I am not sure what we thought New England would deliver having seen a million images of the vibrant colours of the maple leaves in the Fall, films on the bucolic life enjoyed by the locals on the beaches of Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard, yachts sleek and elegant moored alongside wooden jetties in the hub of yachting life in Nantucket or Newport Rhode Island, images of Grace Kelly driving past the Gilded Age mansions of the Vanderbilts and Carnegies in High Society, Forest Gump in the charming confines of Woodstock Vermont, Catherine Hemburn jumping with impunity into the clear waters of Lake Schram during the filming of Golden Pont in New Hampshire or looking across the waves munching fresh lobster sliders in Kennebunkport at the real life mansion of George Bush – but it delivered more than our expectations .
Leaving Boston on the easy to find and easy to navigate route 93 we had the choice of left to Vermont or straight onto Maine and being on a quest for the perfect Maine Lobster and the quintessential harbour side town, we took a detour to Portland, visited the strikingly renovated Inn by the Sea and the Portland headlands before turning back to the quaint harbour town of Kennebunkport or ‘Kennebunk’ to those in the know. Tiny clapperboard shops and houses nested cheek to cheek with restaurants and art galleries and before passing over the bridge to reach our final destination of the White Barn Inn, we had a glimpse of the harbour, home to yachts and houses along the elegant shoreline and vowed, even in the grey light and drizzle of a most unseasonal May afternoon, to return on the morrow. The windows of the White Barn Inn, an elegant coaching inn situated just outside colorful Kennebunkport, 30 minutes from Portland and 1 ½ hours from Boston gleamed with golden light and our welcome from Innkeeper Corinne and her charming assistant Albert, was as warm as the ambience of this gorgeous hotel.
We stayed in one of the 26 stylish rooms and suites and visited the charming waterfront cottages – lovely antiques and designer fabrics are trademarks of this Inn and feature throughout. The famous restaurant is housed in an adjoining 19th-century barn and a gourmet sensation in the area. We met their acclaimed chef, Jonathan Cartwright, a genius with local ingredients, not to forget the 27 page wine list which was full of exciting discoveries. Breakfast was too short and too beautiful but we had not time on our side. Whizzing around the shoreline having a tourist like gawp at President Bush’s house, we had fleeting glimpses of the beaches and homes by the sea, the lobster boats setting out for a day’s work and tasting our first lobster ‘slider’ at Mabel’s Lobster Claw Restaurant was our Kennebunk ‘taster’, we shall return .
A lobster snack.
The road to New Hampshire took us past beautiful barns and Lake Sebago – a perfect stop for a picnic as the White Mountains loomed in the distance and an astonishing variety of trees promised a palette of colour in the Fall. Arriving at the Manor on Golden Pond we were welcomed by Brian and Mary Ellen into their home which well deserves its place in the Small Luxury Hotel Guide. Andrew produced wonderful food, the Three Cock Pub lived up to its name with an amazing range of drinks and cocktails and the historical layers of the house made no impact on the spacious and eclectically designed suites with views over the lake to the mountains. A perfect stop for tired travellers and we rose fresh and ready for the road to Woodstock. New England is a photographic delight but Owen’s Truck Stall beggar’s description. Fresh strawberries and bread, a garage full of memorabilia from through the ages, a lesson on a ‘fittlehead’ fern – delicious with garlic and butter – plus a picnic to go on with along with obscure presents for the family back home. Holderness took on a new meaning in the retail notes!
Holderness & Owens Truck shop
Holderness & Owens Truck shop
Speeding towards Woodstock you have to take pictures of the barns and you have to stop for a true ‘diner’ experience along with more memorabilia, antiques, wine and cheese at the picturesque Queeche Gorge – if you fancy a nice glass for the wine and a more upmarket food experience stop and watch the fascinating glass blowing techniques at Simon Pearce as we did and have lunch or dinner by the river.
Two and a half hours from Kennebunk or two and a half hours from Boston, Woodstock is a wonderful little town in the middle of Vermont where we had a choice – the quiet exclusiveness of the Twin Farms or the warmth and centrally positioned Woodstock Inn to choose from. The million dollar question was – were we in England or in the United States – only the architecture and names belied the name’s proximity to what we walked through. Quaint is the perfect word to describe the town – not a cable or electrical flex showing as the Rockefeller Family apparently invested millions making sure not an unsightly piece of wire would ever show! The Woodstock Inn served up one of the best burgers and martinis with Scott the barman in charge and a wonderful Spa to relax in after a few laps in the pool. For a completely different experience we visited the gorgeous Twin Farms who served up a gourmet lunch amongst some of the most wonderful private art and antique collections in New England.
Their individually designed cottages and suites would keep the most discerning traveller entranced and their eclectic bar and pool room is a feature in itself – stocked with every beer you can imagine, pool table, juke box and fantastic art! You can ski in the winter, play tennis and fish in the summer or just chill in some of the most glorious scenery going.
Moving on after a wonderful night’s sleep at the Woodstock Inn we headed through Vermont towards the charming Windham Hill Inn passing one of the highlights of our day – the Vermont Country Store which makes Fortnum’s look boring and Harrods very tame!
