The thought of Newport, Rhode Island, in the summer conjures all kinds of timeless seaside images – sailboats, surfers, bathing beauties, and flip-flop-chic couture. A few of its iconic establishments have recently undergone face-lifts and are giving travelers a fresh reason to visit the city and nearby Watch Hill.
They say a business often takes on the personality of its owner. For proof, look at Vanderbilt Hall (www.vanderbilthall.com), whose new proprietor, English entrepreneur and philanthropist Peter de Savary, is infusing the 100-year-old mansion hotel with a whimsical and warm character. While the 33-room edifice still shows its historic roots, de Savary has hung up his personal collection of American illustration art (picture Gidget-esqe 1950s pinups) and created a British-style pub named after his longhaired chihuahua, Monty. Located just steps from the cobblestones of Thames Street, the hotel also offers superb service. What you get in the end feels something akin to a Jay Gatsby party meets buttoned-up Brideshead Revisited.
Forty 1° North
Newport’s nautical history is legendary, from Colonial traders and pirates to its naval ships, regattas, and yacht culture. Trafficking in this legacy is Forty 1° North (www.41no.com), once a members-only club and now Newport’s first LEED-certified hotel. Located on Perry Mill Wharf, the 24-room hotel couples waterfront views with a modern aesthetic that’s more Miami than New England. A centerpiece of the hotel is the slick marina with slips for yachts as long as 250 feet. Boaters and guests alike congregate at The Grill, Forty 1° North’s dockside restaurant, which specializes in prime cuts of beef and has an excellent raw seafood bar.
Forty miles south of Newport, the tony town of Watch Hill is home to one of the last grand Victorian hotels, Ocean House. Built in 1868, the 49-room estate reopened in May after a painstaking five-year restoration. A private beach lets guests imagine a time when summer was all about just watching the ocean roll up on the shore – though now with the option of cabana massages. Other offerings include beach bonfires, fishing excursions, drinks on the wraparound porch, and croquet aplenty.