With its dramatic coastal setting and old world charm, luxurious lodging and cutting-edge dining, Newport has long been a destination for couples. This Gilded Age summer playground, founded in 1639, is one of the oldest communities in the state, but it doesn’t rest on its historic laurels: Along with what’s gloriously old, there is very much new in Newport these days, and as the weather warms, spring is a great time to check it out and beat summer’s rush and crush.
The Cliffside Inn (2 Seaview Ave., 401-847-1811, www.cliffsideinn.com, rates from $190) exemplifies the marriage of old and new: Bill and Nancy Bagwill purchased the 16-room, 1876 mansion not far from Cliff Walk in 2010, restored it to its Victorian grandeur, and reopened it in August 2011. In the heart of the historic district, the inn was once the home of artist Beatrice Turner. New this year at stylishly modern and eco-friendly Forty 1 North (351 Thames St., 401-846-8018, rates from $239), which opened in summer 2010, is a rooftop apiary, the first in Newport, which will house about 40,000 bees producing honey the hotel will use in culinary and cocktail offerings. Newlyweds are hot on historic, red-brick Hotel Viking (1 Bellevue Ave., 401-847-3300, www.hotelviking.com, rates from $135), which WeddingWire recently gave a Bride’s Choice Award 2012 for Ceremony and Reception Venue. Pelham Court Hotel (14 Pelham St., 401-619-4950, www.pelhamcourthotel.com, rates from $129) is Newport’s newest boutique hotel with all-suite accommodations and a courtyard with tinkling fountain that’s a quiet break from busy nearby Thames Street and the working waterfront.
There has been considerable buzz about Thames Street Kitchen (677 Thames St., 401-846-9100, entrees from $22), a dinner-only, farm-to-table eatery that opened last summer and features delights such as scallops with braised fennel. The chefs change the menu regularly and judging from the lines of people waiting to get in, what they do with it is very good. You have to like a chef with a tattoo on his arm that reads, in Spanish, “Live to Cook, Cook to Live.’’ That would be Jake Rojas at Tallulah on Thames (464 Thames St., 401-849-2433, www.tallulahonthames.com, entrées from $32) who opened his restaurant two years ago to rave reviews of his modern American take on cuisine (like Aquidneck Island squash risotto), earning himself a 2012 People’s Best New Chef nomination from Food & Wine magazine. Rojas also relies heavily on locally sourced food from area farms and artisans and also runs a “Farm to Taco’’ mobile cart at farmers markets throughout the state. Jonathan Cartwright of the five-diamond-rated The White Barn Inn in Kennebunk, Maine, leads The Muse, which opened last summer at the renovated Vanderbilt Grace hotel (41 Mary St., 401-846-6200, www.vanderbiltgrace.com/dining.php, entrees from $30). The dining room here was transformed from dark and moody to white and bright. Entrees stress local seafood and elegant specialty offerings such as New England pheasant breast.
DURING THE DAY
Pedestrian-friendly Newport is rife with walking tours and brand new this year is Tours for Curious People (23 America’s Cup Ave., 401-848-7281, www.toursforcuriouspeople.com, $20), a 90-minute jaunt focusing on a mile’s worth of local history about commerce in the 1700s, from rum distilleries to rope makers to gravestone carvers to slave traders. New at the Preservation Society of Newport County’s Newport Mansions is an updated Servant Life Tour at the Elms (367 Bellevue Ave., 401-847-1000, www.newportmansions.org/plan-your-visit/servant-life-tour, $14.50) highlighting the stories of the workers behind the whirl of Gilded Age Newport. Wooden boat lovers love watching new Beetle Cats and other boats being crafted by hand at the International Yacht Restoration School (449 Thames St., 401-848-5777, www.iyrs.org), which also hosts a free spring lecture series. Up April 3, Halsey Herreshoff of the fabled boat-building Herreshoff clan will talk about “Remembrances of the 12-Metre Era of the America’s Cup in Newport’’ at 7:30 p.m. All of Thames Street has great shopping, including at Style Newport (302 Thames St., 401-847-1470, www.stylenewport.com), which opened last year and sells original jewelry designs based on nautical signal flags. Walk to the end of lower Thames Street and hit the just-renovated King Park, which has a beach, bandstand, ample parking, playground, picnic tables, and some of the most stunning sunset views of the harbor and Newport bridge you’ll find in the city. Listen to and learn French - and nibble on homemade gourmet chocolate - at La Maison de Coco (28 Bellevue Ave., 401-845-2626, www.lamaisondecoco.com), on Francophile Fridays from 3-5 p.m., a free program for French speakers and those who want to learn. Owner/chocolatier Michele De Luca-Verley opened shop in December 2010, and churns out amazing delights including tea-infused truffles. Rosemary Kavanagh O’Carroll is known as The Lady Who Paints and runs a studio by that name (9A Bridge St., 401-450-4791, www.facebook.com/pages/Rosemary-Kavanagh-OCarroll-The-Lady-Who-Paints/112463075496072). She is seen all over Newport capturing street scenes and also one of her favorite topics, Cardines Field, one of the nation’s oldest ballparks.
Check out the music at The Fifth Element (111 Broadway, 401-619-2552, www.thefifthri.com), a popular restaurant/bar that moved from Thames Street last year. DJ Maddog spins Top 40 and dance on Friday nights, and there is live music on Saturdays starting around 10 p.m. and at Sunday brunch. Gaining popularity is 4th Fridays at Newport Art Museum (76 Bellevue Ave., 401-848-8200, www.newportartmuseum.org/pages/fourthfridays.cfm, $5 members, $8 nonmembers), which started a year ago giving museum lovers a place to sip beer and wine while listening to music 6-9 p.m., surrounded by great art and architecture. This spring Genie’s Hookah Lounge (94 William St., 401-619-3770, www.thefacebook.com/genieshookah) will mark its first anniversary. Genie’s specializes in Persian/Mediterranean cuisine, but it also serves up regular belly dancing shows, DJ music nightly, and an assortment of flavored tobacco for communal puffing.Paul Kandarian can be reached at email@example.com.