Cliff Walk – Newport, Rhode Island, U.S.A.

Castle-Size Cottages in a City by the Sea

The American seaside vacation and the expression “conspicuous consumption” were both born in Newport in the 19th century, when high-society families with names like Vanderbilt and Astor descended here each summer to escape the urban heat for a few weeks.

When you’ve got it, flaunt it, and at Newport that’s exactly what they did, turning the island into America’s regatta capital and building massive, European châteaux-inspired “summer cottages” on the rocky coastline, putting the gilding on the Gilded Age with their over-the-top opulence. A bracing constitutional along Cliff Walk, a national historic trail that stretches 3 ½ miles 30 feet above the wild Atlantic shoreline, offers a convergence of natural and man-made beauty, displaying 150 years of American architectural heritage.

The showstopper is undoubtedly the Breakers, a seventy-room, twenty-three-bedroom Italian Renaissance-style palazzo with 40-foot ceilings. Built in 1895 for Cornelius Vanderbilt II, it is the largest of them all, the product of two years’ of labor by some 2,000 workers, including a platoon of artisans brought in from Europe. Less grand – with a mere forty rooms – Rosecliff is another favorite, built in 1902 by architect Stanford White after the Grand Trianon at Versailles.

The city’s eight square miles are impressively chockablock with 17th- and 18th-century architecture, eighty examples of which were restored by tobacco heiress Doris Duke, who died in 1993. Countless inns, bed-and-breakfasts, and hotels dot the area, and while none match the opulence of “the cottages,” you can indulge yourself pretty well at the Castle Hill Inn and Resort.

Gloriously sited on a secluded 40-acre peninsula fifteen minutes from Cliff Walk at the mouth of Narragansett Bay, this Victorian inn promises exceptional seafood dinners, a legendary brunch, and access to a private beach. Newport is also home to the grandfather of jazz festivals, the JVC Jazz Festival Newport, held at historic Ft. Adams. First staged in summer 1954, it’s still the world’s most famous.

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