OLD SAYBROOK, Conn. -- The Saybrook Point Inn opened just over 15 years ago, but hospitality goes a long way back at this scenic location where the Connecticut River meets Long Island Sound. Along the corridor between the lobby and the dining room, postcards and menus hanging on the walls trace the evolution of the seaside vacation. It began in 1870 when the Pease House opened across the street from the current property and the Valley Railroad (which opened the same year) carried Victorian vacationers from Hartford to the seashore.
By the late 1950s, the Pease House met the wrecking ball to make way for the Terra Mar, a swank resort with several swimming pools and a cabana club frequented by Frank Sinatra, Jayne Mansfield, and Tom Jones, among others. According to signage along the walls, the Terra Mar was also a favorite of ''anonymous gangsters" who ''mingled with the many tourists and locals." But the Rat Pack days came and went, and the Terra Mar was torn down. The decorous blue-gray clapboard, 80-room Saybrook Point Inn rose in its place.
When we checked in for a getaway right before Labor Day, we saw no movie stars or Tony Soprano look-alikes -- just families making the most of the fleeting warm days and couples seeking a bit of relaxation and pampering at the inn's spa.
Our room (number 301) was designed for just such relaxation. We entered the large space to a sitting area with a small bar, including a sink and refrigerator. A sofa and coffee table were arranged beside the wood-burning fireplace. A gabled ceiling and ceiling fan gave this part of the room a light, airy feel. By contrast, a cozy alcove was filled with a king-size bed, night tables with good reading lamps, and a big television. The dark wood furniture, color scheme of muted blue and beige, and bathroom with double vanity sinks, magnifying mirror, and separate tub and shower enclosure reminded us of an urban boutique hotel.
All we had to do was step out onto our small balcony to get our bearings. We had a bird's-eye view of the inn's marina, where gleaming white boats rocked with the gentle waves. The afternoon had grown overcast, but guests ignored the weather as they splashed in the outside pool and lounged on deck chairs. We couldn't resist a quick dip before heading into the fitness center to bake in the sauna and soak in the whirlpool. The well-equipped facility also has an indoor pool, steam room, and exercise equipment.
We were intrigued by the beach rose or seaweed body wraps and by the sea salt body polish treatment offered in the spa, but decided against further pampering. Instead, we strolled through the small park adjacent to the inn, where plaques identify the old railroad line and the site of an early fort. We ventured out on the small boardwalk to watch red-winged blackbirds flit and chortle in the marsh grasses.
In a nod to its predecessor, the Saybrook Point Inn calls its restaurant the Terra Mar Grille. The crisp yet casual space features white linen-draped tables arranged to take maximum advantage of the water views through a wall of windows.
A menu from the original Terra Mar boasted ''A Seafood Platter of Distinction" with ''broiled scallops, fried filet of sole, broiled Maine lobster tail, clams fried to a golden brown, garnished with cold shrimp" -- all for $5.95. The current kitchen can't match that price and wisely forgoes excess for a well-considered contemporary American menu with a few original twists. As we dug into our appetizers of crisply fried asparagus with prosciutto, orange and mâche, and lemon risotto with pan-seared Stonington sea scallops, we watched a birthday celebration at a nearby table. While enjoying our entrees of seared sea bass with fennel crust and vegetable couscous, and pappardelle pasta with roasted chicken, arugula, and kalamata olives, we eavesdropped as two boaters discussed upcoming trips and boasted about storms they had ridden out. By the time we reached dessert -- raspberry Chambord panna cotta for one of us and macadamia nut tartlet with bananas Foster ice cream for the other -- we had achieved our own personal bubble of satisfied relaxation.
Patricia Harris and David Lyon are freelance writers in Cambridge.