East of the pleasure domes of Newport’s Bellevue Avenue, the trees recede into sunlit landscaping, and the lawns roll broader. Past the Beaux Arts-style country club, on the outermost rocks of Aquidneck Island, a lighthouse commands the entrance to Narragansett Bay. Above this lighthouse sits a Victorian mansion. It’s by no means the grandest property in Newport, or even in the immediate neighborhood. But the Castle Hill Inn is undoubtedly the most hospitable.
Built in 1875 by Harvard marine biologist Alexander Agassiz, the house is perched at a juncture of land and sea ideal for anyone wanting to spend long afternoons staring at the whitecaps. A path leads from the parking lot down through a scrabbly wood to the lighthouse, which still has a tendency to sound. There’s a rocky cove at the bottom that used to be a favorite haunt of Grace Kelly, who stayed here while she was filming High Society. The staff even built a staircase for her to reach it without undue clambering, and today the cove still bears the name “Grace Kelly Beach.”
Two Chinese stone dragons flank the front door, leftovers from Agassiz’s collection of Asian art and furniture. Many of the antiques that deck the landings and hallways have a Mikado-esque aesthetic. Wood paneling, family portraits and vintage wallpaper fortify the sense of a private home—this is a Relais & Chateaux property that skirts the line between boutique hotel and country bed and breakfast. Housecleaning must go through an ocean of varnish, since, from the rafters to the floorboards, the inn is a confection of exposed wood. Before heading to your room, let your eyes drift to the blue panorama in the dining room. Tall windows open on a nearly encircling view of Narragansett Bay, with the Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge cutting a sparkling silver arc across the right-hand field.
Like any old house, the inn has its bodily noises. In strong winds, the upper levels shimmy and rattle. Chimneys whistle and odd clanks sound against the exterior walls. That makes the warmth inside all the more delicious. Rooms boast heated bathroom floors and rain showers. One of the more impressive is the Lighthouse Suite, featuring a wood-paneled parlor with an ocean view. To further gild the bedroom’s gold and ivory palette, there’s a large soaking tub and a gas fireplace, with the sort of carpeting in which you could confidently bounce a porcelain teacup.
The Turret Suite at the top of the house, though, is the most ostentatious room, and is much in demand for the many wedding parties drawn to Castle Hill’s photogenic vistas and catering menu. Split on two levels, it’s got an oversized marble walk-in shower and 320-degree views of the water, with a mounted telescope for scouring the horizon.
Breakfast and afternoon tea are complimentary and imperative. Start your morning with a pot of French press coffee, a homemade gooseberry turnover and a dish of lobster hash with poached eggs. Eggs, however, are only an intimation of the kitchen’s flair. Chef Karsten Hart leads a team that specializes in the art of the tasting menu (à la carte is available, but it’d be criminal not to sample as broadly as your stomach and budget allow). As expected, there’s an emphasis on Rhode Island produce and shellfish: butternut squash velout&eaeacute;, roast fluke with littlenecks and heirloom calypso beans. The local scallops with Bosc pears is the sort of inspired play on textures and tastes that wins Michelin stars. Pay the extra for wine pairings, since the beverage program errs toward smaller labels and unusual varietals. The intent is to create a unique meal, and it succeeds, exquisitely.
A property of this caliber is expected to offer seamless service, but Castle Hill burnishes the polish with country warmth. The extra touches—a friendly drive to the Thames Street shops, the extra chocolate chip cookies with the turndown service—lift the experience out of the merely gracious. A visit here takes on the light of one of the soft oil portraits on the inn’s stairwell—it becomes a beautiful memory.
-In warmer months, grab a table or chair on The Lawn, the inn’s alfresco dining area overlooking the bay.
-If you venture out of the inn, don’t miss the sophisticated steakhouse fare at 22 Bowen’s on the waterfront. The bone-in prime Delmonico is first-rate, as is the people-watching
Castle Hill Inn | 590 Ocean Drive, Newport, RI | 888-466-1355 | castlehillinn.com