WEEKAPAUG, R.I. — From the window of my room at the Weekapaug Inn, I watch a seabird in the salt pond thrashing its wings against the water, rising, then diving noisily beneath the surface, repeating the sequence over and over. I think: I must ask the naturalist what kind of bird that is.
If employing a naturalist seems unusual for an inn, consider that the inn occupies a site rich in natural beauty, on the edge of Quonochontaug Pond with the Atlantic visible just past the barrier beach. “The overarching idea is that what’s special and unique about this property is that it’s one with the natural surroundings,” said Mark Bullinger, whose official title is naturalist and director of recreation.
The Weekapaug reopened in October after a $15 million renovation that preserved many of the features and some furnishings of the seaside inn that first welcomed guests in 1899. The project was completed with the support and cooperation of the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission. Says Ken Rapple, a Stonington, Conn., resident who worked at the inn in the late ’60s, “They have rebuilt it true to form. . . . For all intents and purposes, when you drive up Spray Rock Road, you’re driving into the inn as it was.” Creature comforts, however, have improved dramatically, he said, recalling the “thin walls and screen doors” of the early days.
The elegant, classic building is covered with weathered cedar shingles, accented by rust shutters and dark brown trim. The porte cochere at the main entrance replicates the one used in the 1940s, though it has been widened to accommodate modern automobiles. Crushed clam shell walkways, hydrangeas, and sea grasses enhance the beach house look. Inside, decorations, colors, and textures evoke nature: a beach scene mural along the stairway, Audubon prints in the lobby, rattan and wicker furniture. The neutral palette is a pleasing change from the vivid greens and blues of typical ocean-themed decors; here a muted mix of cream, white, beige, and soft greens replicates the colors of a New England shore. A generous number of common areas complement the 27 guest rooms and four suites. The smell of a wood-burning fire in the lobby mixes pleasantly with the sound of breakers from the beach a few hundred yards away.
Under the same ownership as the nearby Ocean House in Watch Hill, Weekapaug offers many of the amenities of its luxe sister but in a more relaxed and nature-focused atmosphere. Bullinger, who spent summers in Weekapaug as a child, organizes beach walks, bike rides, crabbing excursions, kayak tours, and photography sessions. Indoor activities include slide shows and “deck adventures,” where guests use binoculars and a spotting scope to spy shorebirds and other wildlife. Guests also have access to amenities and activities at the Ocean House, including the OH! Spa; complimentary van service between the two hotels is provided.
Even the rooms put the focus on nature. You won’t find a telephone or television (though you can request a TV), but you will find a pair of binoculars. In-room materials emphasize the inn’s history. The guest services booklet includes excerpts from the original brochure from circa 1901, and postcards show scenes of men in suit jackets rowing on the pond and women in knee-length swim dresses posing under a big striped umbrella on the beach. Baths feature heated floors and old-fashioned claw-foot soaking tubs along with modern showers. There’s a list of daily activities, including those at the Ocean House.
The wide, white-sand beach is less than a 5-minute walk along a sidewalk that skirts the pond, passing sea grass, beach roses, and massive, multi-balconied mansions. On a late afternoon in early October the shore was lined with fishermen seeking stripers and blues. In season the inn operates The Bath House, a changing area with showers and a casual restaurant, and offers beach chairs and umbrellas. Done in the same brown-and-rust colors of the inn, the bath house blends nicely into its sandy surroundings. A lap pool is open in season, and a fitness center should be completed this month.
The inn’s formal dining room, “The Restaurant,” overlooks Quonochontaug Pond. The farm-to-table menu offers a modern interpretation of New England coastal cuisine, and changes daily. Tortelloni came with cloumage, a French-inspired cheese from Shy Brothers Farm in Westport, and saffron tagliatelle was topped with Stonington lobster. We loved the bread basket with cranberry-walnut, rosemary, and Parisian breads. The Sea Room serves lighter fare. From its airy, windowed parlor, French doors open to a wraparound porch with rocking chairs.
There’s also a 24-hour guest pantry with a variety of coffee drinks and oversized chocolate chip cookies.
Through Dec. 30, the inn is offering a “Prelude” special, which consists of 30 percent off rack rates, a room upgrade if available, and a $50 credit to be used at the inn. A resort fee of $24 per room per day is added to the bill to cover Wi-Fi, activities, and gratuities for bellmen and housekeepers (but not food and beverage staff).
The hungry bird, Bullinger told me later, was probably a sea gull diving for scallops on the sandy bottom of the shallow pond.
Weekapaug Inn 25 Spray Rock Road, 888-813-7862, www
.weekapauginn.com. Rooms from $190, suites from $320
off season; rooms from $445, suites from $575 peak season, including breakfast. Special rates through Dec. 30.
Ellen Albanese can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.