Contributing writer Sheryl Kraft discovers an impressive oceanfront getaway close to home at Ocean House Rhode Island.
Sometimes escaping for the day can be as restful as an overnight stay.
That’s what I found after a recent visit to Ocean House. The boutique hotel is located in the Watch Hill neighborhood of Westerly, at the southwest tip of the state. This grand Victorian resort and hotel is a member of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux collection.
Craving a getaway but hesitant to travel too far from home, I had no plans for an extended vacation anytime soon. The world’s sad reality of continued COVID infections, canceled flights, and pilot shortages felt daunting. When my desire to travel collided with my craving for calm, I “settled” on a day trip. About two hours after departing my home in Connecticut, I pulled up to this iconic oceanfront Victorian hotel, and the word “settled” was replaced with a much kinder and gentler word: “Ahhhh.”
From the parking valet’s friendly greeting to the chirps and trills of the seabirds flying overhead, to the brilliantly blue skies and dune grass swaying in the breeze, I knew I was in for a special day.
Ocean House Rhode Island took my breath away
All of Ocean House’s well-deserved accolades are too numerous to list. As one of only eleven Forbes Triple Five Star resorts in the world, Ocean House also has been awarded Travel & Leisure’s “World’s Best Hotels;” Conde Nast Traveler’s “Favorite Hotels in the World;” U.S. News & World Report’s number one resort and hotel in Rhode Island, and more.
The original Ocean House was built in 1868, following the Civil War. It didn’t take long for word to spread, and it quickly became the place for the leisure class from across the country to gather and spend summers to escape the oppressive city heat and enjoy its pristine beaches and picturesque outdoor venues for private events, parties, dining, croquet, concerts and of course, swimming in its pristine Atlantic Ocean.
As time wore on, so did the hotel. It became run-down and lacked adequate heating, cooling, and ventilation systems. Many of its rooms were unserviceable, and the hotel required updating to comply with current building and safety codes. (Miraculously, in 1938, it survived one of the most destructive and powerful hurricanes ever recorded.) In 2003, Ocean House’s doors were shuttered; the building condemned – and sold.
An iconic property makes a comeback
Concerned and alarmed by a developer’s plans to raze the hotel and construct five homes in its place, concerned citizens vehemently protested, their voices heard. In 2004, Ocean House Watch Hill again changed hands and was purchased by famed mutual fund manager Chuck Royce and his wife, Deborah Royce. With fierce dedication and a passion for historic preservation and community, the couple stepped in to save Ocean House.
Under their supervision, the hotel was rebuilt from the ground up, at a cost of $14.6 million; painstakingly and lovingly remodeled after the original to retain its timeless elegance. It reopened in 2010 with a nod to its storied past.
The current building, 50,000 square feet—larger than its original—features 49 rooms and 18 Signature Suites. Its gentle yellow exterior is the exact shade of the original building, and the windows were all placed back in their original positions. Over 5,000 artifacts and architectural elements were saved before the building was demolished.
Additionally, the original mansard roof and lobby fireplace remain in the new structure; and columns and woodwork are replicated to resemble the originals. The hotel houses an extensive art collection that includes 250 works from the 19th century through the 1990s, including artists George Goursat, Ludwig Bemelmans (illustrator of the famous Madeline children’s books), and illustrious poster and magazine illustrator, James Montgomery Flagg. In addition to the permanent art collection, there are galleries featuring paintings by leading local artists, which are available for purchase.
The Ocean House Rhode Island has hosted many generations of families and guests over the years, perhaps most notably Douglas Fairbanks, who starred in the silent film, American Aristocracy, on the hotel’s premises in 1916. Today, singer-songwriter Taylor Swift’s home, reportedly purchased for a mere $17.75 million in 2013, can be seen perched on a scenic bluff nearby.
Ways to enjoy a day trip to Ocean House Rhode Island
There is no shortage of luxury amenities a the resort. Although the use of the private beach is limited to overnight guests of Ocean House Rhode Island, the beautiful property is a great place to visit for a day, rich in activities.
- Self-guided audio art tours
- Private croquet lesson
- A relaxed lunch or dinner
- The OH! Spa with access to locker rooms, steam rooms, and relaxation rooms, an array of spa services featuring locally sourced products, and a full-service hair and nail salon
- Lectures and open-house events (including author series, wine dinners, and painter receptions)
- Private small-group experiences (like dinner for six or more at the hotel’s Center for Wine and Culinary Arts)
- Private croquet classes
- A variety of gourmet restaurants to choose from, including AAA Five-Star Rated Coast, The Bistro, and three al fresco restaurants for dining outdoors (weather permitting)
If you choose to venture outside Ocean House, the area is teeming with nearby attractions and activities, including the Flying Horse Carousel (the oldest continuously operating carousel in the U.S.), art galleries and antique shops, and the Watch Hill Lighthouse and Museum.
A pampered overnight stay at Ocean House
Most guest rooms and suites have water views, and many have fireplaces. Rooms range from 500 square feet to a 4,000-square-foot deluxe suite. All include luxury bedding and towels, marble bathrooms and flat panel televisions.
Summer rates begin at around $1,500; off-season rates start at $530 for a Queen room and $710 for a Deluxe King. (Check the website for more information)
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
Ocean House is clean, quiet, and comfortable, offering a welcome respite for a day, overnight, or longer. The casually elegant furnishings and calming yellows, blues, turquoise and cream create a sense of calm throughout the resort. The Living Room, which adjoins the lobby, offers evening entertainment, cocktails, and afternoon weekend tea.
Many educational and enriching opportunities are available, including private art watercolor lessons, culinary education programs, lecture series with artists and authors, cork and canvas events where you can create your own art modeled after a piece of existing art while sipping wine, and art receptions with leading artists featured in local galleries.
IF YOU GO
Ocean House is easy to reach. It is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from New York City, one and a half hours from Boston and parts of Connecticut.
Westerly Airport, which is four miles away, welcomes private aircraft as well as regional air service. In addition, T.F. Green Airport in Providence is 45 minutes away and Amtrak services are available in the nearby town of Westerly. The hotel is happy to arrange transportation to and from airports and train stations.
*See additional information on events at Ocean House, as well as its sister properties.
All photo credits: Courtesy Ocean House
Disclosure: The author was a lunchtime guest at the property during her visit.
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