Newport has a very special place in my heart. When I was a little, my parents would take me there for the weekend to celebrate my December birthday. We would walk along the cliffs to watch the waves spill over the rocks, eat my favorite meal of the year at Mamma Luisa, and marvel at Gilded Age mansions’ holiday decorations.
While Newport, a coastal New England town about 90 minutes’ drive from Boston and 3.5 hours’ drive from NYC, is most popular in the summer, I usually take my annual trip there during the colder months, in part out of nostalgia. A couple of weeks ago, I went down to Newport for the weekend to revisit my familiar haunts and discover new ones.
Rolan and I took a slow start to our Saturday morning, leaving Boston at noon, but we nonetheless reached Newport before 2 PM and enjoyed a quick cup of clam chowder. We then made our way over to The Elms, one of Newport’s many Gilded Age mansions open to the public.
The Elms was the summer “cottage” of the Berwind family, who made their fortune from coal, and its construction was completed in 1901. Modeled after a French chateau, its architecture, lavish rooms, and expansive gardens make it an unforgettable site. We strolled through the corridors of cyprus, wound through the labyrinthine sunken gardens, and snuck inside a colossal nest of trees to watch through the branches as a flock of geese landed on the lawn.
Our hands starting to freeze, we headed inside for a guided tour of the mansion (where photography is now allowed – score!). My favorite room is a plant-filled marble solarium whose floor-to-ceiling windows open onto the vast gardens.
Our tour completed, we ran to the Newport Hyatt (located on its own island!) to watch the blazing sunset before briefly resting and heading to dinner at my unshakeable favorite, Mamma Luisa. Mamma Luisa is perhaps the most romantic restaurant I have been to, and the food is divine. When Rolan noticed a woman at another table had received a rose, he asked our waiter (a professional harpsichord player!) where he could get a rose for me. The waiter gestured to the rose on our table and smiled: “I won’t tell anyone.”
The next day we explored a variety of places I discovered on Pinterest, and now that I’ve tried Pinterest travel planning, I don’t think I can ever go back. After about one hour of pinning and mapping out my favorite pins, I’d planned our whole trip and found some of my new favorite places in Newport, including colorful storefronts, a stunning inn and restaurant, and an enchanting (slightly hidden) lighthouse. Check out my Pinterest for some more inspiration!
We started our Sunday morning walking through the town center, popping into a British clothing store, buying some fudge and jerky, and snapping lots of pictures of the local architecture.
From there, we hopped back into our car to drive over to another part of the island for brunch at Castle Hill Inn. The drive was beyond scenic, featuring mansion after mansion, all very much still in use, unlike their Gilded Age counterparts. We even saw one mansion with a pasture of shetland ponies, cows, llamas, and a donkey!
When we crested the hill of the Castle Hill Inn property, I was in awe. The inn itself, gorgeous. The brush-covered rocks quickly dipping into ocean of the deepest blue, transcendent. The pictures really do not do it justice. On that very mild winter day, with a saturated sky and a bright sun, it was the most beautiful patch of ocean I had ever seen, enhanced by the joy of experiencing a new favorite hideaway for the first time.
The charmed nature of this weekend only continued over brunch. The Castle Hill Inn was exquisitely appointed, the crab cakes and endless sticky buns delicious, and the view incomparable.
The hostess more than honored our request for a table with a view, placing us at the rotunda table closest to the sea. We saw a steam ship and sailboat maneuver by, evoking old nautical paintings. With the view of the ocean, the sunlight streaming in, and my sticky bun in hand, I was totally and perfectly content and relaxed in a way I hadn’t been in a long time.
“What are you thinking about?”
“Nothing at all. I’m just happy.”
When we finished our meal, we went off in search of the Castle Hill Light I had seen on Pinterest. A little down the road from the hotel, we found a small sign directing us towards a wooded path, which we followed until we found the lighthouse, accessible by a staircase built onto the rocks.
When walking across the rocks, we noticed that a couple had ascended to the top of the lighthouse. Thinking, like everyone else walking by the water at the time, that the lighthouse must be open, we rushed back as quickly as we could without hurting ourselves. We found ourselves climbing spiral staircases and ladders along with ten other people to observe the world from such a vantage.
We learned from the locals among us that this lighthouse was definitely not supposed to be open. One woman assured us that, because she was in the Coast Guard, if we got caught we wouldn’t be in trouble. A man chimed in, “Oh yeah, I’m in the Coast Guard too! I’m going to call them to shut it back up once we’re done here!”
After we had checked “lighthouse” off our bucket lists, Rolan and I made it over to the Cliff Walk for one last look before heading back to Boston. We took the scenic route along Ocean Drive to Bellevue Avenue, or from the new mansions to the old, and it felt like we were traveling back in time through eras of luxury.
Having taken a final breath of ocean air at the bottom of Forty Steps, a staircase to the sea, we headed home to prepare for the week, rejuvenated by a full and magical 24 hours in Newport.