Watch Hill, Westerly, and Other Charms of Southern Rhode Island

WHY GO: In the late 1800’s, vacationers came to the beach towns of Rhode Island for fresh sea air and to frolic on clean wide swaths of sand. Now, as you climb the hill that overlooks Watch Hill RI harbor on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other, you can almost hear the joyous shouts of those Victorian era travelers as they hauled their steamer trunks to the portico of the yellow Ocean House, a splendid resort originally constructed in 1868, and renovated in the late ‘aughts as a stunning Relais and Chateaux hotel.

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Though among discerning travelers , Watch Hill is best known for The Ocean House (and now for sometimes-resident Taylor Swift, who bought the house down the street), there are other reasons to discover this section of coastal RI – which also includes Westerly and South Kingston – including a restaurant owned by a woman chef who took down Bobby Flay on “Beat Bobby Flay,” and a humble oyster farmer so renowned, he’s been written up in National Geographic Magazine and owns one of the Top Seafood Restaurants in America. Yes, you’ll discover all this and more on the following Atlantic Coast getaway.

Things To Do in Westerly, Watch Hill and Southern RI

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TOUR: Matunuck Oyster Farm, South Kingstown. It’s about a 30 minute drive (north) from Westerly, but absolutely worth it for both the Oyster Farm tour and Matunuck Oyster Bar and Restaurant (see Where to Eat below).

saltwater-pond-so-kingston-riMatunuck Owner, Perry Raso, comes across as a humble fisherman, but has been acclaimed in publications as prestigious as National Geographic. Raso, with a Masters in Aquaculture, begins his 1.5-hour tour with a dissertation on the growth of the industry. Though “terrestrial agriculture” has been “going on for hundreds of years, commercial/industrial aquaculture is relatively new.” (There’s a distinction between oyster packing companies – which have been in existence for over 150 years – and corporations that “farm” or “grow” oysters, a relatively new concept).

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As a “farmer,” Raso generates oyster “seeds” in a hatchery, manipulating the water temperature so that oysters release sperm and eggs into the water year round as opposed to only during the warmest months. When these “seeds” are large enough, they are placed in steel mesh “bags” that either sit on the pond’s mud bottom or float for two to three years, until the oysters are large enough to harvest.

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Raso has a bit of the scientist and educator about him, and has become a spokesperson for green practices in aqua and agriculture. He is most at home either in the water tending to his shellfish, or on his new organic farm. You’ll see both his oyster beds and gardens on a tour that brings you by motorized platform boat around Potter Pond, where Raso and his employees harvest over a million oysters – coveted by top chefs from New York to L.A. – every year.

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Matunuck Oyster Bar began as a byproduct of Raso’s oyster farming business, but has turned into one of the top restaurants in the USA. It was not his intention to become a restaurateur, but when Raso purchased the property, a dilapidated seafood shack came with it. He started selling oysters from the shack, garnering enough of a following by 2009 that building an upscale restaurant, with a “Pond to Plate” theme, made sense. In 2011, realizing the need for hyper-local organic produce, Raso planted a garden on 7 acres of his own property around the corner. Tours are free, call or email 401-783-4202 ext 2, events@RhodyOysters.com.

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DO: Ride The Flying Horse Carousel, Watch Hill. Since Victorian times, summer visitors have been grabbing for the brass ring on this diminutive, but historic “flying horse” merry go round, built in 1883. On the National Historic Register, it’s the oldest operating carousel in the country with horses suspended from chains. Open daily in season till Labor Day. Weekends only until Columbus Day. Check website for times.

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DO/TASTE: GreySail Brewing of Rhode Island, Westerly. After setting up shop in the repurposed Westerly Macaroni Mfg. building, and launching their Flagship Cream Ale on November 11, 2011 (11-11-11), GreySail Brewing was credited with attracting a younger, year round crowd to Westerly. “People say Westerly is dead in winter, but lots of locals come here,” says manager Jacq Campbell, “especially since we opened the Tap Room in May ’16.”

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GreySail purchased the bright yellow house next door, built by the owners of Westerly Macaroni Co in 1934, leaving its historic murals and light fixtures intact. Despite its fancy digs, the Tap Room is a “proper pub,” with 8 craft beers on tap (four GreySail brews, four “guest” brews), and offers flights ($10 for 4 5oz pours) and full 16-oz pours for $5 and $6. Though Captain’s Daughter Double IPA put Greysail on the map (with distribution in CT, RI, MA), other beers, like Flying Jenny Extra Pale Ale, Great Ketch India Pale Lager and Pour Judgment (made exclusively for Pour Judgment Pub in Newport), are gaining favor.

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The Tap Room also features a warren of comfortable “living” rooms, a dartboard room, and an outdoor beer garden where guests can play bocce and corn –hole and watch homemade pizzas charring nicely in the brick oven. Stay for pizza and take home some cans of your favorite frosty. Tap Room open Mon, Wed, Thur 3-8 PM. Fri-Sat 12-8 PM. Sunday 12-5 PM.

SHOP: Downtown Westerly. Fun and funky shops in downtown Westerly are intermingled among Mixed Martial Arts and Yoga Studios, Gyms, antique and traditional furniture stores, and restaurants with names like The Twisted Vine, The Brazen Hen and Amigos Taqueria. Among my favorites are:

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Christina’s – for scarves, soaps, gossamer blouses, beer making kits and other esoteric gifts. My favorite desktop placard reads, “Kind People Are My Kinda People.”

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The Beach House – you’ll find beachy home-goods, hostess, baby and wedding gifts for a fraction of what you’d pay in the resort town of Watch Hill. My absolute favorites are the adorable shell-and-sea-creature emblazoned beach totes for a mere $19.

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The Eagle’s Nest Gallery – features American-made products and is crammed full of Vera Bradley, Brighton, and Rhode Island’s own John Medeiros jewelry. But the best thing about Eagle’s Nest is its generosity towards and acknowledgement of US Military families, with discounts and store items (i.e. $7 tea towels) specifically for them.

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Woodee’s – a woman’s clothing boutique next to the long-standing (since 1904) Woodmansee’s, and owned by the same family. Woodee’s is Woodmansee’s younger, funkier cousin, with prices a bit lower as well.

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VISIT: The Artists’ Cooperative Gallery of Westerly.  A new show every month features two local artists, who seem more professional than amateur. Stop in for very reasonably priced jewelry, ceramics, photography and paintings.

Where to Eat in Westerly, Watch Hill and So. RI

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EAT: Ella’s Food and Drink, Westerly. It is rare that a town this small is home to a restaurant so outsized in excellence, but Ella’s is testament to chef/owner Jeannie Rolland’s talent and to Westerly’s sophisticated palette. Culinary Institute of America grad Jeannie, and her husband James, have been in the restaurant business for 25 years. In 2000, they opened their first restaurant, The Perfect Caper, in Punta Gorda, Florida, where it’s still going strong. Jeannie has been a James Beard nominee five times and even beat Bobby Flay on The Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay,” whipping up her fantastic Mussels Frites.

Jeannie, a Connecticut native, was eager to return to New England. She and James found this building on a busy street (formerly a neighborhood Italian joint), and transformed it into a modern home’s dining room – where pale grey walls showcase the vibrant folk-artsy paintings of New York artist, David Black.

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Each dish here is cooked from scratch, sourced either locally or from organic farms all over the country – with taste combinations you’ll be thinking about for days. Jeannie has a remarkable way of balancing sweet and savory, as she does with her astoundingly fine Apple Celery Soup – a seasonal dish that manages to highlight the essence of autumn without being cloyingly sweet. Signatures include the perfectly-cooked Miso Salmon on a disc of Toasted Coconut Black Rice with Chili Bok Choy ($25) and decadent Momma’s Chicken – buttermilk soaked and duck-fat-fried chicken with yellow corn grits ($26) which James tried to take off the menu to much protest (they ended up keeping it on). Other comfort-plus dishes, like the Ultimate Grilled Cheese ($13) prove that Ella’s can satisfy all tastes, from down-home to refined. Worth a trip from anywhere.

matunuck-oyster-bar-s-kingston-riEAT: Matunuck Oyster Bar, South Kingston. You can sign up for an educational tour of the oyster farm (offered a few times a week in summer – check website) or dive right in to the food that put this place on the map. Savor oysters every which way – from raw-just opened ($21.95 per dozen), to paired with a “shooter,” to fried or bathed in every toothsome sauce imaginable. Order a “Stuffie”($3.95 each) – Rhode Island’s version of a stuffed clam – or even Vegetarian Tacos ($10.95) for the shellfish adverse. Whatever you choose, you can be sure it’s fresh, tasty and amazingly good.

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In the summer, this strip of land is a mob scene with hundreds of people per night jockeying for a table. With websites like Timeout.com ranking Matunuck “One of the Top 21 Seafood Restaurants in the USA,” (in April ’16) these crowds won’t be thinning out anytime soon.

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EAT: COAST by Chef Jennifer Backman at the Ocean House. Overlooking all moods of the Atlantic Ocean, COAST by Chef Jennifer Backman is wonderful offseason, especially on blustery days when grey green waves crash on the nearly deserted beach below, and seasonal breakfast dishes incorporate butternut squash, gingerbread, sweet potato, and other delights of the season.

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The dinner menu is created daily from ingredients freshly picked by the Ocean House Food Forager. Every day, Backman crafts dishes that are creatively conceived, often witty, and ultimately scrumptious. For foodies who’d prefer to observe cooking action over action on the beach, ask for a seat near the demonstration kitchen,  a “hot spot” for sure.

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EAT: Bridge Restaurant, Westerly. Stride across the pitted wide-plank floor to your brown paper topped table overlooking the river, and settle in for good seafood and vegetarian dishes. It’s rare to find an eatery where tofu fans can be just as happy as clam-lovers (Littlenecks 6 for $9, Cherrystone 6 for $7). If you live with a vegan, everyone will be happy here.

EAT: In Westerly, locals also love The Malted Barley for craft beer on tap, gourmet pretzels and its “incredible Roast Beef sandwich on a Pretzel Roll,” and the more upscale 84 Tavern on Canal.

