Bernardsville and Basking Ridge straddle the Interstate 287 corridor in northern Somerset County. Rich in Revolutionary War history, this area was developed in the latter half of the 19th century, when wealthy New Yorkers took the train dubbed the Millionaire’s Express out to the Somerset Hills to escape the commotion of the city. Later, the region also became home to many Fortune 500 companies, but thanks to the residents’ deep respect for history and strong commitment to preserving open space, these communities enjoy picturesque Victorian architecture, an abundance of history and myriad outdoor activities alongside “the high-tech conveniences and support services that modern businesses demand,” says Al Li- Cata, president and executive director of the Bernards Regional Chamber of Commerce. “Stay for a day or stay for a week; we have everything a meeting planner could hope for.”
Don’t let the name—or the age—of Olde Mill Inn in Basking Ridge fool you. This 18th-century restored barn inside the Grain House Restaurant is a favorite among business and leisure travelers alike. The property offers 16,000 square feet of meeting space, much of which, notes Sheila Palka, director of marketing, “opens out onto a patio or deck overlooking our stunning English gardens, verdant lawns or the river, providing guests with a unique—and enjoyable—meeting experience.” This emphasis on comfort is also evident in the inn’s 102 rooms and suites, 11 of which are allergy-friendly PURE rooms, and in the hotel’s homey, yet elegant common spaces. Whether you’re organizing a corporate dinner in the Grand Ballroom, an eco-meeting under the English tented patio or an on-site team-building activity, the events staff at this venue will ensure that every detail is just right. “The Olde Mill Inn definitely has a place in history,” notes Palka, “but it’s been ahead of its time under the ownership of the Bocina family, who have pioneered new policies regarding healthy cuisine, environmentally friendly buildings and sustainable business practices.”
Although part of the InterContinental Hotels Group, the Hotel Indigo Basking Ridge is a boutique-style hotel. This entirely smoke-free hotel has 112 rooms and suites, each outfitted with a clean, crisp feel: hard surface flooring, spa-style bathrooms, all-white bedding and murals. A favorite among business travelers, the hotel’s goal is to provide guests with a place to refresh and unwind. “Every Indigo has its own connection with its neighborhood,” notes Rich Ferrara, general manager. “Here, our nature-inspired murals and the image of the oak tree mimic the beautiful landscape of this part of New Jersey.” The hotel has also just completed a partial remodel, with a new lobby, new paint and bedding in the guest rooms, an improved event space and a new outdoor patio for alfresco dining and live music. The Hotel Indigo’s meeting space can accommodate up to 150 people, and the Old Oak Bar and Bistro is available for dinner and breakfast.
The four-story Courtyard Basking Ridge offers modern guest facilities for the business traveler and 1,540 square feet of meeting space in three meeting rooms. “Meeting planners love our hotel, as we are not the typical Courtyard by Marriott; our hotel is much larger. We also have a newly renovated lobby, meeting rooms and Bistro,” says general manager Scott Selby. Conveniently located off Interstates 78 and 287, the hotel offers a business center, a fitness center, a casual on-site restaurant, a swimming pool and 235 guest rooms. The property also offers a Meeting Services App, which allows planners to make requests (more coffee, please!) without leaving the meeting room.
For larger groups, look no further than the full-service Dolce Basking Ridge, which offers more than 20,000 square feet of meeting and event space. This award-winning luxury hotel includes 29 meeting rooms that can accommodate from five to 500 guests and includes a ballroom, a tiered amphitheater and an outdoor deck, all equipped with state-of-the-art audio-visual technology. “The Dolce brand is founded upon business meetings,” says Dennis Nau, general manager. “That’s our specialty. Luckily, we also have this unique building, with the ideal footprint for what we do best—tailoring the use of space to perfectly fit our clients’ needs.” When business is done, private dining is available for up to 50 guests at Dolce’s award-winning restaurant, Vita.
Looking for an upscale yet relaxed, Europeanstyle restaurant for a full buyout or semi-private party during your stay? Consider Osteria Morini in Bernardsville, the Garden State’s outpost of the well-known SoHo restaurant. Renowned for its mouthwatering handmade pasta and savory antipasti that recall the cuisine of the Emilia-Romagna section of Italy, Osteria Morini can accommodate parties from 10-40 guests at long tables in the main dining room, and planners can choose a family-style meal, a six-course tasting menu with wine pairings, or an a la carte menu. Although most people know Osteria Morini for its homemade pastas, Assistant Manager
Karen Nardo also touts the restaurant’s warm atmosphere. “Our osteria is a place where the customers are truly our guests, as if at a friend’s dinner party,” she says. “This is a congenial gathering place for friends and families to share good wine, delicious food, multiple courses and lively conversation.”
One of the best-known and most-awarded restaurants (including a AAA Four Diamond rating) in the area, The Bernards Inn offers fine dining with progressive American cuisine. “Fall is a special time at The Bernards Inn because we are reaping the rewards of the harvest season with the bounty from our restaurant garden,” says proprietor Harold Imperatore. “Chef Corey Heyer’s seasonal menus are designed around the fresh produce we grow ourselves or acquire from local farms and food purveyors.” The Bernards Inn also offers an extensive wine list, with 1,500 selections, all hand-picked by noted wine director Terri A. Baldwin. The ambiance here is one of upscale elegance, with décor inspired by the great estates in the hills of Bernardsville. Intimate private events can be held in the Silver Vault and Wine Pantry, and the Fenwick Ballroom can accommodate up to 175.
