MANY OF THE WORLD'S GREAT HOTELS ARE NAMED TO EVOKE THE EXPERIENCE THAT GUESTS WILL HAVE WHEN THEY SPEND TIME THERE. Think Mount Kenya Safari Club, çirigan Palace and the Grand Hotel. But what comes to mind when you hear Winvian?
Unfortunately, I associated the name with the word "minivan" and all the mundaneness that suburban vehicle represents. But I couldn't have had a more wrong impression. First of all, there are no children allowed at this 113-acre wooded luxury retreat in northwestern Connecticut. (We were told, however, that the property is considering opening to families for several weeks in 2008—one or two weeks in the summer and over Thanksgiving.) Also, there was nary a minivan on the property: One of a fleet of Mercedes GL 450s is dispatched immediately for guests who'd like a lift from, say, the spa to their cottage.
Winvian (www.winvian.com), which is located in the town of Morris, gets its name from Winthrop and Vivian Smith, who bought the property in 1948. Their descendants own and manage it today.
"Cottage" is another word one needs to disassociate from its usual connotation when visiting the property. Winvian's 18 cottages aren't musty, bare squares with creaky hinges. Instead, they are individually decorated, themed abodes, all with porches, wood-burning fireplaces, oversize Jacuzzi tubs, steam showers, radiant heat, wet bars and minibars that can be raided free of charge, as well as the latest technology such as flat-screen TVs and Bose stereo systems where you can plug in your iPod.
Again, one shouldn't be put off by the adjective "themed." There are no champagne-glass tubs or leopard-print swings here. At Winvian, the visions of 15 architects were selected to create the truly unique and tasteful cottages. Now, guests with an affinity for, say, books—or aviation, or knights, or golf, or horses—will find the perfect retreat among the rolling hills of this sleepy New England village.
Insiders tell us that the most popular residences are Woodland and Camping. In Woodland, guests won't feel a strong division between indoors and outdoors, as the sinks are made of tree trunks and clients can meditate on the trickle of the stone waterfall as they relax in a sunken tub facing the forest landscape. Floor-to-ceiling windows in Camping offer views of the bordering woods. Guests can roast marshmallows in the outdoor fireplace.
Other cottages include Beaver Lodge, with detailed woodwork and masonry, waterfall tub and loft sitting area with views of a pond through the trees; Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, where subtle medieval touches include a mini-knight acting as a fireplace tool holder, tapestried wing chairs facing the stone fireplace and a Stonehenge-like bathroom; and the light and airy Greenhouse Cottage, with high ceilings and scores of windows allowing bright sunlight to bathe its many plants.
The most unusual cottage of the bunch has to be Helicopter, which actually has a 1968 Sikorsky HH37 Sea King Pelican helicopter inside. Not only that—it's where the cottage's flat-screen TV and minibar are, so buckle up and kick back. This cottage obviously isn't for every client, with its contemporary design, open floor plan, hangar ambiance and texturized flooring. But aviation nuts will be in heaven.
There's a 19th accommodation in the main building of the resort. On the second floor of the circa-1775 Seth Bird House, the Hadley Suite has a bedroom with a four-poster bed, library and living room, all with 20-inch chestnut floorboards and many original furnishings. The bathroom, however, matches the cottages' facilities in its modernity.
There's a public games room that was in use much of the time during our stay, with forty-something men competing in foosball, tabletop shuffleboard and pool. After dinner, guests gathered around the firepit on the patio.
Staff members need to sign a confidentiality agreement as a prerequisite for employment, so we couldn't get names of past guests, but we did recognize the designer Patricia Field during our stay. There's a year-round staff of 75.
Activities, Dining, Spa
If you have any clients who vacation with big extended families or who might have a large event or meeting coming up, Winvian can be booked in its entirety for about $35,000. It can host events for up to 1,000 people.
Each cottage comes with bicycles for exploring the property and venturing further afield if desired. The resort has an inventory of snowshoes and ice skates and can direct guests to cross-country skiing and hiking (it borders the 4,000-acre White Memorial Foundation forest) and arrange carriage rides and tennis, among other activities. Guests who travel with their own horses will have them well taken care of at the nearby Meadowbrook Farm. Pets can stay with their owners in several cottages, but they cannot sit on the furniture and they must be crated when clients are not in the room.
Dining is a highlight at Winvian. Executive chef Chris Eddy has worked with Alain Ducasse and Daniel Boulud, and his pedigree shows in perfectly cooked meat and fish dishes and subtle yet flavor-packed sauces. Not only is the food superb, but the surroundings where guests enjoy the cuisine are as lovely as they are diverse. There's a long room decorated in a contemporary style that overlooks a garden and pond, as well as several smaller rooms that have details such as wide-plank floors, a formal upholstered couch, china cabinets, oil paintings and an original fireplace the size of most Manhattan closets. Service is also impressive: We were told that a senior staff member was poached by the Smiths from La Posta Vecchia outside Rome, where they'd admired his knowledge, manner and attention to detail.
Make sure to book spa treatments well in advance of your clients' stay. Recommend a couple's massage in the Forty Winks Suite, which has a sitting area, fireplace and mini-waterfall. Also on the spa menu are chromatherapy, hydro-thermo massages and Eve Lom facials. Eve Lom and Ren spa products are used. Stanley is a coveted masseur.
Nightly rates run from $1,450 to $1,950 per cottage and include all meals and drinks. Note that various taxes and service charges add an extra 23 percent to your clients' bill.
We were told that Winvian is expecting to join Virtuoso in 2008 and offers a 10 percent commission, paid 30 days after a stay is completed. Agents sending VIP guests should contact managing director Heather Smith (860-567-9600, [email protected]), or guest services coordinator Rebecca Harnish (860-567-9600, [email protected]).