To New Englanders, and those south in the Metro New York area, there's something almost mystical about the Ocean House in Watch Hill, Rhode Island. Known for its iconic yellow façade, the luxury majestically watches over the Atlantic Ocean beyond. The resort is as revered today as it was in 1868, when it welcomed its first guests, quickly becoming the premier summer destination for generations of Americans who had the means the means for luxury travel.
In 2003, after 135 years of welcoming guests, the hotel closed its doors. Damage from the salty air and harsh New England winters had taken its toll on the Victorian building. It wouldn't remain closed for long, however, as the following year, plans were drawn up to recreate the original hotel as accurately as possible. Over 5,000 items were carefully salvaged from the original structure, giving the new one the character and charm of yesteryear. Ocean House now features 49 rooms, 15 suites, an on-site spa, several dining options, and a number of luxe amenities. It is once again a sought-after New England destination.
Ocean House has long been on my personal wish list and last month I was able to see that wish come true. On behalf of Yankee Magazine I booked a room so that I could research and write Ocean House in Watch Hill, Rhode Island | The Perfect Spot for a Seaside Lunch for the magazine's digital publication. I soon learned that one doesn't to have the deep pockets of a Vanderbilt or Astor to visit the luxury resort. The numerous restaurants on property are open to the public as well as their guests. (Click on the link above to read the article.)
Although it felt like summer in much of the country, May 31st was a chilly, drizzly and overcast day in Rhode Island. Not unusual weather for these parts, but disappointing for those of us who had come to the premiere resort looking forward to spending some time basking in the sun. Luckily for us we would soon learned that the hotel offers much to keep their guests busy during inclement weather.
As we checked in we were treated to a glass of Prosecco and we had no inclination of turning it town. Waiting for the concierge to return with our room keys I couldn't help but notice the trompe l'oeil of a five dollar bill on the floor. (I made a note to ask when she returned. Naturally, I forgot and wouldn't learn the answer until later that afternoon.) Once we received our keys we proceeded up to our room. We could not help but notice the collection of cartoons by the French artist Sem, and paused to look at them carefully on the way to our room.
Our room was bright and spacious with a fabulous view of the Atlantic Ocean. Even on a dreary day the scene was magnificent, breathtakingly calm as a light rain misted onto our balcony and gentle waves rode in on an ocean as grey as the sky.
Our initial plan was to drop off our bags, clean up and head back downstairs for a late lunch. We were scheduled for a 4:00 PM tour of the hotel, so a late, leisurely lunch was the perfect plan. We weren't expecting the gorgeous cheese, charcuterie and fruit platter that greeted us, on the counter over the fridge that was stocked with waters and soft drinks for us to help ourselves to at no additional cost. On the shelves above were glass jars (like you'd find at an old fashioned penny candy store) filled with malted milk balls, goldfish crackers and assorted nuts.
We each grabbed a plate and helped ourselves to the generous assortment which perfectly complemented the Prosecco we had brought up from downstairs. Satisfied and bellies full we headed back down for our tour, and as we waited in the lobby I couldn't help but notice another small trompe l'oeil painted on the floor... We learned that this all had to do with Mortimer Mouse.
Mortimer Mouse is a fictitious character who resides in the Ocean House. Written and illustrated by Ardith Schneider, the children's book incorporates the hotel's history into a lively story. The animal characters have been drawn, scanned and superimposed on actual photographs of the unique architectural elements of the Ocean House Hotel which include the old elevator, the fireplace and the Palladian window. Throughout the book the mice romp through the hotel rooms taking care not to be chomped up by the encroaching excavators. As the story concludes Mortimer and Max are seen amongst the rubble of the demolished hotel. They pick themselves up and seek refuge in the chapel across the street where they will watch the new Ocean House emerge from a cavernous foundation hole. Adapting to a big change in their life, they explore the chapel and anticipate the new hotel. To play off of the book, a local artist, painted a dozen wonderful images that are scattered throughout the hotel. A treasure map of these fun finds is at the concierge. This grown-up child delighted in this perfect rainy day activity as we toured the hotel. For more child-friendly experiences at Ocean House and Nearby, click here.
