PUBLISHED WORK > Hotel, Resort and Lodge Reviews > Winvian - Litchfield Hills, CT
iTraveliShop.com August 2007
Winvian - Litchfield Hills, Connecticut :: Hotel Review
I wasn’t sure what to call Winvian, the extravagant experiment in one-of-a-kind cottage accommodation near Litchfield. Resort? Retreat? God forbid, theme park? As I checked into the Treehouse, one of 18 creations on the 113 acre property, I was still struggling with the nomenclature (the owners have wisely given up and simply call the place Winvian).
Built on a 35 foot tall platform and nestled between two huge trees, the two-story Treehouse, which sways perceptibly in the breeze, is 950 square feet of memory, instantly transporting you back to childhood whether you spent any of it in a treehouse or not. Featuring Crayola colors, rough plywood, odd angles and vibrant floor covering including a high-shag runner in the entry hall that’s the exact color of Barney, Treehouse looks like the what would happen if a gang of the most creative kids in the world did some scavenging behind an old barn and turned the materials they found into a dream clubhouse.
For all its child-like whimsy—a word Winvian seems to have re-defined by infusing it with startling sophistication—the Treehouse (like all of the cottages) is 100% adult when it comes to the bathroom (steam shower with a rain shower head and a handheld shower head, jetted tub for two, double sinks and radiantly heated floors), the wet bar (mixers, wine, gin, vodka and whiskey plus a large ice maker and Nespresso coffee machine) and the bedroom (king size bed dressed in supple Anichini sheets next to a wood-burning fireplace).
If you crave straight lines and fewer stairs Winvian has 17 other meticulously themed cottages (and one suite) to choose from. Designed by 15 different dream-big architects, each cottage showcases its own jaw-droppingly creative touches. Helicopter houses an actual 56’ long section of a 1968 Sikorsky helicopter whose interior has been turned into a sitting room and wet bar. The ceiling in Camping lights up like blue sky then reveals a sprinkling of glow-in-the-dark stars when the lights are out at night. Woodlands is a flawlessly elegant amalgamation of trees in all their gorgeous forms, including an amazing pair of pedestal sinks crafted from two roots-up tree stumps that have been polished, smoothed and varnished to make the most of the natural wood grain—the cottage even smells like a forest.
The variety, creativity, craftsmanship and level of luxury of each of the cottages makes Winvian the perfect place to add a remarkably special touch to any celebration. To savor a milestone anniversary or an engagement, book the Greenhouse cottage (left) which will be filled with flowers in your favorite color before your arrival. Big birthday? Stay in the Treehouse to remind you of your enduring youth. Playfully mark a promotion in the Golf cottage which has putting greens woven right into the custom carpet and is stocked with antique putters and balls.
As smitten as I was with Winvian, I have to admit that “bespoke cuisine,” the resort’s official description of what the kitchen creates, sounded high-falutin’—but that was before I sat down for a meal, lead to my table by Paolo Middei, a food and wine expert from Rome whose lovely accent and obvious knowledge of and passion for casual yet high end dining put me at ease immediately.
Any doubts I had about the “cuisine” part of the food and wine description disappeared the moment I tasted the sublime gazpacho served as just part of my first lunch. Made with summer-perfect tomatoes, it would have been delicious even before Chef Chris Eddy (who worked with the likes of Daniel Boulud and Alain Ducasse) added fresh herbs and sweet corn plus a real surprise: pine nuts, which lent a satisfying creamy richness to the dish.
The “bespoke” part of the food service asserted itself at dinner that night. When I arranged my stay at Winvian the staff asked if my husband or I had any dietary requests, so I let them know that my husband has never met a mushroom that he liked. As we were handed the trim but varied menu of appetizers and entrée selections for the evening the waiter took a discreet moment to point out which dishes the chef would be happy to prepare without the listed mushrooms—including tomatoes stuffed with short ribs instead of fungi which were sublime.
Paolo flawlessly accommodated other specific dining preferences, including one guest who appeared to eat nothing more than cottage cheese and beautifully sliced melon, which is a shame since perfect portions, good variety, excellent service and sheer deliciousness make dining one of the biggest draws of Winvian—no small feat at a property with so many other things going for it (though someone really needs to do something about the dreadful muzak that’s piped into the dining rooms, bars and game room).
