The tradition of owning grand weekend estates an hour or so away from bustling metropolises is hardly anything new. (For further proof, see Edith Wharton or Henry James.) And for quite some time, those chic spots were well-guarded secrets—places that were kept quiet by those who lived there and strictly off-limits to those who didn’t. But in the last year, in several such communities outside Manhattan, local entrepreneurs have added “innkeeper” to their résumé. In the spirit of the Wheatleighs and the Lenoxes, they’ve transformed three distinct turn-of-the-century homes into elegantly preserved retreats, each outfitted with modern trappings and housing a restaurant helmed by a top chef. These aren’t just charming hotels for frazzled New Yorkers; they’re clubhouses for locals, places to gather and socialize over dinner or drinks. (Some regulars, as in the case of the Glenmere Mansion, in Chester, New York, even choose to drop in via private chopper for dinner.) Whatever one’s method of arrival, the valet comes standard.
60 miles from NYC
Tucked into the scenic Lower Hudson Valley, this 150-acre country retreat eloquently combines past and present in a very grand fashion.
With its salmon-colored stucco façade and azure shutters, the Glenmere Mansion is something of an Italianate folly, located smack-dab in the dairy farmland of Hudson Valley. That’s exactly what caught the attention of the estate’s owners, Dan DeSimone and Alan Stenberg, who live in nearby Tuxedo Park, New York. DeSimone first spotted it during a leisurely Sunday drive through the area in 2006. “When Dan returned home we called our broker immediately,” says Stenberg, a former public relations executive who, like his partner, DeSimone, a surgeon, is a first-time hotelier. “When we learned of its history, we had to have it.” The duo spent the next three years on a top-to-bottom $30 million redo, transforming the estate into a 19-bedroom retreat that quietly opened earlier this year.
The 1911 villa, built as a country house for real estate mogul Robert Goelet IV, was designed by architecture firm Carrère and Hastings (who did the New York Public Library and the Frick Collection). Stenberg and DeSimone worked closely with New York–based interior designer Scott Snyder to maintain the historic integrity of the villa, which over the last 25 years had fallen into disrepair. They even consulted the original landscape plans for the European-style gardens; eventually lilacs, peonies, and forsythia were decided upon.
Despite its lavish public spaces—an elegant drawing room has a self-playing grand piano, the library is dark-paneled mahogany swathed in silk and velvet—nothing at Glenmere feels precious. The amicable staff encourages guests to explore each nook and cranny, settle into a chaise with a good book, or lounge in one of the six canvas-draped cabanas surrounding the heated pool.
Each of the 19 rooms evokes the mansion’s heyday without feeling too stuffy. The window-lined Princess Suite, with its view of the cortile below, features a bold Charles Hewitt monotype from the Klein Museum outside Stuttgart, Germany, and a leather luggage rack handmade in Spain. Subtle touches—an ever-so-dim night-light emanating from under the bed, heated Carrera marble tiles in the bathroom—are homages to DeSimone and Stenberg’s favorite details from hotels they’ve visited during their own travels.
Michael Foss, once the private chef for Steven Spielberg, runs the kitchen. In the Supper Room he does formal dishes such as pan-seared foie gras and pork tenderloin with an apple cider sauce and braised cabbage, while at the Frog’s End Tavern the less fussy menu leans toward elevated comfort food: an apple relish–topped turkey burger on brioche, or a pizza with figs and Maytag blue cheese.
DeSimone and Stenberg have put as much emphasis on the service as they have on the design and food—and it shows. Guests can take meals anywhere on the grounds, from the bougainvillea-filled cortile to the wraparound terrace. And the staff has been known to arrange for guests’ dogs to be boarded nearby. “Most of all we wanted Glenmere to feel like you’ve come to visit your rich uncle’s estate,” says Stenberg, “where you’re free to wander and do as you please.”
Rooms, from $550. At 634 Pine Hill Rd.; glenmeremansion.com.
Cocktail Hour: Drinks by Design
In keeping with the property’s country-club feel, Glenmere has introduced a Small Bites on Starry Nights menu, which pairs martinis with shareable plates like deviled eggs topped with caviar and prosciutto–wrapped feta.
Glenmere will open an intimate five-treatment-room spa, complete with a bathhouse and an herbal steam room, in early 2011.
45 miles from NYC
In Westchester County, husband-and-wife actors Richard Gere and Carey Lowell created an intimate B&B and restaurant.
Residents of Bedford, New York, may think of their town as sleepy, but with Ralph Lauren, Donald Trump, and Martha Stewart calling this hamlet home, it’s anything but. Since its opening last summer, the Bedford Post has become a de facto clubhouse of sorts for in-the-know locals. Two such are Richard Gere and Carey Lowell, the actors turned innkeepers who transformed this once dilapidated 18th-century house and barn, set on 14 acres, into a hotel with two restaurants and a yoga loft. The couple, who have had a home in the area for the last 25 years, wanted to create a place where “the community can come together,” says Gere.
But it’s welcoming to outsiders, too. The eight bedrooms, which opened last August, are done in a quiet palette of gray, off-white, and light blue, and appointed with vintage Audubon prints and decorative objets d’art from local antiques shops. Six of the rooms have working gas fireplaces and stunning Portuguese claw-foot soaking tubs. Given Gere’s devotion to Buddhism, it’s little surprise that there’s a large light-filled loft offering daily complimentary yoga classes to guests of all skill levels.
Evenings at the inn’s formal Farmhouse restaurant, which opened to much acclaim in November 2008, reveal a crowd of navy-blazered and pearl-clad Bedford residents. (Martha Stewart has been known to ride up on horseback.) Sourcing ingredients from neighboring farms, chef Brian Lewis prepares memorably delicate pasta dishes (soft farm-egg ravioli and lobster spaghetti chitarra among them), in addition to a seven-course tasting menu. A health-conscious breakfast of homemade granola and poached eggs, served in the more relaxed Barn, is accompanied by homemade mixed-berry crostada and scones, which are happily packed for the journey home.
Rooms, from $395. At 954 Old Post Rd.; 914-234-7800; bedfordpostinn.com.
45 miles from NYC
A working farm meets top-notch cooking and schooling at Ninety Acres in New Jersey.
After opening properties in the Caribbean and South Africa, Peapack-Gladstone, in New Jersey, seems an unlikely location for Sir Richard Branson’s first Virgin Limited Edition property in the States. But for the next three years Branson and his business partner, Bob Wojtowicz, will turn 90 acres of a 500-acre estate once owned by the king of Morocco into a hotel called Natirar. Only its Ninety Acres restaurant and culinary center are open so far; the hotel and ten cottage suites, a spa and a pool will follow in 2011.
Ninety Acres’ farm-to-table–style menu culls nearly 80 percent of its ingredients from nearby purveyors. (Though with a 15-acre garden out back, maybe “farm-at-table” is more apt.) Standouts include poached eggs with potato hash and pork-belly pizza. More adventurous diners should consider the four-course Bring Me Food tasting: no menu, only a list of ingredients from which chef David Felton will whip up whatever strikes his fancy.
Popular with the local set—and, increasingly, those from farther away—is Natirar’s culinary center. In a copper-and-granite exhibition kitchen adjacent to the restaurant, visiting chefs teach three-hour cooking classes on topics like “Puff Pastry Sweet and Savory” and “Gastronomic Grill”—recipes included.
At 2 Main St.; ninetyacres.com.