COVID-19 put a crimp in the travel plans of a lot of people, ourselves included, but after six months of sticking close to home, we basically couldn’t take it anymore. Originally we were scheduled to be on a cruise down the Rhine in September 2020, a trip that was going to start in Lucerne, Switzerland, for a couple of days. The river cruise was from Basel to Amstrerdam, with extra time tacked on the end. The pandemic put an end to that plan, of course, so welcome to Plan B.
Pat had hit upon the idea during the early days of the shutdown in the Northeast, when she read a story in the The New York Times about a new hotel being built on the waterfront in Newport called The Brenton. We’ve had a lot going on this year beyond the impact of the pandemic but one thing that Pat can focus on when she’s got an idea in her head is travel planning, and for whatever reason this hotel was appealing to her. Over time as it became clear that there would be no return to “normal” anytime soon, but as the worst of the pandemic eased in the Northeast during the summer, we began to think that there was indeed a way to safely break out of our lockdown. Visiting Newport, a bastion of the yachting elite (of which we are definitely not a member), began to become appealing. After many weeks of consideration we decided the risk to visiting was minimal with proper precautions.
The hotel was still under construction at the time of the article, and when we visited from September 13-16 some parts still were not finished, such as a planned rooftop deck. It would be an awesome spot for evening cocktails watching the sun go down over the boat-choked harbor, but it was not to be. In the photo montage at the top, the harbor view is from our hotel balcony, where Pat is sitting. We made it a point to go the week after the long Labor Day holiday, figuring the weather would still be good and the town less crowded. We were right on both counts, though on the Saturday and Sunday portion of our visit the town was still busy. However, the local government mandates mask usage in the area around the harbor, which is chockfull of restaurants and shops, and for the most part people were compliant. There were some exceptions, of course, but we were outside on the street and it was easy to properly socially distance. There was no MAGA-like shouting about how “oppressive” requiring masks are.
All of our dining experiences were “outside,” and we felt comfortable. I put that in quotes because our last two dinners were at older, established restaurants in the harbor area, Clarke Cook House and The Mooring. R.I. has allowed limited indoor dining for some time now. In those two cases we were under a fixed roof — one that covered a deck in the case of the Mooring and at Clark Cooke on the first floor of the restaurant — but in each case we were by an open window near the water with plenty of sea breeze. We would not sit in any area where that wasn’t the case. The photo above, as a matter of fact, was taken from our seat at Clark Cooke.
Our other two evening dining experiences, at Stoneacre Bistro and Nomi Park, were at outdoor tables on either a patio or a sidewalk. We also had breakfast outdoors in the working dock area at a place called Belle’s. There you could watch the massive yachts in drydock being refurbished. We also had lunch at the Inn at Castle Hill, which is one of those things you have to do when in the area. The place sits on a grassy knoll that runs down to the water and features rows of Adirondack chairs where you can sip a drink and watch the boats go by.
All of the food we ate was uniformly outstanding, including our first meal at Nomi Park. It is sort of out of the way, however, situated in a refurbished roadside motel. Pat had considered booking a room there because of an American Express promotion but thankfully the waterfront won out. Local people bought the property, and it was quite busy, but it wouldn’t have been our cup of tea. Having to drive into town each day would have been a disappointment, even if it were only a five or 10 minute trip. But the food was good and if you are staying at the property a plus. It would also be a good option for the locals.
As for activities, we did the standard tourist kind of stuff. We chartered a sailboat for a harbor tour, which was fun. The wind was a bit benign on the day we went out so the boat didn’t ever get up to a good clip, but such is weather. It was warm and pleasant. We also did the Cliff Walk in front of the famed Gilded Age summer “cottages” that run along the water. That would be the first Gilded Age during the Victorian Era, not the current one. Look closely at the sign commemorating the refurbishment of the path in the photo below and note the chairman.
The most famous of the cottages, of course, is The Breakers, built by the Vanderbilts. It was open for a self-guided tour which we did, masked and socially distant. Our masked selfie is from that tour. We also played our typical round of bad vacation golf (the only kind of golf we really play anymore) and visited a local winery. On the way home we stopped at a bird sanctuary. It was late-morning so there wasn’t much activity, but it had a lot of nice trails. But mostly we just relaxed and enjoyed the hotel and the harbor.
Various views from the area follow.