Family Weeks at Whimsical Winvian Resort

For those bored with the average five-star hotel, Winvian resort’s unique cottages offer luxurious and imaginative lodging.

Over the recent Easter weekend, my husband, 9-year-old daughter and I decided to take advantage of one of the five times a year that the exclusive Winvian resort in Connecticut’s Litchfield Hills allows children to stay there. We had heard that one of the 18 cottages available is a tree house, and our daughter was on fire to check it out.

My first thought when arriving at Winvian was how can they only allow kids here so rarely? If ever a resort was designed for children, it seemed like this was it. Each cottage has a theme, from golf (yes, you can putt through on the undulating floors) to flight (share space with a 1968 Sikorsky Sea King Pelican helicopter) to horses (the cottage is modeled after stables).

Our two-story Tree House cottage, suspended 35 feet up, offered one great feature after another, including two wood-burning fireplaces, a huge whirlpool tub and radiant floor heating in the bathroom. Magic tree house indeed! The master suite is on the “first” floor, with its own balcony, while up one level is a large living area, with a kitchenette and fold-out couch. Clever design features include peep holes, slanted boards and secret cubby holes. Scattered throughout were books from the “Choose Your Own Adventure” children’s series. Our daughter Sadie was delighted.


Formerly the weekend estate of one of the founding partners of Merrill Lynch and his wife, the property was named in 1948 using a combination of their first names, Winthrop and Vivian. Just two hours northeast of New York City, it was an idyllic setting for the couple to escape big city pressures.

Eventually, family members decided to open a resort, with the unique goal of having each cottage vastly different than the next. Mission accomplished. Fifteen architects successfully won bids to design cottages, some more than one. The staff told us the project took three years to complete and was obviously complicated to orchestrate. You’d never know now—the 113-acre estate, bordering the 4,000-acre White Memorial Foundation wildlife sanctuary, is quite tranquil.


There’s an abundance of things to do, from croquet on the lawn to biking (each cottage has two bikes) to ice skating or hiking. Foul weather gear is provided if you need it, as are snow shoes. In the main house, you can play shuffleboard (we had to tear Sadie away) or have your pick of games and puzzles. If you want to just kick back by the fire, well, there’s a full bar and snacks are always available. All the above are included with your stay.

Some of the more over-the-top offerings that Winvian can arrange include hot air balloon rides in nice weather for $1,200 an hour and a custom scavenger hunt that sends you all over the grounds for $200 (but is often complimentary during family weeks). Tours of unoccupied rooms are offered every Saturday afternoon or upon request. We had a great time exploring several of the cottages, but thought ours was the best. Our second choice would have been the Helicopter cottage.

A lovely spa, set in its own building, uses REN and Eve Lom skincare. I opted for a Moor Mud Body Wrap ($260), on the theory that spring was coming and I could slough off my old self like Old Man Winter. I certainly felt renewed after the 90-minute treatment and some quiet time in the sauna.


Chef Chris Eddy, who has worked with superstar chefs Daniel Boulud and Alain Ducasse, is the main attraction here and deservedly so. Meals are served in intimate dining rooms on the second floor of the main house. The prix fixe menu is ever-changing, based on seasonal products, with a few choices for each course. While everything we had was delicious (my husband raved about the Colorado lamb), this wasn’t the best choice for children; there was no kid’s menu. I found that for a resort promoting its family week, this was an odd oversight. We asked for plain pasta and vegetables for our daughter, but in another misstep, she was served her entrée with our appetizer course, leaving her with nothing to do while we ate. Good thing we had brought one of those adventure books from the Tree House.

The next morning, all was forgiven when we called for room service. Warned of the limited menu, due to the distance of the cottages from the kitchen, we said we’d be happy with a continental-style meal. Imagine our surprise when two staff members showed up laden with food. They set out dishes of strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, granola, Greek yogurt, local honey, freshly squeezed orange juice, and several kinds of pastries with all the trimmings. They laid everything out in delicate china and poured our coffee before taking their leave, refusing a tip. If every continental breakfast were so fine!

Overall, we enjoyed our luxurious escape. Although we’d been told the property was almost at capacity, we never saw very many people, including children. Maybe our paths never crossed, but it seemed like we had our own private weekend retreat. We could definitely see what Winthrop and Vivian had liked about the spot!

If You Go

Rates are all-inclusive and include three meals, room service, snacks, afternoon tea and full bar (in room and throughout the property) and start at $1,450 per night, per couple. The children’s rate is an additional $550 per night. The only extras are spa services, premium wines and international phone calls. Children are welcome on scheduled dates throughout the year. Remaining dates in 2008 include: August 1-3, August 16-September 1, November 27-30 and December 24-28. 

15 Alain White Road, Morris, Conn. Tel. 860-567-9600.

Destinations: Connecticut

Themes: Family Travel, Luxury Travel

Activities: Canoeing, Cycling, Hot Air Ballooning, Ice Skating

User Comments

how fun! What a great place for adults to be a kid again! Especially in that treehouse. Winvian will be a must for us, whenever we make it to the East Coast.

what a retreat! This sounds like an excellent getaway for both families and couples; would love to hear more about what you did in your free time w3hile there and the surrounding area :)