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A favorite movie, High Society starring Grace Kelly, was filmed in Newport, R.I., in 1956, telling the sad story of Gilded Age mansions going down with the wrecking ball, a way of life gone forever. Fortunately, the Preservation Society of Newport County stepped in to rescue, preserve and maintain several of these treasures.
At the top of the list is The Breakers, the 70-room summer estate of Cornelius Vanderbilt II. Marble House, another Vanderbilt home, is also a must-see. Here the indomitable Alva Vanderbilt and her daughter, Consuelo, can be heard on the audio tour. The monumental artworks and advanced technology of The Elms should be experienced, along with its fascinating Servant Life Tour — a true Downton Abbey precursor. Rosecliff, modeled after a French palace, is the mansion featured in High Society.
All these salvaged beauties are lined up like a string of pearls on Bellevue Avenue, but be sure to go by car. You’ll wear your feet out just touring The Breakers!
You’ll also want your car for the glorious 10-mile drive on Ocean Drive, ending at lovely Castle Hill with its working lighthouse and charming restaurant and inn. Sink into one of the Adirondack chairs for a spectacular sunset view with drinks from the bar and small plates delivered to your chair.
During the filming of High Society, Kelly would sneak away to this secluded beach, climbing down the precarious, rocky incline for timeout and privacy. Climbing back up was so difficult that the staff built a staircase for her. Locals now call it the Grace Kelly Beach.
For walking vistas of the ocean, take the beautiful 3.5-mile Cliff Walk, beginning at The Chanler, bordering mansion backyards and ending at The Breakers. It, too, has some difficult, rocky inclines.
The International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum is well worth seeing.
Shopping along Bellevue Avenue and Thames Street (Newport’s Main Street) delights at every corner. No malls along here. Restaurants include Bouchard, again at the top of the list for five-star perfection, wharf side; Spiced Pear, good food with an updated Victorian ambiance; Annie’s for breakfast, lunch and ginger chicken noodle soup; the White Horse Tavern, since 1673, a “bucket list bar”; Muse, by Jonathan Cartwright, for serious fine dining; and The Mooring, an absolute must for waterfront food and spirits.
If you love inns, Newport has many choices: The Francis Malbone House, probably the most luxurious of the B&Bs; Cliffside Inn, in the heart of the historic district; Bouchard Inn, steps from the harbor; and Hydrangea House Inn, a charmer.
For me, if I’m ever lucky enough to return to Newport, there’s only one choice, The Chanler at Cliff Walk. One of the most historic mansions in Newport, it was built in 1870 by John Winthrop Clark, a New York congressman, and is now a luxurious European-style boutique hotel. Guest suites are all individually decorated and are Gilded Age luxurious.
If you’ve never seen High Society, you’re missing something very special. In one of the most memorable scenes ever filmed, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, after imbibing a few in a hidden wall-bar at a formal party and extolling the attributes and foibles of Newport, come bursting through French doors into the blue-blooded crowd hoofing it and singing at the top of their talented lungs, “Well, did you evah? What a swellegant, elegant party this is!” And that pretty much sums up Newport.
— Judy Crowell is a Noozhawk contributing writer, author, freelance travel writer and Santa Barbara resident. She can be reached at email@example.com. The opinions expressed are her own.