“Newport’s not a jungle. Not at all. But it is a little less formal.” – Martha Levinson in Downton Abbey
The Downton Abbey cult-like following increases every week. I am happy to be one of those followers who enjoys superb acting, witty dialogue and engrossing character development, not to mention the historical setting that sheds an engrossing light on societal development during and after the Great War. Along with those elements is the eye candy – period dress, shiny classic automobiles, fabulous homes. While discussing this with a friend recently, we agreed a visit to the grand homes of England was in order. In reality that’s not going to happen any time soon, but in the New World we do have our small share of historic mansions that rival Downton Abbey. Enter Newport, Rhode Island.
Martha Levinson mentions Newport during her visit with the Crawleys. During this period of history, all American aristocrats owned property or at least spent time in Newport. Had I not been to Newport several times in the last seven years I would have no idea what she was talking about, much less that Newport was in Rhode Island. Newport is known for its mansions, yacht races and tennis competition, all best to observe during the summer because Newport is also known for its brutal winters. Eleven gorgeous mansions along the Atlantic coast, all within close proximity, are open for public tours. With each tour, you learn a fascinating bit about servant life, American aristocracy, early 20th century titans and maybe take away some decorating tips for your own home. I was particularly impressed with the remarkable variety of marble in the Marble House, a home built in the late 19th century for the famed Vanderbilt family. Maybe I can’t afford a marble hall, or even a marble countertop, but I thought of traveling to the remote locations where some of the most gorgeous marble was quarried and maybe coming away with at least a marble coaster as a souvenir. My inner aristocrat delights in marble halls.
Tours of the mansions can be tricky with small children. There are many “do not touch” signs and frequently no strollers are allowed – they would simply cram some of the passageways. But, if your kids are well-behaved or small enough to strap in a carrier, take a tour! Another option is to simply enjoy the outside view of the homes from the Cliff Walk, open to the public. Portions of the cliff walk are stroller accessible. My favorite portion of the walk with children can be accessed by parking at the Breakers Mansion parking lot and walking down Ruggles Avenue on the south to the coast. The photos below were taken on that portion of pathway.
Tourists are prohibited from taking photos inside the mansion, thus I do not have any to show you. However, the Preservation Society that oversees the mansions has a wonderful website with many photos of the opulent palaces, including information on their histories and how to plan a visit. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a little bit of the Downton Abbey vibe this side of the Atlantic.