“I hope you don’t mind, but we’ve seated you facing Narragansett Bay” was the first of many remarks that a journalist of my, well, tax bracket, is not used to hearing, and would never protest. So I murmured that would be just fine, and, after arriving late on Friday just in time for the dining room’s last hour, sat down in the window-lined space that juts out from the main building, a turret-studded mansion built in 1875. The room was hushed and dim, the butter on my bread was cold and locally sourced, lights of the Newport Bridge were glimmering a few miles off, and a beam from the Beavertail Lighthouse across the bay was checking in every 15 seconds or so. I had come alone to this Relais & Châteaux property, but I was perfectly content.
Belly full, I retired to a beach house, one of 24 private beachfront residences on the property, a few hundred yards from the main house (which has its own set of nine rooms). Inside, a kitchen, bedroom, and living room were fused into one open, airy space, and the feel was, appropriately, New England by the sea: neutral-painted wood paneling; thick, white molding; and wooden furniture. I made the rounds—lit the gas fireplace, mentally inventoried the fridge’s contents, snacked on a plate of complimentary charcuterie, sniffed the milky-looking Farmaestheics toiletries, and stepped out onto the back porch to hear the waves crash on the private beach. But soon I quit the pleasantries—the bathroom tub was downright huge, and I’d been eyeing it since I’d walked in. I climbed in and switched on the jets.
The next morning, it became clear that night had masked the Inn’s true splendor. The beach houses are quaint, but the main house is regal, perched atop tall seaside cliffs on a manicured lawn sprinkled with Adirondack chairs. (Couples pay dearly to marry here.)
For the next day and a half, I saw Newport—there’s a beach town to explore, seaside mansions to see, seafood to try, and that’s all detailed below—but Castle Hill, with it’s Gilded Age charm and its majestic, cliff-side grandeur, is a destination in its own right.
Explore: Newport’s main attraction is, of course, its mansions. You can purchase a multi-mansion ticket for $31.50, pay per mansion, or see them for free from the Cliff Walk, a path that spans the southeastern side of the island. Newport is fairly bike-friendly, if only because it’s so small, and a great road to bike is Ocean Avenue, which runs the length of Newport’s southern coast. And, at some point, you’ll need to walk Thames Street, Newport’s main drag packed with shops and cafés and restaurants. But really, the “do’s” are endless, from water sports and sailing to golf and tennis. This fall, keep a lookout for local events and festivals, which include the Newport International Boat Show and Newport Mansions Wine & Food Festival.
Dine: Under the direction of Executive Chef Karsten Hart, everything I ordered at Castle Hill’s dining room blew me away with its artful mix of flavors and use of local and seasonal ingredients. Locals say you also “have to go” to Mission, a trendy burger and hot dog spot a few streets removed from Thames Street. It’s now my turn to tell you that you absolutely have to go here—the ground-in-house meat and the house-made seasoning and “Mission Sauce” made for one of the tastiest burgers I’ve had. Second, if you’re craving lobster and waterside dining, all you have to do at Aquidneck Lobster Bar is point to your pick from a tank of fresh catches and they’ll cook it for you right there. I ordered the hot lobster roll, which was a refreshing departure from the mayo-clad claws of most—simply butter-coated, freshly boiled lobster chunks in a bun.
Insider’s Tip: Take the Servant Life Tour at The Elms to see the other side of Gilded Age life. In some cases, staffs of more than 40 servants ran these mansions—see where they cooked, slept, bathed, etc.
Castle Hill Inn
590 Ocean Ave, Newport, RI (888) 466-1355; www.castlehillinn.com
Distance from White Plains: 3 hours Details: Accommodations are spread throughout the mansion and the beachfront harbor house, chalet, beach houses, and beach cottages. From September to mid-October, rates for the main inn start at $549/night (midweek) and $649/night (weekends). Cottages and beach houses from $699/night (midweek) and $799/night (weekend). Stay includes breakfast and afternoon tea.