An Introduction to The Art of Living & Living Well
Written by: Linda Davis
What began in 1954 as an idea to showcase eight properties that offered elegantly appointed guest rooms and dining, has evolved over the decades into a family of over 520 unique Relais & Chateaux properties.
Properties that belong to the Relais & Chateaux family are a group of independent owners and chefs who have proven themselves by offering an outstanding experience to their guests. When one stays at a Relais & Chateaux property, or dines at one of their restaurants, they can be sure the visit will be memorable since their goal is to enhance a local cultural experience for their guests. The ultimate goal of the Relais & Chateaux innkeeper or chef is to introduce their guests to the “Art of Living” and to share their passion for living well.
I have had the pleasure of staying and dining at several Relais & Chateaux properties in New England, as well as Montpelier Plantation on the island of Nevis in the West Indies. Each property offered a unique experience that exuded the ambiance of their natural and historic surroundings. Chefs prepare many of their meals with locally sourced products, and inn keepers include items crafted at local businesses such as glassware, linens, chocolates, and candles.
Twin Farms - Barnard, Vermont
Nestled in the mountains of Vermont, Twin Farms was so named when Nobel Prize-winning novelist Sinclair Lewis and his wife Dorothy Thompson, bought two adjoining farms to create one large property. Once known for its legendary parties hosted by the Sinclairs in the thirties and forties, it is now Vermont’s only five-star, all-inclusive resort.
Inside the main farm house, I noted the perfect blend of traditional country décor along with touches of artistic whimsy. Cocktails of our choice were served from a quaint bar in the living room, and we were given an overview of the property before settling into “Treehouse”, our private little haven in the woods.
Placed on the crest of a hill, where trees from the valley behind create the cottage’s background, its name became evident once we looked out our back windows. It literally felt as if we were within the treetops.
The interior décor, which I describe as “rustic elegance” made me smile as soon as I passed through the small foyer. Birch logs and twigs adorned the vaulted ceiling, elegant green and white toile draperies and valances flanked each side of the oversized windows, and the king size bed, dressed in fine linens, took center stage with its tall spiral bedposts. Opposite the bed, a seating area was waiting for us to sit and enjoy a glass of wine in front of the large wood-burning fireplace. Off the side of the house is a screened-in porch, where we chose to enjoy a gourmet lunch the next day surrounded by the sounds and sights of the peaceful forest. Delivered by basket, our lunch was set out for us complete with china and glassware and was a far cry from the picnics I enjoyed in my childhood treehouse.
Castle Hill Inn - Newport, Rhode Island
Located on Ocean Avenue, Castle Hill Inn overlooks the waterway of East Passage where one can watch the ongoing parade of sailboats and yachts glide by.
Rich in history, the property was first built in 1874 as a summer home by Harvard University marine biologist and naturalist, Alexander Agassiz. During World War II, the property became an impromptu Naval base until the war ended, then it was transformed into an elegant summer hotel that lured well-known guests such as actress Grace Kelly and novelist Thornton Wilder.
As it stands today, the main house is where you will find the inn’s bar, restaurant, private tea room, and guest rooms, but there are also several secluded beach houses at the base of the hill.
Windward Beach House:
The short path to my beach house was layered with crushed oyster shells and bordered by flowers and foliage of white, green, and purple. The entry door, painted a soft sea green and adorned with a brass sailboat door knocker, gave way to a charming one-room suite. Soft classical music from a bedside radio was already drifting through the air and in true Relais & Chateaux fashion, a bottle of wine and small savories were placed on the coffee table for us to enjoy. The interior of the cottage, including the ceilings, were painted pure white offering a crisp background to the soft blue and green tones used in the room’s decor. A small kitchenette, complete with a farmer’s sink, made it apparent that the beach house would be a perfect choice for those wanting to prep their own light meals.
Immediately upon opening the French doors leading to the back deck, the sound of waves and a warm summer breeze entered the room and mingled seamlessly with the classical music; a perfect way to start the evening since we were off to enjoy the Newport Music Festival.
The Charlotte - Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard, MA
Built in 1866 for Zoraida, wife of Samuel Osborne Jr, who was a nineteenth century whaling ship owner, their home became a popular destination for many of Zoraida’s social events. In the early days of the twentieth century, the home was sold to Manuel Silva Jr. who moved his established grocery store to his new South Summer Street address. Again, in 1922, the building was sold to Charlotte and Phillip Pent, and they continued to run the store until the Great Depression. It was in 1943, that Charlotte took a leap of faith and transformed the building into a beautiful inn which she ran successfully for 12 years. After becoming a widow, Charlotte decided to sell the property. Three owners later, the current owners took on the challenge of restoring the property which includes several outbuildings.
