Newport, Rhode Island, August 26 – 29, 2018

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Coming into Newport Harbor is breathtaking!  We stayed at Newport Harbor Hotel and Marina, which is right in the center of the wharf area of town.  As a boater, we are noticing that the further north we get into New England, the higher the costs, and unfortunately too often, they come with lower quality facilities.  This was one of those places. Dockage with electricity was $4.50/ft, but the bath and laundry facilities were lacking. The hotel itself is nothing special and the only way to access the docks from the street (and visa versa) is through the hotel restrooms.  They do, however, have a lovely indoor saltwater pool. Nancy was happy for that!

Newport Harbor Hotel & Marina

The boat traffic in the harbor is fascinating.  Evidence of Newport’s sailing heritage is everywhere (note America’s Cup Avenue along the wharf!), and mega-yachts abound! The wharf area is filled with restaurants, bars and all kinds of shops.  We arrived on a Sunday, so it was bustling!

Since it’s been years since we have been in Newport, we really wanted to explore, so we rented a car during our visit.  It’s worth doing, as it gives you the freedom to explore the area, particularly the beautiful coast. When we got to Enterprise (Best rental car company ever! They come to pick you up, drop you back off, and they’re all are super friendly!), we were asked if we wanted a VW Beetle Convertible.  Ummm…for those of you who have known us for a long time know that our first car was a red VW Bug.  It’s the car that we drove across the country when we were first married and moving to San Diego (that’s a story for another day!).  So, we excitedly said “YES!”.  It was a spectacular, sunny day, and we had a blast riding around with the top down.

Best rental car EVER!! ❤️

When you come to Newport by water, the incredible coastline is unsurpassed (just watch out for fields of lobster traps!). However, this coast is just as spectacular by land.  Taking a drive along Ocean Avenue is a must.  The rocky shore, the beautiful beaches and coves, gorgeous homes, the kites flying in the wind, and oh, the Dell’s Truck!! Dell’s is a delicious, decadent frozen lemonade treat.  It was incredibly hot and humid when we were there, so Dell’s was really yummy and refreshing!

When you drive Ocean Avenue you must make a stop at Castle Hill Inn.  You will see it on the hill as you enter the harbor, and it’s worth the drive to see the view of the harbor from the Inn.  Castle Hill was a gracious, shingle-style house commissioned in 1874 by marine biologist and naturalist Alexander Agassiz of Harvard University. Today’s inn was his original summer home, where he kept his eye on the ocean and the sea life. He filled his house with the best of Chinese and Japanese art and furnishings, especially bronzes and porcelain, many of which are still present in the house. Today, it’s a lovely Inn and restaurant, with commanding views of the harbor.

The Preservation Society of Newport County manages and maintains nine of the famed Newport Mansions, and a unique garden that’s a short drive outside of Newport in Portsmouth, Rhode Island: Green Animals.  We have been to Green Animals, but it was many years ago, so we wanted to see it again.  I think you can see why!

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Green Animals was the summer cottage of Thomas Braydon, a Treasurer of the nearby Union Cotton Manufacturing Company, who purchased the property in 1872.  The Victorian house, dating from 1859, is nestled on seven acres overlooking Narragansett Bay.

The gardens were the work of Mr. Brayton’s gardner, Joesph Carreiro, who was the superintendent of the property for forty years.  Assisted by his son-in-law, George Mendonca, they began the first topiary in the property greenhouses in 1912.  Today, the estate showcases 80 sculptured trees and shrubs, 35 formal gardens, including herbs and vegetables, rose and grape arbors, and numerous fruit trees.  Beautiful Dahlia blooms have graced the gardens for over a century.  Today, they flourish thanks to a generous annual donation of Dahlia tubers from the Rhode Island Dahlia Society.  They’re at their height in late summer, with a riot of color and various types of plants.  We were thrilled to see them!

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When we explore new places, that includes checking out favorite local spots to eat.  We had read about Flo’s Clam Shack, a Newport tradition, just across the bridge that runs along Second Beach. It’s known for it’s chowder, but unfortunately it was disappointing. Overall, food wasn’t all that great, but it’s kind of kitchy and fun, with seating on two levels.  Be aware that parking is an adventure!

The mansions of Newport, Rhode Island, are all spectacular, but Cornelius Vanderbilt’s The Breakers, is the crown jewel. The Breakers sits on 13 acres overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.  This Italian Renaissance Palazzo style mansion, designed by architect Richard Harris Hunt, was built between 1892 – 95 (can you imagine?) to be the Vanderbilt’s “summer cottage”.  The 70 room “house” was inspired by 16th century palaces of Genoa and Turin.  This was a pet project for Cornelius, and in the words of his daughter, he never did anything small.  Clearly!

