hang from the ceiling trellis, frog shaped vases sit on the tables with fresh flowers. Earthy Alsatian pottery is held up with multicolored gingham vintage ribbons, and art work of framed papier-mâché flowers add a new dimension to this all-season garden party that celebrates the bounty of the region, morning, noon and night.

We ate our breakfasts slowly, dividing between us the decadent grilled strawberry-crowned Sourdough French Toast and the Country Breakfast bowl, teeming with good-for-you kale, root vegetables, sausage and two perfectly poached eggs, while we savored the memories our hosts promised us in our welcome note and thoughtfully delivered throughout our midwinter’s night dream. We can’t wait to come back.


A storied history

The story of the Mayflower Inn begins in 1894 when it was built as a private boys’ school. Providing lodging and learning to its boarding students, the Ridge School was originally founded as an affiliated junior school for younger boys of the nearby Gunnery school. In keeping with the goals set down by the Gunnery’s founder and headmaster, Frederick Gunn, the Ridge School provided a traditional Anglican education with an emphasis on athletic opportunities, environmental awareness and moral values. Tales tell of Gunn’s steadfast beliefs in nature as the best teacher, documenting his nighttime excursions with students to teach them to identify the constellations in the starlit sky, embarking on springtime walks to help them identify early flowers and bird songs, basking in the beauty and bounty of the colorful foliage in the fall, especially resplendent here, or walking along the river in winter identifying animal tracks sculpted in the snow. Summertime would see him happily running summer camps out in the wilderness, where survival skills blended in with the fun found in the great outdoors, including swimming, archery, fly fishing, hiking, kayaking, tennis and more. Not surprisingly, after seeing the setting today, those destination-inspired activities are still a huge part of the Inn’s timeless, all-weather allure.

When the school closed, former student and Washington resident Harry Van Sinderen bought it and converted it into the Mayflower Inn in 1920. Similarly smitten with the seasonal pleasures on offer here, his guests were instantly charmed with their accommodations, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt among them, and the inn took on a life of its own. After Harry’s death, the inn languished, boarded up and empty, until another local family, visionaries Bob and Adriana Mnuchin, made it their mission to reclaim its legacy not just as an idyllic New England country retreat but as globally recognized hotel resort. They bought the former 25-room inn in 1990, rebuilding it from the foundation up and transforming it into an elegant 30-room English country manor house graced by a meticulous garden setting and world-class spa that garnered awards and a coveted 5-star rating from the moment they opened the doors.

The Grace Hotel group purchased the Mayflower in 2007 before selling it in 2018 to family-owned Auberge Resorts Collection. Today the Mayflower Inn & Spa welcomes guests with 35 individually decorated guest rooms and suites. Wellness amenities include THE WELL at Mayflower Inn, a 20,000 square-foot spa sanctuary featuring the Pool House with a greenhouse style all-season pool, traditional hammam and a Biophilic Thermal Pool. The resort also boasts expansive gardens, a tennis court, miles of hiking trails, a standalone two-story private-event space, The Huntress boutique, and two dining venues including The Garden Room for New England-inspired fine dining and the Tap Room, for casual country fare. In honor of the Inn’s centennial birthday in fall 2020, acclaimed New York-based interior designer Celerie Kemble oversaw a dramatic redesign encompassing guest rooms and suites, Mayflower’s signature restaurant, and the Inn’s historic main house.

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