Enjoy the Luxurious Little Palm Island Resort and Spa on Your Drive Through the Florida Keys

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Tired of run-of-the-mill luxury vacation destinations? Looking for something extraordinary and exotic for that very special occasion? Driving through the Florida Keys, we discovered a world-class tropical resort that will have you talking about your getaway for years to come. Here’s the story of Little Palm Island.

Driving south from Miami, it took us about 2-hours to cover the 120-miles to Little Torch Key and to reach mile marker 28.5 on scenic US1. There we found Pirates Road and the Little Palm Island Welcome Station (aka resort check-in and transport dock).

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The vibe for this destination resort is South Seas Island elegant and the Welcome Station fits right in. The Station building is a high-peaked thatched roof structure that is nestled against a lazy mangrove lagoon. The lagoon is where passengers board the shuttle boat to the Little Palm Island Resort and Spa.

As we entered the door of the Station, we were greeted by a Little Palm Island employee who quickly and efficiently arranged for our luggage to be removed from our auto and placed on a bell cart to await transport to the island.

Registration was an unfussy affair that was made enjoyable by a complimentary beverage – we chose a refreshing rum punch – very tasty. Check-in went quickly – no doubt attributable to the fact that there are only 30 guest quarters at the Little Palm Island Resort.

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We parked our rental car in the lot adjacent to the Station, and proceeded to the Gift Shop, which was chock-full of interesting objects including sundry headgear and upscale clothing.

It was a beautiful day, so we lounged on the outdoor patio while waiting for our motor launch ride to Little Palm Island. There are just two ways to get there – boat or seaplane. The island is only 3-miles from the Station, and the launch departs hourly, so the choice of transport was an easy one.

Everything done in style

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At first glance, we thought our transportation to the island was a sleek 1930s Chris Craft motor launch – but it wasn’t. In reality, it is a 1990s built replica that looks and sounds like the real thing.

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Before we knew it, we were being whisked away by a uniformed four-stripe captain in a classic motor yacht to an offshore island paradise.

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As we approached the dock of the lush palm-laden island, we would not have been surprised to see Tattoo in his little white suit shouting “De boat, de boat.”

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Instead, we were greeted by a very cordial island guide in smart tropic attire. He told us that our luggage was already waiting for us in our elevated thatched palm roof “Sandpiper” suite. The bungalow suites are harmoniously named after tropical birds – and that is so very fitting in this Audubon haven.

Speaking of birds

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One of our first introductions was to “Spencer” a dominant gray heron and distinguished character. Spencer lords over the shallows of the island.

Our guide told us that Spencer could be occasionally cranky and territorial when it comes to other “big” birds eyeing his island for a roost. Later in the day, we were privileged to witness Spencer doing a ceremonious roust of a very big and lanky white crane.

Five acres of paradise

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We toured the entire Little Palm Island in about 45-minutes. The meandering manicured white sand paths and thick tropical landscaping are ingeniously designed to ensure bungalow privacy.

During our walk, we passed by the Spa Terre, the Library, the Zen Garden, the splendid outdoor pool, the outdoor chess set, the island gift shop, and the bar and restaurant.

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Guests have free access to fishing rods, kayaks, beach boats, small sailing crafts, and romantic double umbrella shaded lounges that are strategically placed throughout the island.

Harry and Bess

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There is much ado about the Trumans on the island, including two full-length oil paintings of the famous couple in the Library. The pride stems from the president’s affinity for the isle when it was a private fishing resort.

Admiral Bill “Bull” Halsey was one of the many famous island guests of the Trumans after the War.

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Another president and Navy veteran, JFK was on Little Palm in 1962 to watch the filming of PT109 – a movie about his heroic exploits aboard a PT boat in the Pacific during WWII.

Cue the deer

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Just when we thought we had seen everything imaginable on this contemporary Fantasy Island, a tiny-toddler of a Lilliputian creature walked onto our white sand path. Here before us was a Key Deer fawn – so cute – and quite tame.

