Rhode Island: The Ocean House
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The Ocean House1 Bluff Avenue 02891 Westerly, RI, United States 888/552-2588 Oceanhouseri.com
Complimentary "Fare and Vine" culinary education courses, like a New England cheese primer, wine tasting, "What's Local," and "Grilling by the Beach with the Ocean House Forager."
Complimentary afternoon refreshments, such as pastries with apple cider and hot cocoa, or lemonade and iced tea in the wood-paneled lounge.
A round of six-wicket croquet on a championship lawn overlooking the ocean.
- Complimentary car service within a 15-mile radius
- Complimentary bikes to explore the rest of the tiny peninsula
- In-room mini-bar stocked with candy, snack mix, soft drinks and water, along with a single-serving coffee and tea machine
- Gratuity-free property
A few days later, my Amtrak train pulled into the station in Westerly, Rhode Island. On the platform, a man in a suit stood waiting. It was Hank, one of the Ocean House drivers, and after a warm welcome, he whisked me away in a brand-new Mercedes. During the 15-minute drive that followed, he told me the story behind the Ocean House.
In late 1800s, hotels proliferated on the Watch Hill peninsula, an area whose calm beauty made it an ideal summer destination for wealthy families from nearby Boston, only an hour's drive away. The Ocean House opened in 1868 and was an instant success, growing in fame until it was immortalized in the 1916 silent movie "American Aristocracy." But over the years, the grand Watch Hill hotels fell into disrepair, and most eventually closed. In 2003, the Ocean House was deemed beyond renovation and torn down; but the following year, a near-exact replica was built, with all the charming period details restored and thousands of its antique furnishings and decorative pieces salvaged. The main difference between the original and new hotels is the size of the rooms, which grew from 159 original rooms to a more luxurious 49 rooms and 13 suites.
I was lucky enough to stay in one of the Deluxe Studios with water views, which featured a small sitting area with a gas fireplace and large windows opening onto a terrace overlooking the ocean. The bathroom had shutter doors, which, when opened, allowed for a fine view of the crackling fireplace and out of the large windows from the huge soaking tub. The towering feather-top bed, piled high with plush 400-thread-count Frette linens and 100% goose down pillows, also faced the fireplace. The ambiance of utter relaxation was heightened by the iPod radio dock station, which played soft classical music in the background. Little touches here and there—like a nightly refill of my ice bucket—made me feel like American royalty.
After pre-dinner martinis on the wrap-around veranda overlooking the croquet lawn, it was time for dinner at Seasons, the Ocean House's fine dining restaurant, which features locally-sourced, seasonal New England ingredients from Beltane Farm in Lebanon, Connecticut and Blackbird Farm in Smithfield, Rhode Island. The knowledgeable, down-to-earth sommelier pointed out his favorite wines on an interactive iPad menu. The food was inventive, with starters like confit pheasant potato terrine topped with a tiny fried quail egg and served alongside cider-braised cabbage, and mains like the meltingly tender short rib open-ravioli that shared a plate with medium-rare slices of ribeye and sweet roasted parsnips and mushrooms.
The next morning, the restaurant dining room had transformed from candlelight and crisp whites to soft blue and white linen-topped tables overlooking the beach. Breakfast began with a basket of croissants and scones to go with your personal pot of tea or French press coffee, and the menu offered fresh options ranging from a hearty muesli with almonds and apples to crisp-edged granola pancakes with Narragansett Creamery yogurt and mixed berries to the indulgent Croque Omelette with sweet onions, Gruyère and Black Forest ham.
The Ocean House offers many pleasures beyond the dining room, including cooking classes, croquet, squash, Tai Chi, and complimentary bikes for guests who want to take a spin around the peninsula. But I spent most of the weekend curled up on the leather couch tucked next to the inviting lounge fireplace, reading a book to the soothing sounds of waves. That weekend, the same quiet escape that has drawn urban dwellers for the last hundred years was all mine. —Felicia Campbell
IN THE AREA
- St. Clair Annex: Homemade ice cream from a family-run shop located just 5 minutes away from the hotel. 141 Bay Street, Westerly, RI; tel: 401/348-8407
- The Malted Barley: Stop into this lively beer haven for fresh-baked stuffed pretzels and draft beer by the $2 sampler glass, $6-8 pint glass, or the sharable barrel. 42 High St, Westerly, RI; tel: 401/315-2184; themaltedbarleyri.com
- The Twisted Vine: More of a wine drinker? Head a few blocks up to this wine bar, with a list that includes some organic selections. 3 Canal St, Westerly, RI; tel: 401/596-4600; thetwistedvineri.com
- Bridge: While "in town," stop here for delicious fish tacos and a view that overlooks the Pawcatuck river, which separates Rhode Island and Connecticut. 37 Main St, Westerly, RI; tel: 401/348-9700; bridgeri.com