Newport, Rhode Island, is home to some of the country's most majestic mansions, built during a time when greed and compromise didn't matter, and martinis flowed from fountains like something out of F. Scott Fitzgerald's books.
Many of these mansions were built for military stays - places to seek refuge during the war - and were soon purchased by wealthy families looking for summer homes and gathering venues.
Once private residences of the rich and worldly, some of the Newport mansions have opened their doors to the public, some becoming full-service hotels for those who want to capture a few moments of a Gilded Age gone by.
Located on the western-most tip of Newport just at the entrance of Narragansett Bay sits the majestic Castle Hill. Castle Hill, which was built in 1874, served as the summer home of Harvard University marine biologist and naturalist Alexander Agassiz. It soon became a favorite home to many. During World War II, the Mansion served as a Navy base and after the war was turned into a summer hotel, hosting local socialites and Hollywood royalty. The Mansion's greatest celebrity sighting was Grace Kelly, who stayed here while filming "High Society" with Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby in the 1950s.
Castle Hill still retains much of its simplistic solitude -- one of the things Kelly reportedly loved most about being here -- thanks to its location along the rocky shoreline. You'll notice a staircase that extends from the mansion to the bottom of the cove. Take the staircase down to the bottom and you'll understand why Kelly loved it. The secluded shoreline and ocean as far as the eye can see made for a great escape from the everyday chaos of life in Newport. Kelly used to climb down the rocks when she needed a break, but it was the climb up that wasn't so fun, so the staff built a staircase so she could reach her hideaway with ease, which became know as "Grace Kelly Beach."
Today, visitors to Castle Hill can continue to embrace the mansion's famed legacy by climbing the rocks, admiring the view and finding tranquility in this peaceful mansion, while at the same time enjoying the modern amenities that come with a luxury hotel.
Castle Hill is a year-round retreat and in 2008 joined the prestigious Relais & Chateaux portfolio, further signifying its place in luxury history.
One of the more famous mansions in Newport, the Vanderbilt Grace is also one of the most historic. Originally built in 1909 by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt of the notoriously wealthy Vanderbilt family, this Newport mansion has retained much of its historic charm while remaining one of the more private luxury hotels in Rhode Island.
Formerly the Vanderbilt Hall, the mansion is often referred to as a "boutique" luxury hotel, but its history makes it one of the more majestic homes in the state. Today, the mansion features 33 guest rooms and luxury suites, two restaurants, a spa and a fitness center. It's often rented out for private parties and functions, weddings and other events, so guests can enjoy solitude and comfort among this unique vintage Rhode Island setting.
The hotel still offers tours of its property to guests and Newport visitors seeking a moment to step back in time, and experience all the glamour of the Gilded Age in Newport.
Located on the famous Cliff Walk of Newport, The Chanler at Cliff Walk boasts one of the best ocean views in town and is steeped in history and tradition from the early 1900s.
There are 20 guest rooms, each with its own historically-inspired decor and design, showcasing the best of the Golden Age that swept through Newport. The Manor Rooms have custom-made bedding on the queen-sized beds and are the most moderately priced rooms at the mansion. The Estate Rooms are the junior suites, noting historical themes among its queen or king-sized beds, while the Signature Rooms come complete with a king bed, jacuzzi tub, and a lot more space. For those seeking a more exclusive experience, the Garden Villas are accessed from a private entrance, and feature an outdoor hot tub in the private courtyard, which is surrounded by gardens and fountains. The grandest of the bunch - the Ocean Villas - all have ocean views overlooking the Cliff Walk and a private entrance, as well.
While you're here, take time to do a tour of the grounds so you can discover the art, amenities and artifacts that make The Chanler so unique to Newport.
The Hotel Viking holds a special place in history. Look around while you're here and you'll find some of the coolest relics from the past -- including a 1926 brass letter box in the lobby, centuries-old clocks and if you listen closely, you might even hear the conversations of guests past. Yes, the Hotel Viking is said to be haunted, but in a good way. Parties still reign supreme in this Newport mansion's gardens, even if you can't really see the guests.
The hotel opened in 1926 and the grandeur hasn't stopped since. Today, the hotel has guest rooms and suites, as well as a fine dining restaurant, cigar and scotch lounge, and a spa. In 2007, the original guest rooms underwent a $6.8 million renovation to restore their Gilded Age essence.