The Historical Splendour of the Newport Mansions

By: Cheryl Fenton

October 20, 2014

With spectacular coastal scenery, awe-inspiring architecture and a thriving waterfront, the Rhode Island village of Newport is a perfect little getaway, just an hour from Boston. With 11 stunning historical properties situated within the area, the Newport Mansions remain a star attraction for those seeking to discover over 250 years worth of remarkable American history.

Nestled in the heart of this age-old fishing village is some serious seaside extravagance. Welcome to the famed Bellevue Avenue, home to 88 acres of lavish gardens, parks and, of course, the magnificent Gilded Age mansions. Whether you take the famed 3.5-mile Cliff Walk for an outdoor sneak peek just feet from the crashing waves or you indulge in an indoor guided tour, these Newport Mansions are not to be missed.

The Breakers | Newport Mansions
The most famous mansion along Bellevue Avenue is The Breakers, summer cottage of the Vanderbilt’s © Matt H. Wade/UpstateNYer/Wikimedia

The most grand and famous mansion of all is one associated with a grand and famous American household name – Vanderbilt. The Breakers was the family’s summer “cottage” and a symbol of their wealth and influence in turn-of-the-century America. The 16th century palaces of Genoa and Turin inspired the massive 70-room Italian Renaissance-style palazzo.

Quite the Hollywood sweetheart (it’s been featured in The Great Gatsby, True Lies, 27 Dresses and Amistad), Rosecliff was designed after the garden retreat of French kings at Versailles. You can still hear the echoes from a century of highbrow entertaining, including a fairy tale dinner and a party featuring famed magician Harry Houdini.

Chateau sur Mer | Newport Mansions
The Chateau-sur-Mer is a lavish example of period design © Brian Snelson/Flickr

You can’t escape the extravagance of the other properties that line the streets. Chateau-sur-Mer, for instance, is a High Victorian playground of period architecture, furniture, wallpapers, ceramics and stencilling. This party palace is known to have ushered in the Gilded Age of Newport with its famously lavish get-togethers. Or find peace in the recently restored elaborate Classical Revival gardens on the grounds of The Elms property. There are marble and bronze sculptures, fine specimen trees, marble pavilions, fountains, a sunken garden, and carriage house. Don’t forget the Marble House, the Vanderbilts’ opulent stone palace that has a reported 500,000 cubic feet of marble within its stately walls.

Marble House by night | Newport Mansions
The Marble House looks equally as stunning at night © John Corbett/The Preservation Society of Newport County

With the holidays around the corner, these palatial estates are getting ready for the time of glittery gold and sparkly silver. The grand Victorian elegance of Bellevue Avenue becomes an opulently decorated fantasy world come late November.

Breakers Great Hall Xmas | Newport Mansions
The opulent festive decorations at The Breakers Great Hall © John Corbett/The Preservation Society of Newport County

While the other Newport mansions are taking their seasonal siestas until spring, The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House are decked out in Yuletide finery as part of the 43rd annual Christmas in Newport festivities. There will be live holiday music and tours, all set off by thousands of poinsettias, evergreens, wreaths and 28 decorated Christmas trees. Tables are set with period silver and china complete for an elegant party, and little white candles twinkle in every window.

The Elms dining room | Newport Mansions
The Elms equisite dining hall is an elegant backdrop to a festive party © John Corbett/The Preservation Society of Newport County


The Newport Mansions autumn/winter schedule: The Breakers, Chateau-sur-Mer, The Elms, Marble House and Rosecliff are open daily from October 14 to November 21 2014; The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House are open daily and decorated for the holidays from November 22 to January 4, 2015.

Header image © The Breakers by Roger Ward/Flickr

Virgin Atlantic operates daily flights to Boston from London Heathrow. Book your flight.

Have you visited the Newport Mansions before? Tell us which one you liked best in the comments section below.

Written by Cheryl Fenton


Cheryl Fenton

A Boston native, Cheryl Fenton is no stranger to the goings on and hot spots of her favorite city. Throughout her 15-year freelance career in dining, fashion, beauty and travel, Cheryl has covered it all for local magazines and websites including Stuff, The Boston Globe, Boston Phoenix, and Boston Common. You can also find her national bylines in glossies such as Glamour, Cooking Light, and Wallpaper. In her spare time, what little there is, Cheryl strolls the city with coffee in hand, always looking for what’s next on the agenda.

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