A sign bid us farewell to Vermont and the picturesque town of Woodstock, nestling in woods that would defy even Monet in the Fall. Here we drew breath, only to let it out again on the route to Windham Hill Inn, where we found the Vermont Country Store. Where in the world can you find everything you want, could never find and thought you would never find again? My past, present and future all satisfied in one glorious haberdashery and culinary explosion. A wonderful lunch at Bryant House with our friendly host Bill, font of all knowledge and purveyor or anything interesting, nostalgic or scientifically enterprising, imbued in us the necessary energy to explore the treasure trove that was the Vermont Country Store and luckily being replete it avoided us putting on several kilos sampling the amazing cookies, cheeses, hams and so many other gorgeous culinary goodies on show to taste and experience. There was nothing I could think of they did not have. Many things I had searched the world for and never found were sitting on the shelves saying ‘buy me’. If Alice had not had Wonderland, the Vermont Country Store encapsulated the world of ‘Eat me’ ‘Drink Me’ ‘Buy Me’ and ‘Play with Me’. A hidden world for grownups and children alike and not to be missed!
Vermont County Store
Katie in the Vermont County Store
We arrived late afternoon at Windham Hill Inn nestled in the most glorious countryside, an absolute gem and a must if you are travelling through Vermont either from Boston down to Newport, Rhode Island or from New York in the other direction.
Windham Hill InnWindham Hill
Exquisite rooms, glorious views, a fantastic meal (again under the banner of Jonathan Cartwright the Relais & Chateaux Grand Chef from The White Barn Inn Kennebunkport and Vanderbilt Grace) and waking to views over the hills and the smiles of Katya the charming GM/Innkeeper made this one of our top recommendations for a fantastic relaxing halt in our meandering route through New England. If only we had had more time to explore the surrounding area.
But our Satellite Navigator ‘Walter’ was ready, so another whistle stop whizz down to the coast where we discovered the newly opened Weekepaug Inn close to Watch Hill, the little and very charming sister of the Grand Ocean House at Watch Hill set overlooking the water in a delightful setting. One delicious hamburger later we arrived into the charming and elegant town of Newport. Checking in at the elegant and stunningly positioned Chanler at Cliff Walk overlooking the ocean, we decided to make a run for the sunset over the yacht basin.
The Chanler Newport Rhode Island, Cliff Walk and main house suites
Brightly-hued clapboard houses and buildings delayed us as we clicked away furiously, the light was ethereal as the sun was setting over the yachts nestled in the harbour and as we walked through the cobbled streets of Bowen’s Wharf trying to take in all the wonderful shops and galleries, we stopped for a moment at The Cooper Cook House where Todd the barman convinced us to sample a perfectly executed Martini to enhance the view of the sun as it slipped behind the masts. There were too many restaurants to choose from, but if you love clam chowder try the bustling Black Pearl, great lobster and seafood at The Moorings where our lovely host Alex from Discover Newport took us that night, or a great choice of everything can be found back at the Cooper Cook House.
Newport Gilded Age mansions
Newport Rhode Island was everything High Society had promised me, including a few versions of the ‘True Love’ nestled in the harbour. Looking at our list of ‘things to do’ we despaired at the time we had but gamely set out with our guide Alex to see the famous Breakers and other homes of the Robber Barons from the Gilded Age which Grace Kelly drives past in High Society, drive along the beaches and homes on Ocean Drive, visit the fabulous International Tennis Hall of Fame where we could have spent all afternoon, munch some delicious lobster ‘sliders’ overlooking the deck at the slick and chic 40 Degrees North Hotel, walk through the cobbled streets and wharves of the harbour and finished being regaled with stories of the wonderful sailing and fishing experiences you can organise in this marvellous place. That night we dined in Jonathan Cartwright’s third and final dining room, Muse at the delicious Vanderbilt Grace where we were staying that night. Built by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt in 1909, they say for his mistress at the time, the former Vanderbilt Hall is a quintessential Newport mansion that in recent years has been restored to its former glory.
Nearing the end of our epic tour we left the next day and drove the easy distance to the ferry for Martha’s Vineyard and the Harbor Hotel which was to be our home for the night. ‘The Vineyard’ such a charming island with so much to do we ran out of time. In the hands of Nancy, our veritable font of knowledge and clearly an island icon, we saw beaches, the charming Edgartown, the famous Gingerbread Houses, picked our lobster from the tank and ate on steps in Mememsha which is a tiny fishing village in Chilmark, rode bikes to the beach, watched the waves crashing on the stunning shore of Aquinnah – what a treasure trove of an island this is. Come for days, not hours and then you can experience the beauty of the Hob Knob Inn or the divine Charlotte Street Inn depending on your tastes and watch the sun set off the terrace of The Atlantic before settling down to a seafood dinner.
Hob Knob Inn Martha’s Vineyard
Aquinnah – order your lobster or fresh fish and enjoy the view
Beaches of ‘The Vineyard’
Final countdown as our days dwindled and we were drawn inexorably towards the magical Cape Cod which we had read so much about and seen so many films portraying the bucolic life of those living by the breeze swept beaches and creeks and coves where yachts bobbed and halyards tinkled.