The Quieter Side of Newport

I won’t try to convince you that the best time to go to Newport is in the fall or winter. We loved to visit in the summer. We  moored in the harbor and would take a quick water taxi  directly into town. The price of mooring for the night was cheaper than the cost of parking a car for a few hours. It’s an exciting place to visit in the summer. All the restaurants are packed. The streets are crowded and there’s no available parking along the beach. Everyone from New York to Boston jams the highways to get there. But those are all the reasons that we really like to visit in the  fall and winter. No one waiting in line to take our table after we’ve eaten. My husband’s hand holds my hand as we walk along the waterfront. And there’s a seat at the bar at The Clarke Cooke House during happy hour. Some things can’t be beat.

People from the northeast of the United States or anyone the world over, who is into sailing will be familiar with Newport, Rhode Island. It’s one of the most protected harbors in the universe. That doesn’t mean much to most outside the boating community, but they can still appreciate what the resulting prominence and preserved architecture means.DSCN6089

American Indians settled in Newport around 1100 and then Brits subjected to religious persecuted in Boston, arrived in 1639. They formed the first secular democracy in the Western world. Religious freedom brought Quakers and Jews. Within one hundred years they transformed an Indian village into one of the five biggest ports in the US.

A walk around town and through the side streets will make you realize just how protected the buildings were from the ravages that mother nature bestowed on the rest of New England’s coastal communities.  Just about every house still stands. Buildings from the 1700’s demand top dollar. From the unadorned facades of the Quaker’s to the elaborate mansions that line the coast southeast of town, they provide a grand architectural tour of Newport’s growth.

There are few places that catered to the rich like Newport’s old rich did for their own. Stately wrought iron fences flank grand gated entrances and border rolling lawns that fall to the sea. From the 70 room Italian Renaissance- style palazzo called The Breakers to the Victorian style Chateau-sur-Mer their gates line Bellevue Avenue. A fall walking tour may be enough to quench your curiosity or if you love the sounds of waves crashing, try viewing the mansions from Cliff Walk, a lovely path overlooking Easton Bay. But, most people give in and spend a day touring at least one if not a few of the mansions the town’s known for.

But, don’t think you need a mansion to have a lovely front gate. You can install one along a hedge, or a rock wall or a plain picket fence. Whether in front of a grand home or just a fine home the point is to welcome with a special touch. And the homes of Newport welcome their guest the way we all want to be welcomed, with a little something extra.

I love walking downtown early in the day. Sidewalks barely allow two people to pass and even when single file passing can become difficult. When you come across a home’s entrance with their front staircase welcoming their guests directly from the street  then you may need to make a choice. Hope that the car coming down the narrow avenue is a small one and willing to share the road,  or you can stop and wait for traffic to pass. Narrow streets and sidewalks were one of the charms of life in the 1700’s.

After a nice walk through town, its time to explore the waterfront. The old buildings of Banister’s wharf offer great food and wonderful shops. Yes, some are touristy but why not. That’s who we are. Enjoy the view of the harbor, have an ice cream and of course, buy a T-shirt.

Upper and Lower Thames are our second choice to spend an afternoon. We head there on the second day or third day in town. The buildings aren’t as lovely. You aren’t right on the water. But you can smell salt air, get the occasional glimpse of blue water, and dine in great restaurants, too.

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