The Madison Beach Hotel on the Connecticut Shore
By Max Hartshorne
There has been a hotel at the site of the Madison Beach Hotel on the shore of Connecticut for more than 100 years. On the shore of the Long Island Sound, the town of Madison stands out as one of the prettiest of them all in this part of the state.
When I heard about the hotel, now part of Curio by Hilton, that sits right on the beach in Madison, I immediately wanted to stay over and experience it in a town I was also eager to check out.
The hotel at this site has been a fixture in this town of about 19,000 residents for 100 years, and almost went away after a series of tough years--but then it was saved by neighbors. The neighbors, Ric and Dawn Duques live just a few doors down on sandy Madison Beach, and like other local residents, were very concerned when the hotel came upon hard times.
They bought the property next door to their house in 2006, after a teardown in 2009, multimillion dollar renovation started in 2012, and this new luxury incarnation of the iconic property opened as a Hilton-affiliated hotel in 2015.
"Whaling ships were built here," John told us, as we sat at the big bar. This was a boarding house, a run down bar, right outside you can see the wharf where ships were launched," pointing to the wide stretch of pavement that is still there today.
Though the ships are long gone, it's still a place where many local fisherman cast their lines, and walkers enjoy strolling along the quiet beach.
Today, the Duques live part of the year in an apartment at the top of the Madison Beach property and spend the rest of their year in the Ritz Carlton hotel in Sarasota or in the Pierre Hotel in New York City. But the couple is especially invested in the small touches that make their home hotel in Madison even more cozy.
There are just 32 rooms on the four floors of the Madison Beach Hotel, every one has a view of the Long Island Sound, and every room is luxurious and large with marble bathrooms and balconies.
Occupancy during the summer stays at around 98 percent, and even in March they can see up to 85 percent of the rooms full. It's a pretty easy connection to get here since there is a commuter rail station in Madison that connects to New York City.
The Inn has a superb restaurant called The Wharf, and while we were interested in seeking out some additional restaurants in the area to report on, we probably should have dined there.
We drove to the neighboring town of Clinton to a lobster house that was quite a disappointment. We realized this after we enjoyed the hotel's fantastic Sunday Brunch, which was a dazzling buffet of just about everything we wanted.
Hammonnasset State Park
John told us about the many nearby attractions that make this hotel a great home base.
We discovered one of his recommendations when we drove just a few miles up the road to Hammonasset State Park, a large oceanfront park with a great beach for strolling, and camping facilities. It has the states's longest beach, and is very popular with fishermen, campers and dog walkers.
A fisherman pulled a small striped bass from the surf as we walked by, too small to catch (the legal size is 30 inches), but enough to give him a smile.
Other highlights of this part of the state are the villages of Essex and Chester, and the beachy town of Old Saybrook. Essex was once a ferry port, the Connecticut river flows from there all the way down to the Long Island sound.
There is a classic old downtown in Essex, and the green that looks out on the river. Chester is famous as a Sunday morning destination with cafes, antique shops and a farmer's market.
Clam Shacks on the Shore
There are many great funky seafood restaurants here along the coast, one that I recommend is Bill's Seafood in Westbrook, right next to a marina with all kinds of motorboats passing by in and out of the inlet. Many people also recommend Elizabeth's Cafe in Madison, and of course, the aforementioned Wharf restaurant at the hotel.
The town of Madison has an old fashioned movie theater, boutiques and bookstores to browse, and there are many wineries located nearby.
Summer Concerts and S'Mores
A highlight during the summer months, John told us, are nightly concerts on the famous "grassy strip," which is owned by the town, and a place where every Wednesday during the summer free concerts take place. They set up grills and serve beer and wine to the public, as well as to hotel guests, who get the best view of the whole scene from their balconies.
On Tuesday nights they set up a screen in the same area to show family movies, and on Sundays they offer s'mores grilled on the firepits on the beach front.
This is a true destination getaway hotel, one that will rejuvenate you and give you a true escape from your workaday world.
Madison Beach Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton
94 West Wharf Road, Madison, Connecticut, 06443,
USA TEL: +1-203-245-1404 FAX: +1-203-245-2900
Max Hartshorne has been the editor and publisher of GoNOMAD Travel in South Deerfield Mass since 2002. He worked for newspapers and other sales positions for 23 years until he finally got what he wanted, and became the editor at GoNOMAD. He travels regularly, enjoys publishing new writers, and watching his grandchildren grow up.