There is wealth. And then there is WEALTH. Newport, Rhode Island personifies the latter; in all caps.
Known for its ostentatious mansions of the Gilded age, Newport sits on the shores of picturesque Narragansett Bay. Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy both had their "summer White House" in this upscale, sea side town. The America's Cup has taken place here numerous times. The International Tennis Hall of Fame, with its lush grass playing surfaces and Victorian style buildings, can be found in town as well. The famed Newport International Boat show fills the harbor each fall.
They're not exactly catering to the stick and ball bleacher crowd in this town. Newport was the place to be when Palm Beach was still nothing more than a sand bar. The Gilded Age brought the nation's "whose who" of wealth and prosperity to this harbor in Rhode Island. Grand mansions, affectionately known as "summer cottages", such as the Breakers, the Elms, Marble House and and Rosecliff were built to accommodate America's new royalty. Many of these 19th century castle are currently open to the public.
One of the "summer cottages", Castle Hill, is the quintessential Newport inn. With sweeping water views, the inn is located on the cliffs of Narragansett Bay. The entire property is actually its own peninsula. Upon entering, the tree lined road graciously leads you to the main house. Commissioned in 1874, the home was built for Alexander Agassiz; a marine biologist and naturalist from Harvard. As you approach the grand home, there is a certain sense that everything about the property is absolutely first class. From the moment we left our car, the staff that greeted us were not only wonderfully friendly and courteous but thoroughly sincere in their demeanor. Admittedly, as a car enthusiast, I was impressed by the Mercedes GL service vehicles the property employed for guest services; nice touch. As we entered the reception area, we checked in at the desk that dually stated the charm of a New England bed & breakfast and the professionalism of a Relais & Chateaux property. The rich woodwork and meticulous appearance of guest reception had me anticipating our stay like a child anticipating a present. I simply could not wait to get to our room.
Newport, Rhode Island: Castle Hill Inn
For this particular stay, we chose Castle Hill's Harbor House rooms. While filming in the summer of 1956, Grace Kelly stayed at the property. She enjoyed the secluded shorefront in front of the Harbor House rooms so much, the staff actually built her a stair case so she could more easily exit the water's edge. The actress spent so much time by the water in this area of the property, it's been known as "Grace Kelly Beach" ever since.
As we stepped into the room, we were instantaneously captivated by the decor inside as well as the stunning view of the bay outside. With a mixture of traditional New England style and contemporary amenities, the room was simply perfect. It had all of the charm and elegance of the past's grand hotels and lodges yet all the stylishness and contemporary features of a downtown hotel. The gas fireplace certainly would keep you warm on a fall evening and the room's air conditioning will cool you down on those hot summer days. Of course, anyone who has spent any time in New England knows, you could use either of those items on any given day; often in the same day.
We worked our way toward the back of the guest room and exited onto the back porch. The view was not only breathtaking but entertaining as well. Ocean going vessels of all shapes and sizes sailed and motored past our line of sight. As a side note, Castle Hill even has its own Hinckley yacht that can be chartered for excursions in the bay. Just across the bay, the Newport Bridge is a magnificent view itself. It's the largest suspension bridge in all of New England. We took a few minutes to sit on the Adirondack chairs that were provided and simply relaxed before deciding to explore a bit. It was a view that could be enjoyed for hours if not forever, but we didn't have forever so we made our way across the lawn in front of our room and down to the shore known as Grace Kelly Beach. Secluded and private, it wasn't difficult to understand the starlit's fascination with this area of Castle Hill.
Upon making our way back up the stairs, we strolled across the lawn toward the property's light house. White Adirondack chairs were strewn across the grassy hill in front of the main house. The scene was something out of a postcard. The expression on my wife's face as she gazed out at the view across the bay reassured me that I had indeed made a splendid decision in planning this weekend away. As the sun set, our attention turned toward our dining reservations at Castle Hill's restaurant. As with our initial impressions of the staff at check in, the dining attendants were equally as hospitable. There was no pretentious attitude. Only gracious and prompt service. The dining area was a tasteful room with the bay windows wrapped around a curved exterior wall. Our table was next to windows, which continued to provide us with the stellar view we'd encountered throughout the property. We chose the Five Course Prix Fixe and enjoyed one of the most sumptuous meals I've ever had. The starting cocktails were perfection. Moving onto the Pan Seared Georges Bank Scallops, the visually stunning display of the food was as wondrous as the taste. The Grilled Filet of Hereford Beef was brilliant. Lastly, the Belgian Chocolate Soufflé was to die for.
After dinner, we headed back to our room in the Harbor House. The waves could be heard gently splashing onto the rocks of the shore just steps from our room. Our sleep was never interrupted that night. Only pleasant dreams flowed through our mind as our bodies rested softly on the inn's high end mattresses. In the morning, we woke to a gorgeous day with the sun glistening over the bay. Before checking out, we wanted to explore the rest of the property. However, first, we headed back to the dining room for breakfast. If the meal was anything like that of the previous evenings, our taste buds would surely start the day off right. Once again, the service was warm and friendly on a morning to match. We sat by a different set of windows this time and immensely enjoyed the view during the daylight hours. For breakfast, fresh squeezed orange juice to start, followed by eggs Benedict was the order of the day. Like our dinner the night before, we were not let down. With respect to taste and visual appeal, the breakfast could not have been any better.
After breakfast, we wandered the property. We meandered through the wedding pavilion and over to the marina where the Coast Guard has a few smaller vessels docked. Then, we took a walk down the long drive to the Beach Cottages. A sandy beach encompasses that end of the property provided boundless entertainment for those with families; or anyone who wants to feel the sand between their toes.
Alas, it was time to go. Reality beckoned and it was time to leave Newport. From the moment we arrived on the peninsula that held this gracious New England inn until we begrudgingly made our way home, everything about the experience of Castle Hill was flawless. Bravo!
Book a cottage, reserve a table, or plan your wedding at Castle Hill Inn! Visit their website at www.castlehillinn.com.
"Quite simply, the best spot in town." - The New York Times