Winvian, luxury laden and whimsical, is a mystical resort that opened in June 2007 in Connecticut’s rolling Litchfield Hills, two hours north by car from that concentration of wealth and power known as Manhattan.
Winvian is a far cry from the likes of yesteryear’s grande dame hotels, yet it’s geared to accommodate today’s well-heeled as Gilded Age establishments did then.
But here are some fundamental differences between then and now. At the turn of the last century, railroad and banking barons longed to emulate the lifestyles of titled Europeans. This adulation translated into a penchant for collectibles from far-flung corners of the world. Orientalism was hot at the time so it’s not uncommon to find themed rooms representing then-Persia in hotels and tycoons’ imposing mansions.
Fast forward to today. The exoticism of foreign artifacts has diminished in direct ratio to our relative ease of access to acquire them. No longer are we months-long voyagers on the seas; we now flit about leaving our carbon footprints in just a few hours anywhere in the world.
So what’s a girl to do when the past is passe, the future’s oblique and she’s creating a resort to escape to that posits folks into today’s style of fantasy environments?
What Maggie Smith and her daughter Heather Smith have created could leave even Dubai agasp.
On 113 pristine acres there are 19 commodious accommodations, 18 in cottages and another suite in the main compound. Each is easily larger than most hotel suites. Each has a bedroom, separate sitting area, at least one wood-burning fireplace, and a sumptuous bathroom with steam shower and oversized Jacuzzi tub. The cottages aren’t meant for do-it-yourself living so there are no kitchens. But experiential givens for the from $1,450 all-inclusive nightly rate are fine linens, generously stocked wet bars, carte blanche at Winvian’s open bars, thirsty oversized towels, amenities by UK-based REN, fresh flowers, welcome and turn-down tantalizers and much more, including three haute chef-prepared meals daily. (Chef Chris Eddy trained under the likes of Daniel Boulud and Alain Ducasse.)
Sounds even better than a fine hotel, right?
Here’s why Winvian is so very different:
The well-traveled Maggie Smith knows what she likes in her home away from home. She needs the basics of civilized living that encompass staff personalities to décor to fireplaces. What surprised the mother-daughter team, though, is the creativity they spawned when 30 architects and designers answered the question: If this were your cottage, what would it be? The only stipulation was that each cottage should evoke something about Connecticut. Of the presentations, 18 were commissioned to create cottages sprinkled around the existing circa 1700s Seth Bird House that encompasses the dining and public rooms.
“We gave the architects, artisans and artists all free reign,” recalls Heather, who attributes the creative success to her mother who, she says, kept the faith that the process would yield best practices and artistic results.
Maggie Smith says it seemed a fairly straightforward task, simply expanding into cottages the concept of the themed rooms of Vermont’s Pitcher Inn that they also own. What she hadn’t envisioned, she says, was managing 18 different creative personalities.
“Some were amazingly easy to work with; with others we had to hold their feet to the fire a little bit,” she recalls. Then came the day when at the first photo shoot staged in an unfinished room Maggie looked through the camera lens at the styled portion of a room with lit fireplace, crystal and candles on the table and she says she had tears in her eyes. What she saw was beautiful, elegant, sophisticated, welcoming and homey.
“This is probably the first time I had the sense of what we were about to create, through the lens” and this moment out of the construction chaos became for her a metaphor of what Winvian has become a way of life and a haven away from the world of chaos.
“The minute I come through the gate I start to smile. I watch what we created on our clients’ faces. I see that sense of ease and relaxation. They really do feel they have stepped away from the maddening crowd,” she says.
Guests respond to the creative energy that brought about the distinct personalities and quirky characteristics, including original art, of Beaver Lodge, Treehouse, Library, Maritime and Helicopter, just a few of the 19 themed lodgings. Some come back to their favorite haven; others make a point of experiencing a new abode each time they visit.
Nearly 85 percent of Winvian guests use the on-premise, full-service, 5,000-square-foot-spa with six tranquil treatment rooms and superior therapists versed in REN treatments including the popular REN five-phase, 75-minute bespoke facial. A nearby workout room offers a range of cardiovascular equipment. Personal training and yoga sessions are available as well.
New England’s four seasons offer ample opportunity for Winvian’s guests to interact with nature. The 5,000 Whitefield Memorial Conservancy adjacent to Winvian invites snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Other times guests can horseback ride, bike (there are two bikes at each cottage), mountain bike and enjoy self-guided and naturalist hikes. Arrangements can be made for racing cars, fly fishing, hot air ballooning, golf, canoeing, kayaking, tennis and more.
When looking for additional information about Winvian, a Relais & Chateaux property, be prepared for its highly creative on-line presentation at www.winvian.com
, or call 1-860-567-9600.