Five Intimate Boutique Inns to Check into Across the U.S.
U.S. boutique inn roundup: Maine, New York, Florida, North Carolina, and California
May 3, 2022
Five classic American getaways for a stylish, supremely relaxing retreat
Our collective psyche has certainly been bruised during the past two years. So when it’s time to take a break from the stresses of business and the world in general, there’s no better place to catch your breath than a classic American inn. A knockout view is a must. Cocktails. The perfect perch upon which to relax with a book or magazine. Stunning accommodations that are anything but fussy. And dining that surprises and delights. Says fashion visionary Liz Lange, “We all need a happy place where we can absolutely turn off—especially right now. Relaxed elegance and spot-on service are top-of-the-bill for me.” Here, from Maine to California, five of our favorite American inns.
Down East Delights in Maine
Situated on the rocky Maine coast in charming Southwest Harbor, the recently renovated, circa-1884 Claremont hotel delivers relaxed-chic style, brilliant service and a stellar attention to detail. Fifty-three beautifully outfitted and pattern-rich guest accommodations, including a handful of eclectic cottages, pair with stunning harbor vistas, a luxuriant green croquet court, a heated swimming pool and spa—all with Acadia National Park only minutes away. For a truly unique experience, book one of the resort’s two Signature Houses that perch beside the water and feature multiple bedrooms, a kitchen, stone fireplaces, terraces, firepits and panoramic views. (Or reserve the just launched Houseboat, with its queen bed and kitchenette.) Enjoy a 90-minute meditative massage in the Botanica Spa, nap on a daybed in the striped cabanas, take in the vistas from an Adirondack chair, head out on a cruiser bike, or charter a boat. Other favorite activities include the weekly punch bowl parties, music at the croquet club, and classic movie nights paired with snacks and cocktails. As for dining, there are multiple options including Little Fern (don’t miss the lobster thermidor), the dockside Batson Fish Camp (think New England clam chowder and lobster rolls) and mid-century-styled Harry’s Bar (try the chamomile-laced Floral Fields gimlet). Owner Tim Harrington, who has overhauled several retreats on the Maine coast, including The Tides Beach Club and Hidden Pond, says: “The first time I walked onto the grounds of The Claremont and looked out over the rolling lawn down to Somes Sound—with the mountains of Acadia National Park as a dramatic backdrop—I thought, This is the most beautiful hotel in the world.”
On the Rocks in New York
Serial entrepreneur Michael Bruno revolutionized the global antiques market with his 1stdibs website. He has since moved on to real estate and hospitality by marketing New York’s historic, long sleepy Tuxedo Park enclave—and unveiling the adjacent Valley Rock Inn. A 30-minute drive from Manhattan’s George Washington Bridge, the Valley Rock encompasses a dozen historic properties—a.k.a. guest houses—hidden behind stately shrubbery in up-and-coming Sloatsburg, New York. Step through the clipped privet and enter a mini wonderland. The Valley Rock occupies a mere three acres but seems larger thanks to clever landscaping with gravel paths that open onto outdoor hedge-wrapped “rooms.” Fronting the property are four 19th-century houses that have been meticulously restored into three- and five-bedroom retreats filled with world-class 20th-century antiques plucked from Bruno’s personal collection and pulled together by designer Lisa Bowles of Roark Modern. Here, Florence Knoll and Jean-Michel Frank cohabitate happily with Franco Albini, Charles and Ray Eames and Isamu Noguchi. The Valley Rock also is home to a 75-foot lap pool; screening room; art gallery; game room and bar; organic market; and indoor and alfresco dining with a menu that celebrates seasonal dishes, organic, locally grown produce and beautifully crafted vegan options. But be sure to get off-property, too: 70,000 acres of state parks flanking the resort allow for hiking, biking and other outdoor activities. Says Bruno, “The Hudson Valley and the rest of Upstate New York are the closest thing America has to the European countryside. The location offers an escape for everyone—especially for city dwellers who want to get away from it all but not that far away. The region has a vibrant and athletic community, and as it continued to grow, we felt something was missing. With the Valley Rock, we have created a haven for outdoor recreation, ideal for visitors with a modern, active and healthy lifestyle.”
