There are folks who rent the same house, go to the same campground, or escape to the same hotel every summer. Sure, there’s comfort in going to the familiar beach where you’ve spread your blanket year after year, but, as poet Geoffrey Chaucer once opined, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”
Invoking Chaucer is a tad highfalutin for a summer travel story, but you get the idea. Your New England summer escapes don’t need to be on autopilot. If you’d like to shake up your summer vacation ritual — and I fully recommend you do — I have some ideas. Whether you’re a fan of Brutalist architecture, tree houses, or old-school motor inns, there’s something within driving distance to suit your taste. I know this because I’ve driven to most of them, and my tires have the low air pressure to prove it. Fully inflate your tires and pack the sunscreen. It’s time to travel through New England and have a look at the offerings this summer.
HOTEL MARCEL, NEW HAVEN
If you’re a fan of the much-maligned Boston City Hall, then the retrolicious Brutalist architecture of the Hotel Marcel will make your heart sing. The building is from 1970, so if your heart does sing, it will likely be a tune from the Carpenters or Simon & Garfunkel. Even if you’re not a fan of Brutalism and concrete, the Marcel still has a lot going for it. It was designed by renowned architect Marcel Breuer, hence the hotel’s name. It first served as the headquarters for the Armstrong Rubber Company. After the building was sold, it sat empty for a decade, eventually opening as a hotel last year. The Marcel is the first net-zero hotel in the country, powered by solar energy from more than 1,000 photovoltaic panels covering the roof and canopies over the parking area. While the outside of the building is firmly rooted in the past, the inside is modern with small, tasteful touches that hint to its Watergate-era salad days. The hotel deserves all the love it can get. It’s often cited by residents as the ugliest building in Connecticut.
500 Sargent Drive, New Haven. 203-780-7800, hotelmarcel.com
WINVIAN FARM, MORRIS
Perhaps your to-do list includes “Sleep in the same room as a helicopter.” Maybe you’re craving a night in a cottage that looks as if it was constructed by large beavers. There’s a place in Connecticut where you can indulge all of your bizarre hotel room fantasies. Winvian Farms is a theme hotel with some of the strangest motifs I’ve ever seen. There’s a “secret society” cabin, a golf cabin that has flags sticking out of the footboard of the bed, and, of course, a tree house. These unique rooms don’t come cheap. You’ll pay about $1,000 a night, give or take, to sleep in a cabin that’s designed to make you feel like you’re outside camping. On the plus side, the cabins are huge, and the location in the Litchfield Hills is lovely.
155 Alain White Road, Morris, Conn. 860-567-9600, www.winvian.com
YORK BEACH SURF CLUB, YORK
It’s time to learn a new design term: Scandinavian Modern Maine. The York Beach Surf Club is melding Scandinavian minimalism with New England coastal architecture. I could attempt to describe what this looks like (it’s quite gorgeous), or you can see it this summer at the hotel. The recently opened York Beach Surf Club also pays homage to Maine’s surf culture. The property was developed by Taylor Perkins, son of legendary Maine surfer Sonny Perkins. You can grab your board and hit the surf, but the hotel’s Pineapple Poolside Cafe looks far more enticing than bobbing around the Atlantic. Off-season rates start around $100. In the height of summer, prices start at $300 a night.
780 York St #1A, York, Maine. 207-363-7873, www.yorkbeachsurfclub.com
THE FEDERAL, BRUNSWICK
Fans of midcoast Maine have a natty new lodging option this summer. The Federal, a boutique hotel that opened earlier this year in Brunswick, is partially located in the historic 1810 home of Captain Daniel Stone. (Rumor has it his daughter’s ghost is floating about.) After a yearlong, $3.5 million renovation, the hotel still retains historic flourishes, but those 19th-century characteristics contrast nicely with the Federal’s forward-looking, sophisticated boutique vibe. Rooms start at $149 a night.
