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Resort Retro

A Throwback Country Getaway a Stone's Throw Away

Click for historic photos of Cave Hill and vacationers' memories

By DANIELA ALTIMARI
Hartford Courant Staff Writer

June 6, 2008

Jun. 8--MOODUS -- A pair of overstuffed photo albums, tucked in a corner of the dining room at Cave Hill Resort in Moodus, tell the story of this summer retreat's glorious past. There are black-and-white pictures of women in chaste swimsuits and bathing caps lounging by a pool. A sepia-colored shot of a young couple steering a canoe on a glassy pond. And page after page of smiling children frolicking near a row of tidy cabins nestled beneath pine trees.

Back in the 1930s, '40s and '50s, Cave Hill was one of many summer resorts that drew crowds of city dwellers to the fresh air and wide open spaces of the Connecticut countryside. While Budka's Camp, Mountain House, Riveredge and most of the other mainstays of East Haddam's once-bustling tourist trade are long gone, Cave Hill and Sunrise, its slightly more upscale neighbor, have managed to hang on.

But even after booking our stay, I wondered how this retro retreat would play in the 21st century. Could a group of kids from the suburbs find happiness in a place with no TV and no computers? Could their parents?

Happily, the answer is yes on both counts. Our group of seven women and 13 children spent four days at Cave Hill last summer. The kids know one another from school; we moms are good friends connected through a neighborhood book club. (This resort is a summer operation that's open from the last weekend in June -- this year, June 28 -- to Labor Day weekend.)

For the kids, who range in age from toddlers to 'tweeners, the appeal of the place was clear the moment they saw the large in-ground swimming pool. There were lots of other amenities -- a game room, tennis and basketball courts, a small playground, a practice golf course, a lake with paddleboats and, of course, a hill to climb and a cave to explore. The pool, however, was by far the biggest draw.

Cave Hill also held some decidedly more adult pleasures, chief among them sharing a bottle of wine and some good conversation at a picnic table beneath the stars while the kids slept in their rooms nearby. And it's a nearby escape -- a true plus at a time when most of us are lamenting the high cost of gasoline and taking stock of miles per gallon at every turn.

Other things we liked: the laid-back, unstructured days; the warmth of the staff; the way the kids could explore the 40-acre property without a parent constantly hovering overhead; and the fact that breakfast and dinner are included in the price of the room, which meant a break from cooking.

Because Moodus is only 30 miles from Hartford, it didn't cost a fortune in gas to get there, and we didn't have to endure the usual hassles of family trips -- the long airport layovers, the traffic, the endless drones of "are we there yet?"

Be aware, though, that this isn't a luxury vacation. Although Cave Hill calls itself a resort, don't come here expecting Jacuzzis, flat-screen TVs, high-thread-count sheets or any of the other trappings of an upscale hotel.

The accommodations are fairly spartan. We stayed in one of the drab, low-slung, motel-style buildings; there are also rows of cheerful red cabins, which at least have charm from the outside.

Our room featured three beds, two twins and a double. It was perfectly serviceable for my two daughters and me. We appreciated the ceiling fans on hot nights, and the mattresses were surprisingly comfy. When we first entered the room, we were put off by a blast of artificial cinnamon apple scent, a situation remedied when we unplugged the air freshener.

Good Grub, And Plenty

Mornings and evenings, the clang of a cowbell summoned us to the sunny dining room near the entrance to the property. Meals were served family-style and featured hearty Midwestern fare, simple food and lots of it. The cooked-to-order breakfasts offered a tasty choice of eggs, bacon, oatmeal, pancakes and French toast. Being a bit of a food snob, I brought my own small flask of Vermont maple syrup rather than endure the fake stuff on the table.

Dinners were also satisfying. One night we enjoyed a chicken barbecue on the picnic tables outside; pork loin, mashed potatoes and glazed carrots were served another night. The cook cheerfully accommodated the vegetarians in our group, grilling up a meatless burger brought from home and preparing a delicious baked cheese-and-vegetable pasta along with the meat-based version for the carnivores.

The wait staff -- especially our main server, a sweet-natured college freshman this fall named Erin -- was warm and friendly without the cloying familiarity you find at some family resorts.

After dinner, another friendly staffer named Josh offered to take all of the kids on a hayride around the property, sparking squeals of delight as they piled into the tractor-drawn wagon. Our visit also included several other low-key activities: a nighttime marshmallow roast and a guided hike that was gentle enough for the 5-year-olds in our crew. The kids loved trekking up to the cave, which provided just a hint of mystery without any real danger.

After four days at Cave Hill, it was easy to see why families have returned year after year, their visits spanning generations.

As we were packing up our cars, an SUV with New York plates rolled into the parking lot. It was a family from Long Island. The silver-haired matriarch, who was 63, told me she has been coming to Cave Hill since she was a girl and now returns each summer with her children and grandchildren.

Someday, perhaps, our kids will say the same.

Informal weddings, day outings or company picnics are welcome June 1 to mid-September at Cave Hill Resort. The weekly lodging rate is $390 per adult and includes breakfast and dinner daily. Children's rates range from $70 to $210 a week, depending on the child's age. The resort also offers midweek and weekend specials. For more information, go to www.cavehillresort.com/.

To see more of The Hartford Courant, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.courant.com/.

Copyright 2008, The Hartford Courant
If you would like to share memories of your time spent at a Moodus resort, or if you have photographs of the old resorts, please click here to e-mail us.

THE BANNER LIFE

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Fun in the Sun
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