Goat Island is said to have earned its name in the 1600s, when early Newport Colonists used the small strip of land in Narragansett Bay as a grazing ground. In the centuries since, it’s been home to a burial site for a whole crew of pirates, an Army fort and a U.S. Naval Torpedo Station that made missiles through two World Wars. And since the ’60s, it’s manufactured good times as a destination for vacationers. Over the decades, the island’s lone hotel property has been a Hilton, a Sheraton, a Doubletree and a Hyatt. Its latest incarnation, Gurney’s Newport Resort & Marina, welcomed its first guests this summer (along with a pair of resident goats, Cornelius and William, named for the Vanderbilts behind two of Newport’s most jaw-dropping “summer cottages”—aka mansions).
A sister property of Gurney’s Montauk, the refreshed resort is a certified scene at sunset on a summer Saturday, when revelers of all stripes—families and festival-going hipsters, bros and bridal parties—converge on the Regent Lounge’s three-level deck, festooned with fairy lights and fire pits. Walk down it and you’ll find a path that unspools to Newport’s only outdoor hotel pool and an expansive sundeck lined with lounge chairs and cabanas. Forgot to pack your suit? Stop by the pop-up shop that’s been selling chic swimwear on the adjoining lawn all summer. Work up a thirst with all that lounging? Just beyond the pool is the Pineapple Club, an outdoor bar proffering grilled bites and the Lobster Pink Smash, a concoction of Elijah Craig bourbon with watermelon puree, lemon and mint. All of these outdoor spaces have a view of the water, but Gurney’s grounds also offer a variety of vantage points—Adirondack chairs, swing benches, hammocks—mere feet from the bay. Claim your choice of front-row seat, watch the sailboats breeze by and wait until your heart rate slows to meet the rhythm of the waves.
After drinking in the views, you can sup at Scarpetta, the onsite Italian restaurant and the fifth sibling outpost of the New York original. Decked out in cream and tan leather with big windows looking out on the 22-slip marina, it sets the indulgent tone starting with bread service, a spread that arrives with mini stromboli to slather with olive oil, butter and eggplant caponata. Don’t fill up too much, though—delectable crudi and housemade pastas await.
As for breakfast, you can order an avocado tartine from room service or grab a pastry and a red beet latte from Corso Coffee in the lobby. Thus fortified, you’ll be ready to explore the sights. Parking downtown in peak season can be a challenge, to put it mildly, but you can opt for a bike rental, the resort’s launch service or the shuttle service that crosses the short causeway bridge connecting Goat Island to the rest of Newport. Close by is the plaque-bedecked historic district, home to one of the country’s densest concentrations of preserved Colonial buildings, including the White Horse Tavern. Billed as the oldest bar in America, it’s been serving patrons since 1673.
Move from the 17th century to the Gilded Age with a tour of one of the Newport Mansions, from Rosecliff, host of June’s annual flower show (and a current exhibition of designer Pierre Cardin’s fashions that’s on view through the end of the year), to the largest of them all, the Breakers. Cornelius Vanderbilt’s 70-room palazzo is a study in grandeur, but you can see a grittier side with the new Beneath the Breakers Tour, which takes visitors to the boiler room and basement for a behind-the-scenes look at the technologies that transformed daily life in the late 19th century. And if you do have wheels, it’s worth the trip along Ocean Drive past rolling lawns and hydrangea bushes the size of Buicks to reach another retreat that’s been around since the Gilded Age, the Castle Hill Inn, built in 1875 as the summer home of Harvard zoologist Alexander Agassiz. A cocktail on the Lawn, the inn’s al fresco destination open through Columbus Day, is practically obligatory, and if there’s a chill, the staff will be happy to bring a blanket to your Adirondack chair.
Back at Gurney’s, you can recharge from your adventuring at the Seawater Spa and Salon, which lives up to its name with floor-to-ceiling views of the water and treatments like the Sand and Sea Body Wrap, featuring an exfoliating scrub with jojoba beads, apricot kernels and actual sand before a Vichy shower and liberal application of cocoa butter. As for your accommodations, the 257 guest rooms and suites, equipped with Nespresso machines and a thoughtful selection of mystery novels, are comfortable if not as cosseting as Newport’s most luxury-oriented properties—and the walls aren’t thick enough to ward off the woo-hooing should you find yourself next door to a bachelorette party. (Congrats on your upcoming nuptials, Ashley.) But then, you didn’t come here to sit in your room. You’re a frolicking goat, a jolly pirate, a sailor on shore leave. Join the party. ◆
Gurney’s Newport Resort & Marina, 1 Goat Island, Newport, R.I. (401-849-2600) gurneysresorts.com
Heads up, fitness fanatics: The resort has a 24-hour fitness center, but you can also avail yourself of the daily yoga class on the deck or rotating offerings from guest instructors like Eliza Shirazi of Boston’s Kick It by Eliza.