Where to Stay in Southern RI

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STAY: Ocean House. Come here and you’ll enjoy as civilized and tranquil a shore stay you’ll find anywhere in the world, with over the top service well worth the pretty penny you’ll spend. This place is so outrageously fine, its a Maven Favorite of the highest order, warranting its own page and review HERE.

STAY: Weekapaug Inn.  Sister property to the Ocean House just four miles down the road, the Weekapaug Inn has been a community center and touchstone for generations of families who summer or live on the Rhode Island shore. For over 60 years, the Weekapaug Inn was a family resort, with no TV’s or phones in the rooms. Recently renovated, the enclave retains its classic Cape Cod design, with wrap-around porch and separate “Fenway Annex” that houses three guestrooms with private decks and plunge-pools (as well as a 75 ft. lap pool) and lush views of quiet coves framed by cattails and evergreens. In Fall, crowds thin out, so it is one of the most spectacular times to walk on the beach with the Inn’s Resident Naturalist. The Inn will also arrange bike tours of the area or a fishing charter from neighboring Watch Hill. Rooms and suites from $420 (plus $38 per person resort fee) includes wi-fi, stocked pantry, valet parking, resort activities, all tips and welcome amenity

Ocean House: Watch Hill RI

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If you want to be spoiled in the best way possible, come to the Ocean House  in Watch Hill RI, and you’ll enjoy as civilized and tranquil a shore stay as you’ll find anywhere in the world, with over the top service well worth the pretty penny you’ll spend. Originally built in 1868, by 2003 the 153- room Ocean House had deteriorated to the point where the top two floors were dangerously uninhabitable. Early fans recall small rooms, shared bathrooms, squeaky plumbing, and warped floors, though most claimed it the “most stunning location in the world.” One of those fans was New York Investment Advisor and Watch Hill summer resident, Charles Royce, who had the heart and resources (raising $140 million) to reimagine the Ocean House as a 49-room Relais & Chateaux hotel.

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Too expensive to renovate, the structure was disassembled and rebuilt as an exact historic restoration using 5,000 original pieces; some of which make up the external clapboard, railings, front door, wavy windows, reception desk and stone fireplace in the lobby.

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With a focus on exceptional service and warm hospitality, The Ocean House has been winning over the community and past guests since it reopened in May 2010.

Rooms at Ocean House

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Colors and appointments mesh harmoniously with sand and sea (though stay tuned as rooms are set to be refreshed soon). Amply upholstered chairs, walls, window treatments and Frette bedding in subtle pastels; rooms were designed to feel like a friend’s summer shore home – with free WiFi and HD TV’s.   Observe your beloved relaxing in a deep soaking tub through clever cut-through shutter windows that open onto the bedroom. Shower floors are made of round beach stones, which provide an inadvertent reflexology massage. Though pricier, all rooms on the second floor have large terraces caressed by ocean breezes.

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Big Wigs should strongly consider renting the 3 bedroom, 3,500 sq ft Morgan Suite (named for the Charles W. Morgan whaling ship in nearby Mystic CT). Owned by Charles Royce himself, this two-floor home within the hotel is outstanding in luxe-nautical décor (read: lots of varnished wood), high end furnishings, and location. The lower level features a walk out patio just steps from the beach. Rates for this suite range from $3,500 per night off-season to $6,500 in high season and, with three bedrooms, two bunk beds and pull-out couches, is perfect for a multi-generation getaway.

Dining at Ocean House

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Overlooking all moods of the Atlantic Ocean, COAST by Chef Jennifer Backman is wonderful offseason, especially on blustery days when grey green waves crash on the nearly deserted beach below, and seasonal breakfast dishes incorporate butternut squash , gingerbread, sweet potato, and other delights of the season.

The dinner menu is created daily from ingredients freshly picked by the Ocean House Food Forager. Every day, Backman crafts dishes that are creatively conceived, often witty, and ultimately scrumptious. For foodies who’d prefer to observe cooking action over action on the beach, ask for a seat near the demonstration kitchen.

Amenities at Ocean House

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The Spa features eight treatment rooms and is a full-service salon (a huge benefit for on-site weddings). Treatments change seasonally, inspired by both Ocean and Harvest (thus the O&H).

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Tagged onto the room expense, a $38 per person “resort fee” saves you from digging in your pocket every time a valet, porter or concierge does you a service. It also avails you of various classes and amenities, such as the ability to tag along on food foraging expeditions, Yoga in the OH! Spa, Surf Casting lessons on the beach, or beefing up your croquet skills on the resort’s Championship Croquet Lawn. Also included:

Perhaps the splashiest amenity is complementary use of one of 4 Mercedes Benz cars on property – either from 7am-5pm or from 6pm-midnight. Yes, complimentary, I said: though first-come first served.dean-gardiner-how-to-make-a-mean-martini-ocean-house-watch-hill-riOne of the most popular classes is “How To Make A Mean Martini”, offered by Ocean House’s head-bartender, Dean Gardiner. The affably engaging Gardiner sets up the bar in the low-lit clubby “Members Only” tavern room, and invites “students” to sit while he lectures on the history of the Martini (vague, but might be traced back to the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco, circa 1870, when the bartender started combining gin and vermouth for patrons waiting for the ferry to Martinez), the qualities of various brands of spirits, and martinis named for famous people, all while mixing and pouring two half glasses of his most popular recipes – In the Weeds, utilizing fresh tarragon and tarragon tea-infused simple syrup, and his citrusy 4-Islands Lemonade. It’s loads of fun, and Gardiner, with a photographic memory for your favorite drink, will be your new best friend.

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Downstairs the new rustic-chic chef’s teaching kitchen space, fashioned with reclaimed Connecticut tobacco barn beams, hosts the Center for Wine and Culinary Arts. The complimentary Wine Tasting class is also very popular.

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The fitness center is State of the Art with TechnoGym equipment and studio classes on demand through the magic of video.

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Swim in the indoor Saltwater Lap Pool.

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Excellent service continues on the wide, clean “guests only” Atlantic Ocean beach, where there’s no shortage of chaise lounges, and restaurant service.

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Though there’s no outdoor pool here, there is one about 15 minutes away at sister property, the Weekapague Resort, where OH guests can also take advantage of other experiences like ranger-led nature tours.

Ocean House: Just the Facts

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Rooms and suites $385-$2115 per night depending on size of room and season. Daily $38 pp resort fee includes all gratuities, afternoon tea with freshly baked goods, constantly restocked private bar, parking and valet, WiFi, and selection of daily resort activities, including Yoga, wine tastings, movies in the screening room, and the ever popular How To Make A Mean Martini Class.

Narragansett RI in Winter

Narragansett Sunrise from The Break Hotel

WHY GO: Those who believe that New England beach resort towns are dead in the wintertime must visit Narragansett RI – a popular Atlantic Ocean beach community – in the coldest months. For starters, January is the best month for surfing (who knew?), down-filled outerwear is made for brisk strolls on snow-covered sand, favorite restaurants still buzz with happy eaters, shops are open, and best of all, rates at the coolest new boutique hotel are satisfyingly low. So plan a day or two, “chill out,” and beat the summer crowds in Narragansett RI.

Things to Do in Narragansett RI in Winter

Surfing in Winter, Narragansett State Beach

DO: Surf at Narragansett Town Beach. So, temps are in the 20’s and snow flurries dance in the wind. That won’t stop the hardy surfers who don full body (and head) wetsuits in order to catch that 7 ft. wave. It’s not Hawaii or California, that’s for sure, but this East Coast version of Hanging Ten proves that nothing will stop a surfing fiend.

Scarborough State Beach in Winter, Narragansett RI

DO: Walk on Scarborough Beach. It might be brisk, but it’s still beautiful. And you will be far from alone.

Ocean Road estate, Narragansett RI

DO: Drive Ocean Road. From The Break Hotel (see below), it’s a good ten-minute drive up the coast to Narragansett Town Beach. You’ll pass other public beaches and oceanfront estates, before driving under the arches between the town’s defining landmark, The Towers – the remaining section of a Gilded Age Casino designed by McKim, Mead and White, that burned down in 1900.

The Towers, Narragansett RISHOP: In Neighboring Wakefield. You’ll find plenty of boutiques, consignment, gift shops and galleries two miles from the beach in Wakefield. My favorites:

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Purple Cow – for unique clothing, jewelry and gifts.

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The Glass Station – artisanal glass pieces in a old repurposed gas station.

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Blue Mazarine – upstairs (a bit hard to find) for owner-created crafts including uniquely designed hand-stamped linen tea towels for $18.

Best Places to Eat in Narragansett

Coast Guard House Restaurant, Narragansett RI

EAT: Coast Guard House. Almost attached to The Towers, adjacent to the Town Beach, this iconic eatery set in an 1800’s Life Saving Station, has been serving up good salads, burgers, seafood and steaks with straight-on ocean and beach views since 1949. A few years ago, Hurricane Sandy nearly demolished the building, but after a vast renovation, it’s come back stronger (and prettier) than ever.

Funnel Crabcake, Chair 5, Narragansett RI

EAT: Chair 5, in the new boutique hotel, The Break (see below). This marine-hued in-house restaurant is fast becoming a destination unto itself. Private and communal tables (one, in the shape of a surfboard), beneath a carpeted ceiling and lovely blown-glass lamps, promote communication and sharing. Helmed by Chef Basil Yu (formerly chef de cuisine at the celebrated Muse Restaurant in Newport RI) dishes, like the Funnel Clam Cake ($7), are innovative tweaks on traditional American fare.

Where to Stay in Narragansett RI

The Break Lobby

STAY: The Break Hotel. This cleverly designed, highly service oriented 16 room hotel is just getting started – having opened in June 2015 – and is already winning raves from guests. Best of all, rates are low for what you get. Read the complete Mavens Review HERE. Rooms and Suites from $159 to $539 (depending on room size and season) include afternoon treats, water bottles, and large “tapas” style gourmet breakfast. 

The Break Hotel, Narragansett RI

This winter,  The Break Hotel in Narragansett RI is the perfect refuge for shell-shocked East Coasters who wish to unplug from the crazy campaign hoopla, unruly weather, and crowds.

The Break Hotel exterior

On a side street in a residential neighborhood a couple of blocks from the steely Atlantic Ocean, this beautifully designed 16-room boutique hotel is a respite for travelers who appreciate what’s come to be a growing trend in American hospitality: the happy middle ground between stark minimalism and over the top glitz, in-house “small-bite” farm-to-plate dining, and friendly but not overly fussy service.

