Longed-for Long Weekends: Litchfield County, Salisbury

Western Connecticut Tourism District

Longed-for Long Weekends: Litchfield County, Salisbury, is co-written by Michelle Falcone of Easton, secretary on the Executive Committee for the Western Connecticut Tourism District (WCTD) and Stacy Lytwyn, Easton resident and CT guidebook author. It is the fifth article in a six-part series that examines some of the best weekend jaunts offered in each of the three WCTD regions.

The United Kingdom spills over with no less than one hundred different business signs all under the same moniker “White Hart,” the fifth most popular name for an inn, hotel or pub. “Hart” is an archaic word for a mature stag, a buck. Richard II kicked off the British alliance to the brand when he selected the white hart as his royal badge.

In the United States, the identification is nowhere near as prevalent, but The White Hart inn at the “heart” of the town green in Salisbury, a town that adopted its name from Salisbury, England, illustrates the value of holding onto one’s roots. The inn’s history traces to a small tavern that opened in 1806, named after one of the taverns in Hampshire, a county in South East England. In 1867, the property opened as an inn.

Tucked inside the mantle of Connecticut’s Northwest Hills, crowned by twin lakes Washining and Washinee, modern-day guests have come to expect a degree of elegance worthy of royalty.

Salisbury Town Green. Photo courtesy of Allegra Anderson.

In the foothills of the Berkshires, five miles from the Massachusetts border, the region is home to some prestigious academic institutions. Therefore, the inn draws many of its guests from the town’s biggest industry, education. 

In fact, one of the former innkeepers, Edsel Ford, the son of Henry Ford, bought the inn in the 1940s for a place to stay while visiting his son, a student at Hotchkiss School. Today it’s a coeducational preparatory school in Lakeville, a village in Salisbury. The family is a major donor to the school, and the Edsel Ford Memorial Library at Hotchkiss School is named in honor of Mr. Ford.

In the 1960s, another owner, John Harney, melded his innkeeping duties with tea leaves and left a legacy still steeped with tradition. The inn’s staff stocks the guestrooms’ mini-fridges with complementary Harney & Sons brand teas that Harney first created in the property’s basement and today constitutes an international, multi-million dollar company.

The present group of owners ranks at a name-dropping level and includes Malcolm Gladwell, author of five New York Times best sellers who, full circle, was born in Hampshire County.

Hotel manager Daniel Winkley says local connections define the owners. Connections  are what it’s all about for Winkley, too, who has worked alongside general manager John Ciliberto since the inn opened in 2014. Coincidentally, both men share a 14-year career history together, excluding one year, prior to working at the inn.

Behind the top-notch proprietorship and staff is a sense of family that extends to all the guests that enter. Several paces inside bring visitors to the realization that elegant, sophisticated décor and style can live in a harmonious marriage with a sense of relaxation and comfort. Preserving its original ambiance and decor, the splash of daring modern art by Jasper Johns, Frank Stella, and others, in the common areas, also lets visitors know the inn isn’t timid when it comes to drawing outside the lines, which is tantamount to the style, as well as the character of the inn, and the quality of the stay.  

Guests select from 16 distinctively appointed guest rooms showcased in the main building and the Gideon Smith House. Full amenities are included and pet- and child-friendly options are also available. Four-season hibernation in a consummate New England milieu is the recurring theme in the variety of cozy, tranquil double bed rooms and suites, including the over-sized two-bedroom John Harney Suite that once served as the former innkeeper’s office. Guests can also opt for sweeping views of the village green from the John Harney Suite and in a selection of other rooms. Complementary continental breakfast is served.

Guest-room at The White Hart. Photo courtesy of Allegra Anderson.

Dining options, whether fine dining in the restaurant or a quick take-out or eat-in meal at Provisions, a contemporary cafe, also extend a serious nod to the inn’s British roots. Additionally, menus emphasize an array of locally sourced seasonal ingredients. Dishes are prepared by an expert culinary team, headed by renowned British chef and co-owner of the inn, Annie Wayte. She works alongside another English native, talented Executive Chef, Paul Pearson, to satisfy the most discerning palate.

The historic White Hart Inn has a critically acclaimed Tap Room menu. The White Hart restaurants are led by beloved British Chef Annie Wayte, the chef behind fashion designer Nicole Farhi’s namesake restaurant and 202 cafe in London, both of which she replicated in New York City. Photo courtesy of Allegra Anderson.

Winkley says that during the height of the pandemic when the restaurant and inn were closed, Provisions “provided the provisions” in more ways than one. “From day one, the support from the community was overwhelmingly incredible.”

Opened in 2015, Winkley describes the space as “an all take out, fast, casual area in a little room that was unoccupied until we turned it into a cafe and coffee shop.”

Frozen and prepared meals like lasagna and pot pies have always been one recipe for success on the premises. “People were showing up three or four times a week, stocking stuff up in the freezer,” he adds. 

Provisions take out cafe provides casual fare at The White Hart Inn. Photo courtesy of Allegra Anderson.
Prepared foods from Provisions provided freshly cooked and frozen meals for the community during the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Allegra Anderson.

After state officials lifted COVID-19 restrictions, complying with COVID-19-related national and state rules and regulations, the inn welcomed guests. Since that time business has ebbed and flowed. Winkely estimates that about 35 to 40% of the guests are Connecticut residents.

“Geographically, where we are, we aren’t really near an airport,” Winkley said. “You’ve always had to have a car to really explore Litchfield County and the Berkshires. Most of our business pre-pandemic, and certainly post-pandemic, usually gets here by car.  Hartford (Bradley)  is the closest airport, an hour or so drive away.”

The Connecticut countryside affords visitors plenty of antiquing and other unique shopping opportunities. Day-trippers can, too, explore neighboring farms, orchards, challenging fly-fishing locations and natural wonders like Bash Bish Falls, about 30 minutes across the Massachusetts border. The falls hits the guidebooks as the state’s highest-drop waterfall. Lime Rock, right in town, is a major hub for race car enthusiasts. 

“We’ve got different entrances to the Appalachian trails; a lot of good hiking, biking, walking,” Winkley says.

In the winter months, some nearby activities include ski jumping at Satre Hill and skiing at Mohawk Mountain.

So, what’s hot this summer? “For us, it’s not necessarily about what’s hot, it’s more about that relaxed kind of feeling,” Winkley said. “You can come here and unplug. Maybe your phone reception isn’t great everywhere you go, but that’s what makes it great. I know everybody, myself included, these days, everything’s go, go, go. It’s nice to be able to just get away.”

To ensure that downtime is the right time all the time when you step outside, adirondack chairs and wicker furniture are sprinkled like stardust outside on the lawn and on the small, large and covered porches.

No matter where you venture in and around these premises, Winkley says that the experience will touch all the senses. It goes without saying, in the great big world, The White Hart inn is a close roadtrip, but feels like worlds away in princely proportions.

The White Hart inn, 15 Under Mountain Road; 860-435-0030; whitehartinn.com

For more weekend getaway ideas, including lodging, dining, attractions and so much more, check out WCTD’s website at https://www.ctvisit.com/listings/western-regional-tourism-district

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