Legend has it that the Grain House Restaurant at the Olde Mill Inn once stored the grain that fed George Washington’s Revolutionary Army during their winter encampment in Jockey Hollow, but today, the restaurant is cozy and elegant with beamed ceilings, fireplaces and charming details. Chef Luca Carvello prepares vegetable-centric seasonal, organic American fare. “The new owners have pioneered new ideas and policies regarding healthy, natural cuisine in the Grain House Restaurant and the Olde Mill Inn Banquet Kitchen,” notes Sheila Palka, director of marketing. “We can also develop special menus for your private events, as well as suggest wine pairings.” There are three private rooms that can accommodate groups of various sizes.
“Private dining and meetings are a big part of our business,” notes Stacey Bauer Berisha, owner of Vine Restaurant in Basking Ridge, where planners can make use of three private dining rooms to accommodate up to 100 guests, or rent the whole restaurant. Offering unique and delicious contemporary American and northern Mediterranean cuisine (the sushi pizza is a favorite), this family-owned restaurant prides itself on impeccable service and “fresh food that is made to order,” says Berisha. “This restaurant has a friendly, warm atmosphere where we treat our customers like friends. We can create any event or menu that you want.”
The views of the scenic countryside from the Stone House at Stirling Ridge are well worth the 12-minute drive from Bernardsville and Basking Ridge. Set in the hills of the Watchung Mountains, the rustic, yet upscale Stone House can host meetings and receptions ranging from 10 to 500 guests. Choose between the cozy Wine Cellar, the Chef’s Room with a private peek into the bustling kitchen or the glass-walled Grand Ballroom, which looks out onto the beautifully landscaped property. “Our clients really love that since we have so many different spaces, we can accommodate breakout sessions for all-day meetings and events, so that guests are not in just one area the entire day,” says owner Jeanne Cretella. “We are really excited to announce that we recently opened a new patio bar with a brick oven. It’s a gorgeous space, perfect for outdoor cocktail parties.”
Things to do
Basking Ridge’s Lord Stirling Stable offers coworkers a chance to connect with each other and nature through two unique group activities: horseback riding and hayrides. No previous horse experience is required, and group rides include a brief lesson with an instructor followed by an hour-long trail ride. Afraid to saddle up? Hop onto the hay wagon and let a tractor take you on a tour of the facility’s 18 miles of serene trails. Boots and helmets can be rented on-site for $4 each. “If you are looking for a team-building experience with a difference, this is a great place to come,” says Nancy Meola, program specialist, who notes they can accommodate up to 30 guests for trail rides or up to 60 for hayrides.
Next door to the stable, the Somerset County Park Commission Environmental Education Center offers everything from a one-of-a-kind 3-mile nature walk on a boardwalk through a section of the Great Swamp, to bird-watching, canoeing and more. “We have a lot of different natural areas here, from swamps to meadows to forests, with a ton of programming possibilities for groups,” says Shawn McCrohan, manager of environmental science. Groups can enjoy a self-guided walk along the trails or coordinate a naturalist-led walk or educational program. The center also offers room rentals and can accommodate up to 100 guests.
Set amidst 276 acres of woodland, field and floodplain, the New Jersey Audubon Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary in Bernardsville offers environmental education programs about birds, mammals, butterflies, geology or conservation. “Corporate groups of up to 50 people are also welcome to come help us out by volunteering to do trail work, planting native plants and assisting with maintenance projects,” notes Stephanie Punnett, program director.
This area of New Jersey is also well known for golf. At the recently refurbished Basking Ridge Country Club, groups of 72 to 144 golfers can test their skills on a 6,906-yard, 18-hole golf course. Private golf outings are available on Mondays only. The on-site Delicious Heights Outpost restaurant offers casual fine dining with an American menu. Event planners may also make use of the country club’s two banquet rooms and an outdoor garden tent (weather permitting), accommodating from 35-225 guests. Each room has a fireplace and knee-to-ceiling windows offering “sweeping views that make the Basking Ridge Country Club a breathtaking setting for any type of event,” says catering sales manager Danielle Puorro.
Off the greens, golf enthusiasts will want to explore the exhibits and archives of the United States Golf Association Museum, in Far Hills, New Jersey (a 10-minute drive from Bernardsville), where more than 100 years of golf’s most memorable moments are on display. Group tours of the museum may be arranged for parties of 10 or more, and the museum is also available for private rental, accommodating corporate events with 25-175 guests. Don’t forget to ask about a tour of the USGA Research and Testing Center, where every golf ball and club from every manufacturer is tested to ensure that it conforms to USGA standards for tournament usage. “Upon leaving the museum, people often say to me, ‘I had no idea the USGA did all of this,’” says Kim Gianetti, manager of museum marketing and outreach. “I love that they’ve learned and had fun at the same time.”