Southern Rhode Island Boasts Historic Mansions, Gardens and Small-Town New England Charm

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Southern Rhode Island Boasts Historic Mansions, Gardens and Small-Town New England Charm

 

Historic mansions, oysters fresh from salt ponds and everything coming up azaleas are just a few of southern Rhode Island’s draws.

S ome of the most unique and spectacular attractions in the southern half of the Ocean State are the fabled mansions overlooking Easton Bay in Newport.

So far, I’ve visited only one: Marble House, built in the late 1800s for Mr. and Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt, the latter of whom retained the home after their divorce. She fancied herself a trailblazer for filing for divorce when it was hardly the thing to do among ladies of a certain stature back in the day. I learned that little tidbit, and many others, from the educational audio tour. Do not tour any of the mansions without either the audio or a guided tour (whichever is offered at the property you visit).

Around every turn in Marble House is another work of art, in frescos, moldings, paintings, sculptures, carved pieces of period furniture and draperies.

 

Just a little word to the wise: no matter how much you love the intricate, stunning lace of the curtains, don’t touch them or one of the docents will tell you not to (ask me how I know!).

For those who are, like me, not professional photographers, try to pick up a few tips before your road trip to RI about shooting in low light since the mansions are dimly lit.

Try to plan your Newport trip with a second, consecutive day to visit mansions: if you save your ticket and receipt, you’ll get a discount on Day Two.



 

If your idea of getting to know a new place is strolling and shopping, then Newport’s Bowen’s Wharf, brimming with shops and art galleries, will be your idea of heaven.

Finish the day with dinner at 22 Bowen’s Wine Bar and Grille. My daughter, a 20-year-old University of Rhode Island (URI) college student, rated Bowen’s as superior to the nearby Mooring where she had once dined with her aunt and uncle.

If you’d rather stay away from the bustling tourist areas, try dining at Matunuck Oyster Bar in South Kingstown. The menu has “farm to table” offerings and they’re not just talking veggies. Oysters raised in a nearby pond are also served daily, in addition to produce grown in their own garden. You can taste the freshness in this expansive, comfortable restaurant overlooking the water.

Another seafood gem on the waterfront in South Kingstown is Two Ten Oyster Bar and Grill. But this place gets extremely crowded on holidays, weekends, and any time URI is having any special event. So try to visit at a non-peak time or plan on possibly waiting for a table.

Nearby in Kingstown, a short hop from URI, is Kinney Azalea Gardens, 1381 Kingstown Rd., where visitors can stroll amid gorgeous bursts of multi-colored azaleas and rhododendrons. But to find this garden, you have to look for what appears to be a typical home with only a small sign announcing its name, making it easy to miss. Here is what the front looks like on Google maps http://bit.ly/2sdEhej

If you want to feel like a college kid going out for burgers and brews, look no further than Mew’s Tavern, a URI hangout in Wakefield that doesn’t skimp on good cooking and friendly service. If you love Frankie’s in Point Pleasant Beach, you’ll love Mews. My husband won’t go to RI without a visit to Mew’s to sample local craft beers and daily specials.

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