Chair 5 Overview

The newest of the trend-setting Lark Hotel Group (think Kimpton, with smaller properties), The Break Hotel has all these components, so it was no surprise that as soon as it opened in June 2015, all 16 rooms were booked through the summer and well into Fall.

First Impressions

The Break Hotel neighborhood in winter, Narragansett RI

I’ll get this out of the way. Narragansett is a beach town, but The Break is not right on the beach (however – no other hotels are, either. Most near the public Narragansett Beach – a 10 minute drive up Ocean Road – are across the street), so don’t expect to walk out the door and on to the sand. That said, people who book a room at The Break are generally not the “grab a beach-chair and Mai Tai then spend the day tanning” set, preferring cool design and friendly service over direct access to the beach.

The Break Hotel Lobby, Narragansett RI

I was swept away by the stylish and colorful lobby – its centerpiece a crystal clear, and impeccably maintained saltwater aquarium. In winter, a fire blazes behind glass, casting shadows on the salmon, aqua, mustard and cream-colored seating, a most inviting tableau.

The Break Lobby

Check in is efficient, friendly and mellow. You receive an I-Pad, loaded with information about the hotel and the surrounding area, to use during your stay.

Rooms at The Break Hotel

The Break Hotel, Guestroom, Narragansett RI

Rooms are sizeable, fresh and playful, encompassing a grab bag of furniture and accessories. There’s a small wood-stove-like fireplace in the corner, an analog clock and old-fashioned dial phone atop a simple desk with clear Lucite chair. Polished wood floors, large flat screen TV, a painting above two upholstered chairs, it’s a fun take on your Auntie’s shore home.

Atlantic Ocean from Room 202, The Break Hotel

Bathrooms are bright white with a punch of French’s Mustard Yellow colored sink and wall in the immaculate double rain shower.

Drinks and Dining at The Break

Chair 5 Surfboard Table, The Break Hotel

The Break’s marine-hued in-house restaurant, Chair 5, has turned into a destination unto itself. Private and communal tables (one, in the shape of a surfboard), beneath a carpeted ceiling and lovely blown-glass lamps, promote sharing and conversation.

Chair 5, The Break Hotel, Narragansett RI

Helmed by Chef Basil Yu (formerly chef de cuisine at the celebrated Muse Restaurant in Newport RI) dishes, like the Funnel Clam Cake ($7), are innovative tweaks on traditional American fare. I could have scarfed down a few orders of the phenomenal Fried Brussels Sprouts ($5), crispy-brown and sprinkled with slices of garlic. That and the wonderful Smoked Chicken Wings ($12) could have been a complete meal for me.

Roasted Root Veg Salad, Chair 5

But I had to try the Roasted Root Vegetables ($9) served over black rice and wheat berries, a delectable cold-weather dish perfect for the Vegan in your life, if you ask for it without the Buttermilk Dressing.

View from 4th Floor, The Break Hotel

There’s another bar on the 4th floor, and that’s where you want to be for optimal ocean views. In warm weather, the bar’s deck throngs with patrons, but off-season, views are best savored from inside.

Breakfast at The Break Hotel, Narragansett RI

The morning smorgasbord, which is complementary with the room, is artfully presented. If you adore tapas (and who doesn’t?), you’ll fall for the freshly made small-bites, set out in individual portions. Sweet and savory tarts and scones change daily, as do egg dishes, but don’t miss the homemade Greek Yogurt. It’s as dense and creamy as premium ice cream.

Hotel Amenities

The Break Hotel pool in winter

The Break has a small fitness room and one room dedicated to spa services (though you must arrange treatments at least a day in advance). There’s also a heated saltwater pool, kept covered off-season until a guest wishes to take a dip, at which point the cover is removed and steam rises like that from a geothermal hot spring: particularly beguiling while its snowing.

Just the Facts

View from Room, The Break Hotel, Narragansett RI

Rooms and Suites from $159 to $539 (depending on room size and season) include afternoon treats, water bottles, and large “tapas” style gourmet breakfast.

Lobster Divers of Rhode Island

The men of Rhode Island are a hardy bunch, as I can attest after meeting Nick Caron. I met the young man on a Newport, Rhode Island shore in early October after he had put in a hard day’s labor with the East Bay Dive Center. He and his buddy were suiting up to kayak out to where they would spend the next 3-4 hours spear fishing for lobsters. This was a sunny day in early autumn, but still, it was pushing it to say that water temperatures reached the low 60s. As much as I love lobsters and spear fishing, even toe dipping was torturous for this warm waters kind of gal.

If you’re up for the challenge and don’t mind the chill, do check out the Massachusetts Freedivers Spearfishing Club. They host meetups and tournaments, including events in the North Atlantic Spearfishing Championship.

Plan a Getaway, Maven Style:

Image Details:

Camera NIKON 7000D
Focal Length 24mm
ISO 400
Aperture f/11
Exposure Time 1/500

Block Island RI: Slow Down and Walk

Slow down! A Block Island 1.5 MPH Speed Limit Sign

Slow down! A Block Island 1.5 MPH Speed Limit Sign

WHY GO: The smallest and closest of the New England Islands (along with Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket), it’s slightly over an hour from New London, CT by high-speed ferry to this baby-chick shaped chunk of land just 7 miles long and four miles wide. In the late 1800’s, Victorians built hotels overlooking harbor and ocean, and miraculously, many still stand, imbuing Block Island RI with a “lost in time” aspect. For years, tourists walked or biked to explore. Then, mopeds and scooters became a preferred mode of transport. Now, in season, you’ll be confronted with a fusillade of huge, gas-guzzling cars. But on this Getaway Maven’s pictorial walkabout, ignore the road-hog SUV’s and discover the stone walls, clay bluffs, Andrew Wyeth like lighthouses, cemeteries, ponds and trails that make Block Island so alluring.

Block Island Ferry

New London to Block Island High Speed Ferry Docks in Old Harbor

GETTING TO BLOCK ISLAND: Take the no-car High Speed Ferry from New London, CT. It takes a bit over an hour – and brings you right into the heart of Old Harbor. $25 each way, $35 with bike.

Things to Do on Block Island RI

Block Island Historical Society Museum

Block Island Historical Society Museum

VISIT: Block Island Historical Museum and Gallery. Start here for an orientation of the island. It’s stocked with requisite 10,000-year-old Native American arrowheads, along with artifacts from first settlers, and photos of offshore boating disasters. Pictures of piles of frozen bodies from the Feb. ’07 Larchmont Steamship Disaster are particularly horrifying. Open daily during the summer, 11am-4pm, $6.

Stone Wall Freedom Series, by David Tucker at Block Island Historical Society

Stone Wall Freedom Series, by David Tucker at Block Island Historical Society

WALK: 7 Mile loop tour – south from Old Harbor to Mohegan Bluffs, up to New Harbor and back to town. With variations of landscape, from forceful surf, clay cliffs, silent ponds, yachting centers, salt marsh and stone walls (legend has it that Block Island slaves built these walls to win their freedom, as told in a trio of historical fiction novels, Stone Wall Freedom, by David Tucker), it’s a fantastic overview of the best of the island. Stop at the Southeast Light, descend down to Mohegan Bluffs beach, see the gravestone of a 170 year old island woman, grab a bite and watch planes coming and going at Bethany’s Diner at the Block Island Airport, and mingle with the boat captains at New Harbor Marinas. Here are some photos to get you primed….

Spring House Hotel, Block Island

Spring House Hotel, Block Island

Southeast Lighthouse

Southeast Lighthouse, Block Island

Stairway to Mohegan Bluffs Beach

Stairway to Mohegan Bluffs Beach, Block Island

Mohegan Bluffs Beach

Mohegan Bluffs Beach, Block Island

Lemonade for a Cause, Block Island

Block Island walkers are rewarded with drinks at old fashioned stands that dot the roads. Here – Lemonade for a Cause, Block Island

Block Island Stone Walls

Block Island Stone Walls

Coveted House on a Block Island Pond

Coveted House on a Block Island Pond

Fresh Pond, Block Island

Fresh Water rendered Block Island attractive to Native Americans and First European Settlers in 1661

Mary Perry, Age 170

John Perry Gravestone at Indian Cemetery across from Fresh Pond. Note that wife, Mary does not have a death date, making her a hearty 170 years old this year.

Stone Wall House

Stone Wall Shack, Block Island

Honor System Farm Stand

Honor System Farm Stand, Block Island

Bethany's Diner at Block Island Airport

Bethany’s Diner at Block Island Airport

Block Island Sunset

Sunset over Great Salt Pond, New Harbor, Block Island

WALK: 8-mile round trip back and forth from Old Harbor to the North Lighthouse. Begin in town on Corn Neck Road, which shoots north for 4 miles to the northern tip of Block Island. You’ll keep a series of beaches, collectively known as Crescent Beach, on your right and will encounter an access-way boardwalk to Great Salt Pond on your left. Take it for unparalleled views of boats at moorings and salt marsh. A few miles up Corn Neck Rd, you’ll find The Labyrinth, a  meditative stone pathway. Stop for a few pensive minutes, then continue on to the North Lighthouse – a ¾ mile walk on a pebble-strewn beach. It’s like being inside an Andrew Wyeth Painting. On your way back to town, you can choose the Clayhead Trail, which runs along the ridge of the Clayhead cliffs on the north part of the island. Truly stunning.

Crescent Beach Access Block Island

One of the many sandy routes to Crescent Beach on Block Island

Block Island Home

Block Island House

Failed Enterprise, Block Island

Fresh Out, Free Lemonade Stand, Block Island

Modes of Transport, Block Island

Bike and Moped on Block Island road

Boardwalk from Corn Neck Road to Great Salt Pond

Boardwalk from Corn Neck Road to Great Salt Pond, Block Island

Sacred Labyrinth, Block Island

Sacred Labyrinth off Corn Neck Road, Block Island

North Lighthouse Block Island

It’s a 3/4 mile walk from the terminus of Corn Neck Rd. to North Lighthouse on a pebbly beach, Block Island

WALK: The Greenway. Inspired by the Greenway trails of England, the Block Island Greenway includes 15 miles of cleared trails, winding through the southern half of the island. Nathan Mott Park, the Enchanted Forest, Turnip Farm, and Rodman’s Hollow can all be accessed via the Greenway trail system. Access points can be found on Lakeside Drive, and along Old Mill, Cooneymus, West Side and Beacon Hill roads. Look for granite Greenway markers, turnstyles and steps over stone walls.

