This is the first in a series of articles about Newport, Rhode Island's luxury inns. Known for its distinctive wealth and nautical history, it’s no surprise that Newport’s renowned mansions are a must-do for anyone visiting the town. The quieter delight, however, are the beautifully restored mansions-turned-luxury inns, with equally impressive legacies in this harborside town. Just an hour outside of Boston and within easy getaway distance from anywhere in New England, Newport offers a lively historic yet sophisticated maritime getaway, especially in the quieter spring season.
Two of Newport’s most sophisticated inns are owned by Will Dewey, a gifted innkeeper and owner of the Francis Malbone House and Hilltop Inn, Both perfect examples of historic preservation done well, each is within easy walking distance to all of Newport’s distinctive restaurants, shopping and harborfront attractions. Enter either one of these inns and you’re transported to a tranquility that quickly helps to shake off the stresses that precipitated your getaway. I was lucky to explore both of Will Dewey's inns on a recent trip to Newport.
Francis Malbone House
The downtown harborfront location is just the beginning of the highlights of this historic inn. Built in 1758, it is named after shipping merchant Francis Malbone, a colorful well to do gentleman who often traveled through tunnels to the harbor to hide less than savory goods stowed on his ships. The inn is a masterpiece of the old and the new. The original building houses double parlors with tall ceilings, original woodworking and pumpkin pine floors. The library reveals an honor bar with wine, beer and soft drinks and tall “butlers pantry” cabinets offer glassware for guests’ use. This honeycomb of common rooms, each with its own woodburning fireplace, means there’s plenty of room for guests to mingle and relax.
We arrived right at teatime and were delighted to have the opportunity to enjoy both traditional and nontraditional sweets and savory offerings including smoked salmon, brownies, cookies, and a warm artichoke dip that begged for seconds and thirds, plus tea and coffee. The Francis Malbone teatime is among the best I’ve ever experienced, and is of course complimentary for all guests.
While many of the guest rooms were occupied when I was there, but I had the chance to tour some of those in the newer section of the inn with bubbly Anna Maria, Will Dewey’s co-innkeeper. Built in 1996 when the inn doubled in size from 9 to 18 rooms, the newer wing houses both the Courtyard rooms (named for the private courtyard they share) and the Newport Rooms above them. All of the rooms here are exquisite, with wood burning fireplaces, and double Jacuzzi tubs with showers. The king size bed in room 9 where I stayed was so palatial it required a stool. A vase filled with fresh yellow tulips sat on the desk; a breath of springtime, I thought, and yet another of those little special touches that create the wonderful ambiance here.
While breakfast is served in the sunny courtyard accessed by a series of French doors in warmer weather, late March weather didn’t allow us to enjoy this otherwise tranquil oasis for guests. Instead, we enjoyed a sumptuous breakfast buffet in the breakfast room with its sparkling chandelier and buffet of fresh fruit, baked goods, granolas and cereals to start the meal. A choice of two hot entrees are served each morning, and I opted for the frittata, which was fabulous.
Choosing which of the high points of the Francis Malbone House to feature is a tough. The location on Thames Street offers access to all the harborfront shops and restaurants. Yet, once inside the inn, the hustle and bustle of outside is lost as the tranquil surroundings prompt a sense relaxation that’s simply unavoidable here.
Built in 1910 for Judge Florence Murray, Rhode Island’s first female state supreme court judge, this inn is the smaller of the two Dewey-owned inns. The first thing one notices is the rich wood paneling in the hallway and grand staircase. Double parlors beautifully appointed with antiques and rich wood paneling offer plenty of space for guests to enjoy quiet conversation or reading. Beyond those, a sunny, window lined breakfast room with glass tables for guests to mingle over morning coffee starts the day with a full gourmet breakfast. The dining room is reserved for high tea, served with a full array of sweets and savories each afternoon. After a full Hilltop breakfast, be sure to eat a light lunch so you can save room for the tasty treats during tea time.
Ascending up the stairs, the beautiful stained glass window sky light, capturing light from the attic above is a distinctive eye catcher. We later learned this unusual skylight was among the many features of the original home. Built-in drawers in the hallway of the second floor, once serving as file drawers for the judge, now hold extra pillows and double as linen closets for the housekeeping staff; very clever. A peek into the Touro Room revealed a king bed and private bath with a deep double whirlpool tub and glass shower for two with multi-jet spouts for the ultimate in massage showers. That’s my idea of decadence – both a vertical and a horizontal Jacuzzi! The Murray room, no doubt former bedchambers for the judge herself, offered sunny yellow and blue décor with a large private bath. In all there are five guest rooms at Hilltop, all easily viewed with their own videos online.
A fitness room, decked out with first rate equipment is found attached to the garage in the rear of the inn; a treat not usually found at B&Bs this size. For those seeking an intimate and refined inn, Hilltop provides the perfect starting place for a sophisticated Newport getaway.
If you go
Hilltop, A Historic Inn: 2 Kay Street, Newport, RI 02840, 800-846-0392
Francis Malbone House: 392 Thames Street, Newport, RI, 02840, 800-846-0392
Tucker's Bistro: 150 Broadway, Newport, RI, 02840, 401-846-3449, this restaurant came highly recommended and after spending a wonderful evening there, I know why! Don't miss the home made Bailey's at the end of the night. The best ever!