The Vanderbilt Grace. Old Money, Yankee Style, Is a Beautiful Thing
Rhode Island. Doesn’t evoke much by way of word association, does it? Well, apart from a breed of chicken. The only other bits of trivia that spring to mind are that it’s the smallest state and also the setting for Family Guy which: a) admittedly, isn’t going to look good on a poster; and b) won’t prepare you for arrival at The Vanderbilt Grace in Newport. The main drag of Newport is exactly that: a typical seaside resort with that odd hybrid of souvenirs, tacky drinking establishments, restaurants, antiques and sports clothing. It could be Brighton, assorted bits of California, vast tranches of Europe… And one suspects that it’s exactly the image the locals want to portray. Yes, see the main street, do your shopping, eat a burger, be loud and obnoxious, move along, don’t explore down there, no stay away from the lovely houses… For, just a few yards – really, not even a couple of hundred yards – from the chaos of the tourists, silence descends, the architecture becomes more spectacular, and there, on the right, is the Vanderbilt Grace.
If you’re vaguely familiar with US history and international travel, the name speaks volumes. The first bit does indeed refer to that family, the latter to Grace Hotels who are slowly but surely carving out a name that’s as reliable, if not more so, than those other famous luxury hotel groups. Grace have proved themselves sympathetic inheritors of boutique properties around the globe, though nowhere more so than here.
Vanderbilt Hall was built in 1909 by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, as a spectacular mansion from where this enthusiastic sportsman could indulge his hobbies and, one assumes, return relatively quickly to New York for pressing family business matters. Now, it’s a spectacular mansion-turned-hotel, where enthusiastic sportsmen and women can indulge their hobbies and drive back to New York in a matter of hours. But, frankly, why would you want to? Even in the driving rain, the views from Vanderbilt Grace are spectacular (well, if you like boat masts, which I do) but – with a sense of irony possibly justifying the cliché – it’s a little oasis of calm, but only if an oasis can be dry land surrounded by water. And, if you don’t mind an East Coast food pun, it’s also an oasis of clam. What? Right. Sorry…
While sleek and modern, the hotel gives substantial nods to the glories of the Gilded Age, mixing (not that much) older world charm with all the trimmings us hideously demanding jet-setting types demand, such as a spa, a well-appointed fitness centre, indoor and outdoor pools, a very smart bar and, despite only featuring 33 rooms and suites, two restaurants: The Conservatory – an addition to the original house that demonstrates Grace’s sensitivity to the building’s heritage – and Garden Terrace; and Muse, the more fine dining option by renowned New England chef, Jonathan Cartwright. One must assume that Rhode Island is one of those states that Michelin doesn’t recognise. If they did, or if Cartwright shipped Muse, the smart cooking and the refined New England classics wholesale to Manhattan, you could probably slap two stars on it from day one. If there’s a better way to develop a cholesterol problem than Cartwright’s smoked lobster, I want to know about it.
So, that – and the hotel’s proximity to all things saily and aquatic – covers the “play”. Let’s look at “work” and “rest”. The former is taken care of with excellent and speedy wifi (British hotels, please visit and learn). The latter is taken care of – and how – with care and attention to detail that I trust others will imitate soon? As well as the sort of supportive, comfortable bed that has you scrabbling around the base trying to find the maker’s name, the email booking confirmation comes with a short questionnaire where you can pre-order not only your preferred pillow type but also your room scent.
Over a longer stay, perhaps negatives would have shown themselves. However, in the case of an all-too-brief overnighter, from welcoming champagne to check-out, the Vanderbilt Grace was as surefooted, slick and friendly as humanly possible. If I was the sort of person who kept a list of favourite hotels in the world, the Vanderbilt Grace would slip onto it with consummate ease. And I am that sort of person. And it has.