Newport still touched by America’s gilded age

Newport, Rhode Island brings visions of sailboats bobbing in water the colour of dark sapphires, bright skies, and polo-clad, sun-tanned preppies. However, winter is a great time to visit this coastal New England city – one of the historic summer playgrounds for America’s wealthiest families. In December, three historic mansions are dressed for Christmas and the public is invited to see how the other half once enjoyed the holidays.

The Breakers, The Elms, and Marble House are festooned with period decorations celebrating the season. A self-guided tour includes a headset delivering background about the house and its furnishings, as well as those who possessed such glamorous lifestyles. Cornelius Vanderbilt II built The Breakers as a 70-room summer “cottage.” Select the "family" version of the audio guide, and an engaging narrative is read in the first person, advising the listener of the daily habits and routine of the house and its inhabitants. For example, once we arrive in the children’s rooms, we hear how the kids of the ultra-rich, at one time, were required to make more outfits changes than Madonna during a concert at Wembley Stadium. First, they must dress for breakfast, before returning to dress for swimming, then returning again to dress for lunch, followed by naps, then dress for tennis or horseback riding in the afternoon, and return once more to dress for dinner before they dress for bed. I don’t know who’s more exhausted at the end of a day – the children or their nannies.

In Marble House, one sees that local garden clubs decorated each room for the prized blue ribbon. Alva Vanderbilt, another member of the dynasty, designed and decorated the house. The first woman of that set to divorce her husband and host "Votes for Women" rallies on the back lawn, good old Alva would have been delighted to see the local women filling her home with their arrangements – so long as they voted. The decorations stay up for a month, with several accompanying musical concerts and other events, so planning ahead is advised.

On the far east side of Aquidneck Island sits the 325-acre Norman Bird Sanctuary. Its multiple trails are open year round with two-hour guided walks every Sunday to view the feathered residents. Cliff Walk provides wonderful views of the ocean but is best avoided in bad weather. If one wants a bit of nature without the work, try Ocean Drive. You don't have to get out of your car (but you will want to) to see great views of the Atlantic Ocean. Still wanting a nature fix? Just off Ocean Drive, you’ll find Ballard Park. In February, the park will hosted its 12th annual Illuminated Garden. Thousands of lights were displayed on trees which spread over three acres of a quarry meadow. The Newport Skating Centre is a great back-up plan if the snow wreaks havoc on outdoor plans.

Winter Festival and Carnival

If you are interested in good food combined with good entertainment, one can attend the Winter Festival. This year's festival featured a chilli cook off and a concert by the Jimmy Buffet Tribute band. Newport also hosts a Winter Carnival that is a hoot. Catch their wife carrying contest, the cardboard race or the Yankee Luau. For another place for good food you can try a new twist on classic favourites at Christies which serves lobster and crab devilled eggs along with their fried oysters. Annie's serves only breakfast and lunch in a tiny restaurant decorated at Christmas time with hundreds of Christmas tree balls hanging from the ceiling. It takes them five hours to put them all up. The service is quick and friendly; the food delicious. Try their lobster bisque and you'll want to take some home with you. The Brick Alley Pub is practically a Newport institution where you can get a classic lobster roll year round. Another choice is spending an afternoon in front of a roaring fire with a hot toddy in The Chanler, a dramatic mansion hotel perched on the edge of a cliff. Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, it is one of the most historic hotels in New England.

Amy Hughes

Social Share

Related Posts

Where the hills and coast collide - Santa Barbara, California

Where the hills and coast collide - Santa Barbara, California

Just about 90 minutes north of Los Angeles, along Highway 101, the eclectic city of Santa Barbara stretches between the hills and the coast. Eclectic seems an apt description since the location has historically attracted the rich and famous, including Clark Gable, Barbra Streisand and other Hollywood legends. The real estate in Santa Barbara and …

Where the hills and coast collide – Santa Barbara, California Read More »

Walkable West Hollywood: A perfect start to a SoCal road trip

Walkable West Hollywood: A perfect start to a SoCal road trip

Those in the know call it WeHo, short for West Hollywood. Visitors may think this is simply the western part of Hollywood. In fact, though West Hollywood only makes up 1.9 square miles in size, it’s a city all its own. Population 36,000. Location - at the base of the Hollywood Hills, and adjacent to …

Walkable West Hollywood: A perfect start to a SoCal road trip Read More »

The Godfather of Grapes Premium

The Godfather of Grapes

With six Academy Awards to his name, Francis Ford Coppola has served up some of cinema’s greatest moments, now he’s helping today’s Oscar winners celebrate their night of nights. When the 2020 Academy Award winners tucked into their pre-Covid aware post-awards party fare back in March, they washed it down with Francis Ford Coppola wines …

The Godfather of Grapes Read More »

Gabriel Kreuther's fine Alsatian pedigree graces New York

Gabriel Kreuther's fine Alsatian pedigree graces New York

French chef Gabriel Kreuther must have beat a record for the fastest Michelin star awarded to a new restaurant. Kreuther opened his eponymous restaurant in Manhattan just three months before inspectors from Michelin paid a visit. Whilst Michelin stars are often an indication of overly formal dining, or arrogant staff, Kreuther’s well-placed mid-town restaurant defies …

Gabriel Kreuther’s fine Alsatian pedigree graces New York Read More »

Beyond Central Park

Beyond Central Park

Manhattan’s most famous green space, Central Park, sprawls through the center of Gotham City. But, edge a bit further out … and a 20-minute ride on Metro-North’s commuter train will take you to the New York Botanical Gardens(NYBG) in the Bronx. Welcome to 250 acres of tranquility – in New York City. It’s autumn, the …

Beyond Central Park Read More »

Yale University’s Center for British Art

Yale University’s Center for British Art

People say you get what you pay for. But that’s not always, strictly the case. At Yale University’s Center for British Art, it’s most definitely not the case. An hour and a half’s drive from New York City will deliver you to New Haven, home of the ivy-clad heart of America’s ivy league. In the …

Yale University’s Center for British Art Read More »