By Karen Feld
The secured gates of Winvian Farm in lush Morris, CT., offered no clue as to what we’d find within this pristine and peaceful 113-acre sanctuary, a two hour drive from Manhattan. Upon arrival at the 18th century main house, tastefully restored with wood obtained from old barns on the property, we were greeted warmly, offered a chilled glass of Prosecco and directed down Meadow Lane to our cottage, aptly named, Stable.
Although it’s been many years since I rode a horse, this cottage recalled my equestrian days with its décor, including vintage boots, saddle and a stack of “Chronicle of The Horse” publications. The three-story loft-like structure built into the natural landscape provided views of nature from all sides, creating a world far from the city. I couldn’t wait to relax in the sunken whirlpool tub and steam shower on the lower level surrounded by views of greenery.
But this cottage is not for everyone since comfort is pushed to the edge by the awkward layout and open hardwood stairs connecting the three levels. The bathroom was on the lower level while a king bed and outdoor patio graced the mid-level. Surprisingly the large tiled steam shower lacked a bench and soap dish. Legend has it that this cottage is haunted, but we didn’t encounter any ghosts during our stay.
The property has space to roam, laden with vegetable and flower gardens where my two toy poodles romped. Three of the 18 cottages are designated as pet-friendly. Guests can swim in the 40- foot heated pool set in a large meadow, play volleyball or badminton, or sit quietly and read or paint. The property is surrounded by several thousand acres of parkland with trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding in the fall and cross-country skiing in the winter. Each cottage is equipped with bikes for guest use.
When the Smith family purchased the estate in 1948, they renamed it Win-Vian, a combination of their first names. In 2007, current family members converted the historic property to a luxury hotel and spa. Juxtaposed against the traditional, the result is a unique, somewhat whimsical, collaboration of 15 architects. Each of the cleverly designed cottages adheres to a designated theme.
Charter Oak, the largest cottage, appealed to me from the moment I saw the large fruit-filled apple trees in front. It was built around a 300-year-old massive Charter Oak tree which stands in the center of magnificent stonework separating the living room from the bedroom. The cottage houses a silo and screened porch, perfect to catch a glimpse of deer snatching apples at dawn. I learned that during the Revolutionary War in Connecticut, soldiers hid their ammunition in the Charter Oak Tree. There’s also a water fall shower and the whirlpool tub fills from the ceiling.
If your taste runs to the even more eclectic, book a stay in Treehouse, which is a childhood fantasy suspended from trees 33 feet off the ground with trains on the second story. Helicopter is built around a 1968 US Coast Guard Sikorsky HH37 Sea King Pelican used in rescue missions. The plane was discovered in an aviator’s graveyard and restored to look like the one used in the film, “Top Gun.” I’m not sure I’d want to awaken and see a 17,000 - pound helicopter in my bedroom, but a cozy futon, bar and entertainment center is welcoming inside the fuselage. To carry out that theme, helicopter service from White Plains is offered.
Did you ever wonder what a beaver must feel like in his den? The cottage named Beaver Lodge is reminiscent of just that with views of Beaver Pond and woods. Appropriately named, Golf, offers eight holes of putt putt. Since I‘m an artist, I’m eager to stay at the Artist Cottage based on a 1920’s artist’s bungalow with a gingerbread exterior and stained glass windows. It is complete with an adjacent studio with easel and canvas so guests can engage their artistic imagination in a perfect setting.
More surprises! I never would have guessed that the luxurious spa was once the site of pigpens. Now the Berkshire pigs are kept elsewhere on the property. The spacious retreat offers couples massages and a sun-filled lounge overlooking a fountain and the well-manicured gardens. Jaylin massaged my tired muscles with a deep tissue massage before dinner. Susan pampered me with a REN Bespoke facial as she suggested to re-hydrate my skin. This included a relaxing hand and arm massage. The experience was one of complete relaxation. REN skin care, which originated in England, offers products for all skin types made from plant and mineral extracts.
Executive Chef Chris Eddy, who trained under Alain Ducasse and Daniel Boulud, utilizes organic ingredients grown on the expansive gardens or nearby farms. His creative Prix Fixe menu offering three ($95) or four ($110) courses, changes nightly. I enjoyed an heirloom tomato salad with pressed watermelon balsamic reduction followed by a near perfect saffron risotto with braised veal. The Chef’s signature dish is an exquisite Peking Duck breast served seared with corn ragout, balsamic onion petals and bacon foam. The individual milk chocolate souffle with cardamom anglaise, was decadent.
We were seated in the Green Room, one of three dining rooms in the main house. It felt a bit formal, but we were immediately welcomed with the smell of a wood burning fireplace. The look was sedate elegance with brocaded curtains, Oriental rug, forest green and dark wood walls. The fresh, local floral arrangement on each table was a bright touch. The extensive wine list (representing 13 countries and more than 500 labels) is varied, but pricey. Selections by the glass are limited.
After dinner, we stopped downstairs to have a nightcap with the charming and amusing General Manager, Paolo Middei, who was lured from Italy nine years ago to run the property. He filled us in with challenging and colorful details. For example, part of the helicopter’s tail had to be removed to fit the cottage; the pigs were getting sunburned in the open fields so the five mamas and 14 piglets were moved to the forest. There are three full-time gardeners; and the chef pulls seeds personally from the garden.
When we were ready to say good night and walk back to our cottage, Middei told us that there had been “a Black bear sighting with her cubs on the property,” so he arranged for one of the staff to drive us. We were only two hours from the city, yet it reminded me of when I was on safari in South Africa and the rangers had to escort us back to our cottage.
Before departing the next morning, we enjoyed a full breakfast on the outdoor terrace overlooking the lush, manicured gardens. I was delighted to discover fresh figs on the menu along with truffle scrambled eggs, homemade pastries and Brioche French toast with real Maple syrup. Fresh juice was the only missing ingredient. Room service is available for an additional fee.
I’d recommend this property as an idyllic private getaway for those desiring quirky accommodations and calming spa treatments in a rural setting with magnificent fall colors. It’s even caught on as a popular spot for destination weddings.
Although the unconventional accommodations may not be ideal for those with physical limitations or those who anticipate luxury in the traditional sense, it’s a delightful getaway for those who want to be pampered with luxe spa treatments and stay in an unusual and eclectic venue with high tech amenities juxtaposed with the ambiance of an historic country property. Rates for fall weekend nights including breakfast range from $799 to $1,499 plus tax.
155 Alain White Road