Greenway Entrance

One of the many marked entrances to The Greenway, Block Island

Beacon Hollow Animal Rescue Farm

Animal rescuer, “Doc” Willis, at his farm, Beacon Hollow – just off the Greenway on Beacon Hill Rd., Block Island

Pull out on Beacon Hill at Beacon Hollow Farm – an animal rescue sanctuary owned by retired doctor, John Willis. Say hi to the horses, donkeys and goats that “Doc” Willis has saved, but try to stay away from the black goat, Piggy, who’s prone to butting visitors with her sharp horns. The red barn is one of Block Island’s most photographed buildings.

Beacon Hollow Farm

Animal Sanctuary, Beacon Hollow Farm, Block Island

Best Restaurants on Block Island RI

Paynes Killer Donuts, Block Island

Move over Krispy Kreme! Payne’s Donuts on Block Island takes the cake.

BREAKFAST/SNACK: Payne’s “Killer” Donuts. These small, warm, crunchy outside soft inside granulated sugar encrusted beauties are worth blowing any diet for. Move over, Krispy Kreme, Payne’s is here.

Topside Cafe on top of Poor People's Pub, Block Island

Topside Cafe on top of Poor People’s Pub, Block Island

BREAKFAST/LUNCH: Topside Café (on top of Poor People’s Pub) for great and healthy Acai Bowls and fresh, fresh Hawaiian style Poke fish.

Aldo's Delivery Boat

Aldo’s Pastry’s delivery boat, Block Island

BREAKFAST: Aldo’s Bakery. Aldo’s Old Harbor location is a long-standing BI tradition, and even those who arrive by boat thrill to the Aldo’s delivery launch, which makes its way around the moorings in New Harbor/Great Salt Pond every morning in season bearing fresh-baked goods.

Poor People's Pub

Poor People’s Pub, Block Island

LUNCH/DINNER: Poor People’s Pub. On the one hand, it’s got Junk Fries, smothered sandwiches and the specialty crazy-good Chili Mac and Cheese ($13). On the other, Veggie Burgers. You decide.

Rebecca's on Block Island

Rebecca’s on Block Island

LUNCH/DINNER. Rebecca’s. It’s just a shack in town, but has earned its chops by going beyond the typical fried clam fare and into “Hummus With Veggies” to suit a variety of eaters.

Beachead Restaurant

Beachead Restaurant overlooking Crescent Beach, Block Island

LUNCH/DINNER: The Beachead – the only restaurant with Crescent Beach at its front door. A perfect stop before and after your North Lighthouse trek.

Dead Eye Dicks

Dead Eye Dicks, Block Island

LUNCH/DINNER: Dead Eye Dicks. Another BI mainstay – this one in New Harbor overlooking Great Salt Pond.

The Oar, Block Island

The Oar in New Harbor at the Block Island Boat Basin

LUNCH/DINNER The Oar. Open on all sides – essentially a covered deck, the Oar has some surprisingly inventive and pulled-from-ground fresh cuisine. A favorite of boaters, it’s right in the Block Island Boat Basin Marina.

Eli's Fresh Tomato Tart, Block Island

Eli’s Fresh Tomato Tart, Block Island

DINNER: Eli’s. Intimate, innovative, sophisticated and “resort casual” – Eli’s is a hot ticket on summer nights, so make reservations far in advance.

Winfields Restaurant Block Island

Winfields Restaurant Block Island

DINNER: Winfield’s. A Ye-Olde Tavern style fine dining meat, potatoes and fish spot always a hit with tourists and summer residents.

Yellow Kittens

Yellow Kittens Tavern, Block Island

DRINKS: Yellow Kittens – if only for the name. Spring House porch for sweeping ocean views. Surf Hotel back deck for Crescent Beach sunsets.

Where to Stay on Block Island RI

Old Harbor, Block Island

National Hotel and Old Harbor section of Block Island from ferry landing

In season, the nicest hotel, inn and B&B rooms can start at $500 per night, even for small ones. Old-fashioned breezy shore, no a/c hotels with squeaky beds and shared baths are around $200 per night in season. Consider coming in early May or in September after Labor Day for the best rates and, in the view of many islanders, for the best weather.

RENT A HOUSE: You can find a range of prices through VRBO. If you don’t have a car, best to find a place a block or two from Old Harbor.

Spring House Hotel, Block Island

Spring House Hotel, Block Island

STAY: There are a few dozen places to stay ranging from the charming Blue Dory Inn and Victorian-era National Hotel in town, the shore-fancy Hotel Manisses and 1661 Inn on Spring St. and the venerable Spring House Hotel, with arguably the best view on the island.

See Newport RI Like a Gilded Age Tycoon or America’s Cup Sailor

WHY GO: Newport RI has a flair for the dramatic. The town is both paean to the America’s Cup Yacht Race and the conspicuous consumer lifestyle of the Gilded Age, with lots of shopping thrown in. As the “Yachting Capital of the World,” Newport hosted the America’s Cup from 1930 until the 1980’s, and now welcomes the cutting edge of fast-yachts including the Mirabaud-Company-built trimaran, Spindrift 2, which is attempting to break a 24-hour cross-Atlantic record, and the radical, high performance design of the entrants in the 2014-2015 Volvo Ocean Race. It’s an exciting time to come to this former playground for filthy rich Victorians, and with great restaurants and luxe-cool places to bed down, Newport RI makes for a perfect posh getaway.

Things to Do in Newport RI

Restoring the Gilded Age yacht, The Coronet, at the International Yacht Restoration School in Newport RI

Restoring the Gilded Age yacht, The Coronet, at the International Yacht Restoration School in Newport RI

VISIT: International Yacht Restoration School (IYRS). Watch future wooden-boat restorers at work, then pop into the back where you can see the Gilded Age yacht, Coronet, in the process of being restored.  On dry dock within an enclosed structure, you can check out every inch of the ship up on a galley walkway – a thrill for anyone with a carpenter or boating bone in his or her body. Tuesday through Saturday, 12pm – 5pm, free.

Cliff Walk, Newport RI

Cliff Walk, Newport RI

STROLL: Cliff Walk. Take a bracing walk on the dramatic 3.5-mile Cliff Walk that provides unobstructed views of both the back lawns of incomprehensibly large Gilded Age “cottages” and the Atlantic Ocean. On summer weekends, you might encounter gridlock on the Walk, so it’s best to come early morning or off-season. Please note, portions of the Cliff Walk sustained damage from Hurricane Sandy and might still be blocked off.

TOUR: The Mansions; Blue Blood society is tough to penetrate, but you’ll get a good idea of what it was all about during the Downton Abby era by visiting these grandiose residences. Conceived as a summer playground for New Yorkers trying to outdo each other, Newport and these “cottages” along with the elaborately engineered rituals that accompanied them, were defined and run largely by women.   The double whammy of the Depression that began in 1929, and the Hurricane of 1938 demolished this unsustainable lifestyle. By the 1940’s these mansions were just too costly for individual families to run. The Preservation Society of Newport County now manages these monoliths and offers nicely produced audio tours of eleven historic properties.  The Newport Mansions Experience is, at $31.50 adults, $10 kids 6-17, the best deal, allowing you entrance to 5 historic homes. If you’ve never been to Newport, I recommend the following two as introduction:

The Breakers, Newport RI

The Breakers, Newport RI

The Breakers: Inspired by the Paris Opera House and New Renaissance Style, The Breakers is just one example of the outrageous splendor of the late 1800’s.  Built by Cornelius Vanderbilt strictly to entertain during 10 weeks of summer, the Breakers was the epitome of the lavish consumption decried by Mark Twain, who coined the not-meant-to-be-complimentary phrase, “Gilded Age”. You can launch a rocket in the Dining Room, with the Goddess Aura “Bringing in the Dawn” emblazoned on the ceiling 50 feet above.  Electric Baccarat Crystal chandeliers, walls of 24 carat-embossed leather and platinum, mosaics, marble slabs, over a dozen bathrooms; architects and interior designers wove old imagery of the classical world with new technology. Typical for these pleasure palaces, main floors were designed to impress “The 400” on the Social Register, but most bedrooms on the second floor were so simple and understated, they wouldn’t even pass muster on today’s TripAdvisor. Open daily 9-5, $19.50 adults, $6.50

Rosecliff, Newport RI

Rosecliff, Newport RI

Rosecliff: Before Robert Redford skulked the halls while filming The Great Gatsby, and Arnold and Jamie Lee Curtis were locked in an athletic tango for the movie True Lies, Nevada silver-mine heiress, Tessie Olrichs, hired Sanford White to build this excessive cliffside “cottage” specifically for entertaining. Adhering to the unwritten rule that to remain atop the Social Register one had to throw six dinner parties for 60 people or more in season, Olrichs spent seven million dollars (in today’s dollars) on entertaining every ten-week summer season in the French Renaissance ballroom at the center of the home. Men retired to smoke or play billiards away from what they must have considered frivolous drama. Besides the parties, society women were pressured to change clothing seven times a day – morning, sports, meals and even for cruising down mansion-lined Bellvue Ave. During the 1920’s Jazz Age, entertainment became less formal: when frequent guest, Cole Porter, wrote most of his hit musical, “Anything Goes” at Rosecliff, a ping-pong table had replaced the elaborately set tables in the ballroom. Like the rest of these preserved homes, Rosecliff was donated to the Preservation Society in 1971. Daily 10-5, $14.50, or purchase the “Breakers Plus” which allows a visit to both the Breakers and Rosecliff for $24.50 adults, $6.50 children 6-17.

