A Rolls-Royce Tour of Grace Hotels’ Posh New England Properties

A Rolls-Royce Tour of Grace Hotels’ Posh New England Properties

Since the first Grace Hotel opened in Greece’s Cyclades Islands in 2007, the name has been synonymous with the very best in boutique luxury. Now the haute hospitality group has brought their signature style to New England with the acquisition and rebranding of three of the region’s most iconic inns: Vanderbilt Hall in Newport, the Mayflower Inn and Spa in Connecticut, and the legendary White Barn Inn in Kennebunkport, Maine. The posh properties have now been rebranded on the model of Vanderbilt Hall, which became Vanderbilt Grace when the company acquired it in 2010. The other jewels in the crown are now to be known as the Mayflower Grace and the White Barn Grace.

rolls roycePhoto Courtesy of Rolls-Royce

We recently had the opportunity to tour all three in high style, both driving and being driven in various ultra-swank Rolls-Royce motorcars, the only way to travel. In addition to luxe accommodations, we knew we were in for some great food and wine as well. The White Barn and The Mayflower have retained their affiliation with the legendary Relais & Châteaux association, with renowned White Barn chef Jonathan Cartwright, a Relais & Châteaux Grand Chef, in charge of the food and beverage at all three properties. The fine dining restaurant at the Mayflower is now New England's second Muse by Jonathan Cartwright restaurant, joining the one at The Vanderbilt Grace. It was with great anticipation that we gathered with the rest of our small touring group in Midtown Manhattan on a bright autumn morning to begin the epic epicurean excursion. To start with we had to choose between a Rolls-Royce Phantom and the new Ghost Series II.

mayflowerPhoto Credit: Jared Paul Stearn

For the first leg of the journey we settled into the plush rear compartment of the Ghost for the scenic ride over to Washington, Connecticut and The Mayflower Grace, rare holder of both Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five Diamond status. Surrounded by 3,000 acres of nature preserve, it features a 20,000-square-foot destination spa in addition to the much acclaimed Muse. Less than two hours from NYC (by Rolls-Royce), it’s nestled in 58 acres of landscaped gardens, which are spectacular in all seasons. It’s the perfect historic New England country house you’ve always dreamed of; no wonder Grace has had its eye on the Mayflower for a while.

mayflowerPhoto Courtesy of The Mayflower Grace

“It’s a property that we have admired for many years,” notes Grace Hotels CEO Philippe Requin. “The Mayflower combines a wonderfully convenient location close to New York with a peace and tranquility that makes it a perfect country escape. We are thrilled that it is joining Grace Hotels and equally thrilled that The White Barn Inn is becoming part of the Grace family. […] We believe this move signals to the growing international community of Grace Hotels’ loyal customers that our distinctive combination of service, style and elegant simplicity is now available at a selection of three of New England’s most celebrated addresses and holiday destinations.”

the Mayflower GracePhoto Courtesy of The Mayflower Grace

A massage in the spa to loosen up, and drinks in the Mayflower’s cozy Shakespeare Library followed by the first of three amazing dinners prepared by Chef Jonathan Cartwright awaited us. After a great night’s sleep in our cozy suite complete with fireplace, we awoke to a crisp fall day and the pleasing prospect of a ride in the Rolls to Newport, Rhode Island, one of our very favorite New England towns. This time we took the wheel of the Ghost ourselves. The Ghost Series II is a serious ride, a favorite of A-listers from royalty and rap stars to Kim Kardashian. Equipped with every conceivable luxury, it’s also a blast to drive thanks to a 563 hp engine that can do 0–60 mph in 4.7 seconds and reach a top speed of 155 mph. On the Grace excursion a gentlemanly pace and ease prevailed, but it was nice to know that much power was on tap should it be required.

The vanderbilt gracePhoto Credit: Jared Paul Stearn

Arriving in Newport in a Rolls-Royce is something everyone should experience at least once in a lifetime. The Vanderbilt Grace is housed in an elegant, historic brick mansion built by the Vanderbilt family in 1909, one of several Newport properties owned by the society stalwarts and the perfect place to park the car. The landmark property is comprised of 33 luxurious rooms and suites, two restaurants, a cocktail bar, and a spa and fitness center with indoor and outdoor swimming pools. Muse by Jonathan Cartwright offers up highly refined versions of New England classics like clam chowder, pan roasted pheasant breast and, most enticing of all, smoked lobster.

vanderbilt hallPhoto Courtesy of Vanderbilt Grace

As a special treat, following craft cocktails on the rooftop deck watching the sun set over Naragansett Bay, Cartwright demonstrated how the smoked lobster is prepared using a special handheld smoke machine. We may need a few more lessons to be comfortable trying it on our own, but the end result was delicious and beautiful. Heritage is as important as cuisine at the Vanderbilt, and the hotel offers several Vintage Vanderbilt initiatives including a menu at Muse and a shopping experience. The Vanderbilts of course drove Rolls-Royces, and so we chose the full-size Phantom for our next journey from Newport to Kennebunkport and the famed White Barn Inn, now the White Barn Grace.

The White Barn Photo Courtesy of The White Barn Grace

The White Barn is where UK-born Chef Cartwright made his name. He started there in 1994 and has been the Executive Chef since 1996. Since earning the coveted title of Grand Chef Relais & Châteaux, he has cooked everywhere from the prestigious James Beard House to the Versailles Palace in France. The White Barn’s famous buildings date back to the 1860s, and as the weather turned cooler we cruised up to Maine in the Phantom, eager to warm up by the fireplace. There is simply nothing else on the road to equal the Phantom’s powerful combination of luxury, style and elegance. We could have happily driven across the country, and nothing short of a stay at the inn would have enticed us from behind the wheel.

The White BarnPhoto Courtesy of The White Barn Grace

Once again we were privileged to see Chef Cartwright in action in his kitchen, where he and his team prepared a delicious luncheon for us, lobster pizza, no less, giving us some haute culinary tips along the way. Following a little sightseeing and some time in our well-appointed suite, we opened a magnum of Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the White Barn’s impressive wine cellar and sat down to a truly memorable meal. It’s considered to be New England's premier AAA Five Diamond dining establishment, and the tradition that gentlemen must wear jackets remains. At a place like the White Barn, the Phantom and Ghost didn’t attract stares, but they did look right at home, and it was with a certain tristesse that we bid them adieu.

The White Barn Photo Courtesy of The White Barn

The White Barn has 27 rooms and suites, an outdoor pool, and since 2006 also a spa recognized with a Forbes four-star spa rating for two years in a row. We plan to revisit in summer, preferably at the wheel of another Rolls-Royce to experience the pool. Made of gunnite and New York State fieldstone it’s nestled in the landscape of birch and pine and is patterned after those found at the most exclusive hotels in Switzerland. Which Grace knows something about, having recently acquired the historic La Margna hotel in the heart of St. Moritz, one of several new properties Grace is opening around the world from Morocco to Argentina. If their New England portfolio is anything to go by, they’re all well worth visiting whichever way you travel.