Sited on the sandy shores of Long Island Sound in Madison, Connecticut, the Madison Beach Hotel is a four-season getaway, conveniently located about two hours from both the New York City and Boston metropolitan areas.
In contrast to better-known summer meccas on the East Coast—like the Long Island Hamptons and Martha’s Vineyard south of Cape Cod—both the hotel and the quaint town of Madison are far more relaxed, low-key, and largely devoid of hordes of tourists and day-trippers.
Guests at the Madison Beach Hotel enjoy exclusive access to a private beach in a predominantly residential neighborhood. Each of the guest rooms, most with large balconies, offers unobstructed views of the Sound, a tidal estuary of the Atlantic Ocean.
When guests leave the floor-to-ceiling French doors to their rooms open at night, they are lulled to sleep by ocean breezes and the sounds of the waves lapping at the shore. The morning views of the sunrise are spectacular.
A one-of-a-kind property
With only 33 rooms in total, this boutique, four-story resort holds the distinction of being the smallest Hilton-branded property in the world. Although part of the prestigious Curio Collection by Hilton (and its associated Hilton guest loyalty program), the property is independently owned and managed by Henry (Ric) and Dawn Duques.
Also setting it apart: The Madison Beach Hotel is the only hotel in a quaint, residential town with precious few accommodations for overnight guests except a handful of BnBs.
The historic roots of this beachfront property run deep. First a boarding house (originally called the Flower House) for shipbuilders passing through town in the 1800s. Later turned into a hotel, it has wooed visitors to the same spot for some two hundred years. When rail service replaced wooden sailing ships for transporting cargo along the coast, city dwellers took to the rails to spend their summers at shoreline towns like Madison.
Devoted patrons of Madison Beach
From the age of 9, Ric Duques (now a philanthropist and retired Chairman and CEO of First Data Corp) spent his summers at his family beach house in Madison, playing on the rocks near the hotel. His grandfather had been the town’s first postmaster and Duques cherishes the memories of the time he spent on the beach.
Over the years, the original rickety wooden hotel perched on a spectacular piece of land fell into disrepair, becoming structurally unsound and an eyesore on the scenic shoreline.
Coupling his love for the town, his business acumen, and an “I can fix anything” attitude, he and his wife, Dawn, decided to purchase the property in 2006 and embark on an ambitious project to restore the dilapidated Madison Beach Hotel. They hoped to maintain the property’s gracious New England feel while modernizing its rooms and services.
However, the couple discovered that the old building was in such poor condition that it couldn’t be salvaged. Undaunted, they literally had to start from the ground up, starting with a new foundation to meet contemporary shoreline construction requirements. An anticipated two-year project took more than three years to complete.
A traditional hotel reimagined for the times
The reimagined Madison Beach Hotel, which opened in June 2012, sits in the same footprint as the original. While the number of rooms remains the same, interior hallways with a nautical motif have replaced outdoor catwalks. Yet, the gray and white shingled exterior is still reminiscent of a 19th-century New England guest house or inn.
Open for lunch, dinner, and continental breakfast, the on-site Wharf Restaurant offers inside dining as well as alfresco dining on its old-fashioned wraparound porch. The menus of the new chef at its helm, Chef Brian Warmingham, emphasize fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients—of course, emphasizing fresh seafood.
Guests can revitalize their minds and bodies at the hotel’s fitness center and at the full-service Sounds of the Sea Spa. If they can pull themselves away from the property, they can visit the museums and listed historic sites in the town, or walk or bicycle to the vibrant town center (less than a mile away) lined with coffee shops, eateries, an independent cinema, gift shops, and clothing boutiques.
Depending on the time of year, the hotel features a robust calendar of holiday-themed and gourmet food/wine experiences as well as outdoor concerts on the lawn, weather permitting.
Forced to close for nearly six months during the height of the pandemic, occupancy rates at the Madison Beach Hotel seems to have returned to pre-pandemic levels, with people seeking getaways closer to home. Many guests return year after year to relax and recharge in an idyllic setting that’s close to home but a bit off the beaten path. And given its diminutive size, the service is dependably warm and personal.