When the weather gets too cold for yachting, Newport, Rhode Island, warms up indoors in high style. Summer might be the most popular vacation time, but crowds thin and opportunities for affordable luxury emerge in the winter. You'll be dazzled by gilded mansions dressed up for the holidays, and can pamper yourself at a Victorian inn that was once home to Newport's elite. And if you ever want to venture out of your room, you'll be surprised at how much else there is to do in this harbor town during the off-season.
The Legendary Inns of Newport, a collection of three historic mansions turned into hotels, allows guests to experience the way Newport was in its Victorian heyday. The Cliffside Inn, Adele Turner Inn, and Abigail Stoneman Inn, all offer afternoon tea service, made-to-order gourmet breakfast, and luxurious rooms filled with antiques, artwork, and one-of-a kind furniture pieces. Perfect for winter hibernation, each room has at least one working fireplace (some have two or three), and two of the properties offer spa services. Best of all, the room rates drop come December.
Room categories vary from classic rooms to deluxe suites, and start at $125 at the Adele Turner, $150 at the Cliffside, and $250 at the Abigail Stoneman for weekdays from December 1, 2007 through March 31, 2008. Weekends cost more and require a two-night minimum stay. Expect to pay about 40 to 50 percent more overall during the peak summer months.
Last December, I stayed at the Cliffside Inn, the collection's flagship property and former home of Beatrice Turner, an artist known for her self-portraits and intrigue-laden past. Upon arrival, I was welcomed into the elegant parlor decorated with a large Christmas tree and an afternoon tea spread that went beyond scones and clotted cream. That day's featured treats included cookies, pastries, and savory quiches, as well as Legendary Inns' own tea blend.
The Cliffside's dedication to food continued through breakfast the next morning, when I ordered the guest favorite: Eggs Newport, a variation on Eggs Benedict, with local crab cakes instead of Canadian bacon. I stayed in Beatrice's room, where the artist slept and painted. While not the biggest room, it was quite large and had a whirlpool adorned with swan-shaped towels. Behind the door were decorative door panels painted by Beatrice herself. The room starts at $225 midweek.
While the Cliffside sits near Newport's famous Cliff Walk by the sea, the Adele Turner is more of an in-town property located on Pelham Street, the first gas-lit street in America. Guests staying here have an easy walk to downtown shops and restaurants. The Adele Turner is also the collection's most value-priced inn, but don't think it's any less luxurious. A daily wine and food-pairing event featuring regional wines and New England artisan cheeses is included in the room rate.
At the high end, the Abigail Stoneman spares nothing in terms of amenities, with the collection's five largest rooms, a "pillow menu" offering 15 different styles of pillows to chose from, a bath bar of soaps and salts, and water and tea menus. With rooms starting at $250 in the winter compared to $395 in the summer, a winter stay is almost a steal.
While the beach and sea lure many to Newport in the summer, winter can be a special time, especially around the holidays. The Christmas in Newport festival runs throughout December and showcases special events like concerts, caroling, and historic lantern tours nearly every day. The town is also offering a winter getaway package that combines one or two nights at one of 40 lodging properties, including the Legendary Inns, with vouchers for area activities and a coupon book.
Perhaps the most popular winter draw is Newport's bevy of opulent mansions that deck their halls to the max during the season. And thanks to the Preservation Society's Winter Passport program, you won't have to be a Vanderbilt or an Astor to step inside. For $25, you'll get daytime admission to The Breakers, Marble House, and The Elms—separate admission to all three would cost an additional $13. Also look for evening events such as choral concerts and dance performances at these and other mansions.