Before long, the fawn’s mom came along, happy to join in the photo op.

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The Key Deer is an endangered species native to the Florida Keys, and the Little Palm Island mini-herd swims over from a neighboring island – maybe to nuzzle the various celebrities that populate the resort from time to time. It is illegal to feed these little guys, but a joy to commune with them.

Photographing our hut-suite

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Each room in the Palm Island bungalows is like a character in a play. When combined, all the clever little things inside the suite add to the ethos of high living in paradise.

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Our suite was #23, The Sandpiper Suite, and it is very much like the other bungalow suites on Little Palm – a good thing because all 30 bungalows were occupied. We only had an opportunity to photograph the inside of the suite where we stayed.

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All the bungalows are South Seas castaway dream homes with a dash of British Colonial charm.

Each thatched roof suite-hut is outfitted with a well-appointed living room with comfy woven-seagrass sofa and chairs, a softly humming ceiling fan, military style birding binoculars, a stand of old-fashioned umbrellas, and a replica antique telephone with which to communicate with the Quarterdeck (Concierge).

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In the evenings, the large bedroom in each bungalow is softly lit by a simulated-candle that enhances the romance of the lavish room by casting exotic shadows on the wooden beams above.

Your sleeping comfort is guaranteed by an elegant and uber-comfortable king four-poster bed complete with decorative netting and zephyrous ceiling fan.

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Our suite also had a soaking tub, a large modern shower, and an attached outdoor bamboo shower room.

Of course, all the suites are fully air-conditioned. This is what present-day tropical luxury is all about.

Relax

Little Palm Island is a place of leisure. Go fishing, kayaking, listen to the birds or the quiet lap of the sea against the shore.

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Wait for a Key Deer to entertain while you sip a soothing beverage on your veranda, in the garden, or by the pool. Lounge on the beach or on one of the wooden walkways overlooking the sea – there are no bad choices on Little Palm Island.

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Relaxation sometimes requires help. That is why the suites do not have Wi-Fi service, TVs, or off-island telephones – and there are no children allowed on the island.

If you must

If you are a tech-junkie some of the above might make you nuts, so there is limited Wi-Fi service in the Library, which is also called the Great Room. If you look hard, you will also see a flat screen TV among the books and games – it is the only one on the island.

The Spa Terre

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Unlike many spa experiences that are a singular event in a busy day, the Spa Terre experience becomes an essential part of your total day on Little Palm Island.

We selected the ancient and deep Sacred Stone Massage – but perhaps you would rather a soothing massage on a table in the shallow water of a secluded beach.

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Whatever your choice, you can continue the bliss by immediately entering the warm and tranquil sea or nearby island pool.

Follow your dip with a shaded rest on one of the islands many comfortable lounges or couples hammocks.

Now is the time for a contemplative assessment of the joys of living. Little Palm Island is about Elysian serenity – your personal Shangri-La.

Dining on the Island

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Food plays a role of cardinal importance at the Little Palm Island Resort and Spa.

Savor a focused cuisine of Latin ingredients and French techniques. The menu created under the influence of Corporate Executive Chef Luis Pous, and enhanced and orchestrated by Executive Chef Brendan Mica and his team is nothing less than superb.

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Need we say more than Zagat rated the Little Palm Dining Room as the third best dining facility in the United States, and number one in the state of Florida.

The menu choices are both sophisticated and approachable, and reflect the location and relaxed atmosphere of Little Palm Island.

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For our appetizer, we chose a uniquely presented shrimp cocktail.

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Our main courses consisted of Key West Lobster accompanied by sweet corn, apples, fennel, onions, and Caviar Beurre Blanc and

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Rosemary Braised Short Ribs with a lavish medley of aged white Cheddar, creamed potatoes, mushrooms, truffle, and crispy shallots.

The night is young

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As guests opened and closed French doors between the restaurant and adjoining lounge, we could hear barely audible conversations and laughter.

