Sometimes the best travel is closest to home.” So says Suzanne Gerber, experienced world traveler and writer for the Living & Learning channel at Next Avenue. Barry Dougherty, who runs BMD Communications, couldn’t agree more. A friend suggested the Saybrook Point Inn & Spa as an accessible getaway from his home in Sandy Hook. He was impressed with the food and the view and took advantage of the bicycles offered to guests. Dougherty came home feeling, “like I got away,” even though it wasn’t far from home. He adds, “the fact that I didn’t have to rush back to my house in a day yet also didn’t have to drive for hours to get home afterward made it a perfect in-state destination. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to leave the madness behind for a bit and regroup.”
Many Connecticut residents are familiar with the inn, or at least its reputation as a desirable destination. It is an ever-popular spot for weddings; in fact, it earned a Knot’s “Best of Weddings” designation for 2018. Fresh Salt, the inn’s award-winning, waterside restaurant, is a perennially populated meeting place and venue for company luncheons and the like. But beyond these event-centered visits, how relaxing it can be to pack little, take a comfortable drive and slip into some delicious luxury, having avoided so many of the hassles that go hand-in-hand with longer-distance trips.
Even a day trip can have a welcome refreshing effect, with time passing delightfully slowly for the guest who makes it a point to linger and relax. Nutmeggers who embrace the possibility of this close-to-home getaway can reap some worthy rewards. Those considering a spring trip might want to work in the special Easter Sunday Brunch, which is popular with locals and fills up fast. If you miss it, never fear – one of the state’s best brunches is served every Sunday.
Don’t feel like driving? Boaters will find transient dockage at the marina for short stays as well as slips for the season. The marina accommodates vessels anywhere from 13 to 140 feet in length. And the Amtrak and Shoreline East train lines both stop in Old Saybrook, where guests can take a shuttle service to the inn nearby.
Candace Engdall, who has worked at Saybrook Point for several years and heads up marketing, often finds guests dining on sriracha calamari or lemon-baked radiatore with shrimp, being pampered at SANNO Spa or indulging in a staycation in one of the 100-plus guest rooms. She sees couples’ getaways as one of the inn’s “sweet spots.”
Beyond the delights of picturesque waterside dining, the two saltwater pools, couples’ massages, and the accessible charm of Old Saybrook village, those who want to pull out all the stops on romance can book the Lighthouse Suite, the property’s most intimate and unique accommodation. Lighthouse guests have their own living room, dining area and kitchenette, but these cozy amenities may pale in comparison with the unobstructed views of the Long Island Sound and Connecticut River. This is a seasonal treat, only available from May through October. Engdall is proud to point out that the suite has been ranked among the most romantic places to stay in the state.
The inn, with buildings that fit hand-in-glove with the historic New England land- and seascapes, manages to feel luxurious without being ostentatious. Maybe that has to do with its solid roots as a family-run business. Louis and Mary Tagliatela bought the dilapidated Terra Mar Hotel and Yacht Basin (sometime host to The Rat Pack in its heyday) in 1980, and in 1989 the inn was born. Fresh Salt opened with acclaim in 2011, and SANNO followed in 2012.
The family tradition continues. Louis and Mary’s son Stephen runs the inn and their daughter Tricia oversees decor and ambiance. Stephen, Tricia and their brother Louis, Jr., collaborate to manage a host of projects, with Louis heading up luxury residences nearby and short-term furnished apartments on site. Updates are always underway at Saybrook Point – this year the family is planning revisions to the lobby, ballroom and outdoor pool area.
A day or weekend away is always a welcome treat, but it’s even more appreciated when the chosen destination is attuned to local history and nature. For example, each room at Three Stories, a handsome 1892 structure now reinvented as a guesthouse across from the main inn, is named for a famed local resident such as Anna Louise James, one of the first female and African-American pharmacists in America. She ran the James Pharmacy, which now houses a café down the block. Another room is named for matriarch Mary Tagliatela, and guests have run across Mary outside, busily overseeing the abundant flower beds.
The Tall Tales building next to Three Stories opened in 2016 and has continued the tradition of naming rooms for storied locals. The Lady Fenwick room, complete with a large private balcony and hydrotherapy tub, commemorates one of Saybrook’s first settlers. On the other end of the history timeline, the Barbara Maynard room honors Old Saybrook’s “Town Mother,” who served as First Selectwoman for many years. Ms. Maynard is still active in the local community.
Keeping the connection to the landscape real, Fresh Salt works closely with local farmers and artisans when planning its menus. Many of the inn’s other green efforts, such as the gutter-spout system that captures rainwater for landscape irrigation, rain sensors that help reduce unnecessary lawn watering and water-recycling washing machines, likely go unnoticed by many guests.
But this approach has received notable recognition. Saybrook Point Inn was the first Green Lodging Certified hotel in the state and it is a member of the Green Spa Network. It also received the first Clean Marina Award in Connecticut, signifying the marina’s commitment to reduce pollution. These efforts are inspired by the inn’s recognition of “the natural beauty of the Connecticut coast in our backyard,” which translates into a heightened consciousness of and ongoing commitment to wetlands, oceanic and wildlife conservation.Saybrook Point is viewed as a national treasure, truly unique in that it is “the only place in the United States where a major river flows into the sea past a small town instead of a port city.” The Connecticut River was named one of America’s 14 Heritage Rivers by President Bill Clinton.
Those who have been to SANNO know that its name – based on the Latin word for “to make sound, cure, heal, restore to health” – is fitting. The spa takes pride in staying ecologically conscious and responsive to its guests’ needs, contributing to the green initiative of the inn at large and updating the spa menu to suit all comers. The up-and-coming menu features The Kate, a lavish rose wrap named for beloved local actress Katharine Hepburn, as well as quicker and simpler indulgences such as targeted massages or mini-manicures. Engdall especially relishes the reflexology services and the Arctic Berry facial. Just recently, SANNO engaged in a new partnership with Circadia for a skin-care line. Day packages wrap several treatments into one delectable indulgence and include an option designed for men. All are made sweeter by vouchers toward lunch at Fresh Salt. Spa guests also have access to the Health Club and pools.
Guests who venture beyond the property will find intriguing history and culture in town. Yale University was founded here in 1701. While it has long since moved to New Haven, history buffs can see the Yale Boulder marking its original site and tour the nearby Cypress Cemetery, dating back to 1685 and under consideration for the National Registry of Historic Places. Those looking for entertainment need venture no farther than the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center on Main Street, referred to as “The Kate” by most locals. This former town hall building, now modernized to accommodate the theater, plays host to a full schedule of concerts, original musicals, comedy shows, and the like.
And then there are the simpler pleasures like the mini-golf course across the street, which catches cooling breezes off the water. Harvey’s Beach, 10 minutes from the inn, is open seasonally for swimming and sunbathing. A walk to Fenwick – fabled former home of Katharine Hepburn, across the cove’s low bridge, leads to an enchanting borough dotted with striking homes and stirring views of the Long Island Sound. All of these attractions are in Old Saybrook, and these paragraphs just scratch the surface (There are too many attractions to be contained in one article!). Beyond Old Saybrook, nearby towns including Chester, Essex, Deep River and East Haddam offer everything from steam train and boat rides to golf courses, museums and galleries, shopping, and an abundance of outdoor spaces for hiking and learning about nature.
There’s no place like home, but when you need a getaway you can find one at quite a comfortable distance. Learn more about the Saybrook Point Inn & Spa atsaybrook.com, or by calling 860-395-2000.
photography by FRANK GILROY