International Tennis Hall of Fame, Newport RI

International Tennis Hall of Fame, Newport RI

TOUR: International Tennis Hall of Fame.  The first US National Men’s Tennis Championship was held right here in Newport in 1881, and now this former McKim, Mead and White designed Casino (not a gambling hall, but a Victorian-era Club), once used for horse-shows and garden parties, comprises the Tennis HOF. Plan on an hour or more to make your way through the well-conceived museum that is actually a lot larger than it looks. Read up on every tennis great from the 1850’s on, learn about the origins of the game and now this new “bouncing ball” changed everything. According to historians, Hollywood and the sport of Tennis grew up together. Charlie Chaplin imparted West Coast glitz to the game, and even now, you’ll find movie-stars in attendance at the US Open and Wimbledon.

Billie Jean King, International Tennis Hall of Fame, Newport RI

Billie Jean King, International Tennis Hall of Fame, Newport RI

If you thought that the competitive Williams sisters are unique, consider Lillian and Maud Watson, who competed against each other the first year that women were allowed to compete at Wimbledon in 1884.  The HOF gives women players their due, from the Watsons to Helen “Poker Face” Wills, who, between 1923 and 1938 “played like a man” and was significant enough to make the cover of Life Magazine in 1939. Even Billie Jean King gets to weigh in on her dainty pink rhinestone outfit, “girly” being de rigueur for women before tennis attire became badass. All the while, watch iconic games on videos throughout the museum, and then roam six acres of grounds. Stay to watch (or play) a game on grass or go up to the “Royal Court” observation galley to watch players bat a felted cork ball across the net. Open daily 9:30-5pm, $13, $16 with audio-tour. Half hour grass court time $80 for two players, one hour $120. 

Touro Synagogue, Newport RI

Touro Synagogue, Newport RI

VISIT: Touro Synagogue. America’s oldest synagogue, Touro was the impetus for George Washington’s famous letter “To the Hebrew Congregation at Newport.” After visiting in 1790, Washington wrote, “every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. For happily the Government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” Now a National Historic Site, The Touro Synagogue is both an operating House of Worship and Museum of Religious Liberty. Summer season, Sunday – Friday, Visitors Center:  9:30 – 4:30, Synagogue tours: 10:00 – 3:30, $12 adults. Consult website for operating times other times of the year.

DO: Walk the Wharfs. Fellow travel Mavens probably don’t want to spend too much time on Bannister’s and Bowen’s Wharves, which were once stomping grounds for America’s Cup crews, but are now clogged with patrons of J. Crew – and other chain and souvenir stores, with one exception.  Bowen’s is home to Newport Scrimshanders where Owner/Artist Brian J. Kiracofe has been carving scrimshaw on ancient ivory for over 25 years. Bannister’s Wharf is also the departure point for harbor tours (see Rum Runner below).

Rum Runner II, Newport RI

Rum Runner II, Newport RI

TOUR: Rum Runner II. Learn about “hooch” smuggling during Prohibition on the swift Rum Runner II, a newly restored 1929 Elco Motor yacht, aka a “bootlegger.” When the legal reach of Prohibition was moved from three to 12 miles offshore, boats like this were built for speed (originally three 500 HP Packard airplane engines, now two 350 turbo-charged) to outrun the law. Ninety-minute narrated historical tours of Narragansett Bay and Newport Harbor leave four times a day from Bannister’s Wharf. You’ll hear about the first officially appointed female lighthouse keeper, Ida Lewis, who served here in 1854.

Daisy's Dock from Great Gatsby, Newport RI

Daisy’s Dock from Great Gatsby, Newport RI

You’ll see the evidence of massive but fleeting Victorian-era and Roaring 20’s wealth gleaned from Worcestershire Sauce (of all things), railroads and banking lining the shoreline now gone museum or condo, and pass “Daisy’s Dock” from the Robert Redford version of The Great Gatsby. You’ll learn the history of Goat Island, where the Newport Hyatt now stands, which once housed a torpedo production facility that supplied over 60% of all the torpedoes used during WWII.

America's Cup Yacht of Old at Sail in Newport Harbor

America’s Cup Yacht of Old at Sail in Newport Harbor

If you’re lucky, you’ll see a fleet of former America’s Cup yachts at sail. Heritage, Columbia (the 1958 winner), American Eagle and several others are available for charter. There’s nothing more beautiful than seeing these graceful and elegant gals in the foreground of the Newport Bridge. Five departures a day from Bannister’s Wharf, $20 for narrated 75 minute tour, $30 for sunset Cocktail tour.

Newport Public Sailing Center at Fort Adams State Park, Newport RI

Newport Public Sailing Center at Fort Adams State Park, Newport RI

TOUR/SAIL:Fort Adams SP. Jutting out into Newport Harbor, Fort Adams was built in 1857 as a precautionary measure. Though it never saw battle, the fort is open for tours, and you’ll find other places of interest on this most picturesque of Newport promontories. It’s also the site of President Eisenhower’s Summer White House (now rented out for weddings) and the venerable Newport Jazz Festival (where Bob Dylan “went electric” in 1965, disappointing many fans). For those who know how to sail, rent a J-22 or Rhodes 19 for as little as $73 for 3 hours on a weekday (providing you pass a proficiency test) from the Public Sailing Center – a great way to get out on the water without the financial strain of boat ownership.

DO: Hyatt Regency Newport Spa Treatment. Book a 50 minute De-Aging Crème Fresh Body Wrap ($125) at the hotel’s Stillwater Spa which incorporates a Vichy Shower – a 10 shower-head contraption that swings over your treatment bed so you don’t have to move a muscle after being exfoliated and creamed back to youth.

Where to Eat in Newport RI

Onion Soup with Mix-Ins, Castle Hill Dining Room, Newport RI

Onion Soup with Mix-Ins, Castle Hill Dining Room, Newport RI

EAT: Castle Hill Dining Room. The setting is exquisite – a conservatory with floor to ceiling windows overlooking Narragansett Bay. At dusk, you’ll watch yachts sailing back to port as the blinking lights of two nearby lighthouses take over the dark.  Food is seasonal and on the experimental side for a hotel: and a joy to behold and eat. Vidalia Onion Soup, poured at the table into a shallow bowl of mix-ins, creates a textural, mouthwatering ensemble.  The popular Rabbit Confit rolled “en croute” – though more like a large spring-roll – is a gamey and toothsome alternative to the raved-about Lobster Poached in Butter. But I was impressed, both aesthetically and gastronomically, by the Salmon with Smoked Beets. Laid atop sautéed escarole, on a swath of fusia beet puree, it was an edible modernist painting; the fish and smoked beets – perfection. Nothing stuck me for dessert, so I chose Milk Chocolate ice-cream as default. It proved to be a diet-dangerous choice  – as luscious as a creamy, frozen melted Toblorone bar. I could have eaten a few pints of the stuff.

Muse Restaurant at Vanderbilt Grace Hotel, Newport RI

Muse Restaurant at Vanderbilt Grace Hotel, Newport RI

EAT: Newporters in the know recommend Tallulah on Thames for “Modern, Fresh, Local” cuisine, Muse by Jonathan Cartwright at the Vanderbilt Grace Hotel for the height of fine dining, and The Mooring – on Bannister’s Wharf for seafood.

 Where to Stay in Newport RI

The Lawn at Castle Hill Inn, Newport RI

The Lawn at Castle Hill Inn, Newport RI

STAY: Castle Hill Inn. Exclusive, highly luxurious, exceptional service, and three miles removed from the madness of town, the Inn sits on headlands, making it the perfect vantage point to watch boat traffic coming in and out of Newport Harbor. For more on this first-rate inn, read this Getaway Mavens review. Rooms and suites $400-$1250 depending on location, size and season include gourmet breakfast in the dining room.

STAY: The Attwater.  Just a five minute walk to downtown and eight-minute stroll to the beach, the Attwater is one of the latest in Newport Boutique hotels. Highly lacquered furniture and high-gloss hardwood floors lend a nautical element to each of eight breezy rooms and four suites, with color palettes in beachy sea-foams, whites, sands, golds and rusts. Beds are pillowtop, barn doors slide open to pea-sized retro black and white tile bathrooms, and each room features an I-Pad that acts as both a hotel directory and temporary perk for guests. Parking in downtown Newport can be a nightmare, but the Attwater has its own parking lot. And it’s free.  Rooms and suites $159-$609 depending on size and season.

Rose Island Lighthouse, Newport RI

Rose Island Lighthouse, Newport RI

STAY: Rose Island Lighthouse. Out in the middle of the harbor, you have to arrive by boat, make your bed every morning (it’s a museum), pack a cooler with food (no restaurant), share a pump-toilet and possibly do chores (if you sign up to be a Lighthouse Keeper for the night or week).  But, oh, the view. Rooms are $165 per night and include transportation to and from shore.

Castle Hill Inn, Newport RI

First Impressions of Castle Hill Inn

Three miles removed from the madness of downtown, the Castle Hill Inn sits on headlands overlooking Narragansett Bay, making it the perfect vantage point to watch boat traffic coming in and out of Newport Harbor. Built as a Marine Laboratory and summer home for Swiss-born copper-mining tycoon, Alexander Agassiz, whose studies formed the basis for the modern science of Marine Biology, Castle Hill Inn encompasses both Agassiz’s chalet-like house, his own lighthouse, and newly built beach cottages.

The inn is what I’d expect from a Relais and Chateaux property: exclusive, highly luxurious, exceptional service.  Plus, it’s the only Newport lodging with a private beach. Check in is casual and friendly, and as per the nature of an upscale compound where guest chambers are scattered all over the property, I was assigned a bellman to golf-cart me to my quarters.

Rooms, Suites and Cottages at Castle Hill Inn

View from a Beach House Suite at Castle Hill Inn, Newport RI

View from a Beach House Suite at Castle Hill Inn, Newport RI

Book a Cottage or Beach House and the sandy shore, complete with chaise lounges, umbrellas and beach service, is literally right off your balcony. Each room and suite in both the main house and beachside has its own personality: mostly of the elegant-country-shore house variety.

Beach House Suite, Castle Hill Inn, Newport RI

Beach House Suite, Castle Hill Inn, Newport RI

Suites in the weathered-shingled Beachhouses feature bleached hardwood walls, cathedral ceiling, small galley kitchen, large glass shower baths, and a sizeable deck overlooking “Grace Kelly Beach” – where the royal starlet used to escape to. And now you can, too. It’s perfect for those who want a bit of privacy.  Just be sure to get dressed before stepping onto the deck that connects to a row of other suites.

