Enticing Newport

Wednesday, April 25, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

On the History Highway, Day 42

NEWPORT, Rhode Island—Though we didn't relish the idea of doing chores, we realized that we'd be in a pickle if we didn't get up off our buns and get some things done.  So we mustered the energy to catch up on some essential tasks today.  "Hot dog!" we exclaimed in unison mid-afternoon when we realized we had completed haircuts, prescription refills, laundry, car wash, and several other errands that would keep us rolling for the next few weeks.

Since more than six hours had muscled their way between our bellies and breakfast, we were on the prowl for some lunch.  Our reliable friend Yelp pointed us to Gold's Wood Fired Grill and Cafe in Middletown, less than two miles from our hotel.  My, oh, my, were those reviewers right!

The attentive server delivered a perfectly baked, lightly crisped polenta with grilled zucchini and chewy roasted portabella strips, all complimented by a rich, chunky marinara sauce and freshly grated Parmesan.   For me, this was, hands down, the best meal of this trip.  Ken's savory spinach and mushroom quiche was also a big hit, and we even had the opportunity to thank and praise the chef, when he walked into the dining room on a break between the lunch and dinner hours as we were leaving.

With its reputation as a summer resort and home to the not-so-modest "cottages" of the Vanderbilts and Astors, we had to check out more of Newport.  Founded in 1639 by a group of individuals whose religious beliefs had clashed with the leaders of nearby Portsmouth, Newport served as the state's first capital.

Early in the nineteenth century, southern plantation owners began to build elaborate vacation homes in Newport where they could come to escape the brutal summer heat of the South.  By mid-century, they were joined by wealthy Yankee merchants, who constructed even grander estates.  Of course, no Gilded Age industrialist could resist such a place, so by the turn of the 20th century, the nation's wealthiest families were spending their summers in Newport as well. Vanderbilts, Astors, Wideners—all had expansive estates in Newport.

Arguably the grandest of Newport's mansions is The Breakers, the 70,000 sq. ft. mansion built in 1895 by Cornelius Vanderbilt, older brother of George Vanderbilt, the owner of Asheville's much larger Biltmore House. 

The Breakers (photo from Wikimedia)
Today The Breakers and several other mansions are owned by the Newport Preservation Society, which has opened them to the public for tours.  Under the terms of various wills through the years, the current Cornelius Vanderbilt heirs are still permitted to vacation in the upper floors of The Breakers while tourists file through below.

While the super-rich had their seaside estates, the rest of Newport was offered Cliff Walk, a 3.5 mile recreational trail that runs between many of the largest mansions and the sea.  Some of the estate owners built tunnels through their property to ensure it still had shore access while complying with opening the coastal walkway to the public.

Cliff Walk tunnel
In addition to the appeal of a couple of letterboxes hidden along Cliff Walk, the trail offered stunning views, both seaward and inland.  Being here in the off-season, we have enjoyed the lack of crowds on the path, as well as in restaurants and shops.  As in many expensive resort towns, low season prices are quite reasonable also, leading us to contemplate a lengthier Newport stay in the future.

More Photos from Today

Security along Cliff Walk
Tunnel vision