Springtime at the summer cottage. Marble House, built for Mr. and Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt. Photo: Christopher Kriz
The mention of Newport, Rhode Island, conjures up much of the romance of the Gilded Age. Mark Twain said, “Newport, Rhode Island, that breeding place — that stud farm, so to speak — of aristocracy; aristocracy of the American type.” Newport may have vestiges of that essence today as wealthy summer residents boost the summer population to about 100,000, up from the relatively small 26,000 year-round residents.
A little bubbly is de rigueur when attending soirees in Newport.
Newport has it all — natural beauty, historic charm, entertainment, lively restaurants and a vibrant community. There has been a renaissance of the Gilded Age in the last 10 years or so. The mansions are being bought once again, at record prices. Larry Ellison bought Beechwood, the Astor’s mansion in 2010 for just over $10 million. “Dodo” Hamilton, the Campbell Soup heiress sold her home, Wildacre, for $14 million in 2013. Dodo then built a new house adjacent to the Blue Garden, a garden originally conceived and created by Frederick Law Olmsted. The garden was in total dereliction and disrepair, and Hamilton has lovingly restored it. Hopedene, another grand estate, sold for $16 million in 2012.
Bustling Newport Harbor. Photo: Christopher Kriz
The elite hang out at Spouting Rock Beach Association, otherwise known as Bailey’s Beach, during the lazy days of summer. They play tennis, paddle board off the beach and chat over long lunches. The club becomes atwitter when someone is having a party at one of their dazzling estates, and the parties do not disappoint. Champagne flows, fresh delicacies are piled on buffet tables and the gossip is delicious.
Newport is not just for the 1%, all are welcome and invited to experience everything that Newport has to offer. There are so many things to see and do, it’s difficult to choose where to start.
Explore Newport’s hidden charms.
Pack a picnic and head out to Newport Polo. It’s just $12 to park for admission, and the people-watching is as good as the polo itself. This year, the polo season will culminate at the Bal du Soleil, the 16th annual International Polo Charity Ball, which will take place at Rosecliff on August 5. The theme this year was inspired by the French Riviera and is in honor of the French Polo Team. This event usually sells out, but anyone can buy a ticket. The proceeds from the ball this year will go to another item on the must-do list, newportFILM.
Take a plein air painting class at Sachuest Point Wildlife Refuge.
newportFILM is a not-for-profit documentary film series that screens films year round at spectacular locations across Newport, Middletown and Portsmouth. The films are always superb, and the settings are sometimes spectacular. The screening of the documentary Dior and I was held on the back lawn of Doris Duke’s former home, Rough Point. With a $5 suggested donation, it was an amazing night of entertainment. Live music was enjoyed before the film. Food vendors offered many delicious treats, and there was a cash bar. The highlight of the evening was the “chicest picnic contest,” where spectators set up fabulously fashionable picnics, all vying for the first prize of a $100 gift certificate to Stoneacre Pantry and a bottle of wine from Jonathan Edwards Winery. The film starts at sunset, your theater being the great outdoors during the summer months with the ocean waves crashing into the rocks at the edge of the property. Films are shown on Thursday nights.
After the parties and entertainment have tired you out, head over to Sweet Berry Farm in Middletown, just a short, 10 minute drive from Newport. You can pick your own strawberries in June and have breakfast or lunch there, all created with the farm’s fresh produce. Eat inside their dining room in bad weather or enjoy your food outside on the front porch or at one of the picnic tables placed around the main house when temperate or take a walk through the fields of flowers on some of the 100 acres of preserved farmland.
Wander through fields of sunflowers at Sweet Berry Farm in Middletown.
Heading back downtown to Newport for dinner, The Clarke Cooke House is downtown on Bannister’s Wharf, and the atmosphere is friendly and cozy. When a cold mist comes in off the ocean, sit by the fire and enjoy the tasty eats. A lively and always crowded venue, Cooke House is not to be missed. On Friday and Saturday nights, check out the DJ at the Candy Store downstairs or boogie till all hours in The Boom Boom Room. This is the place where elite sailors, billionaires and tourists rub elbows.
Harbour Court, New York Yacht Club. Photo: Christopher Kriz
White Horse Tavern is known as the oldest founding tavern in America, featuring amazing culinary choices created from local farms and waters. To see some of the amazing dishes that they create on a daily basis, follow them on Instagram at whitehorsetavern.
Church Bells ring at Trinity Church. Photo: Christopher Kriz
After a few days of entertainment and delicious food, for your sinful forgiveness, head to Trinity Church, where the church bells ring at 9:45 on Sunday mornings to summon people to the service. Or check out mass at St. Mary’s Church, where John F. Kennedy married Jacqueline Bouvier in 1953. After absolved, head over to Cliff Walk for a stroll along the rocky coastline. Cliff Walk was designated a National Recreation Trail in 1975 and hugs 3.5 miles of rocky coastline.
Sunset at Fort Adams State Park.
Finally, not to be missed is a sunset at Brenton Point State Park, where kites fly in the air and the sun sets over the water as boats glide by on the sparkling sea. Newport is a magical place and will cast its spell on all who venture there.