Even with the doors closed, we enjoyed the faint familiar tunes being played by an entertainer on the lounge piano.

An after dinner digestif, accompanied by the murmured tinkling of piano keys in another room – and a sky full of seemingly touchable stars – it does not get more romantic than this.

The late Paul Newman, and Marvin Hamlisch relaxed in this restaurant – we suspect they were equally captivated by the setting.

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If you go

Little Palm Island Resort is the Florida address of the elite traveler. It has a cachet that will appeal to those with discriminating travel tastes. We recommend it to anyone wanting to experience the luxury of exclusive private island vacationing.

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For more information about availability, services and rates, look at the Little Palm Island Resort and Spa website at http://www.littlepalmisland.com/

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

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Carmel by the Sea is a Short and Pleasant Drive from San Francisco

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Carmel-by-the-Sea in California, was designed and described by its early settlers as a “Village in a forest.”

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This is a town devoted to the aesthetic arts, and a place where there are few residential sidewalks, street names are painted on vertical wooden posts, and the houses do not bear street numbers.

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Many homes and cottages in Carmel-by-the-Sea are storybook Hansel and Gretel cutesy with sloping roofs, prominent chimneys, and irregular shapes.

Carmel-by-the-Sea, or just plain “Carmel” is a few hours’ drive from our home near San Francisco, so we make it a point to do an annual pilgrimage to the tony-little-town to soak up a few days of sun and mellow sophistication.

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It’s great fun to stroll the streets of Carmel and window shop, and good exercise if you decide to walk down the Ocean Avenue hill to the beach. Fortunately, the temperature in fairytale Carmel is usually like Camelot in May – and that’s important if you are not interested in working up a “glisten” on the return uphill trek from the ocean to downtown.

It is different and everyone loves it

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Carmelians take great pride in the uniqueness of their village, and that includes the uneven sidewalks adorned with twisted tree roots and irregular cracks.

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Because of the risk, it is against the law to wear high-heels in the city limits. However, in deference to California’s political logic, a permit is readily available, free of charge, from City Hall.

Another unusual law was overturned during Clint Eastwood’s one-term stretch as mayor of Carmel in 1986, and that was the ordinance prohibiting the consumption of ice cream on the streets of the village. Free at last – thanks to Dirty Harry.

Carmel is pet friendly

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Dogs have the run of the beach in Carmel, but they behave. It’s as if all the canines know the acceptable limits of frolic in the powdery white sand on the village shore.

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Storefronts provide watering bowls for four-legged residents and guests. Fashionable canines – escorted by their caretakers – readily mix with everyday dogs and their owners at Yappy Hour from 4 to 6 at the legendary Cypress Inn.

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Co-owned by Doris Day, the Cypress Inn is arguably the pet friendliest luxury hotel in America.

Dining in Carmel

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Staci Giovino of The Carmel Food Tour

A very nice way to eat and drink your way through a first-class introduction to Carmel is to contact Staci Giovino of The Carmel Food Tour.

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Staci guided us to and through wine tasting rooms, unique eateries, as well as a lovely cheese fromagerie, and a delicious chocolate shop. Staci did an outstanding job of indulging us with superb selections of comestibles, wines, and sweets. Here are some of the stops on our tour.

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The Cheese Shop in the Carmel Plaza at Ocean and Junipero offers abundant U.S. and international farm and artisan cheeses with an outstanding variety of textures and tastes – each at the peak of development and at the perfect stage to be consumed.

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It makes us wish we could clone this exquisite little cheesery for our very own neighborhood.

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The Casanova Restaurant has the justified reputation of being “Carmel’s Most Romantic Restaurant.” This hidden gem is located on 5th Avenue, between Mission and San Carlos. An old, but lovingly restored house that now bears the trappings of a quaint Belgian farmhouse. Each dining room is like a scene from a play.