A Step Back in Time:
It was an overcast day, and my husband and I were strolling along the streets of Edgartown. We soon came upon the inn and with a familiar quick glance towards my husband, that he knows all too well, I disappeared through the front door of the inn to see if it looked as charming inside as it did outside.
Instantly, I was transported back to the 18th and 19th century. The Inn’s rooms were adorned with stunning antiques, oil paintings, and accessories without a hint of modernization to be seen. Remembering that I left my husband standing outside, I made plans to return later that evening to enjoy cocktails by the fire. Upon our return later that evening, we found ourselves in two soft leather chairs right next to the crackling fire. It was then that I slowly took in the collections which I could tell were placed with precision within the room. Vintage top hats and their boxes were placed under a table, oil paintings of horse and rider adorned the walls, and a plethora of silver and crystal pieces accented tabletops. After a quick tour of the property, I got a glimpse of what makes The Charlotte Inn so special. It truly is an inn that time has forgotten.
The Inn at Hastings Park - Lexington, MA
Centrally located in Lexington, Massachusetts, the Inn at Hastings Park is close to many historic attractions such as a walking path once traveled by Paul Revere during his famous midnight ride, Battle Green where “The Shot Heard Round the World” started the first battle of the Revolution, and Munroe Tavern where the British Redcoats established their local headquarters. During these historic events, weary travelers would take refuge and relax in local inns and taverns. The tradition of relaxing in Lexington still holds true today thanks to the Inn at Hastings Park. With a passion to “bring back the spirit of inn keeping to Lexington”, three historic buildings were purchased and transformed into the luxurious inn which we know today. The original resident of the main house, built in 1888, was a descendent of one of Lexington’s original settlers in the 1600’s. The second home on the property is the Isaac Muliken House, and the third building, that stands between both homes, served as Muliken’s carpentry shop.
Artistry on the Green:
Since I’m in Lexington often, I made plans to visit the Inn at Hastings Park and Artistry on the Green, the inn’s restaurant, to enjoy a hearty breakfast and cup of coffee before my morning stroll around town. In the dining room, black chairs reminiscent with those found in the late 1700’s, surround each dining table; a large decorative American flag is placed horizontally on a side wall, and a whimsical portrait of Paul Revere hangs over the fireplace as if keeping watch over the guests. The interior decor of all three buildings, including the 22 guest rooms, creates a “contemporary twist on the traditional” showcasing many of New England’s talented designers, decorators, and artisans.
The guest rooms, each different in style and color, offer locals a place to getaway and relax, corporate travelers a close commute to Boston, and world travelers a home base while visiting our historic region.
Ocean House - Watch Hill, Rhode Island
Opened in 1868, and immortalized in the silent movie American Aristocracy, starring Douglas Fairbanks, Ocean House welcomed summer guests for over 135 years until it was deemed “beyond feasible repair”. Luckily, Ocean House stands proudly yet again and welcomes guests year round.
Upon my arrival, I quickly noticed the iconic Relais & Chateaux logo that I have come to know and admire. This would mark my seventh visit to a Relais & Chateaux property, six of which I have visited in New England so far. It was then I realized that simple logo created an unexpected feeling of calm, and I felt my shoulders slowly drop as I approached the front door.
As I crossed the resort’s threshold, attendants who were flanked at each side of the doorway greeted me with a welcoming nod. I quickly assessed my surroundings - reception area to the left, boutique to the right, and ahead of me, a large open lobby full of plush seating arrangements. In the far right-hand corner of the room, a large bank of windows overlook a porch where rockers were gently rocking in the ocean breeze as if visitors from days gone by were still sitting and enjoying the ocean view. After taking in the architectural details, I was surprised to learn that the building itself was a fairly-new replica of the 1868 building that once stood in its footprint. The current owners painstakingly made sure everything that could be saved would be, and they strived to use each item as it was once used. With this sort of attention to detail and use of authentic architectural items, it made perfect sense why I thought the building was original.
Room # 308:
The king size bed was dressed in crisp white linens including a small white accent pillow (monogramed with a blue letter “D” for my last name) and a matching blue throw was placed at the foot of the bed. The seating area had a view of the ocean and through a large window-like opening, with bi-folding shutters pulled aside, a soaking tub was complete with a tray crossing over its top holding a sachet of lavender scented bath salts, a loofah sponge, and the remote for the in-bathroom television.
With such a passion for preservation and detail, the building is full of historic energy and visual beauty. It is truly a luxury resort reminiscent of elegance and grandeur found in days gone by.