Newport's Castle Hill Inn has been named the Most Romantic Retreat in New England by Forbes

Read the full article below: Written by: Ann Abel Driving around Newport, Rhode Island, is like touring the back lot for a film about America at its most comfortable and idyllic. Nothing is less than lovely. Its the kind of town where you might see a couple of a certain age walking down the street dressed in croquet whites and carrying mallets. Unironically. Thats the context for Castle Hill Inn, which is very much in keeping with the towns wholesome, affluent vibe. As a senior manager told me, going to Newport (as she did some 30 years ago after a career in New York) is like travelingback to 1953. The overtones of the Gilded Age (and its modern-day 1 percent equivalent) are still there, but apart from the jaw-dropping mansions along Bellevue Avenue and the famous Cliff Walk,its still overwhelmingly pleasant. Life is largely just lived in a pretty, privileged, Norman Rockwell sort of way. (And, it must be said, a rather WASP-y kind of way: The breakfast menu at Castle Hill lists Jewish rye among the bread choices.) But then when you get to Castle Hill, context is immaterial. The place is simply romantic and dreamy, animated by history but not weighted down with it. And its location, on a promontory a few miles west of the town center, is as beguiling as it gets. Its hard not to fall a little bit in love. Locals and visitors come simply to spend afternoons on the inns lawnor Lawn, as its an official venue, with foodand beverages served to well-dressed, well-behaved guests in their Adirondack chairsand watch the sailboats drift by on Narragansett Bay, or the sun set the sky aflame as it dips below the horizon. The appeal of Castle Hill Inn, and Newport in general, is the absence of annoyance, said the well-traveled friend who joined me on this trip and found peace as soon as she arrived. People tell me I dont know how to relax, but they just havent taken me to the right places. Castle Hill is the right place. (I stayed as a guest of the hotel.) Now consisting of seven rooms and suites in a 19th-century mansion and 26 private waterfront accommodations spread among several buildings, the inn began life in 1874 as the shingle-style summer home of Harvard University marine biologist Alexander Agassiz. Something of a Renaissance man, he also collected Japanese and Chinese bronzes, porcelain, art and furnishings, many of which are still there. After his descendants left (when his daughter-in-law was spooked by a hurricane), the property was sold to a local businessman, who allowed it to house naval officers during World War II before turning it into an inviting, wood-paneled hotel. In early days it drew the likes of Grace Kelly and Thornton Wilder, who described the turret suite as a magical room in his autobiographical novel, Theophilus North. But for all that legacy, the hotel is not a stuffy period piece. A lot of that has to do with the friendly, empowered staff. They werent just trained to show pride of ownership: While the family that bought it from Agassiz remains the largest single shareholder, the employees are shareholders too. If Castle Hill can be taken as an example, giving staff a stake is something other hotel owners should seriously consider. The Newport season ends at Labor Day, and along with it, the towns many sailing and other events. So does Castle Hills fun sailing package, which includes a private sailing lesson, a sunset cruise, a tote bag full of snacks, dinner at an excellent waterfront restaurant in town and a Helly Hansen gift card. (This will be back next year, and is worth doing if youre interested in learning to sail.) But even after that official end, the area remains warm and beautiful, and the hotel remains romantic, and slightly more affordable. The Lawn is open until Columbus Day, and the hotel is open almost year-round. Rates eventually drop steeply, from a starting point of $755 (midweek) in summer to $425 in late October. The inn offers plenty of pleasures all year. What to do with the romance element is self-evident, even more so when its chilly outside and the fires are lit. A new spa, a partnership with prestigious Rhode Island natural-beauty brand Farmaesthetics, opened earlier this year. And the restaurant, more than good enough to get Castle Hill into Relais & Chteaux, focuses on local, seasonal ingredients (surprise) prepared with international cooking techniques. The wine list has won Wine Spectactor awards of excellence for many years running. As with its hometown, nothing is less than lovely. [gallery type="rectangular" link="file" ids="2098,2099,2100"]