It never hurts to dream, does it? To imagine what it would be like to live in the Gilded Age, along with the Astors and Vanderbilts? You can do that in Newport, Rhode Island, just 35 miles from Providence and easily accessible by car or public transportation. Even though you can’t afford to live in The Breakers, you can still walk among its marble halls and pretend. Later, you can wander around the charming waterfront village of Newport with all its shops and restaurants. All of this makes Newport perfect for a weekend getaway.
Newport is known worldwide for its Gilded Age mansions, often referred to as “summer cottages” in their day. They were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s as large and elegant as European palaces for the elite of the American super-rich. Today, through The Preservation Society of Newport County, you can visit nine of these amazing summer homes. General admission tickets have no expiration date and may be used at any time, so for a weekend in Newport, get the five-house ticket (currently $35), allowing you to see a couple of houses each day. The most famous of the houses is The Breakers, built in 1883 for Cornelius Vanderbilt II, grandson of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt and great-grandfather of CNN anchor Anderson Cooper. Believe it or not, the 70-room “cottage” seemed rather livable and the views over the water from the second-floor balcony were spectacular.
Another home built for the Vanderbilts — this one for William, Cornelius’ brother — is Marble House. The home cost $11 million to build in 1892, $7 million of which was for the marble in the house, which covers every wall, floor, and stairway. I loved the warm, honey-colored marble, which gives the home an inner glow.
In between these two Vanderbilt mansions lies Rosecliff, built for a woman whose father had struck it rich at the Comstock Lode in Nevada. Smaller in scale than the Vanderbilt mansions, but with a grand, first-floor ballroom, the home was known for its fabulous parties. The home is also known for being used in the 1974 film adaptation of “The Great Gatsby.”
But perhaps my favorite was The Elms, with its beautiful gardens. It isn’t on the water like the other four homes we visited, but I like the story of the house better. The sister of the man who built the house lived there until her death in 1961. And, because there were no heirs who could afford the upkeep, the home, and all its contents were put up for auction, as the home was to be torn down to make way for a shopping mall. Miraculously, just weeks before the wrecking ball was to arrive, the home was saved. And to make this just-in-the-nick-of-time story even better, many people who had purchased items at the auction graciously donated them back to the house.
The Cliff Walk is a public walking path that lets you experience the beauty of the Newport shoreline, along with the architectural magnificence of the mansions along the walk. The total length of the walk is 4.5 miles, with only a few access points, so it’s best to get a Cliff Walk map. Also, note that there are no facilities along the walk. The easiest part of the walk is the north section, where it is mostly paved and flat, except for the 40 steps section. The southern end has some dirt path sections and involves some rock scrambling. If you want, you can start on the north end, walk the entire length, and then catch the handy shuttle to take you back to town.
Newport is a charming waterfront town, served by the Providence airport, only 30 miles away. There are transportation options from Providence to Newport, and once there you won’t need a car as the town is perfect for strolling and offers an outstanding bus and shuttle system. Plan your trip around any of the numerous festivals (the Jazz Festival and the Folk Festival are two of the most popular); enjoy the beaches; wander among the quaint shops and boutiques; and make sure to bring your appetite. You’re surrounded by water, so the seafood is outstanding. At the Black Pearl, I had the best clam chowder I’ve ever had, sitting outside on a perfect summer day.
Lori is a content writer at Sun Country Airlines. When it comes to what she loves most about Sun Country, it’s all about the affordability and nonstop flights from MSP (oh, and the ease of Terminal 2). Her favorite destinations are the ones she hasn’t been to yet, but can’t wait to explore, including Portland, Austin, and Santa Rosa.