Travel Wishlist: Connecticut hotels

Connecticut has understated charm with lodging to match, discovers Emma Newlands.

The Griswold Inn is one of the oldest continuously operated inns in the US, debuting in 1776. Picture: Caryn Davis.
The Griswold Inn is one of the oldest continuously operated inns in the US, debuting in 1776. Picture: Caryn Davis.

Routes serving popular US east coast destinations direct from Scotland mean the likes of Boston and New York are within pleasingly easy reach.But in addition to those cities’ appeal, Connecticut offers a highly attractive dialled-down combination of metropolitan and rural, with the state’s hotels epitomising its homely but refined New England charm in soothingly tranquil settings.

Take Delamar Southport, for example, located a 75-minute rail journey from NYC’s Grand Central Terminal – perfect for moneyed Manhattanites escaping for a weekend break.

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It exudes understated elegance even before we cross the threshold, with a white wood-panelled facade punctuated with rows of charcoal-coloured shutters. The colour scheme of our room is mainly cream, with two grandiose but tasteful double beds, plus an elegant table and chairs by the window.

One of the refined rooms at the Delamar Southport. Picture: Julie Bidwell.

We dine in the hotel’s Artisan restaurant, led by chef Frederic Kieffer and billed as fusing “New England tavern warmth with 18th century Scandinavian design”. We set up camp at a table in the fairylight-decked courtyard, and enjoy ravioli that tastes fresh, light and just filling enough to leave room for dessert where I make a beeline for a refreshing trio of sorbets.

It is with a heavy heart that we check out the next morning after making the most of the buffet breakfast as the discreetly rich undertake low-key business meetings at surrounding tables. There are also Delamar properties in hedge fund epicentre Greenwich further west in Connecticut, and in West Hartford, which is located exactly midway between Boston and New York. The latter hotel is close to trendy boutiques and has a full-service spa with “cutting-edge” treatments.

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Our next stop shares many qualities of the Delamar properties – from its white exterior and contrasting dark shutters to the classic style of bedrooms – and the ubiquitous chowder on the menu.

The 'Gris' hosts live music every night - including Monday Night Sea Shanteys (pictured). Picture: Kim Tyler Photography

The Griswold Inn is one of the oldest continuously operated inns in the US, debuting in 1776, marrying centuries-old character and high-end accommodation. Affectionately nicknamed the Gris, it sits proudly towards the foot of Main Street in Essex on the Connecticut River, and is something of a landmark, even mentioned in TV series Mad Men.

Its extensive history as a stop-off for seafarers is brought vividly to life with its renowned collection of marine art – laying claim to be the largest of its kind in private hands today – that seems to cover practically every surface of its famous Tap Room where you can just imagine an old sailor propping up the bar.

The drinking and dining venue was built in 1735 as a schoolhouse, apparently attached to the Gris in 1801 by oxen who rolled it along the street on logs, and it served as a speakeasy during Prohibition.

Apparently the venue can get very lively, which I don’t doubt, and it hosts live music every night, with Billy Joel reportedly entertaining patrons one evening. Other famous names to have graced it with their presence include Robert de Niro and Frank Sinatra. It’s now owned by the Paul family, who have added a wine bar.

After a quick nightcap there, I head upstairs, past impeccably positioned artworks, while each of the inn’s 34 bedrooms is different, and mine is a relaxing combination of natural woods and cream.

The Gris rooms are furnished with Leonard’s Beds, which has supplied The White House, and while I had been worried about noise from the lively Tap Room, I can’t hear a thing. What’s more, it’s only the following day that I realise there was no TV in the room – and I didn’t miss it.

The Gris “empire” extends to a coterie of buildings nearby in addition to the main building, which house accommodation (including the The Hayden House – the only lodgings onsite with a TV), shops and a separately-run cafe. I head in to the latter for an iced latte, before popping out to explore Essex (far more refined than its English counterpart).

It was an important stop when a steamboat service began on the river in 1824, and I head down to the silent waterside, imagining the inn’s many guests over the years disembarking. Today, you can head out on its waters on a cruise, kayak or paddleboat.

Sadly there isn’t time for that, and to paraphrase a former Gris patron, my trip to Connecticut faces the final curtain. I dream of returning in the autumn, or spending Christmas in this haven of homely sophistication. After all, if it’s good enough for Sinatra…

Due to Covid-19, check for trading updates. Rooms at The Griswold Inn start at £129, including a continental breakfast.The average price for a room at the Delamar Southport and the Delamar West Hartford is in both cases £200 including a full buffet breakfast.

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