“Long Island Sound is Connecticut’s largest and most important natural resource. More than 8 million people live in the Long Island Sound watershed and the activities that take place on and along the Sound – boating, fishing, tourism, and swimming – contribute an estimated $5.5 billion per year to the regional economy. The Sound provides feeding, breeding, and nesting areas for a diversity of plant and animal life. One of the region’s largest estuaries with an area of 1320 square miles, the Sound is home to more than 120 species of fish and countless varieties of birds and other animals. Between New York and Connecticut, the Sound’s coastline stretches more than 600 miles.” The Connecticut River is an American Heritage River and is the only major river in the northern hemisphere that does not have an industrialized hub at its mouth. Hence the expansive and bucolic view from Saybrook Point.
When I was invited to spend two nights at the Saybrook Point Inn-Spa-Marina, a Four Diamond AAA property, I read the above paragraph before getting on my Amtrak train. The property is at the mouth of the Connecticut River with easy access to Long Island Sound. The first thing General Manager John Lombardo pointed out during our tour of the property was the “greening” of the property. The Marina was the first in Connecticut to have the “green” designation, known as “Clean Marina”. The Inn is also the first hotel (2007) in Connecticut to receive the Energy Star rating and the first designated Green Hotel in the state. I noticed the fresh fish and fauna right at the dock. Everything smelled clean. Sorry Long Island you have a lot to learn. I recommend using the free bicycles to tour Fort Saybrook Monument Park. It is located across the street from the inn. This 17-acre park depicts the history of Saybrook Colony, founded in 1635.
My two nights were spent at Three Stories, a guesthouse located across the street from the main inn. There were eight individually decorated rooms, each with its own theme based on notable local people. The inn has applied to be listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. My balcony overlooked the inn and marina. When it was not sunny I moved to the wrap-around porch. There was always fresh coffee or tea and muffins, biscuits and fresh fruit available on the first floor. Many of the packages offered at Three Stories include breakfast in Fresh Salt Restaurant. There are also villas and a cottage available for short-term and extended stays. Even the Lighthouse suite located above the dock house is available for rental. There are 81 rooms in the main building and 15 more across the street (6 more will be added in 2016). I also was provided dinner the first night as well as a full body massage the next morning at Sanno Spa (ask for Ron if you like really strong massages). I used the heated indoor and outdoor saltwater pools as well as the hot tub, sauna and eucalyptus steam room during my last morning when the weather was slightly rainy. It is rare that I brag about the staff but here everyone was friendly and helpful. My pickup and drop-off at the train station, my wait staff and front desk personnel all had a smile and warm greeting. One of the staff told me that they are treated as valuable people and given meals as well as a place to relax between shifts. The free Wi-Fi worked everywhere on the property and I could have borrowed the free bicycles to see the area, but preferred the free ride into town. The property is also dog friendly http://www.saybrook.com.
Do not write me when I tell you I found a very good Connecticut wine. Even I was shocked after the tasting. Chamard Vineyards invited me to dinner and a tasting on my last night in Connecticut. The general manager Jeff Vernon offered to pick me up and return me to Old Saybrook since the inn was half way between his house and the winery in Clinton. I knew that name because the Clinton Crossing Premium Outlets are down the road from the winery and I had stopped to shop there several times on the way to and from Boston. They were established in 1983 with the winery being built in 1988, and have 20 acres of grapes used for their estate-bottled line. They also buy grapes from Washington State, California, New York and Chile for their non-estate wines. They produce around 20 different wines. Selling for $28-$42 the Estate Reserve Chardonnay, Cabernet Blend (adds Cab Franc & Merlot) and Heritage Cabernet Sauvignon (100% California grapes) had me believing I was tasting a fine French wine. BRAVO!
I am ambivalent about writing this part of the article since you can only buy their wines at the winery or by belonging to their wine club. They cannot increase their capacity and are limited to the Bistro hours (out by 9PM) as well as the total number of outdoor weddings allowed (4) that also must be done by 8PM. Remember they are surrounded by residences. Chamard benefits from a unique micro climate influenced by Long Island Sound. They are two miles from the sound and six miles from the mouth of the Connecticut River. This maritime climate produces mild winter temperatures and a long, warm growing season, very similar to Central France or the Burgundy region. Connecticut regulations require that at least 25% of the wineries’ production must contain Connecticut grapes. Their farm gardens provide fruit, vegetable, and herb harvests used in their bistro, which is a table-to-farm, take on a French-American menu. You know business is good when the GM can’t get a reservation for the two of us to have dinner. Finally, they found a spot for us but we had to be gone within ½ hour (we beat that). The 35 seat Bistro served over 100 meals that night. http://www.chamard.com
After my spa treatment I spent about 2 1/2 hours riding on the Essex Steam Train and transferring to the Becky Thatcher riverboat (same company). The nice folks prepared a boxed lunch for me and provided first class leather swivel seating for the train. The steam locomotive pulled vintage coaches through the towns of Essex, Deep River and Chester. I probably would have been thrilled if I had children with me. Most of what I saw were trees, buildings and highways. The riverboat was another story. I was able to see historic sites including Gillette Castle, the East Haddam Swing Bridge and the Goodspeed Opera House. http://www.essexsteamtrain.com
I had a few hours before my Amtrak train back to NYC, which I spent in downtown Old Saybrook. First stop was the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center (The Kate). Originally opened in 1911 as a theatre, the Center features a 250-seat theatre and museum honoring Katharine Hepburn, Old Saybrook’s most celebrated resident. I walked Main Street past local art galleries, boutique shops and local eateries. I had lunch at Tissa’s Le Souk du Maroc inside the historic James Soda Fountain (one of the rooms at Three Stories is named in honor of “Miss James”). This café and market has one of the oldest (1896) ice cream soda fountains still in existence. www.katharinehepburntheater.org.