Hotel Spotlight

Spend a Gilded Night in a Newport Mansion

by California Chaney
All photos courtesy of Cliffside Inn.

The Cliffside Inn
Newport, RI
Old World, $$ 

On the coast of Newport, reminders of the town's once-fantastical Gilded Age are hardly in short supply. This includes its most popular tourist attraction: gawking at the grandiose mansions of the wealthiest 19th-century families who built summertime playgrounds and lavish gardens atop breathtaking Atlantic Ocean cliffs. And while the historic seaside wharfs offer a taste of the luxury lifestyle, with their fresh seafood catches and oyster bounties, few accommodations provide a window onto the lavish world of the past.

Enter The Cliffside Inn, a historic 1876 Victorian manor restored in 2019 as a charming 16-room boutique hotel by New England-based hospitality company Lark Hotels. The property is not just any old-world mansion. It began life as the estate of Maryland Governor Thomas Swann. Nicknamed "Swann Villa," the pile then became the prestigious St. George's School for boys, until 1907, when the Turner family of Philadelphia purchased the property to restore it to its summertime glory. Beatrice Turner grew up here before becoming a famous painter and somewhat mysterious 20th-century Newport legend. In other words, if these walls could talk. 

During the renovation, Lark was meticulous about preserving Beatrice's eccentric spirit throughout the Victorian estate, adding bold jewel-toned furnishings and showcasing her original art on the walls and on hand-painted door panels that lead to the spacious guest rooms. Cozy nooks, window seats, and libraries stocked with English literature give the space a well-lived-in feeling, as do the stately wraparound porch and formal rose-filled gardens that are as elaborate today as they were in their heyday. And while the inn doesn't teeter on the cliffside as precariously as some of its neighboring mansions, Newport's famed Cliff Walk, with its miles-long sea views, is just at the end of the street.

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At a Glance

The Vibe: An homage to the bygone Victorian era with contemporary, stylized details for the modern traveler.

Standout Detail: The inn's cabinets of curiosities, hand-painted doors and portraits by Beatrice Turner, and the restored Gilded charm.

This Place Is Perfect For: Romantics who want a getaway full of history, opulence, and a hint of mystery.

Rooms: 16 sun-filled rooms and suites are unique with a mix of colorful, vintage Victorian and contemporary furnishings, gas fireplaces, and whirlpool tubs. Notable rooms to request include Beatrice's Room, with hand-painted door panels by the artist, a carved stone mantel above the fireplace, and a two-person whirlpool tub below an ocean-front bay window. The Lark Suite, located in the property's original carriage house, has its own private entrance and a sliding barn door that opens to a standalone marble bath. There's also antique heart pine flooring and a cozy window seat overlooking the front yard with ocean views. The Tower and Garden Suites also have unique entrances with spiral staircases that lead to elevated rooms with their own outdoor decks. The Garden, Hydrangea, Cliff, and Atlantic Suites have private garden-level patios.

On Site: The inn inherited the estate's vibrant formal gardens and thoughtfully added lounge chairs and couches for guests. (Feel free to have a perch as you sip tea and pretend you own the place.) The stately lounges, cozy nooks, and window seats are perfect to get lost in a book on a rainy day. Guests receive complimentary use of beach chairs, towels, coolers, and sunscreen to tote to several calm-water beaches nearby.

Food + DrinkAs all Victorian meals should be, breakfast is a lavish affair served in the house's indoor and outdoor common spaces. Daily afternoon wine, served from 5 to 6 p.m., is best enjoyed while strolling the property's formal gardens or gazing at the ocean view from the wraparound porch. There's no onsite restaurant, however nearby Bellevue Avenue is lined with restaurants serving fresh seafood and locally sourced dishes. It's also the main strip of Newport's historic mansions, so you never know what fancy dinner party you might stumble into.

What to Do Nearby

Newport is one of the most popular and tried-and-true summer destinations of the Northeast, known for its world-class sailing bays, calm beaches, historic wharfs, and freshly-shucked oysters at famed port-side restaurants like the Black Pearl and Clark Cook House. The Cliff Walk and Newport Mansions tours are a must for first-time visitors (not to mention history and interiors buffs), but there are many ways to see the coastline and its dramatic architectural and natural vistas. 

Sightsailing, the oldest and locally operated sailing company, offers daily private and group charters within the Narragansett Bay. Pack a cooler with wine and picnic fixings for the perfect sunset sail. Stop at one of many bike rental shops throughout town if you want to get a workout in on Newport's hills and explore the outskirts of the town, which is where you'll find vintage and Victorian estate shops, as well as quaint bakeries and family-owned restaurants like Malt and Mamma Louisa.

The annual Newport Jazz Festival is a beloved summer tradition, where visitors and locals alike head to Fort Adams for a three-day festival of traditional and new-wave jazz artists. But Newport doesn't save all of its charm for the warm months: Fall and winter are becoming increasingly popular for the seaside town, with several wine and seafood festivals, Oktoberfest, and a mansion Christmas light display.

Keep exploring Newport with The Ultimate Newport Guide to the New and the Always Classic.

Get inspired for Newport living: Stream High Society, the 1956 movie starring Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Grace Kelly in her last on-screen appearance before she became the Princess of Monaco, or just watch the best scene in the movie — Crosby and the Louis Armstrong performing "Now You Has Jazz."

We make every effort to ensure the information in our articles is accurate at the time of publication. But the world moves fast, and even we double-check important details before hitting the road.