The Grande Tour in Florida
As you drive south to Gasparilla Island from Tampa and exit I-75, you might think you’d made a wrong turn. But 40 minutes later you suddenly hit the Florida coast—and the almost quaint, solo tollbooth that opens to the causeway—and just like that (and $6 later), all is easy-breezy in the world. This sleepy Gulf Coast barrier island, situated between Naples and Sarasota, captures the spirit of Old Florida—without the crowds and the pretense. Gasparilla Island’s pocket-sized town, Boca Grande, is cool, not hip. Relaxed. Chic. A tad Nantucket south. It’s the perfect walking village filled with one-off shops and old-school eateries. Smack in the heart of town, the pastel-hued, fretwork-trimmed Gasparilla Inn & Club, once a railroad hotel, boasts a sprawling main lodge as well as cottages, pools and restaurants. Pair a tropic-luxe decor—wicker, bamboo, pastel colors, shell motifs and patterned wallpaper—with spot-on service, a knockout beach club, sport fishing, superlative golf and whimsical dining options (The Pink Elephant), and the mix is electric. Zip around town in one of the resort’s signature pirate-bedecked golf carts (the island and inn are named for infamous buccaneer José Gaspar) before sipping cocktails alfresco amid the balmy breezes. And keep your eyes open for D.C. heavy hitters: Yes, that was who you thought sitting at the bar. Says longtime visitor and Chicago PR guru Allison Hogan, who has visited the inn since childhood, “There is something so nostalgic and understated about Boca Grande and The Gasparilla Inn that you can’t find anywhere else. Whether you’re lying in the sun by the pool or having a cocktail in BZ’s, the Inn provides a sense of laid-back elegance that cannot be replicated. It is truly a heavenly getaway.”
Head for the Hills in North Carolina
Situated atop the Great Smoky Mountains outside Asheville, North Carolina, The Swag delivers an in-the-know, rustic-luxe escape. Arrive at the Welcome Cabin and savor a glass of champagne before being ferried up the long, steep driveway in one of the resort’s fleet of chauffeured Volvos. Recently overhauled by new owners Annie and David Colquitt (think Pilot Flying J truck stops), the Relais & Chateaux property—and its six stylish cabins and 11 lodge rooms—shines afresh. Rounding out the well-appointed accommodations are mesmerizing mountain views and activities such as hiking, croquet, yoga, a spa and gym. The on-site restaurant features standout dishes such as striped bass and mint pea puree paired with, say, a Biltmore Estate sauvignon blanc from the nearby Vanderbilt property. A highlight is the Wednesday/Saturday chef’s picnic on scenic Gooseberry Knob that includes fried chicken, burgers and grilled fish, while jumping Thursday dinners pair bluegrass with a homestyle BBQ buffet. There are no televisions on property, so download some good books and kick back with a martini in one of the many Adirondack chairs scattered about the lawn. Says Charlotte-based interior designer Lisa Mende, a longtime Swag visitor, “As we ascend the mountain, I feel my stress levels begin to melt away. The delicious chef-prepared meals, massages, bourbon tastings and long hikes are just a few of the reasons why my husband and I love this magical place. It’s the perfect spot to forget about the workaday cares of everyday life.”
Cactus Flower in California
Adjacent to the Joshua Tree National Park is The Bungalows, an arid, sun-kissed desert escape. Fourteen historic mid-century-modern structures at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center—designed by renowned Pasadena architect Harold Zook in 1960—have been sensitively refreshed by the Homestead Modern group. The one-bedroom open-floor-plan suites connect the indoors and out thanks to oversized glass windows, and feature organic materials and bold punches of color. The Bungalows’ patios overlooking the desert serve as the perfect place to take in the sunset with a round of spirited cocktails. And while the myriad pleasures of Joshua Tree National Park beckon (300 miles of hiking trails, bird-watching and stargazing), Bungalows guests might elect to linger on the formerly private Retreat Center campus; its assortment of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings is the largest grouping of the architect’s work anywhere in the world. Surrounded by 420 picturesque, serene acres, the center also hosts spiritually minded wellness classes in yoga, breath work, crystal meditation and more.