Dining at Castle Hill Inn

Salmon, Smoked Beets and Sautéed Escarole: Castle Hill Inn Dining Room, Newport RI

Salmon, Smoked Beets and Sautéed Escarole: Castle Hill Inn Dining Room, Newport RI

It was pouring when I was seated in the conservatory dining room, with stunning Narragansett Bay views to equal the food plated like Miro compositions. Despite the weather, the room was full of happy, satisfied patrons who raved about the Lobster Braised in Butter and Rabbit Confit “en croute.”  I went with the Salmon With Smoked Beats, which, just FYI, should remain on the locally sourced menu. Smoking, it turns out, is a fascinating and oddly delectable way to cure root vegetables. But the takeaway from the evening – and I WISH it was a takeaway – was my “default” dessert: Milk Chocolate Ice-Cream. Like hardened frozen custard, it was creamy, rich and as comforting as the best homemade chocolate pudding.

The Lawn, Castle Hill Inn, Newport RI

The Lawn, Castle Hill Inn, Newport RI

If it wasn’t raining, I would have opted to have dinner on “The Lawn.”  Peppered with white Adirondack Chairs, and overlooking the water, a good casual, small-plates meal and glass of wine will go a long way into the night, when the lighthouses start blinking like fireflies.

Things To Do At Castle Hill Inn

Private Beach off deck, Castle Hill Inn, Newport RI

Private Beach off deck, Castle Hill Inn, Newport RI

Enjoy the only private resort beach in Rhode Island. Outfitted with chaise lounges, umbrellas, towels and attentive staff, you need not leave resort grounds to work on your tan.

The Lighthouse at Castle Hill, Newport RI

The Lighthouse at Castle Hill, Newport RI

Take a small path to Castle Hill’s own 34 foot white saltshaker Lighthouse, built by original owner, Agassiz to protect ships coming around the bend. If you happen to be here at the start of the Great Bermuda Race, join 2,000 other people on the Yacht Club-like lawn to wave to the sailboats leaving the harbor.

Just the Facts about Castle Hill Inn

Rooms and suites from $400 to $1250 (depending on room and season) plus a $50 per day resort fee (per room) includes on-site activities, the beach, yoga classes, and a full cook-to-order breakfast featuring Lobster Hash and French Press coffee.

 

Bristol RI: The Most Patriotic Town In America With A Very Dark Past

WHY GO: Many small American towns may boast that they bleed Red, White and Blue, but the little coastal town of Bristol RI really does.  At least on its main street, where the center line isn’t white or double yellow, but striped in the colors of the American Flag. In 2015, Bristol celebrated its 230th Fourth of July Parade, an event, some residents say, that’s “better than Christmas.” But Bristol has a darker side, and a Hollywood side as well – and you’ll discover all facets of it on this perfect seaside Getaway where the residents are so nice, you just might feel compelled to move or at least get married here. By virtue of its stunning waterside mansions and gardens, little Bristol happens to be one of the country’s top wedding destinations.

Things to Do in Bristol RI

Mount-Hope-Property-Bristol-RI

VISIT: Mount Hope Farm. This land harks back to the Pilgrims, and so I’ll begin at Mount Hope Farm. As the summer camp and tribal meeting place of the same Native American tribe that greeted the Mayflower in Plymouth, it is likely that the first “American Thanksgiving Feast” was held on this property. A forest rock outcropping identified by a small stone monument was the “seat” where tribal meetings, led by Pokanoket leader Metacomet, better known as “King Philip,” were held (and also where Metacomet died during King Philip’s War in 1676). A hundred years later, in 1776, the British burned down most of Bristol, RI, but outlying farm homes, like the Governor Bradford House built in 1745 on Mount Hope property, were spared. The Haffenreffer family (of Brown University and beer fame) lived here from 1908 until the 1980’s and in fact, some artifacts on exhibit at Brown University’s Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology came from this very spot.

Lee Ann Freitas, owner, Indie Growers

Lee Ann Freitas, owner, Indie Growers

Even if you don’t appreciate American History, come to walk the 200 acres on paths that wind by sheep, hens and goats, around two ponds, along Narragansett Bay and through woodlands and fields. Or munch on a peppery flower inside Lee Ann Freitas’ greenhouse on Mount Hope property. Lee Ann is the sole owner of Indie Growers– which supplies the most colorful, healthful, fresh-grown chemical-free micro-greens to the best restaurants in New England. “I feel we should all eat pretty,” Freitas says. Access to Mount Hope Farm property is free.

Coggeshall Farm Living History Museum, Bristol RI

Coggeshall Farm Living History Museum, Bristol RI

TOUR: Coggeshall Farm and Living History Museum. Your experience at this stunningly set salt marsh farm is as immersive as it gets. On 48 acres, this little-known attraction, interpreted by educated costumed docents, preserves four things. One – the nondescript house, built around the 1780’s, one of the only surviving homes of its era and witness to a time when the average American lived in these humble circumstances. Two – rare Heritage Breeds, like Milking Devon cows (there are only 600 left in the world), and the Dominique Rooster: smart, self-sufficient breeds, capable of finding their own food and avoiding predators, that made sense in pre industrial farming. Three – an Heirloom Garden, with fast-disappearing varieties of plants where guests can source seeds.  And Four – exposure to the way of life of ordinary Americans at the end of the 18th Century.

Mary Corrigan, docent, holding heritage-breed rooster at Coggeshall Farm Living History Museum, Bristol RI

Mary Corrigan, docent, holding heritage-breed rooster at Coggeshall Farm Living History Museum, Bristol RI

Run into a volunteer working in the garden and you’ll be put to work as well. The program Breakfast In the Barnyard enables kids to milk cows by hand, then walk to the barn to make johnnycakes with the milk ($10 adults, $6 kids 9am Saturdays May-Nov).  And here’s an idea for a romantic foodie couple: cook from the first American cookbook, the 1796 Amelia Simmons Cookbook during a Hearth Cooking Workshop ($60 per person Sundays at 4-8pm). Eating the meal is up to you. Museum open Tues-Sun 10-4, $5, adults, $3 kids. 

Linden Place, Bristol RI

Linden Place, Bristol RI

VISIT: Linden Place. Now we move into the early 1800’s and Bristol’s shameful history. No visit would be complete without a self-guided (or special guided) tour of this home.

Living room at Linden Place, Bristol

Living room at Linden Place, Bristol RI

Owner of Cuban sugar plantations, slave ships and rum distillery, George DeWolf, the poster boy for despicable behavior in a long line of such DeWolf’s, flagrantly disregarded the 1808 Rhode Island law against human trafficking. He commissioned architect Russell Warren to build his Southern-style mansion in 1810 borrowing Madoff amounts of money from most of his neighbors.  In 1825, a sugar crop collapse led to DeWolf’s own financial collapse and that of all the townspeople who had invested in his nefarious endeavors. Furious, they swarmed George’s mansion (after he, his wife and six children absconded in the middle of a snowy winter’s night) and took everything that wasn’t nailed down – and in some cases, even those. The home passed to nephew William Henry, who, in true DeWolf form, abandoned his kids and wife, Sara. Forced to take in boarders, Sara converted rooms into apartments and the sunlit conservatory room into a barbershop.

Barrel from DeWolf Rum Distillery at DeWolf Tavern, Bristol RI

Barrel from DeWolf Rum Distillery at DeWolf Tavern, Bristol RI

After Sara died, Christopher Colt, brother of the inventor of the Colt 45, purchased the home. Unbeknownst to town residents who were still reeling over the DeWolf fiasco, Colt’s wife was none other than Theodora DeWolf, one of the six children smuggled out of town in 1825. She named the home Linden Place – to distance it from the DeWolf name. The Colts restored wealth to Bristol, and in turn, the townspeople returned most of the items taken from the home in 1825.

Ethel Barrymore's Room at Linden Place, Bristol RI

Ethel Barrymore’s Room at Linden Place, Bristol RI

Upstairs you’ll discover the Hollywood connection. Academy Award-winning Ethel Barrymore married Russell Colt, and they spent many summers and raised three children here. Most of the furniture in several rooms belonged to her. Their daughter, Ethel, Jr. lived at Linden place until 1977. (Several grandchildren are still alive and have visited. Great Grandniece Drew has yet to show up). And if the exterior of the house looks a bit familiar, it’s because Mia Farrow’s Daisy and Robert Redford’s Gatsby danced in the front yard in the 1974 version of The Great Gatsby. Linden Place open May – mid-Oct Tues-Sat 10-4. $8 adults, $5 kids over 6.

Herreshoff Marine Museum diorama and memorabilia, Bristol RI

Herreshoff Marine Museum diorama and memorabilia, Bristol RI

TOUR: Herreshoff Marine Museum and America’s Cup Hall of Fame. This unassuming museum is nirvana for anyone the least bit interested in competitive yachting and entrepreneurial boat building.  John Herreshoff, who lost his sight at age 15, was the financial brain (and apparently a scandalous womanizer according to an 1889 piece in the Gawker of the day, The Journal of Society), and his brother Nathanael the visionary of their ship-building company whose use of steel, copper and aluminum in boat design drew the attention of Henry Ford. In its heyday in the mid 1800’s to early 1900’s, Herreshoff employed 300 artisans, built eight victorious America’s Cup boats (from 1893-1934), six of which were designed by Nathanael.

Herreshoff Marine Museum and America's Cup Hall of Fame, Bristol RI

Herreshoff Marine Museum and America’s Cup Hall of Fame, Bristol RI

The sixty boat collection includes the believe-to-be “Oldest boat in Rhode Island” and the oldest catboat in the country – the 1860 Sprite built by ten year old Nathaniel, his brother John, and their father. You’ll also see a 1934 Class B Frostbite Dinghy in perfect shape that was stored until recently in a garage in Bartlesville, OK. A donation of the 60ft. Thania (once painted grey to serve as a submarine tender in Newport during WWII) established the museum in 1970.  All 535 Herreshoff boat design models are kept in a special climate controlled room – each one lovingly made by hand – some even from the hand of blind John Herreshoff himself, who “saw the shape of the boat in his mind.” Open late April – Christmas. Open 10-5 5 days a week in May and daily starting June, $12 adults, $5 students. Special events offer trips out on Herreshoff boats when available.

