Indeed, Old Saybrook is a journey through centuries of time. A quiet, picturesque, Colonial shore town, it’s where the River meets the Sound, (Connecticut River and Long Island Sound) and it also happens to be one of “The Last Great Places.” In the 1990s, The Nature Conservancy rallied enormous financial and community support around conservation with its call to save “The Last Great Places.” The happy news is that this enchanting destination has done just that. Here one finds over 100 homes designated with historical significance and 15 National Register Historical Landmarks.
Beloved actress Katherine Hepburn first came to the town of Old Saybrook in 1912 when she was five years old. Her family’s house, in the borough of Fenwick, became her refuge from the demands of her career; she called it “paradise” and it was here that she retired in 1997. In 2003, Old Saybrook restored the Town Hall and Hepburn’s family allowed it to be named after her. “The Kate,” as it is affectionately known, is dedicated to music, opera, dance, comedy and children’s theater, as well as a summer camp for kids.
During my visit, I took the 10-mile scenic Loop Ride from Main Street to Fort Saybrook Monument Park, along the shore and back again. Many of the homes I passed were built by sea captains and ship owners. My autumn day was brilliantly enveloped by strong sun, trees glowing golden, and a light breeze perfuming the air with salt from the Sound.
Back in 1635, Saybrook Point – a hamlet of Old Saybrook – was under the rule of the Dutch, but John Winthrop, Jr., the first Governor of the territory, had other plans and the next year he and 12 men established a permanent settlement, Saybrook Point. Today, this area is the site of the Saybrook Point Inn & Spa. It is a luxury inn, spa and conference center where notables like Robert DeNiro, Ted Kennedy and Billy Joel have stayed – and now, lucky me!
My stay at the Saybrook Point Inn was festive as I was there on Halloween for their second annual Pumpkins on the Point affair. Amidst a boatload of locally grown pumpkins hand-painted or hand-carved by area school kids, nighttime was particularly enchanting as the jack-o-lanterns lit up the Inn’s terraces and marina docks. I took a silly picture at a photo booth, tried my hand at pumpkin painting and had a hayride with a truckload full of happy families. I also joined a historic tour of Cypress Cemetery where graves of notable residents date back to the mid-17th century. With a brilliant fall sun illuminating vividly colored trees, it was somewhat difficult to assume a proper somber mood, but hey: cemetery – All Hallows’ Eve – perfect.
Later, I indulged in a cozy massage at Sanno, the Inn’s spa. I don’t know exactly what the treatment involved, but it smelled spicy and nice – pumpkinny to be sure. The highlight of the event for adults was the glamorous after-party in the Waterfront Ballroom. Everyone came in costume, some quite elaborate. Standing near my table was a man in a tuxedo who huffily removed my empty champagne glass that I’d just placed on a tray. “Hey, what’s that about?” I asked. He patiently explained to me that he wasn’t a real waiter and the tray in question was his prop. Sorry. The DJ spun good vibrations, the sort of sounds we of a certain age love to dance to.- Laura Brannigan’s “Gloria,” the Beatles, “Twist & Shout;” it doesn’t matter that’s it’s Halloween, no Smashing Pumpkins for this crowd.
The Inn features 82 elegant guestrooms and the historic Three Stories, an Italianate guesthous just across the street. Each room in the house conveys the story of a famed local resident, including Katharine Hepburn’s mother who was a leading suffragette. This guesthouse offers balconies, luxurious bedding and private gardens. Three Stories is great for a family reunion or a girls getaway where the rooftop firepits are the perfect place for gabbing and dishing, inspired by the Inn’s renowned Pinot Noir! Best of all, one still has access to all of the amenities of the Inn.
On my last night, I dined at Fresh Salt, the Inn’s graceful, relaxed restaurant right on the water (read seriously fresh seafood). The meal was spectacular – and I am now planning to return for their Thanksgiving buffet. The Saybrook Point Inn & Spa, an AAA Four Diamond hotel, is located only two hours from New York City and Boston. Just follow Interstate 95 to the point where the salty waters of the Long Island Sound meet the fresh, cool waters of the Connecticut River. Something tells me I’m gonna become very familiar with this drive.
If You Go: