WESTERLY, R.I. — You never know who you might see in Watch Hill, a tony village in the town of Westerly in the southwestern corner of the country’s smallest state.
Taylor Swift has a mansion here, and has been seen around town or paddleboarding just offshore. Meryl Streep vacations in nearby Charlestown (she did a cover shoot here for Vogue in recent years), and one summer I quite literally ran into Conan O’Brien darting down a Watch Hill sidewalk.
The village also has a great new place to stay and take it all in. The Watch Hill Inn, which has provided lodging in one form or another since it was built in 1845, came back to life in June after extensive renovations of its 19 suites overlooking the harbor.
It’s a small, low-slung place in the busy section of the village, amid shops and restaurants, and in the shadow of the towering Ocean House, the dominant upscale hotel in the village.
The complex was converted from condos into hotel suites, ranging from 650-square-foot terrace suites to a massive 4,000-square-foot penthouse. The property comprises two freestanding buildings and is a joint venture of Watch Hill Properties and Ocean House Management, which runs both hotels, as well as the Weekapaug Inn seven miles away.
Guests of Watch Hill Inn can access the amenities of the other properties, including OH! Spa and the onsite food forager and naturalist at Ocean House, which is the state’s only AAA Five-Diamond and Forbes Five-Star rated resort.
Watch Hill Inn guests check in at Ocean House, valet park for free, and walk down to the inn or get a quick shuttle ride. A neat touch: At Watch Hill Inn reception there are dispensers of four high-end toiletries to choose from, Red Flower blood orange, Molton Brown white sandalwood, Asprey purple water, and Floris Cefiro. Pick one you like and they’ll deliver a gauzy bag of toiletries to your room. The soap bars in each room are made exclusively for the inn by Stella Marie Soap Co. in Warren, R.I.
From the outside, the long row of suites resembles a motel, but inside is a different story. We had a corner one-bedroom suite, spacious and flooded with light from towering windows, a beautifully appointed room with a balcony and a small bedroom tucked into a relatively tiny space off the hallway, blocked off with sliding wooden doors.
Along the hall was a full-service kitchen area, with GE stove, Bosch dishwasher, Avanti refrigerator, Nespresso coffee machine, and cupboards of dishware.
That stay-awhile feel is by design, said Daniel Hostettler, president and managing director of the management company.
“Watch Hill Inn was designed for younger families and couples, and those who prefer a more modern, contemporary feel to the grandeur and opulence of Ocean House, or to the barefoot elegance of Weekapaug Inn,” he said, adding that it is “a perfect place for those looking for a longer vacation with either family or friends.”
The suites here are also a techie’s dream come true. There is an Apple TV with a huge variety of viewing options, and an iPad, on which one can read publications from Alabama to Zimbabwe. The rooms also have Sonos sound systems.
There isn’t much to do at the inn, but guests can use the amenities at Ocean House, including the 20-meter indoor lap pool and the beach there, a long stretch of sand that’s close to the palatial Swift home.
While dining options abound in Watch Hill, the one that shines brightest is Seasons at Ocean House. It’s a farm-to-table, fine-dining restaurant that relies on “traditional native foraging, local produce, and the ethical use of the sea.”
To make dishes such as braised rabbit, roasted scallops, citrus-cured lobster and oysters with dashi gelee, spiced cabbage and lime, Seasons uses local purveyors, including Hopkins Southdowns in Scituate, Matunuck Oyster Bar in South Kingstown, Pat’s Pastured in East Greenwich and Watch Hill Farm.
Watch Hill Inn is a lovely place with a lovely bit of history. It is the oldest structure in Watch Hill, built in 1845, known at the time as the Narragansett House and later listed in the National Historical Landmark Register. It has been an inn from inception, reportedly the oldest of its kind in the country. And it’s tough: Watch Hill Inn and Ocean House survived the battering of the hurricane of 1938.
Ocean House was built in 1868 and had a 135-year run as a luxury hotel until it shut down in 2003. It was razed and rebuilt, a $140 million project that utilized thousands of artifacts from the original structure, reopening in 2010. And Weekapaug Inn, a coastline staple since 1899, was renovated and reopened in 2012.
Off season is a great time to visit. It is open daily through Oct. 31, weekends through November, and Thanksgiving week from Nov. 26-30. In the summer, the Watch Hill Inn’s rates are about $800 a night, dropping to $555 after Labor Day. And there’s plenty to do, including the Flying Horse Carousel, the oldest continuously operating “free-flying” carousel in the country; the ruins of Fort Mansfield at Napatree Point; the Watch Hill Lighthouse and Museum; and the myriad of shops, art galleries, and antiques stores in the area.
And you never know, you might run into Taylor Swift.
WATCH HILL INN 38-44 Bay St., Watch Hill, R.I. 401-584-7400, www.watchhillinn.com.