Alayne White Spa, Bristol RI

Alayne White Spa, Bristol RI

DO: Spa Treatment at Alayne White Spa. As I approached the door of this sweet little brightly colored town home turned Spa, a woman was just leaving.  “How are you?” I asked politely.  “I’m fine. Now,” she answered.  And that’s all you need to know about one of the best transformative “lifestyle experience” oasis in Rhode Island. Treatment rooms are royally appointed, with heated massage beds, low light, world-spa music, a small meditation room where you can ommm through headphones on a chaise lounge. Alayne has a wonderful sense of whimsy: toilet seats bear painted images of Wonder Woman, and treatments are aptly named. The two plus hour “Delicious” ($225) melds “The Best Facial You Will Ever Have” with the hot oil “Spassage” – a double whammy that has the effect of a week on a Caribbean beach. “Fine, now” indeed.

Prudence Island Ferry "Terminal" Bristol RI

Prudence Island Ferry “Terminal” Bristol RI

BIKE: Prudence Island. Bring your bike and take the back-in-time Prudence Island Ferry ($7.40 round trip plus $1.10 per bike) to the small residential island. It’s quiet, sleepy, right in the Bay, and perfect for peddling.

Harbor Bath and Body handmade soaps, Bristol RI

Harbor Bath and Body handmade soaps, Bristol RI

SHOP: Bristol brims with independently owned shops run by some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Lynn Shaw makes her own line of soaps, face tonics and lotions for her shop, Harbor Bath and Body, in scents like “Monkey Farts” and “Blueberry Muffin.” You’ll also find anything for beach (sand mats, cover-ups) and afterwards (p.j.’s, jewelry) in this bright, happy place.

The Knotty Dog, Bristol RI

The Knotty Dog, Bristol RI

The Knotty Dog refuses to jack up prices for tourists.  Yes, there are plenty of adorable dog gifts, but also rope jewelry, inspirational signs, tea towels and gorgeously handmade nautical cutting boards perfect for your friend’s Boat-warming party.

Blithewold Mansion and Gardens, Bristol RI

Blithewold Mansion and Gardens, Bristol RI

Best Places to Eat In Bristol RI

TAKE TEA: Blithewold Mansion, Gardens and Arboretum. Take tea on china in a Downtown-Abbey-worthy dining room inside a grand 1908 home, built with Van Wickle family Pennsylvania coal money, then adjourn for a tour. Augustus and Bessie Van Wickle raised their two spirited daughters, Marjorie (watercolorist, intrepid world traveler) and Augustine (more of a girly girl) on this stunning property known more for its gardens than for the mansion. As other estates on this shoreline avenue were left to children who sold them off to developers, Marjorie, at her death in 1976, left Blithewold to be enjoyed by the public in perpetuity.

Afternoon Tea at Blithewold, Bristol RI

Afternoon Tea at Blithewold, Bristol RI

The landscape was restored to its original design using photos from the home’s archives, and incorporates forests, groves, a working greenhouse, and sweeping views of the water. If you visit in April/May or December, plan to spend an hour murmering quietly over traditional afternoon tea. $32 adult, includes a fresh baked scone, cucumber sandwiches and other sweets and savories, and of course, an endless pot of tea, served by gracious volunteers. April, Dec. Tues-Fri. 1pm and 3pm sittings. Price of tea also includes entrance to house and gardens. Music at Sunset on Wednesdays in July, Aug. $7 per person. Home open Mid-April through Columbus Day, Tuesday through Saturday, 10 am to 4 pm, Sundays, 10 am to 4 pm and most Monday holidays. Grounds open year round daily 10-5, $11 adults, $3 kids.

Take an animal and wait for your order: Beehive Cafe, Bristol RI

Take an animal and wait for your order: Beehive Cafe, Bristol RI

EAT/BREAKFAST: Beehive Café. Chances are there will be a long line out the door anytime in the morning. But hang in there until you get your own identifying little plastic animal that lets waitstaff know who gets what order. Choices range from the “umm-granola” Butternut Squash Sandwich on Flaxseed Bread – to the downright decadent Bacon Brown Sugar Pancakes ($4 for one). Those naughty boys will put a crimp in your diet for sure, and will spoil your appetite for other pancakes in the process.

EAT/BREAKFAST: Sunset Café. This is the morning “Cheers.” It’s an old fashioned, linoleum on floor, cuppa coffee, everyone knows your name kind of place, with a twist. Owner Maria Lopes is Portuguese and so her menu includes a few traditional dishes made with house-cooked chourico – a Portuguese sausage she adds to omelets and scrambles. Sunset Café slings everything from breakfasts to burgers ($8.75) and is a hangout for local Roger Williams college kids.

Lobster Pot Restaurant, Signature Stuffed Baked Lobster, Bristol RI

Lobster Pot Restaurant, Signature Stuffed Baked Lobster, Bristol RI

EAT: The Lobster Pot. Opened in 1929, it’s nowhere near ritzy, but the Lobster Pot is a magnet for generations of families. Set right on the water, you can actually see lobster pots from your window table! A change of chef has brought a bit of finesse to the kitchen, but James Alexander has otherwise left most of the house favorites alone. Naturally, you can get the restaurant namesake boiled, broiled, grilled or “sautéed,” but the crowd-pleaser is Baked Stuffed Lobster: easy to eat, packed with light and airy breading, fresh scallops and chunks of lobster (market), it’s a perfect dish to accompany a stunning sunset over the harbor.

 Redlefsen’s Rotisserie & Grill, Bristol RI

Redlefsen’s Rotisserie & Grill, Bristol RI

EAT: Redlefsen’s Rotisserie & Grill. Known for its Calamari Schnitzel (pounded thin and tenderized) and Ultimate Grilled Cheese with Fig Puree on Sourdough ($11.95) , this is not your grandpa’s German cuisine.  As a matter of fact, Redlefsen’s calls its menu “Eclectic European With a Concentration on German Food” – particularly German beer on tap and all manner of Wursts and Schnitzels. Vivid stained glass windows and wall murals put you in mind of being on the inside of an elaborate beer stein. Actor Anthony Quinn had a house nearby and was a regular customer. Flight of 4 beers is a mere $5, but if you’ve got a sweet tooth, you might want to go straight to the Schofferhofer Grapefruit ($5.75), a red grapefruit and Heferweizen blend.

Smoked Salmon Naan Pizza at DeWolf Tavern, Bristol RI

Smoked Salmon Naan Pizza at DeWolf Tavern, Bristol RI

EAT: DeWolf Tavern: Set inside the 1818 warehouse where rum, distilled next door for the “Triangle Trade” was stored, DeWolf Tavern displays a semi-intact rum barrel in the lobby uncovered during renovations and worth a look even if you don’t eat here. Original stone walls are African granite taken from slave-ship ballast. Now, the chef/owner is Indian and his eclectic menu reflects that. Ask for one of the smoky-charred Naan Pizzas ($10): My favorite is the smoked salmon with sour cream and mustard oil. Or the subtle Seafood Chowder, a light rendition of salmon, clam, rock shrimp, potatoes and onions in a lobster stock.

EAT: I couldn’t possibly get to all of the recommended restaurants here, but these are the ones that came up often in conversation with locals. Roberto’s  – for great “piccata’s” and Bread Salad, Quito’s for fried clams and stuffed quahogs, Pomodoro for inexpensive Italian comfort food and Le Central for “nothing fancy” Steak Frites.

Great Places to Stay in Bristol RI

Sailor's Loft, Bristol Guest Suites, Bristol RI

Sailor’s Loft, Bristol Guest Suites, Bristol RI

STAY: Bristol Guest Suites. Three studio suits, my favorite is the Sailor’s Loft – a complete studio apartment above a detached garage. Right in town, it has views of both the harbor and Main Street, and is a study in nautical hardwood floors, muslin seating, fresh white bedding and galley kitchen. All suite are “self-catering” (read: go out for breakfast) and offer no daily housekeeping, but rates are amazing off-season and respectable in. $90/night Nov-March. $175/night April-Oct includes free parking and wi-fi.

Mount Hope B&B, Bristol RI

Mount Hope B&B, Bristol RI

STAY. Governor Bradford Inn at Mount Hope Farm.  A National Historic site, this non-profit (yes, you read correctly) inn on a 127 acre working farm set right on Narragansett Bay is a feel-good place to stay. Fine rooms with décor leftover from a recent design show feature eclectic traditional luxury. A hot gourmet breakfast might be stuffed French Toast, frittatas or omelets with mix-ins picked straight from the garden out back. $99-$275 per night depending on room and season includes hot gourmet breakfast, wi-fi, parking, run of grounds – plus, all profits go back into running the farm.

Providence, RI: Beehive of Creativity

WHY GO: Once called the “Beehive of Industry” Providence, RI fell hard during the Great Depression only to be hit even harder by a devastating 1938 Hurricane. Deep in decline by the 1970’s, city officials decided to take action, uncovering downtown rivers that were buried beneath roads and embracing a passionate artistic community spirit. It’s an ongoing renaissance in the first state of the union that supported religious tolerance, thanks to Roger Williams.  You can pay respects to this great man, explore the booming riverfront, see the original 1663 Rhode Island Charter signed by King Charles II, learn about the ghostly aspects of Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Campuses, shop funky, and eat splendidly in this eclectic College Town getaway.

Cindy Salvato discusses the finer points of balsamics and olive oils, Providence, RI

Things To Do In Providence RI

TOUR: Savor Federal Hill with Cindy Salvato. Federal Hill – the Little Italy of Providence, has always been an immigrant neighborhood. On this three-hour gut-busting walking tour, enjoy Antipasto plates, ravioli, breads, and sweets at Roma, Tony’s Colonial, Venda Ravioli, Venda Bar Pizzeria (the only Government of Italy DOP Certified Pizzeria in town) and other exceptional shops and restaurants on Federal Hill. Along the way, Salvato offers tutorials in selecting the best pasta, olive oil and cheese. You’ll end up inches from 15 ft deep 1920 gas-fired-ovens in the kitchen of Scialo (pronounced “shallow”) Brothers Bakery, now run by two Scialo Sisters, Carol and Lois. Watching the industrious bakers create delectable cakes and cookies from scratch is, alone, worth the price of the tour. Saturdays in season 9am-12, $50 pp.