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The Van Gogh Room is of special interest because the Casanova owners acquired the authentic dining table from the boarding house where Vincent van Gogh ate his meals while working in Auvers Sur-Oise, France in 1890. Did you know that Van Gogh created 77 paintings between May 1890, and the time of his death in July of the same year? The Auvers Sur-Oise Period is considered by many to be the Master’s finest.

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We sampled some Spinach Gnocchi “Casanova” in Parmesan Creáme Sauce “au gratin” that was off-the-planet – the best we can remember.

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We ate our tasty treat in a room that could have been 200-years in adaption – exquisitely done.

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La Bicyclette Restaurant on Dolores at 7th looks genuinely old country French, and they serve a dynamite pizza lunch that we found entirely memorable and delicious.

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The Mundaka Restaurant on San Carlos between Ocean and 7th features Spanish style Tapas in a Bohemian atmosphere reminiscent of Greenwich Village circa 1960. Very artsy –”cool daddy-o” – and serving the best white sangria we have tasted.

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At the Wrath Vineyard tasting room in the Carmel Plaza at Ocean Avenue and Mission Street we were poured a taste of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Syrah. We found their handcrafted crisp wines to be quite exceptional.

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Caraccioli Cellars tasting room, on Dolores between Ocean and 7th delighted us with a Brut Cuvee that yields a smooth, but exciting finish. Their Brut Rosé sparkling wine has a touch more Pinot Noir than the Brut Cuvee to gain a truly elegant blush with a full fruit flavor. Really, really, excellent sparkling wines. We were sorry to move on, but we will be back.

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Lula’s Chocolate Shop on Mission between Ocean and 7th was our last stop on the tour and came just in time to allay a gnawing chocolate attack.

We sampled the famous Lula Sea Salt Caramels and Nut Clusters loaded with crunchy almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, and pecans – all lovingly dipped in milk or dark chocolate – delectable sweets and treats from recipes that date back to 1945. What a perfect ending to an absolutely delicious day.

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We highly recommend the Carmel Food Tour as an excellent way to familiarize yourself with Carmel history while enjoying the fruit of the grape and foodie pleasures of the village. You walk a little, talk a little, drink a little, eat a little, and start again. It is not a strenuous endeavor.

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Trio Carmel is a specialty Olive Oil & Vinegar Shop

The tour takes about three-hours to cover the 1.5 mile journey through the village’s historic back alleys and gastronomical delights. The Carmel Food Tour website is *here*.

Carmel has upwards of 50 dining venues – we intend to write about all of them, eventually.

Where we stayed

On this particular occasion we lodged at the Hofsas House on San Carlos Street, north of Fourth Avenue. It has the feel of a family owned property, and so it should – owner/manager Carrie Theis proudly declared, “My family has owned and operated the Hofsas House for over 60-years.”

There is an old-world European charm about the place, right down to the Bavarian architecture, and Dutch entry doors in every guestroom.

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The themed art at the House is by Maxine Albro, best known for her 10’x42’ mural on the inside wall of Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco. That famous fresco depicts agricultural life in California during the Great Depression.

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Although it is called the Hofsas House Hotel, it is difficult for us to internalize this property as a “hotel,” because its character is so much more like a cozy “inn” with 38 distinctly different guestrooms to choose from.

Hofsas amenities

Our large second-story room featured a “horizon ocean view,” which means you can see the ocean above the treetops. Note: That is as close to an ocean view with waves as you will find in Carmel – there are no hotels on the beach. Near or far, the sunsets from our guestroom window were spectacular.

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The room also had an ample kitchenette had we decided to “eat in.” The complimentary Wi-Fi signal was strong, and the wood burning stove was appreciated during the cool evenings.

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We enjoyed having our Dutch-door open to the fresh air during the day. It just felt, well nice, and it is an unusual amenity.

If you go, ask Carrie about the Hofsas’ Special Offerings. We enjoyed the Champagne and Cheese Pairing presented with engraved keepsake flutes.

Something a bit more unique is their Beach Fire Special, which includes a fire set up on the beach, flowers, s’mores, blanket, flashlight, and a message in the sand – very romantic for that special occasion.