Rates at Winvian are undeniably high, but they do include as much of that gorgeous food as you dare to indulge in, a full selection of top shelf booze and an adequately wide-ranging complimentary wine list (reserve wines can be ordered at a separate charge).
Rates exclude treatments at the Winvian Spa, but a splurge in the 5,000 square foot facility is highly recommended as much for the ultra-relaxing atmosphere as for the unique amenities (including a co-ed Physiotherm sauna that combines heat and color therapy) and noteworthy treatments. The spa menu is limited to manicures and pedicures plus four facials and eight massages and wraps (treatments from $150 to $360) and each hand-picked treatment is performed using two renowned product lines.Body treatment are given using REN products—reportedly favored by the likes of Jade Jaeger, Sienna Miller and Kate Moss. Made entirely without animal testing or man-made ingredients such as synthetic fragrance, chemicals, irritants or even alcohol, REN calls itself “clean skincare.” Generously sized REN hair and body products are found in each spa locker (eliminating industrial-looking mega-dispensers in the chic showers) and in the bathrooms of every cottage.
I particularly loved REN’s cold-pressed Mexican lime and jasmine hand soap and black cardamom and honey hand lotion which were stocked in the bathrooms of the Seth Bird House where meals were served upstairs (though in-cottage dining is available) and where I played way too many games of shuffleboard—suitably lubricated by perfect martinis mixed by Paolo—on a gorgeous antique table in the well-appointed game room downstairs.
Spa facials are performed using Eve Lom products which adhere to a strict “less is more” approach to skin care that revolves around effective yet gentle cleansing and targeted moisturizing. Eve Lom products are only available at two locations in the US—Winvian and Space.NK Apothecary in New York City and the facial method created by Eve Lom, a Czech native who started her skin career with Georgette Klinger and is now known as the “queen of cleansing,” is equally rare.
To ensure correct execution of her unconventional technique at Winvian, the first spa in the US to offer Eve Lom style facials, Lom herself traveled from England to Connecticut to train spa staff—a process Winvian owner Maggie Smith compared to a particularly brutal series of Survivor.
My facialist, Melissa Nardi, clearly made it through training without being voted out of the spa—and thank goodness. The Ultimate Eve Lom Facial ($260 for 90 minutes) she gave me began with gentle application of thick, creamy cleanser and (wonder of wonders) some lip balm to include the one area of the face so often neglected during a facial.
For the next blissful hour and a half my complextion was treated to a hot wax mask, cold compresses and moisturizers interspersed with soothing and stimulating massage to my shoulders, feet, lower legs, abdomen and chest to prompt the lymphatic system to flush toxins. If your idea of a facial requires scrubs and salves and aggressive extractions, the Eve Lom approach may not be for you, but I walked out of the Winvian Spa glowing from ear to ear. (Booking Tip: Stable, Greenhouse, Camping and Industry cottages are located closest to the spa.)
Still in a spendy mood? Winvian’s in-house art consultant will help you shop your way through the resort’s enormous and wide-ranging collection of painting, sculpture and other original art.
The masterminds behind Winvian also created Vermont’s iconic Pitcher Inn which boasts 11 of its own cheekily themed rooms and suites (ski, trout, Calvin Coolidge) designed by a variety of different architects. The Pitcher Inn also boasts Relais & Chateaux status and it’s clear that the same lofty goal has been set for Winvian which already seems to be on the fast track to joining that rarified club—even if I still don’t really know what to call the place.
Rates: $1,450 or $1,950 (depending on cottage selection) per night per couple all-inclusive except for reserve wines and spa treatments. The whole property can be booked starting at $32,000 per night.
In April, 2006 peripatetic journalist Karen Catchpole left her job as deputy editor of SHOP Etc. magazine in New York City and embarked on the Trans-Americas Journey, a three year, 100,000+ mile road trip through North, Central and South America. When she's not reviewing luxury hotels, she can be found enjoying the nearest camp ground.
Resort, Lodge & Hotel Review Keywords: Winvian, Lutchfield Hills, Morris, CT, Connecticut, Pitcher Inn, Relais & Chateaux, Treehouse, cottage, all-inclusive, spa, eve lom, resort, lodge, hotel review, winvian.com