With its three rugged coastlines, maritime heritage and crisp New England weather, it’s no wonder that Gilded Age royalty like the Vanderbilts, Astors and Wideners made Newport, R.I., their summer playground. Newport might be best known for the palatial “cottages” these families built here, but the town has plenty to recommend it besides the splendor of Belleview Avenue.
For a hint of that bygone era, stay at The Chanler at Cliff Walk: A mansion built by a branch of the Astor family in the 1860s, The Chanler presides over a lawn and gardens with breathtaking ocean vistas. The Castle Hill Inn & Resort is another nineteenth-century Victorian stately residence, perched on a peninsula off Ocean Drive overlooking the Atlantic. It’s ideal for settling into an Adirondack chair, drink in hand, as the sun sets behind the Castle Hill Lighthouse and Newport Harbor.
The restaurants at the Chanler and the Castle Hill also happen to be among the best tables in town, but you can eschew the fancy surroundings and still eat well. Case in point: Flo’s Clam Shack in nearby Middletown has been serving “chowdah,” clam cakes and spicy stuffed quahogs since 1936.
Get oriented by strolling the Newport Cliff Walk, a 3.5-mile walkway bordering the shoreline that has been designated a National Recreation Trail, or set out on the schooner Adirondack II for a tour of Newport Harbor and Narragansett Bay.
Beachgoers have a choice of towel spots: Easton’s Beach—better known as First Beach—boasts a classic carousel, snack bar and cabanas; Sachuset (Second) Beach is a 1.25-mile stretch nearby. Third Beach is a quiet spot for kiting, kayaking and bird-watching, while Bailey’s Beach, though mostly private, is open to the public on its west end.
The Newport Jazz Festival, which runs over three days in August, has hosted artists such as Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and Miles Davis, while younger artists including Wynton Marsalis and Diana Krall made their major debuts here. The festival—America’s oldest—takes place at two of Newport’s historic landmarks: Fort Adams State Park and the International Tennis Hall of Fame. The Hall also hosts two significant events in early July: Top male players come directly from Wimbledon to compete for the Van Alen Cup, while select members of the tennis elite are inducted into the Hall of Fame.
And then there are the mansions. These “dilatory domiciles” (as the Social Register calls them) were constructed in a competitive building spree in the late 19th century by America’s most prominent families. Many are now open to the public, including the grandest of them all, The Breakers, built by Commodore Vanderbilt’s grandson, Cornelius Vanderbilt II, in 1885. Visit newportmansions.org for more information.
Newport’s appeal to so many is that it appeals to so many different tastes. The history, architecture, outdoor activity options, culture and more make it a destination city, and the first of Accent’s Around Town articles.