Vanderbilt, Astor, Duke: In the Gilded Age, America’s wealthiest families could be found vacationing in Newport, their “summer cottages” rivaling anything you see in the modern-day Hamptons. Today, this Rhode Island resort town still attracts the well-heeled, but you don’t have to have deep pockets to enjoy its coastal charms — if, that is, you go in the off-season. Prices on even the poshest hotels are within reach, and there’s plenty to see and do — just be sure to book your stay by early May for the best rates. And if you’re planning to head there this month, the Newport Winter Festival (Feb. 17-26) offers 10 days of live music, food, beach polo and even a Princess Party for the kiddies at the castle-like 19th-century OceanCliff resort.
DO: You’ll feel like you’re in the Old Country on a tour of Newport’s magnificent Gilded Age mansions, which were designed by the leading architects of the day — including Stanford White and Richard Morris Hunt — and modeled after ornate European palazzos and palaces. Notable “summer cottages” include those of the Vanderbilts (The Breakers, Marble House) and Doris Duke (Rough Point), but there are others like The Elms that are just as grand, even if the family names are less familiar. The mansions’ operating schedules vary in the low season; consult the Preservation Society of Newport County for details. Rough Point tours begin in early April.
The Elms was built for coal baron Edward Julius Berwind. (photo: Daderot at Wikipedia)
A stroll along Newport’s rocky, rugged coastline is also a must. The famous Cliff Walk hugs 3.5 miles of shoreline, with historic homes to one side and the churning Atlantic Ocean on the other. In the off-season, you’ll be one of the few hardy souls on the path — in contrast to the crowds during summer — so go at your own pace; the entire walk takes about three hours.
EAT: Though some of Newport’s popular restaurants and bars are shuttered until spring, many stay open during the winter season—and naturally, you’ll have a far easier time scoring a table. One of the top spots in town is Fluke Wine, Bar & Kitchen (41 Bowen's Wharf; 401-849-7778), with inventive small plates and great harbor views from the third-floor cocktail bar. The cozy Brick Alley Pub & Restaurant (140 Thames St.; 401-849-6334) serves a stellar lobster roll; wash it down with one of 25 beers on tap. And you can’t find a more historic setting than The White Horse Tavern (26 Marlborough St.; 401-849-3600), billed as America’s oldest restaurant (it opened in 1673). Under its exposed wood beams, you can feast on local seafood and farm-to-table dishes; don’t miss the signature Rhode Island clam chowder, a clear broth brimming with fresh chopped clams.
The White Horse Tavern dates back to 1673. (photo: Swampyank at Wikipedia)
STAY: Accommodations in Newport range from historic hotels to cute B&Bs to boutique stays; for the best rates, book mid-week and look for discount packages on property websites. The Attwater is a chic boutique property with 17 contemporary nautical-themed rooms in the heart of the historic district; rates start at $149 per night (in low season) and suites feature gas fireplaces. If you fancy staying right on the ocean, the ritzy Chanler at Cliff Walk has rooms starting at $325 — not exactly inexpensive, but half of what you'd pay in high season.
The nautical-chic rooms at The Attwater. (photo: courtesy Lark Hotels)
Top photo, Cliff Walk, Giorgio Galeotti at Wikipedia