In the lovely Historic Hill neighbourhood of Newport, Rhode Island, The Vanderbilt hotel is a handsome red-bricked Gilded Age mansion that recalls a bygone era of stately elegance. That said, the interiors are refreshingly modern, with bright white rooms and modern design touches. It’s a lovely retreat, with a wonderful spa, two beautiful pools, an impressive collection of illustrative art and beautiful views of Newport Harbour.
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability and, sometimes, a half-day charge. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £352.80 ($485), including tax at 13 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of $1.00 per room per night on check-out and an additional resort fee of $53.50 per room per night on check-out.
Rates are usually room-only; à la carte breakfast starts at $12. A $50.00 (plus tax) daily resort fee covers valet parking; use of the pools, spa and fitness centre; rooftop and restaurant access; and a nightly reception with sparkling wine and canapés.
Judy and Laurence Cutler of the National Museum of American Illustration have curated the American illustrative art collection – full of wistful watercolours and drawings – one of the most valuable in America.
At the hotel
Gym with steam showers, sauna, spa with treatment rooms, library of books and DVDs, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, DVD/CD player, minibar, coffeemaker, kitchenette with mini-fridge and microwave, Penhaligon's bath products.
Our favourite rooms
The airy Vanderbilt Suite has a fully equipped kitchen brimming with cocktail gadgets, cooking utensils and everything you could possibly need to whip up a feast. The dining table seats four, and there are sofas and chairs aplenty. Room 203 is our favourite of the Junior Deluxe Suites, with gleaming hardwoods and a high-ceilinged lounging space. Some rooms have bath tubs – request when booking.
There are two heated pools: a lap pool indoors, and a little plunge pool lined with deckchairs near the terrace outside.
A mini spyglass to scan the shoreline for coves to explore. Leave enough room in your bag for seashells and maybe a model yacht.
Under-10s stay free; beds for older children are $100 extra each per night. Free baby cots can be provided in the Junior Suite 46sq m and larger rooms. There’s no kids’ menu, but the chef will prepare special child-friendly dishes on request.
In cooler months, pick a table closest to the fire. When it’s warm opt for a terrace table near the pool.
Great Gatsby glam, pearls and drop-waist dresses and tailored suits for dinner; don’t forget sweaters and wraps for chilly evenings.
The log-fire-warmed dining room in Muse is sophisticated with a gorgeous grand piano. Chef Jonathan Cartwright has devised dishes such as saffron risotto with butternut squash and baked goats cheese, and medallions of local venison with roasted chestnuts and sweet potatoes. The casual Terrace Grill serves seasonal, simple fare.
Soundtracked by a live ivory-tickler or gentle jazz, the bar in Muse is a quiet spot to sip a cocktail – staff can shake up anything you can name.
Breakfast is 7.30am to 11am; lunch is 11.30am to 2pm; and dinner is served up 6pm to 10pm, after that there’s the minibar to crack into. Cocktails are shaken until 11pm on quiet nights and 1am on weekends.
Order from the Muse or Terrace Grill’s Americana menus between 7.30am and 10pm.
TF Green International Airport in Providence is about 50 minutes away. Take a taxi for US$80 or book a shuttle with Cozy Cab (+1 800 846 1502; www.cozytrans.com) for US$25 and then transfer from the shuttle stop to the hotel for US$5.
South Kingstown, 18 minutes away, is on Amtrak's East Coast route to Boston, New York, Washington and Richmond.
The Vanderbilt is downtown, minutes from the harbour. Parking at the hotel is US$18 a night. Avis have an outpost at the airport, book ahead for vehicle pick-up at the airport.
Worth getting out of bed for
Bellevue Avenue's vast 19th-century mansions and palaces are tour-worthy. The well-to-do residents used to diminutively refer to them as their summer ‘cottages'. Stroll the 3.5 mile Cliff Walk, a paved path that features the Atlantic on one side and historic homes on the other. The National Museum of American Illustration features works by masters such as NC Wyeth and Maxfield Parish.
Black Pearl (+1 401 846 5246), a storied tavern and local favourite on the water on Bannister’s Wharf, houses a collection of maritime memorabilia and serves creamy clam chowder. For more dressed-up dining, duck into the Commodore’s Room, for oysters. Just steps from Vanberbilt, the laid-back Brick Alley Pub & Restaurant(+1 401 849 6334) has an exhaustive menu of Mexican fare, seafood, steak, bar bites and cool cocktails. The large patio is perfect for warm-weather lounging. Sample the native lobster or beefy burgers at American bistro Clarke Cook House(+1 401 849 2900) on Bannister’s Wharf. The White Horse Tavern(+1 401 849 3600) founded by a 17th-century pirate, is one of America’s oldest watering holes. These days the menu is very fine indeed; gents don jackets for dinner.
Come early to Ocean Breeze Cafe (+1 401 846 5078) on Thames Street for breakfast treats and simple lunches. Chill out on the oversize couches and try the more than 60 types of loose-leaf tea at Empire Tea and Coffee (+1 401 619 1388). Indulge in fresh baked goodness at The Cookie Jar (+1 401 846 5078) in Bowens Wharf. It serves tea, coffee and hot chocolate, too.