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If you are a golfer, the Hofsas has partnerships with six area golf courses. Many local links have stunning views.

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Every morning there is a continental breakfast with great coffee, local fresh pastries, and fruit – all included in the price of a room – and last, but never least, the Hofsas is pet friendly.

For more information about the Hofsas House visit their website *here*

If you go

Carmel-by-the-Sea is on California Highway 1 about 300 miles north of Los Angeles, and a little over 100 miles south of San Francisco – close to the natural beauty of Big Sur, Pebble Beach, and all the fun activities in Monterey.

There are approximately 45 lodgings, and a total of 1,000 guestrooms in Carmel. Most are within easy walking distance to everything important in the village – like the beach, the downtown establishment of chic shops, and the many heterogeneous restaurants.

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Carmel is a delightful community from every perspective and a nice respite from anyone’s hectic life. We love it.

After you have seen Carmel-by-the-Sea

Just up the road from Carmel in Monterey, you can lose yourself in the fascinating history of the Cannery Row made famous by John Steinbeck. The “Row” is now home to the famous Monterey Aquarium, and just blocks away from the iconic Sardine Factory Restaurant – a great place for lunch or dinner. In future articles we will explore each of these delightful points of interest.

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Planning a big function in the Carmel area? Read our article about the Holman Ranch. It would be hard to surpass this immense and beautiful property for a wedding or other grand event.

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

A Pleasant Drive to a Castle in Connecticut

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We arrived at Gillette’s Castle, in East Haddam, Connecticut, just as the staff had put the final touches on the holiday trimmings.

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We were almost alone in the vast castle, and as we photographed each room, we sensed an aura of serenity and contentment about the place, possibly actuated by some manifestation of gentle ghosts of Christmases Past – and all the wonderful decorations that surrounded us.

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This is the story of how the castle came to be.

William Gillette

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William Gillette was a renowned American actor and playwright who portrayed Sherlock Holmes over 1300 times in stage adaptions of Arthur Conan Doyle’s mystery novels in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Gillette’s long popularity on stage, and added fame from starring in early silent films, including one called “Sherlock Holmes,” brought him a commensurate fortune and a desire for off-stage seclusion.

At a point in his career, he looked to bucolic Connecticut for his solitude, and in 1914 he commissioned a strange and mysterious 24-room castle to be constructed on a 184-acre bluff overlooking the Connecticut River.

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Gillette personally designed the anomalous castle and many of its interior furnishings. He called his estate “The Seventh Sister,” because the purlieu was the southernmost of the Seven Sisters Hills that stretch along the Connecticut River Valley. The castle was built to Gillette’s exact specifications and completed in 1919.

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There are stunning views of the shimmering waters of the Connecticut River far below – it is exquisitely serene.

Gillette was a celebrity in many spheres of influence. Stage, radio, film, books, and he held at least five US patents – one for the first sophisticated sound effects machine. Much of Gillette’s creative genius is displayed in his castle. Visitors will quickly see that he took a different approach to defining country living for the aristocracy of his time.

Castle features

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William Gillette created what is believed to be the first fire sprinkler systems used in a building. A huge white metal tank containing water was installed in a room high above the main floor and could be activated by a valve that would spray water through pipes installed in the ceiling.

Another feature of the castle is its unique indoor surveillance system. Designed more for fun than spying, Gillette arranged mirrors in the Great Hall so he could observe the coming and going of people in the house from his bedroom.

From his bedroom position he could also see reflections of guests trying to open his mysterious liquor cabinet. Gillette took great pleasure in watching frustrated visitors, and then magically appearing to solve the enigma of the locked cabinet – just as Sherlock Holmes would have done.

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There is much to discover here that is not immediately obvious. It is reputed that no nails were used in the construction of Gillette’s Castle – ingenious if true. Beams are held into place with large iron rods, stone is used as an art form as well as an engineering necessity.

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Light switches are made of carved wood, as are door mechanisms and window blocks.