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We took the self-guided audio tour, available online as a free app, and it’s worth listening to, as it offers detailed personal accounts of family members, guests and servants. One of our favorite stories from the tour is about the magnificent grand staircase.  The Vanderbilts entertained quite a bit at The Breakers, and it was a tradition at the end of an evening, when the group was smaller and more intimate, for the guests to slide down the stairs on trays from the kitchen!  Can you imagine the shrieks of delight echoing off the marble walls of this vast room? 

The Great Hall rises 45 feet, with the second story of the house overlooking the room on three sides. On the other side? Floor to ceiling windows and porticos that provide beautiful ocean views on both levels.

The Breakers has  been owned by the Preservation Society of Newport County since 1972, when the family sold it to them for $365,000, after having leased it to The Society for $1.00 a year since 1948. When the family sold it to the Society, it was agreed that the family would still have access to the house.  Cornelius Vanderbilt’s great-granchildren still use the third floor of the house during the summer months.  In 1994, The Breakers was named a National Historic Landmark.

Living in High Style

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Oh, honey, you have a call…

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May I please cook a meal in this kitchen?

The mosaics, murals, stained glass, carvings, detailed lighting fixtures and so much more!

As you can imagine, there are a TON of seafood restaurants in Newport.  After consulting with both travel web reviews on Trip Advisor,Yelp!, a few travel blogs and asking other travelers, we decided to abandon seafood in favor of Mexican food for dinner.  Diego’s is nestled in the wharf buildings less than 5 minutes from the marina.  It has a lovely outdoor seating area, where we enjoyed a fabulous meal.  This is NOT your typical Mexican restaurant!  Everything is fresh and innovative, and we enjoyed it with delicious Margaritas.

We can highly recommend Diego’s Original Nachos, which come on a baking sheet. Need I say more?  They’re plentiful, delicious and absolutely original!

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Our “Captain Puppy” neighbor napping at the next table at Diego’s

And yes, the ice cream man was happy in Newport!

We’re from New Jersey, and have been to beautiful Duke Farms in Hillsborough, NJ, before the house was torn down. The grounds of the Duke Estate in New Jersey are amazing.  The family has a rich history of landscaping, and it’s on full display at Duke Farms in NJ and Rough Point in RI.  Both estates demonstrate that their daughter Doris continued the families interests when she maintained the properties throughout her lifetime.

Doris Duke, the infamous “richest girl in the world” after her parents death, was the only child of James Buchanan Duke and Nanaline Holt Inman.  Their fortune came from American Tobacco and Duke Energy (check out the water systems on the NJ Duke Estate on line…too involved to explain, but they’re incredibly fascinating!) It has nine manmade lakes, over 18 miles of roads, over 45 buildings and a landscape devoted to wildlife preservation.

So, the Dukes bought a home from the Vanderbilts in Newport as a summer escape.  It sits on one of the most amazing pieces of real estate we’ve ever seen, both from the water and by land.

Rough Point is very different from most of the other Newport mansions.  Yes, it’s spectacular and extravagant, but it’s also remarkably casual and comfortable inside. Doris Duke loved her dogs, and also had pet camels.  The dogs broke several Ming vases (which Doris meticulously glued back together), and she had a window installed in her porch at a level to make it easier to feed the camels. The furniture is well lived in, despite their splendid surroundings. And yes, there is evidence of the dogs!

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Camel window access, top of windows below the arches, and much loved couches from the doggies.

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Camel Topiary. Doris’ tribute to her beloved pets.
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Doris Duke clearly had a passion for gardening

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And home, sweet home…

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One of the repaired Ming Vases
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Well worn doggy loved sofa!

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Doris Duke on the right…the only portrait ever painted of her. She hated every minute of it, evidenced in her expression!

Doris had a thing for mother of pearl, and her bedroom was saturated with it!

Oh…forgot to mention the Renoir hanging on the wall opposite her bed.  Good morning! The painting is said to be one of the most valuable in the collection at Rough Point.

Newport is also home to the beautiful Salve Regina University..  The campus boasts numerous Newport mansions, but Ochre Court is their gem.  Go walk the campus and wander through Ochre Court. It’s spectacular!  

So, adieu, Newport.  We loved you, but we’re moving on…Cuttyhunk, MA, here we come!!

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