10 Water St., Brunswick, Maine. 207-481-4066, www.thefederalmaine.com
TOPS’L FARM, WALDOBORO
Staying at Tops’l Farm isn’t technically glamping, although there are a few tents. The true stars on the sprawling 83-acre farm are the simple wooden A-frame cabins. The A-frame at Tops’l Farm are cozy — with twin beds occupying most of the interior. But you’re not at the farm to sit in your cabin. You can hang out with the chickens, goats, and sheep, or perhaps play a round of hammerschlagen. Each cabin has its own fire pit, but the bathrooms are communal.
364 Bremen Road, Waldoboro, Maine. 435-640-6440, www.topslfarm.com
HOTEL DOWNSTREET, NORTH ADAMS
The former Holiday Inn on Main Street in North Adams loomed over the rest of downtown, looking blocky, awkward, and out of place. There isn’t much that could be done with the 1970s architecture, but the Stockbridge-based company that bought the hotel, renovated it, and rebranded it Hotel Downstreet is hoping to transform it into a fun, art-driven, and stylish destination. There are three gallery spaces on the first floor, one of them includes a display of items from Jarvis Rockwell’s (Norman’s son) massive collection of toys. While renovations have been extensive, there’s still more to do. The rooms are in need of more updates. But Hotel Downstreet is a large step in a much more interesting direction. Rooms start at $150 a night.
40 Main St, North Adams. 413-663-6500, www.hoteldownstreet.com
THE WHITE ELEPHANT, NANTUCKET
A multimillion-dollar renovation of the posh White Elephant has given the 100-year-old resort a softer look. Before the renovation, the 54 guest rooms and 11 garden cottages leaned masculine with color schemes of beige and brown, that is if a hotel can lean at all. Now it’s all about the details. The carpets and the textiles were inspired by Nantucket’s history of basket weaving. The colors, which are officially called Labrador blue and seafoam green, were a way to pull hues from the ocean inside. Beauty is never cheap, my friends. Rates for rooms start at $375 a night off-season, but during the summer, the price tag for a room can easily run over $1,000 a night.
50 Easton St., Nantucket. 800-445-6574, www.whiteelephantnantucket.com
THE MERCURY HOTEL, PROVINCETOWN
The most accurate way to describe the Mercury is that it has swagger. Named in honor of Freddie Mercury himself, the hotel has shaken off the dust from its days as the Beacon Light Guesthouse and is now a modern, comfortable, colorful place to hang out or use as a base of operations for cavorting around town. Off-season rooms start at $130 a night.
12 Winthrop St., Provincetown. 508-487-9603, www.mercuryhotelptown.com
THE RYE MOTOR INN
On the outside, it looks like an inconspicuous throw-back. The kind of motor lodge that time forgot. But step inside, and the interiors of the Rye Motor Inn are glorious. The 12 adult-only rooms (sorry, kids), feature full kitchens with a dining area, living room, and, naturally, a bed. There are pristine original fixtures, such as pink sinks and toilets. Think “The Golden Girls”-meets-Palm Springs pool party circa 1962 and you’ve got the idea. The place is a slice of updated mid-century paradise directly across the street from the ocean, and about a 10-minute drive to Hampton Beach. If you don’t want to bother with sand in your bathing suit, there’s also a heated pool. During the height of summer, rooms start at around $450 a night. Off-season, it’s a bargain at $149 a night. I stayed in June for $199 in the deluxe queen room, and between the location, pool, and having a full kitchen, living room, and workspace, I felt it was money well-spent. That night I dreamt I was eating cheesecake with Dorothy, Blanche, and Rose.
741 Ocean Blvd., Rye, N.H. 603-436-2778, www.ryemotorinn.com
HUTTOPIA WHITE MOUNTAINS, ALBANY
During the spring and summer of 2020, I went to drive-in movies, planned a lot of picnics, and did something I hadn’t experienced since postage stamps cost 29 cents and people actually still used them. I slept in a tent. Staying at the French-owned glampground, Huttopia, was a far cry from actual camping. I had a full bed, shower, and refrigerator in my tent. The location puts you close to the highlights of the White Mountains National Forest, plus there are activities at the campground. Basic tents are under $130, while the fancier model that I stayed in can be had for under $180 a night, depending on the season and demand.
