To Summer or Not to Summer, That is the Question in Newport, Rhode Island
By Marika Flatt
There’s a resurgence of interest in the Northeastern Golden Age with the popularity of shows like “Downton Abbey” and “The Great Gatsby.” That type of lifestyle still exists in Rhode Island when the upper class summer (they use the word “summer” as a verb) in Newport. Except you won’t find flowing ball gowns and flapper dresses, but instead, designer sundresses and flip-flops.
When temps soar in Austin, many people like to retreat to the north and Rhode Island is a gorgeous place to summer. The smallest state is a fine place to visit anytime of year. Know that if you do visit in the summer, it’s high season; therefore, if you would like to avoid the crowds, you’ll want to visit between Labor Day and the following Memorial Day.
I recommend flying into Providence, R.I., a very small airport. However, if you have more time to sightsee, you might choose to fly into Boston, where you can get less expensive airfare. Providence is only 30 minutes and Boston is about 1 1/2 hours from Newport. You’ll want to plan enough time to tour the famed historic mansions of Newport and also visit the quaint seaport towns along the coast.
The Chanler at Cliffwalk is a restored mansion built in the 1800s for a New York congressman family of nine kids. The boutique hotel has 20 rooms and was ranked #4 in the Top 15 Hotels of New England in Conde Nast Traveler’s 2013 Readers’ Choice Awards. The European style hotel is located on the famed Cliffwalk, a paved path that runs along the ocean. From the hotel, you can see Easton’s Beach (just a mile away) and walk to one of the most popular mansions on the historic mansion tour.
A few of the rooms open to a private courtyard, featuring a hot tub and patio for your ocean-viewing pleasure. The four-poster bed, fireplace and painted porcelain bathroom will take you back to the early days of Newport’s elite.
While you’re at The Chanler, treat yourself to unforgettable meals at The Spiced Pear and The Veranda, onsite restaurants overlooking the ocean. You can choose to start your day at The Veranda with a succulent breakfast and end a fun day of sightseeing with a scrumptious dinner at The Spiced Pear. For breakfast, I’d recommend the omelete of the day for a protein packed start or the Spiced Pear French Toast for a sweeter choice. For dinner at The Spiced Pear, I’d recommend trying the Chef’s Tasting Menu of six courses where you can enjoy a starter of Heirloom Tomato Salad, then move on to the New England Halibut and end with a chocolate soufflé.
While there, you will want to enjoy a dinner experience at Muse by Jonathan Cartwright, the hotel’s fine dining option. The sleek restaurant highlights seasonal finds turned into culinary creations, such as the Buttered Lobster appetizer, the Lobster Bisque and the Broccoli Cheese Polenta. Pair this dinner with a Frog’s Leap chardonnay and end it with a mouth-watering dessert. The service is impeccable and the pianist adds to the enchanting evening.
The area is a hotbed for amazing food and wine, thanks in part to the Johnson & Wales culinary school nearby.
Lobster Pot in Bristol is just 15 minutes from Newport. You’ll want an excuse to drive through this quaint fishing village, known for their spectacular 4th of July celebration (even the lines on streets are painted red/white/blue instead of the typical yellow). Overlooking Bristol Bay, Lobster Pot will have your mouth watering with their Clams with Portuguese sauce, crab cakes, lobster bisque and Lobster Sauté. Pair any of these with the local Mayflower beer (brewed just up the road in Plymouth, Mass.) The kitchen works tirelessly to add a contemporary twist to the classics making the Lobster Pot one of southern New England’s favorite dining destinations since 1929.
The Grill is located in the Forty 1 North hotel, overlooking the marina. While we were there, the three-course chef’s menu encompassed a Duck Confit Risotto, a Red Snapper and a Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake. The cozy restaurant with fireplace ablaze offered a nice respite after a long day of travel. I only wish I had a view of the marina during the day (in November, dusk came at 4 pm). This is one you’ll long to return to, and maybe also stay at the hotel.
The Mooring seafood kitchen & bar on Sayer’s Wharf in Newport provided an ideal spot for lunch before shopping downtown. Situated right over the water, every selection on the menu was a tasty treat. You can experience the Bag of Doughnuts (lobster, crab and shrimp fritters with chipotle-maple aioli), the Ricotta Gnocchi or even a Seafood Pie.
It’s imperative that you make time to tour through a few of the historic Newport mansions, which showcase the glitzy Golden Age. These mansions were a symbol of the family’s social and financial prominence. Each offers a self-guided audio tour featuring the lives of the people who lived and worked there; and visitors will see the house from multiple points of view, experiencing it the way different people did in its heyday.
The Breakers is the most well known, for good reason. Built by Cornelius Vanderbilt, he proved the statelier, the better. Meant to dazzle guests, crystal chandeliers hang throughout this Italian-style palace. The mansion boasts theme rooms such as the green and gold breakfast room, the marble-lined billiard room and the library with Spanish leather embossed walls. In the 1970s, the mansion (with its 33 servant bedrooms) was sold to the Preservation Society for only $400,000.
Another favorite mansion is Rosecliff, built in 1902, with its double staircase and ornate fireplaces. The home took 4 years to build and cost $2.5 million back at that time. The two-month summer social season featured the mansion’s grandiose French ballroom (seen in the original Great Gatsby movie) and the original owner was known to spend the equivalent of $7 million in today’s economy each summer on parties such as her Mother Goose costume ball. The home saw a decline in the 20s & 30s when the original owner’s son was in charge and ended up on auction and sold for only $21,000.
After a day of strolling through the mansions, take in some of the most spectacular scenery on the East Coast along Newport’s 10-mile Ocean Drive. Also, take a stroll on the newly minted BayWalk, a 2-mile walking path around the perimeter of Fort Adams State Park. Drive up to see the views from Eisenhower House, the late 19th-Century home that served as the “summer White House” from 1958 -60. These are the same views afforded by the Kennedys and their wedding guests as Jacqueline Bouvier’s family estate, Hammersmith Farm (now privately owned) is right next door.
Even though many summer in Newport, there are activities and sights to see year-round. There’s even an opportunity to be the local lighthouse keeper for a week. For more information on lodging, dining, attractions, transportation and more, visit www.DiscoverNewport.org or on Twitter @DscvrNewport.
The Chanler at Cliffwalk, http://www.thechanler.com/
The Vanderbilt Grace Hotel, http://www.gracehotels.com/vanderbilt
Lobster Pot, Bristol, and www.lobsterpotri.com
The Grill, http://www.41north.com/dining-grill.aspx
The Mooring, http://www.mooringrestaurant.com/
Newport Mansions/ Preservation Society, http://www.newportmansions.org/
All things Newport, including a list of wineries/breweries, http://www.gonewport.com
Marika Flatt has been a freelance magazine writer since 2002, simultaneously running literary PR agency, PR by the Book. Flatt was named Travel Editor of Austin Lifestyle magazine in 2013. Other publications Flatt regularly contributes to are: Austin Food, Family Travel and her Flattlands blog. Additionally, she’s had travel features in GoodHousekeeping.com and NPR.com. You can find Marika on Twitter: @MarikaFlatt & @Flattlandsblog; on Instagram: @Flattlands; and Pinterest: @MarikaFlatt & @Flattlandsblog.