Easy Escapes

Easy New England Escape: Greenwich, CT

by  Christina Garofalo | Aug 2, 2016
Greenwich, CT
Greenwich, CT / Christina Garofalo

It's not surprising that many former Manhattanites call Greenwich home. With its walkable downtown, high-end shops, Parisian-style cafes, and trendy farm-to-table eateries -- plus a train station that connects to NYC in 40 minutes (and an Amtrak stop the next town over) -- Greenwich offers the small-town charm city-dwellers relish with the convenience and sophistication of a more cosmopolitan area.

Home to one of the country's largest hedge funds, it's also no surprise that Greenwich contains some of America's wealthiest neighborhoods. Driving through, you'll see evidence of that in the form of luxury cars, perfectly manicured lawns, and old gated mansions set back from main roads. Its prime spot on Connecticut's Gold Coast -- with views of Manhattan in the backdrop -- makes it an idyllic place to watch sailboats pass over the Long Island Sound.

Whether you catch a classic polo match or sip Old Fashioneds in a trendy bistro, here are the places to spend your perfect Greenwich weekend.

What to do

Greenwich Polo

Greenwich Polo Club has hosted esteemed players from around the world, and got some major press in 2013 when Prince Harry chose to play a charity exhibition match here. You can catch one -- sans Prince Harry -- most Sundays from June through September. Gates open at 1 p.m., but if you plan on driving to the grounds, we suggest getting there an hour early to snag a parking spot. You'll find food trucks and a full bar on site, or you can save, and enjoy the festive atmosphere, by packing a picnic. Tickets are available online until 11 a.m. the day of the event, and prices range from $40 per car for lawn seating ($60 if you pay at the gate) to $600 for an eight-person cabana, including chairs and parking passes. To avoid parking altogether, take Uber to the event and your lawn seats will be upgraded to bleacher seats. First-time riders get $20 off their ride with promo code GPC2016.

Yoga Brunch at the J House Hotel

Every Sunday, the J House clears the tables and couches from its patio to make room for a Yoga Brunch. For $25 per person, you'll get an hourlong outdoor yoga class near waterfalls and under an ivy canopy, followed by a two-course brunch. Menu standouts include a chilled corn soup with fried jalapeños and shrimp and a salad with ribbons of prosciutto, gem-colored beets, and feta cheese.

Shop on Greenwich Avenue

Greenwich Avenue has been the town's hub since 1848, when the railroad was built. Today, it's like a mini Fifth Avenue, lined with shops like Ralph Lauren, Saks, TUMI, Louis Vuitton, and J Crew. Bargain-hunters should check out Consigned Couture, which offers upscale, luxury brands at reasonable prices.

Greenwich Food and Wine Festival

For a taste of the area's culinary delights, the Greenwich Food and Wine Festival takes place September 23 and 24. Tickets range from $150 for a day pass, including samples from more than 150 food and beverage vendors, to $600 for an all-in weekend pass. Die-hard foodies can attend VIP dinners with celebrity chefs, like Red Rooster restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson, for $400.

Where to eat

What's new: High-end Chinese restaurant WUJI recently opened its third location in Greenwich. While the food carries the same organic, health-minded ethos as the other outposts (located in Rye and Scarsdale), the vibe here is totally different. Jody Pennette -- who owns the eatery with his best friend and business partner Moodi Zahid -- says he modeled the decor after Hong Kong supper clubs. An antique opium bed has been repurposed as a decorative mirror, twin 400-pound porcelain urns flank the bar, and a canopy of paper lanterns dance over the entry -- creating a feeling that you're worlds away from the strip mall outside. During the week, WUJI seats patrons until 10 p.m. and on the weekends until midnight -- something unheard of in Greenwich, but Pennette feels there's demand for it from city-savvy residents.

The menu delivers rich comfort foods without the starch-based fillers and thickeners that most Chinese restaurants use. Think heritage pork spare ribs with honey-plum glaze and beef buns with wasabi cream. The standout is the Cantonese roast chicken -- juicy with crisp skin -- the result of a three-day preparation.

Courtesy The National Greenwich

The staples: Geoffrey Zakarian's swank Manhattan restaurant The National opened its first outpost last fall on Greenwich Avenue. The design mirrors its Manhattan counterpart -- Art Deco accents, blue leather booths, and mosaic tile floors. The dishes are elegant yet simple, and focus on seasonal ingredients -- like handmade egg and parmesan agnolotti with English peas, shrimp, and lardo; and roasted trout with house-cured bacon.

A restaurant fashioned entirely out of reclaimed wood sounds more like something you'd find in Brooklyn than in Greenwich, but Char -- whose floors are made from water-logged white oak repurposed from Alabama and whose bar is carved from a slab of solid antique red oak -- is the epitome of upcycled chic. Don't miss the restaurant's signature dish -- char-grilled octopus with a farro and roasted tomato salad.

Bistro V is the neighborhood spot for your French pastry fix. The chef, trained in France, is up at the wee hours baking buttery croissants, éclairs, petit fours, and homemade breads.

Where to stay

Though it still bares some of the quirks of its former life as a Howard Johnson, the J House Greenwich has been revamped into a trendy, art-focused hotel with an eco-conscious mission. The building employs recycled materials -- the dining room floor is made from reclaimed wood, and the roof shingles from old tires. Its new spa focuses on holistic healing, with facials and massages that incorporate organically grown herbs, fruits, and vegetables. Each of the 86 rooms (from $179 per night) is bright and modern -- think white linens, large windows to maximize natural light, and LED mirror televisions in the bedrooms and bathrooms. Temperature, lighting, and room service are all controlled through personal iPads. The main floor features a sunny, corner coffee bar that serves Intelligentsia coffee, a farm-to-table restaurant, a pool with cabanas available to rent (from $125 per day), as well as a tranquil back patio swathed in greenery.

Those looking to stretch their dollar can opt for a room eight minutes away at the Hotel Zero Degrees in Stamford (rooms from $119). Located a just a couple of blocks from the Stamford train station, the hotel also offers free breakfast in its modern lobby bar and is within walking distance of a strip of bars that will appeal to the younger crowd, who might want to experience the relaxed Greenwich charm by day but enjoy a more convivial atmosphere at night.

Getting there

Greenwich is about 45 minutes from Manhattan's Grand Central station by the Metro-North New Haven Line. Tickets cost $18.52 round trip off-peak, if you buy online, or $19.50 if you buy your ticket in the station. The Amtrak Acela, Northeast Regional, and Vermonter trains stop in the adjacent city of Stamford.

Interstate 95 runs through the southern end of town, making Greenwich also easily accessible by car from major Northeast cities, including New York (40 minutes), Hartford (an hour and a half), and Philadelphia (two and a half hours).

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