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Each room in the castle is like a character in one of Gillette’s plays. Light streams through the fretted windows of every chamber, illuminating each to an unusual mood.

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One curious mystery is why Gillette used hospital style white metal beds throughout his castle.

Gillette’s Aunt Polly

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William Gillette registered his cruiser-houseboat in the name of “Aunt Polly” in 1905. He added 40-feet to her length, making her 144 feet long, and she was almost 19 feet wide. She weighed 200 tons, and had all the comforts of a luxury yacht for the time.

The story of the Aunt Polly is as significant in Gillette’s life as was his Seventh Sister estate home.

William Gillette was married only once, and his beloved wife Helen died in 1888, just a few years after the nuptials – they had no children.

After Helen’s death, William secluded himself in Thousand Pines, his 500-acre summer estate in Tryon, North Carolina where he resided off-and-on until 1910. At that time in his life he was suffering from an illness some thought was tuberculosis. A local resident he called “Aunt Polly” nursed Gillette back to health, and as one token of his gratitude he named his cherished cruising houseboat after her.

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It was also at Thousand Pines that Gillette showed his skill at wood carving and his admiration for house cats. Henry Zecher, in his book entitled William Gillette, America’s Sherlock Holmes indicates that Gillette had as many as 75 cats living in and around his dwelling on the estate.

The Aunt Polly was moored at the base of the Seventh Sister for the four-year term of the castle’s construction. Gillette enjoyed living aboard the Polly with his favorite cat “Angelina” who shared a nightly dinner at his table.

The Aunt Polly burned at her dock in 1935, but fortunately several furnishings including a piano were saved and moved to the castle where they are currently displayed.

The Seventh Sister Railroad

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The estate had its own railroad and Gillette enjoyed commanding the throttle and touring guests along three-miles of narrow gauge track at speeds up to 20-miles per hour. After Gillette’s death in 1937, the engine and railroad cars were sold.

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Gillette’s “Grand Central Station” is now a picnic area…

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with stone carvings of Gillette’s beloved cats sitting on the roof. Had the railroad been maintained, it would no doubt add greatly to the attraction of the castle, but at the expense of some wonderful hiking trails that replaced the tracks.

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The state of Connecticut acquired the Seventh Sister estate in 1943 and converted it to Gillette Castle State Park.

Gillette’s Castle is a top tourist attraction in Connecticut. The park’s substantial Visitor’s Center was closed during our visit, but we are told that it is an excellent introduction to the castle and grounds – and should not be missed.  For more information about Gillette’s Castle State Park look at their website here.

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A visit into Gillette Castle is a step across the threshold of time to a golden era where personal luxury was a given and attention to architectural detail a watchword. We recommend the experience hardily.

If you go

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The park is located at 67 River Road in East Haddam, Connecticut.

From I-91S:  take Exit 22.  Route 9S, Exit 7, for a bridge crossing of the Connecticut River.  Follow route 82E and park signs. From I-95N or S:  take Exit 69.  Route 9N to Exit 6 or 7.  For the Chester-Hadlyme Ferry, use Exit 6.  Follow Route 148 and park signs. The ferry operates spring through fall.

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Note: The famous Goodspeed Opera House is just across the river and less than five miles from the castle.

Happy travels!

Need places to stay while visiting Connecticut? Read these stories and recommendations by Wayne and Judy:

The Mayflower Inn: The best of Connecticut resorts and spas

The Curtis House: Welcoming wayfarers before the American Revolution

Tidewater Inn: A storybook Christmas in Connecticut

Delamar Greenwich Harbor Hotel: By land or sea the place to be

Nehemiah Brainerd House: Enjoy the splendid fall colors

Starbuck Inn: The inns by Kent Falls

Hotel Sierra: A budget travelers’ delight

Inn at Longshore: Historic inn in Westport

Rock Hall: The best B&B along the backroads of northwestern Connecticut

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff – old photos are retakes of pictures on display in the castle.