Newport and its world-class music festival offer Rhode Island visitors a journey through the heart of New England
New England is as abundant in culture and history as it is in lakes, mountain views and seafood chowder. The birthplace of America — comprised of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island — offers visitors much to see and do.
Celebrating its 50th season this summer, the Newport Music Festival is indisputably one of New England’s most popular attractions. Held each July, the festival has run over 2,500 concerts and featured 130 emerging and internationally acclaimed classical musical artists, carving a distinctive mark of pride and vision for the Rhode Island city of Newport.
To commemorate its golden anniversary, this year the festival will pay tribute to musicians of its past while forging a path for artists of the future, reflecting a broadening repertoire that includes music of the 20th and 21st centuries. Concerts will take place in the renowned Newport Mansions (more on them later) and nearby locations. And organizers will be hosting a private gala featuring a performance by Grammy-winning violin virtuoso Joshua Bell, considered one of today’s greatest violinists.
There’s more to Newport than great music, of course. Consider, for instance, the view. Situated on Aquidneck Island, 90 minutes from Boston, Newport’s intimate coastal setting explains its accurate, if not understated, “City by the Sea” moniker. Founded in 1639, Newport was born before the United States became a country, so it’s no surprise that the city’s heritage infuses its sights and sounds, from cobblestone streets to a collection of colonial homes, that ranks as one of the largest in America. Newport was also the venue of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s and John F. Kennedy’s presidential vacations, which only adds to the town’s distinguished cachet.
‘CHOWDAH’ AND OTHER COMESTIBLES
With history your guide and nourishment your goal, perhaps the first post-festival pitstop should be America’s oldest bar, the White Horse Tavern. Having first swung open its doors in 1673, the tavern was a regular watering hole for colonists, British soldiers, pirates and your everyday founding father.
Today, the establishment prides itself on serving fresh seafood from Narragansett Bay and local produce from various Rhode Island farms.
If the 18th century is more your thing, head over to Bannister’s Wharf, lined with shops and galleries, and Clarke Cooke House, with its well-preserved dining room from that period. Serving New England fare with a French twist, the establishment was once the second home of sailors returning from sea.
Today, the waterfront property, replete with sailing paraphernalia, offers a candy store, bistro and sky bar.
For a taste of local, handcrafted brews, visit the Newport Storm Brewery. Aside from producing over 100 distinctive beers, the crew also distils craft spirits. If you’re looking for American comfort food and all day-breakfast, Annie’s is a popular spot among tourists and locals alike. It also happens to be located on Bellevue Avenue, Newport’s trendy destination for unique must-sees.
OUT AND ABOUT IN NEWPORT
The famed Newport Mansions were summer cottages of America’s elites of the Gilded Age, with names like Vanderbilt, Morgan and Astor. The 11 lavish properties, seven of which are national historic landmarks, are beloved attractions; the Preservation Society of Newport County gave over a million tours of the homes last year alone.
For a behind-the-scenes look at those who serviced the socialites of the time, take the Servant Life Tour at the Elms mansion.
If you’re a tennis fan, check out the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Home of the first U.S. championship in 1881 and host of the Tennis Hall of Fame induction ceremony, the building houses a museum with interactive displays and allows visitors to try announcing a tennis match.
For outdoor fun, tour the lighthouses along Narragansett Bay or enjoy the Cliff Walk, a 5.6-kilometre trail that hugs the Newport Mansions, with numerous public access points. And a visit to the “Sailing capital of the world” and the only host city in North America of the Volvo Ocean Race (which Newport is hosting for the second time in May 2018) should include water activities.
So rent a kayak, take a sailing lesson, or sign up for a narrated tour in a former rum-smuggling yacht.
If you have more time, catch a ferry to Block Island. Thanks to its many rare animals and plants, the Nature Conservancy recognized the scenic location as one of the Western Hemisphere’s 12 “Last Great Places on Earth,” and about 40 per cent of the island is protected conservation land. With a population of 1,000 or so, Block Island boasts about 28 km of beach, rugged coastline and trails.
Or drive to Providence to see the award-winning sculpture WaterFire, made up of 100 bonfires installed above the surface of three rivers in downtown Providence. Held from May to November, the work of art is a symbol of the city’s renaissance.
In many ways, it’s also a symbol of New England itself, where renewal intertwines with a rich and vibrant history.
One of New England’s most popular attractions, the Newport Music Festival will celebrate its 50th anniversary this July.
Newport’s Cliff Walk offers more than five kilometres of rugged coastline and views of beautiful homes.