Splendor on the Sound

Sleek and contemporary: nostalgic charm meets modern luxury in a Connecticut beachfront resort. Spa treatment, entertainment and all of the technological commodities.
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O.K., I admit it: When I used to hear “New England” I’d think of a quaint Vermont town square or the cobblestone streets of Boston’s Beacon Hill, not someplace nearer. And when I wanted to loll on a beach here in the tristate area—well, there was only the Jersey Shore or Long Island. But I’ve seen the light. I’ve discovered Connecticut.

What did it for me was a visit to the Water’s Edge Resort and Spa in Westbrook, less than three hours’ drive from New Brunswick, on Long Island Sound between New Haven and New London. It’s quieter than the Shore and less pretentious than the Hamptons. Best of all, as this resort proves, once you get outside the New York metropolitan area, the Nutmeg State is a bit under the radar for beachy relaxation, making it ideal for those who want to shun the crowds.

A friend and I went to Water’s Edge for a relaxing girls’ getaway weekend not long ago, and the stunning views along the Sound had us in the mood to unwind before we even reached our exit. The resort’s almost-too-courteous staff met us near the entrance, providing a golf-cart escort across the perfectly pedicured grounds to the condominium where we would spend the next two nights. Dubbed the Villas by the Sea, these newly built luxury condos nestle on the beachfront of the 13-acre property, detached from the main building. Their sprawling, open floor plan includes a fully equipped modern kitchen, a living area and state-of-the-art technology. We also had a Jacuzzi tub in the master bedroom—with a large flatscreen TV in the wall opposite so we wouldn’t miss a thing if our favorite show came on at tubtime. From the balcony, we took in unforgettable views of the sun setting over the Sound and the beach below. Who knew such serene beauty was just three hours up the highway?

Once refreshed, we walked back to the resort’s charming three-story main structure, built in 1946 by impresario Bill Hahn. Till 1981, Hahn’s hotel doubled as a Catskills-style entertainment venue—it’s said to have featured appearances by Barbra Streisand, Woody Allen, Henny Youngman and Art Carney (the last a summer resident of the area). It’s quieter today; still, on our visit there was live music courtesy of a pianist in the grand lobby, and from the staff’s attentiveness to the pleasant, low murmur of casual conversations among the annual regular guests, the place reminded me of the summer funspot featured in the film Dirty Dancing.

But Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze would need to do more than a saucy tango to distract evening visitors from the exquisite culinary craftsmanship served up at the resort’s Restaurant at Water’s Edge. Black pearl salmon with quinoa and free-range bricked chicken with sweet herbs are just two of the highlights on the menu there, and we savored them while admiring the beach through ceiling-to-floor glass windows. We returned the next morning for brunch, which Connecticut magazine’s readers have voted the state’s finest.

In the Spa at Water’s Edge I enjoyed a rejuvenating aromatherapy facial that left my skin glowing for days. Other options: massage (including hot stone), body wraps and polishes, and nail services. The resort also features multiple full-service bars, indoor and outdoor pools, a fitness center and an array of on-site shops as well as the glorious sandy beach. So there’s little need to venture outside the grounds unless you want to.

Restless travelers looking to explore, however, can find an assortment of activities nearby. The historic town of Essex, about 30 minutes away by car, offers diverse shopping on its Main Street, where I perused earrings, perfumed soaps and artwork at an eclectic gift shop called—you know it’s going to be a pun—“Scensibles.” In April the town will mark the bicentennial of a British raid during the War of 1812 in which 27 ships were burned. (For info on commemorative activities, check ctrivermuseum.org.) Essex is also home to a steam locomotive that takes passengers on a 13-mile tour of the Connecticut River aboard 1920s-era Pullman cars. Also within driving distance are Salt Meadow National Wildlife Refuge, perfect for hiking, and the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, which presents musicals from mid-April until mid-November. (This year it’s Damn Yankees, April 11–June 21, and Fiddler on the Roof, June 27–Sept. 7; or honor your resort’s antecedents as a showbiz inn with Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn, based on the classic Crosby-Astaire movie, Sept. 19–Nov. 30. See goodspeed.org.)

There’s truly no substitute for the Jersey Shore. But if you’re of a mind sometime to forgo the boardwalk and funnel cakes for VIP treatment and the unexpected combination of beachy luxury with New England charm, Water’s Edge Resort and Spa will not disappoint. Still, if you go, I have one request: Let’s keep it our little secret. -Liz Donovan

Categories: Central Jersey Health & Life