Newport, Rhode Island: A Fresh Sense of History

One of Rhode Island’s many lighthouses
One of Rhode Island’s many lighthouses

The city is known on the whole as a New England summer resort. It integrates the most desirable qualities of any leisure travel destination, with enough options and activities to accommodate any budget. While only a half-day’s drive or aerial puddle jump away from the Washington area, Newport, Rhode Island has a spirit all its own. Founded in 1638, it is enveloped in a rich and much-beloved history—and as our Georgetown House Tour approaches, it might be worth noting that Newport also has one of the highest concentrations of colonial homes in the nation. Further similar to Georgetown, Newport is very much a contemporary urban haven, proud of its history but residing in the cultural here-and-now.

Not too crowded, not too hot, and as friendly as a summer evening is long, Newport, Rhode Island is just the ticket for a Washingtonian weekend getaway or an enriching weeklong stay. On top of the usual, year-round attractions the city has to offer, there is an array of summer events and activities on the horizon, far enough away to plan ahead but close enough to start getting excited.

Newport Mainstays

Sailing and Boating

There are myriad choices when it comes to enjoying the famed waters off Newport. From canoes and kayak rentals, to charters, excursions, harbor tours, and even sailing school for the adventurous at heart, you can enjoy the rippling tide of Narragansett Bay in nearly any capacity.

Kayaking and canoeing offers visitors the opportunity to pursue the waters, coastlines and hidden waterways of Newport intimately and at their own pace. Explore the islands and wildlife of Bluebell Cove, watch ospreys dive for fish along the Westport River, take in the waterfront homes of historic Bristol, or see the yachts of Newport Harbor.

If you want to rent a boat or charter, the horizons open even further. Dozens of destinations are easy cruises in the Bay’s protected waters—only a couple of gallons of fuel if you’re motoring, and gentle breezes if you’re hoisting the main and fore. Want to be where all the urban action is? Stay in Newport Harbor. Itching for a day of fun boutiques? Sail west over to Wickford Village. Need some peace and quiet? Drop anchor for a day or two off Jamestown. Want to visit the America’s Cup Hall of Fame? Tie a bowline to the docks in Bristol Harbor.

International Tennis Hall of Fame

If you revere the racket, this is the place for you. The Tennis Hall of Fame, at the Newport Casino, was founded in 1954 by tennis innovator James Van Alen (among other major contributions to the game, Alen invented the standard tiebreaker system used in regulation tennis matches today). It was host the first U.S. National Championships in 1881. In 1997, the complex and museum were restored to their original splendor with the completion of a five-year, $7.5 million renovation and endowment project.

The Museum's galleries chronicle the rich history of tennis through interactive exhibits and videos, as well as showcasing popular memorabilia from historic champions and the superstars of today. Dramatically set in the original clubrooms of the Casino, the style, class and good nature of this gentleman’s sport comes vibrantly to life at the museum.

Rosecliff Mansion: the “Great Gatsby” House

There are endless mansion and historic home tours to take on in your visit to Newport. A standout among them, however, is Rosecliff Mansion. Commissioned by Nevada silver heiress Theresa Fair Oelrichs in 1899, architect Stanford White modeled Rosecliff after the Grand Trianon, the garden retreat at Versailles. After the house was completed in 1902, at a reported cost of $2.5 million, Mrs. Oelrichs hosted extravagant parties in its grand and cavernous hall, including a fairy tale dinner and a party featuring famed magician Harry Houdini.

Rosecliff is now preserved through the generosity of its last private owners, who gave the house, its furnishings, and an endowment in 1971 to the Preservation Society of Newport County, who maintains many of the areas tour-friendly historic mansion properties. The house has something of a Hollywood resume, having played the lavish home to Robert Redford’s Jay Gatsby in the 1974 film, as well as “True Lies,” Steven Spielberg’s “Amistad” and most recently “27 Dresses” starring Katherine Heigl.

The mansion is also a host to the annual Newport Mansions Food & Wine Festival, where guests can eat and drink like true 1920s flappers. For more information on that, keep reading!

Upcoming Festivals and Events

The Great Chowder Cook-Off June 2

On Saturday, June 2, 2012, the Great Chowder Cook-Off kicks off summer in New England. Be a part of the original, largest, and longest running chowder championship in America, and try a wide spread from national to regional competitors. Festival-goers will taste-test a myriad of traditional and exotic chowders from kitchens across the country, then vote for the best in three categories: clam, seafood and creative. For more information visit NewportWaterfrontEvents.com.

Newport Antiques Show July 27 – 29

Celebrating its sixth year, the Newport Antiques Show has become a seminal event for antique lovers across the country. Over forty of the industry’s finest dealers will showcase the best antiques the world has to offer to over 2,500 visitors at the Stephen P. Cabot and Archer Harman Ice Center at St. George’s School in Middletown. The show's 2012 Loan Exhibit will highlight fine and decorative arts from the New Bedford Whaling Museum. The exhibit will include New Bedford art such as scrimshaw and Pairpoint Glass along with work from artists such as William Bradford. For more information visit NewportAntiquesShow.com

Newport Jazz Festival Aug. 3 – 5

Founded in 1954, the Newport Jazz Festival was the first annual jazz festival in America. It has been host to numerous legendary performances and historic moments since its inception, including performances by Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane Miles Davis, and a career-reviving performance by Duke Ellington in 1958. Referred to as the grandfather of all jazz festivals, the event draws thousands of people from all over the world. Highlight performances this year include Bill Frisell playing the John Lennon songbook, vocalist Diane Reeves, and legendary drummer Jack DeJohnette’s 70th birthday performance. For more information visit NewportJazzFest.net

Newport International Boat Show Sept. 13 – 16

The 42nd Annual Newport International Boat Show will feature new sailboats and powerboats, and thousands of products and services from exhibitors worldwide, showcasing the latest innovations and trends in seafaring technology. Boating has never been more exciting; whether it's an evening harbor cruise, a fun-filled day of fishing or an extended cruise on a yacht with all the luxuries you can imagine. Come discover the many new products, programs and opportunities on the oceanic horizon. For more information visit NewportBoatShow.com

Newport Mansions Food & Wine Festival Sept. 21 – 23

This festival, devoted to the joys of gastronomy, has quickly become one of the most anticipated food and wine events in the country. Rosecliff mansion and Marble House will host more than 100 of the world's finest vintners and more than two dozen of New England's finest restaurants and caterers for a three-day epicurean adventure. This year, world-renowned French chef Jacques Pépin, along with his daughter, Claudine—who has partnered with him on three of his James Beard Award-winning public television programs—will host a cooking demonstration and book signing. Form more information visit www.NewportMansions.org

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