 Captain Tom McGinn at the helm of his 28 ft. pontoon river boat, Providence, RI

TOUR: Captain Tom’s Providence River Boat Company. One of the most unique tours of Providence’s urban waterways is via 28-foot pontoon boat on the Providence River from Waterplace Park through the Hurricane Barrier into Providence Harbor. Captain Tom McGinn expounds on the history of the Providence waterfront, or lets you enjoy silently (your choice). It’s as close to Venice as you’re going to get in New England.  $20 per person. Select “Waterfire” tours, also $20, take you within arms reach of 80 river bonfires – a very special perspective. Contact online for reservations.

Gondolas in Providence RI

TOUR: La Gondola. An alternate, more romantic way to experience Providence-as-Venice is via your own Gondola. Depending on the package, your gondolier will sing to you as you nibble biscotti and sip Italian wines. From $79 to $169 per couple for 40 minutes. Turn of Century clad Ghost Tour guide, Providence, RI

TOUR: Providence Ghost Tours. Some of the stories on this entertaining nearly two hour walking tour are gross and creepy, but isn’t that part of the fun?  Beginning at the Roger Williams Statue in Prospect Terrace Park (offering spectacular city overviews at sunset), you’ll hear about the fate of Williams remains, and learn about the four categories of ghosts (FYI – Orbs, Apparitions, Poltergeists and Specters).  From there your guide weaves tales of dorm room hauntings, unexplained deaths and sightings with Providence history.  Find out why a horseshoe impression remains on the stairs of a former Revolutionary War hospital now a university dorm, and who promised to “arise from their graves and mingle” at 4:30pm each evening. 8pm in Summer, 7pm Sept-Nov. every night in season (check calendar), $15 pp.

Statue of Roger Williams overlooking city of Providence, RI

VISIT: Roger Williams Visitor Center. Roger Williams – born in London in 1603, and trained in the ministry – fled to Boston where he encouraged separation from the National Church. Cast out of Puritan Massachusetts for his beliefs (Williams founded The First Baptist Church in 1638), he was assisted by Native American tribes in the wilds of what is now Rhode Island, and established a settlement at the head of the Narragansett he called “Providence.” This was the first British colony that sanctioned freedom of conscience and religion, a philosophy that informed the basis for the First Amendment of the US Constitution over a hundred years later; “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” See a short movie, and then climb the hill to see his statue and a magnificent view of Providence. Open 9am-4:30pm daily except holidays.  Free.

Colorful mosaic and vibrantly painted dome interior, State House, Providence RI

VISIT: Original Rhode Island Charter at the State House. A climate controlled pocket museum within the State House tells the story of how this wilderness became a hotbed of religious freedom. Filled with artifacts and documents leading up to the establishment of Rhode Island as a colony, the piece de resistance is the original Rhode Island 1663 Charter signed by King Charles II himself. Don’t leave the State House without looking up towards the magnificent vibrantly hued dome. Encircling its interior base is a Latin inscription, dating from first century Rome that translates to “Rare felicity of the times when it is permitted to think what you like and say what you think.” State House open to the public weekdays 8:30-4:30, free.

Interior stacks of Providence Anthenaeum

VISIT: Providence Athenaeum. Edgar Allen Poe courted his ladylove Sara Helen Whitman among the stacks of this Greek Revival, member supported library. Built in 1838, and filled floor to ceiling with books rare and pulp, the Athenaeum is a city treasure. Take the self-guided “Raven Tour” (“follow the ravens”) to find stories about Poe, about the building itself and original handwritten cards in the still-functioning card catalog. Come on a Friday evening from 5-7pm for the free coffee-house style Salon Series that serves to amplify what’s happening in Providence. Check the website for speakers. Wine, sherry, nibbles and “brilliant conversation” are complimentary. Mon-Thurs 9am-7pm, Fri, Sat 9am-5pm. Open Sun. 1pm-5pm Sept-May, closed Sun. Jun-Aug, free.

Antiquities and classic art at RISD Art Museum, Providence, RI

VISIT: RISD Museum of Art. Though the college itself is known for forward-thinking design, the RISD art museum looks as far back as antiquity. You’ll find an Egyptian mummy lying by its sarcophagus, medieval cherub, landscape and religious oils, Greek urns all the way up to Matisse, Cézanne, Warhol, and Koons among 86,000 objects and artifacts. Open Tues – Sun 10am-5pm, $12 adults $3 kids.

Craftland, Providence RI

SHOP: Westminster St. which is experiencing quite the revival with trendy, local craft shops like Craftland, crammed with soaps, jewelry, t-shirts and knitted everything, and Homestyle (“artful objects for life and home”), which won Best of New England 2011.

Exterior shot of popular coffee house, Coffee Exchange in Providence's East End

What To Eat In Providence RI

RECHARGE: Coffee Exchange. In funky Fox Point, the Coffee Exchange hits all the buzz words – Fair Trade, Sustainable, Organic – rendering it the hot spot for very a diverse clientele.  Walk in any morning to find the dew of youth chatting with cane-wielding seniors, tattoos and pinstripes, all enjoying that first (or fifth) jolt of caffeine. A buzzing place for sure.

Wooden bowl heaped with chopped salad, Red Stripe, Providence, RI

EAT/Lunch: Red Stripe. If you love mussels (and even if you don’t), this neighborhood bistro popular with college kids and parents of same is your place. Known for  “Moules & Frits” you can get a plate of seasoned shellfish with a variety of seasonings for just $12. Don’t like mussels?  Try the “Everything But the Kitchen Sink” salad ($13); a wooden bowl brimming with chopped Romaine, pickled green beans and cauliflower, hearts of palm, feta, chickpeas, hard-boiled eggs and lots more.

Best starters at Los Andes Peruvian Restaurant, Providence, RI

EAT: Los Andes. Nondescript building and nowhere near the downtown scene, Los Andes needed one thing to get people in the door when it opened five years ago: great food.  Since then, it’s been packed every night of the week, won top honors by many review sites, and the talented owners, young brothers Omar and Cesin Curi, keep ‘em coming back. Why? Great food. Candlelit tables and informed, enthusiastic waitstaff dressed in white button down Oxford shirts and ties, Los Andes dishes up innovative Peruvian/Bolivian cuisine with Italian and Japanese influences. The signature Ceviche Martini, a humongous martini glass packed with citrus-snappy calamari, mussels, shrimp and fish tidbits, is big enough for two and amazingly priced at $7.95. My favorite? The Envuelto Pollo – an ambrosial amalgamation of chicken breast, roasted red peppers, spinach, mushrooms, creamy cheese, rolled and coated in seasoned Ritz Crackers $13.95.

Interior of restaurant that doubles as antique shop, CAV; Providence, RI

EAT: CAV. An acronym for “Cocktails, Antiques, Victuals” – CAV, located in a factory building in the former jewelry district – is a delight for the eye and palate. Kiln rugs, crystal chandeliers, and carvings enhance the French-inspired innovative fare. Start with delicate Goat Cheese Croquettes with Balsamic Reduction ($5.25), and try one of the more intriguing dishes like Poulet aux Poires – pan-seared chicken breast with red pears in red wine and ginger pear sauce with Asian Chive Dumplings $25.95. Strange, but surprisingly lip-smacking.

Neighborhood riverside club, Hot Club, Providence, RI

DRINK: The Hot Club.  Contrary to what its name implies, this is not a “hot” club.  It’s name stems from the building that this extremely popular neighborhood joint hard by the Providence River occupies; the former Steam Room for surrounding factory buildings.  Providence home boys, The Farley Brothers, filmed parts of Something About Mary right on these weathered plank floors. Take a 30 minute Providence River Boat Tour from the Hot Club patio for just $10 – you can take your drinks! River tours Wednesdays and Fridays in season @ 6pm.

Interior of repurposed stables on Hunt Club property at Jacob Hill Farm B&B outside of Providence, RI

Where To Stay In Providence RI

STAY: Jacob Hill Farm Bed and Breakfast Inn. Once owned by Gilbert Grosvenor, first editor of National Geographic known as “the father of photojournalism” and his wife, the daughter of Alexander Graham Bell, the elite of the early 1900’s – Vanderbilt’s, Firestones among them– were invited out to Jacob’s Hill to ride horses and hunt fox. Just four miles from downtown Providence, but a world away, the Select Registry Jacob Hill Farm Bed and Breakfast Inn is a find. Bill and Elenora Rezek restored the 1723 main house, which retains its original cooking fireplace and features several modernized luxurious rooms, and remodeled the 75-horse stable used for the Jacob Hill Hunt Club in the early 1900’s into a second series of guestrooms – as well as the breakfast room, billiards room, ping pong room and reception area. Drive ten minutes into Providence for dinner (Elenora will give you directions to all great restaurants), although you may just yearn to lounge by the pool or play tennis on sultry afternoons. Antique-filled, eclectic rooms each have a particular charm; I love the Vanderbilt Suite – with comfy sleigh bed, French doors that open to a Jacuzzi marble bathroom, and sliding glass door onto a small deck overlooking the pool. Rooms and suites from $180-$460 include gourmet breakfast, cheese plate and glass of wine at arrival, cookies at bedtime, wi-fi and parking.

Four poster bed, high molded ceiling at Christopher Dodge House, Providence, RI

STAY: Christopher Dodge House. While the highway-side, unkempt neighborhood location might give one pause, this 1850’s brick home, completely restored in 2002, is a beautiful and quiet oasis of hospitality.  Stay in a “Prime” room facing away from I-95, and, on your torso-high four-poster bed, you could be at any lovely country B&B. Burnished original wide plank floors, 11 foot ceilings trimmed with elaborate moldings, fresh baked goods and drinks 24/7 and gourmet breakfast, it’s a nice and friendly alternative to larger hotels in town.  Rooms range from standard to luxury (Prime), with prices that reflect the difference.  Baths are not marble or granite luxurious, but clean and fine. While walking in the neighborhood during the day is ok, it’s probably safer to drive downtown at night.  Standard rooms are $129-$149, though the Mavens recommend the “Prime” rooms, $169-$189. All include free wi-fi, free parking, fresh-baked goods in the afternoon, and gourmet multicourse breakfast.

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