Take a seat in the tiki lounge at bohemian Salvation Café (+1 401 847 2620). Start with a coconut mojito then move on to steak frites and truffle oil-infused mac-n-cheese.
‘Shall I take your bags and park your car, Mr Smith?’
‘Champagne as you check in, Mrs Smith?’
This Newport mini-manse, where Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt wooed his mistress, seduces us from first glance. Tucked quietly on a narrow cobblestone alley off Thames Street, the Vanderbilt is just a short stroll from the legendary Cliff Walk and the storied Gilded Age abodes where Newport’s most blue-blooded WASPs summered. We head in the other direction and find a parade of couples in khaki pants, boat shoes, and North Face vests (most with baby strollers, golden retrievers and foamy espresso drinks) watching ice-carving demonstrations and twirling around the ice rink. For these reviewers, it is the Winter Festival, after all.
Yet inside the Vanderbilt, a whisper of 1920s illicit romance hangs in the air. Lovely lasses flirt from framed paintings in a dignified, New England way. An extended leg here. A lustful glance there. The spattering of Rubenesque gals turning the proverbial other cheek is the only hint that something tawdry could transpire within these Rhode Island walls. In the centre of the demure fracas is one peacefully slobbering English bulldog.
Up in our suite, Mr Smith makes a beeline for the spa-style shower. Moments later, a serenade of ‘Heaven, I’m in heaven...’ drifts out with a cloud of Penhaligon’s-perfumed shower steam. I, meanwhile, dive into literature detailing the hotel’s history, then prepare for dinner.
The in-house restaurant, Muse, helmed by group chef de cuisine Jonathan Cartwright, is one of the hottest tickets in town. Our early-bird reservation means that we easily snag our choice table: a cosy two-top beside the crackling fireplace. The room is as traditional can be – think colonial-blue walls, a woman playing a selection from Phantom of the Opera on a baby grand piano, an intimate corner bar – yet, the room does have an inner vixen. Black chandeliers made from a delicate glass-plastic hybrid look like illuminated, fashion-forward tumbleweeds. Portraits of chanteuses past give come-hither looks from every corner.
‘Champagne to begin, Mrs Smith?’ I help myself to a flute as a parade of servers floats from kitchen to table offering irresistible morsels of freshly baked onion focaccia to begin our meal.
Muse offers a four-course tasting menu – with an optional wine pairing, of course – and enough additional treats along the way that Mr Smith estimates we’ve had four dinner courses and four desserts by the time we throw in our napkins. I could very well have a future as a Newport doyenne: my order of grapefruit-accented scallops and a fillet of halibut with lobster mirrors a nobly dressed gentlewoman nearby. Mr Smith’s salmon-stuffed ravioli are too dainty for his manly appetite, but the restaurant reclaims his affections with an entrée of a whole lobster over perfectly tender fettuccini. Our desserts – flourless chocolate cake for me, white chocolate soufflé for Mr Smith – are capped with a plate of truffles and a finale of chocolate-raspberry muffins.
Nearly sated, we retire to the Christy room, the Vanderbilt’s Beaux-Arts lounge, for a nightcap. The name Elise is emblazoned in gold over the fireplace. I enquire an explanation of the pinstriped butler passing through, and we learn that she was the mistress of Howard Chandler Christy, painter of all the portraits in the room. He directs our attention to a particularly fetching and preppy brunette in the corner. I giggle over the similarities. The literature in our room says Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt’s lady love was Ellen ‘Elsie’ French – but he famously stepped out on her with a buxom, married Cuban actress. Elsie caused uproar by filing for divorce – something not done in early 1900s Newport, though evidence suggests she too was a bit of minx. With visions of concubines in our heads, we retire to our suite where some gingered flower petals tempt from the bedside and a demure teddy-bear-wrapped hot water bottle has kindly warmed our king-size bed for our arrival.
The next morning we make our way to the conservatory for a robust buffet breakfast, and take a seat beneath The Flirt, a teasing little portrait by Edward Franklin Wittmack. ‘Champagne with your breakfast?’ Well, why not? Our most pressing plans for the afternoon include a couple’s massage in the downstairs spa and perhaps a game of snooker in the billiards room. We feast until we’re pleasant flushed, then head down to the spa.
But as soon as the elevator doors open, there’s a sobering splash-a-thon raging in the Vanderbilt’s indoor pool. A team of raucous tots has claimed this territory while their poor papa bobs in the deep end and one lone yellow rubber ducky stands sentry on the deck. Mr Smith and I sprint past into the sanctuary of the couple’s suite, where we cosy up by the fireplace for a game of tic-tac-toe on a teak-and-brass game board. And of course there are more bubbles.
An hour later we emerge completely smitten with the Vanderbilt in this neo-New England. We’ve been wined and dined, caressed and pampered to our best possible selves. ‘Shall I take your bags to the car, Mr Smith?’ asks Jeffrey, the friendly porter who has been attentive at every turn. ‘Maybe after one last splash of champagne,’ replies Mr Smith.