The first wisps of fall in the Northern Hemisphere are here, with chilly mornings, falling leaves, and sudden craving for apple pie. Right away, people ask for cozy restaurants, preferably with fireplaces, that are a comfortable distance from their home cities. Some of the world's most famous chefs have this market cornered: Jean-Georges Vongerichten has the Inn at Pound Ridge, and Michael White has the Bedford Post Inn.
In the U.K., Heston Blumenthal has a collection of appropriately autumnal restaurants (the Crown and the Hinds Head) just near his newly reopened Fat Duck in the village of Bray, outside London. Both sister venues are less formal than the Duck. All provide world class food, a little escape, and a room, should you find you can't navigate the roads home.
Here is a collection of gourmet inns you should know about:
The Inn at Pound Ridge (Pound Ridge, N.Y.): This quiet Westchester hotspot serving sophisticated American food by the Jean-Georges team is the perfect place for a date ... if you're married. Everyone wants a table at 7 p.m., so try for earlier or later if you're going on short notice. Try to find a quieter corner to rekindle that old magic.
Bedford Post Inn (Bedford, N.Y.): Michael White of Marea/Morini/Vaucluse fame goes rural. Campagna is the Italian restaurant. Local millionaires prefer "The Barn" room, which is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and the all-important weekend brunch.
Jockey Hollow (Morristown, N.J.): Chris Cannon, a former partner at Marea, gets to play Jay Gatsby at the sprawling Vail Mansion. With three spaces to choose from and countless fireplaces, this is the new it-place in central New Jersey.
The White Hart Inn (Salisbury, Conn.): A favorite for parents dropping their kids at local schools is now the restored dream of a Goldman Sachs executive smart enough to hire one of my favorite chefs, Annie Wayte, formerly of Nicole Farhi in New York and London.
The Hand and Flowers (Marlow, U.K.): Tom Kerridge's gastropub competes with Heston Blumenthal, though his cuisine tends to be more casual.
The Inn at Little Washington (Washington, D.C.): Take a drive to the Inn at Little Washington. Patrick O'Connell is the Thomas Keller of the Blue Ridge Mountains. He has a way with simple foods that always have a surprise touch of elegance, such as an oatmeal soufflé. Try the Red Fox Inn & Tavern in horsey Middleburg, Va., if you're feeling more historic and more casual.
Ojai Valley Inn (Ojai, Calif.): While some Angelinos yearn for the moneyed hills of Santa Barbara and the modernists head to Palm Springs, the Ojai area feels like Montauk or Big Sur did before both were overrun with Porsche-driving hedge funders. The Inn is a place to unwind, enjoy a spa, or to set out exploring the area.
The Post Ranch Inn (Big Sur, Calif.): Ever since the final episode of Mad Men reminded the world of Big Sur's beauty, getting into the Esalen Institute has become near-impossible. The smart money goes to the Post Ranch Inn. You get a staggering view, a spa, and great food, and no one rings bells or says "Om."
Villa d'Este (Lake Como, Italy): One advantage the Milanese have over the rest of us is having perfected the art of the weekend escape. If you don't own a villa on Lake Como, it's worth having your first experience at the Villa d'Este, one of the few places in the world where you can sleep in a UNESCO world heritage site, stroll past Bernini statues, and swim in a floating pool in the lake. What makes this like no other hotel in the world is that staff waits for you to come out, wraps you in thick towels, and escorts you to your room, where a fire crackles.