Conde Nast Traveler March 2009:
The northwestern corner of Connecticut has, over recent years, developed country living into a high art. My visit chez Minx showed off the area's qualities at their best: simple beauty, sophisticated creature comforts, lack of pretension, fertile land. This is not to say that, should you be willing to let yourself go, you couldn't go broke exploring the possibilities for conspicuous indulgence, from ballooning to grass-fed beef. But the initial and ultimate seduction is in the landscape itselfviews over the high hills into New York State, and across the gentle rolling green meadows dotted with sturdy black steer.
Litchfield County is both rural and bourgeois, and its attendant pleasures are a mix of high and low: Millionaires' Row just north of Sharon and manure on your boots; mosquitoes, poison ivy, and blackberries in the backyard as well as handmade Belgian chocolates; working-class Torrington and twee Litchfield; well-chosen antiques and the junk shops just outside town; over-the-top inns and everyday farms. By car, this corner of the world seems relatively compact; it takes no longer than a half hour to get from one town to the next and frequently less. The roads, even the main highways that make a triangle through the arearoutes 7, 202, and 44generally have only two lanes, and they follow the contours of the land rather than the convenience of commuters. Town clusters notwithstanding, the area affords lots of privacy and quiet moments.
And so northwest Connecticut, lavishly bucolic with hill and dale, farm and mansion, is like some fairy tale of European history, with squires and horses, fields of corn and perhaps wheat, cream and fresh eggsa tactile connection to the land experienced by gentleman and farmer. It's a barely remembered world that suggests safety, peace, and quiet, a place and time of nursery rhymes where you wouldn't be surprised to see kings picking cabbages and where drama is on the order of A. A. Milne's Alderney suggesting that His Majesty might like marmalade instead. Even if you've never been here, you can arrive and feel as though you've seen it all your life.
In summer, the river accommodates canoeing, an activity that seemed both dignified and diverting. The Minx, who loves nothing more than a party, suggested making a day of it: We'd invite another friend along and her teens, and we'd all go have a lovely lunch afterward. What could be nicer!
The folks at nearby Clarke Outdoors were happy to set us up. We met there a couple of days later, early in the morninga party of eight anchored by three moms. Not really knowing what to expect, we had all prepared for our own idea of what the day would bring. Some of the children wore swimsuits under warmer clothing; the Minx looked sporting in white jeans and flats.
The Clarke people carted our group, plus three canoes, a fair distance up the Housatonic and helped us slide in. The banks of the river were thick with bushes and trees and wildflowers, with the odd grassy lawn thrown in here and there. The water was placid, the children were all terrifically competent at paddling, and their behaviorexcept for a willingness to explore the techniques and strategy of water battlewas above reproach.
Over a few fall and winter weekends, we explored the extravagant local lowland inns instead. We took ourselves to the Mayflower Inn, a paean to upholstered luxury Connecticut style. Adrianna Mnuchin, who rebuilt the hundred-year-old property fifteen years ago, has a nose for what rich ladies like; today, the inn also has an excellent spa, where I was patted and washed and moisturized into an overheated swoon, only to be swaddled in infant-soft chenille blankets on a white chaise longue to recuperate. Through an enormous picture window, I could see the lawn, dusted with ice crystals, sloping down to the pond. Everything was muted grays and brownsthe water, the bracken, the frozen ashy brown limbs of the treesthe view hypnotic. I could hear the loons hooting in the distance.
On another very cold weekendthe ground covered with a confectioner's dusting of sugary snow, the air sharp and brittle enough to sting, the atmosphere clear for miles, sunny and bright bluewe stayed at Winvian, in Morris, a haute if strange fantasy of playtime for grown-ups. Each cabin is an architectural folly on a Connecticut themefrom Skull and Bones to Camping to Treehouse. When we stepped into our cottage, a five-star version of a trapper's cabin called Beaver Lodge, the Minx shrieked, "A real fireplace!" and other such cries that showed her appreciation. As we indulged in the homemade petits fours, lay in bed oohing and aahing over the magnificent actual beaver's den embedded in the ceiling and the flat-screen TV (which at the push of a button rose up out of a sideboard), and admired the feel on our feet of the heated floor of river stones in the bath, the image of eighteenth-century French aristocracy playacting the virtues of the simple life flitted through my head.
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