Pine Knoll Road, Albany, N.H. 603-447-3131, canada-usa.huttopia.com
THE TUXBURY TINY HOUSE VILLAGE, SOUTH HAMPTON
If you’ve ever longingly gazed at a tiny home and wondered what life would be like in 300 square feet, here’s your chance to find out. What better way to get close to loved ones on vacation than climbing over them in the middle of the night to descend from your loft to get to the bathroom? Much like the homes, the village itself is tiny. There are five houses, ranging from 180 to 305 square feet. They each have a full kitchen, flat-screen TV, and Wi-Fi. Prices start around $150 a night depending on the season and availability.
Tuxbury Tiny House Village at the Tuxbury Pond RV Resort, 88 Whitehall Road, South Hampton, N.H. 877-570-2267, www.tuxburytinyhouse.com
THE OCEAN HOUSE, WATCH HILL
It’s hard to fathom that in the not-so-distant past, this grand hotel was falling apart. It had more building code violations than guests and developers were ready to tear it down and replace it with McMansions. Thankfully, a billionaire with an extra $142 million in his pocket stepped in and saved it. The Ocean House’s nightly rate is pricey, but it’s quintessentially New England. Even if you can’t afford to stay, it’s still the perfect place to go on a warm summer afternoon to sit outside, sip Prosecco, and observe the jeunesse dorée in their natural habitat.
1 Bluff Ave., Westerly, R.I. 855-678-0364, www.oceanhouseri.com
THE CONJURING HOUSE, BURRILLVILLE
Sleeping in a tent outside of an 18th-century farmhouse that was occupied by angry spirits, menacing apparitions, and a possessed doll. What could possibly go wrong? Now’s your chance to find out. The owners of the house that was the subject of the movie “The Conjuring” opened up their haunted home for tours, and now they’re hosting ghamping. That’s a portmanteau of “ghost” and “camping.” The cost for sleeping outside a haunted house in a tent near a pet cemetery is $300 to $400 for the night. I’m going to take a hard pass on this one, but if any of you go — and survive — tell me how it is.
1677 Round Top Road, Burrillville, R.I. www.theconjuringhouse.com
THE WAYFINDER, NEWPORT
The best hotel news of the summer is that the Wayfinder will return Aug. 1 after suffering extensive damage in a four-alarm fire last year. The Wayfinder was a breath of fresh air when it opened in July 2020, offering jaunty mid-century style and reasonable prices. The hotel will open its pool house rooms in August, followed by the remainder of the hotel in the fall. Rates start at $199 a night.
151 Admiral Kalbfus Road, R.I. 401-849-9880, www.wayfinderhotels.com
BLIND TIGER, BURLINGTON
The Willard Street Inn had a lot going for it. Located in a 19th-century mansion in Burlington, the B&B had beautiful gardens and elegant architectural details. But it also had more floral wallpaper than Zsa Zsa Gabor’s Beverly Hills château. But the Willard was sold and has since had a much-needed makeover. It was purchased by local chain Lark Hotels last year and is now Blind Tiger. Like other hotels in the chain, Blind Tiger is design-forward. It’s a wildly eclectic place. Each of the 14 rooms in the hotel has its own look. The company says that it “feels like a stay at your well-connected and in-the-know friend’s home.” Rates at your well-connected friend’s house start at $250 a night.
349 South Willard St., Burlington, Vt. 802-651-8710, www.larkhotels.com
MOOSE MEADOW LODGE & TREEHOUSE, WATERBURY
There’s obviously a lodge at Moose Meadow Lodge & Treehouse. But I would find it impossible to stay in the main building when there’s a private, two-story tree house with 31 windows nearby. The nest in the trees with the wrap-around deck and spiral staircase will set you back $650 a night, which is double what you’ll pay for a room in the lodge, but when was the last time you slept in a tree house? Exactly, that’s what I thought you’d say.
607 Crossett Hill Road, Waterbury, Vt. 802-244-5378, www.moosemeadowlodge.net