Art and Cooking at Ocean House
After we learned about Mortimer Mouse we toured more of the hotel including the Center for Culinary Arts where cooking lessons and tastings are offered in a state of the art Gaggenau outfitted kitchen with a most impressive wine cellar. The day we were there we could smell the freshly baked breads in the ovens from the last class. The cellar was lined with wonderful illustrations of the late Ludwig Bemelmans (many recognize his work from the wonderful Madeline books) each more delightful than the next. In fact, Ocean House boasts an impressive collection of his works from New York City as well as Paris. Read more about it here. In fact, the hotel features a wide variety of art in various mediums, using hallways and salons as galleries. I recommend strolling through the hotel to view the spectacular art on display. For those interested in the vast collection, I highly suggest you ask for a tour.
Classes and Activities at Ocean House
The hotel publishes a beautiful newsletter for its guests, Ocean House Waves, which highlights the monthly and daily events - from wine tasting, to souflé-making, to spa and fitness class offerings. There are many activities geared towards families and children, most of which are at no additional cost to hotel guests. A link to the most recent newsletter can be viewed when clicking this link.
Health and Fitness at Ocean House
The hotel boasts a 5-star spa with full offerings and featuring locally sourced beauty products. For the health and sport enthusiast there are a multitude of recreational activities to choose from including tennis, croquet, squash, paddle boarding, surfing, shuffleboard and of course swimming. The hotel also has a state of the art fully equipped gym with the most technically-advanced equipment. Classes, both group and private are available, and schedules are printed out for each hotel guest. For those wanting to work out with instruction a state of the art machine is on hand that offers video instruction for a multitude of of classes from yoga to Barre to Spinning. So you'll be able to eat and drink to your heart's content.... You are on vacation, after all!
Food and Dining at Ocean House
As a member of the Relais & Châteaux luxury property group, Ocean House prides itself on its fine dining experience . The good news is that you needn't be a guest of the hotel to enjoy them. Nearly all of the hotel’s excellent on-site dining options (including those at its nearby sister property, the Weekapaug Inn) offer the perfect seaside lunch experience for summer, thus making Ocean House a perfect road trip destination for New Englanders. In a recent digital publication for Yankee Magazine, newengland.com, I featured the many and varied restaurants at Ocean House. Click here to read about them all.
Ocean House's Secret Garden
I was excited to check out the newly established Secret Garden created in partnership with Veuve Clicquot. Located "secretly" behind The Bistro Bar & Lounge, on an intimately-sized deck outfitted with wicker furniture, white cushions and dressed up in what I like to refer to as Veuve Orange, the Secret Garden has sweeping views of the hotel property and the ocean beyond.
The "garden" is open to guests and locals alike and features appetizer-sized treats which include lobster rolls and assorted mini hot dogs dressed in various toppings. The newest Champagne, Riche, (pronounced Rich) designed to be enjoyed on ice is served here - one of the very few places on the East Coast to offer the new label. Riche is somewhat sweeter and was designed specifically to be enjoyed on ice. Served in what are referred to as Swimming Pools, large rounded goblets, these cocktails come with an assortment of garnishes, from citrus to spicy. Click here for the menu.
The Beach at Ocean House
Beyond the Secret Garden and at the bottom of the hill the beach extends for as far as the eye can see. To the left (as you stand facing the hotel) is the property of none other than Ms. Taylor Swift herself. (For those generations much younger than I, there's even a geotag for your social media posts.) The beach is the only area that is reserved for hotel guests only.
Beach chairs dressed in the iconic Ocean House yellow are neatly lined up, waiting to greet guests as they arrive. Cabanas are available for use as well, and after a recent partnership with Lilly Pulitzer, are now dressed up in the brand's signature summer prints. (You'll be remiss to notice the waitresses in the Secret Garden dressed in Lilly as well.)
The beach offers paddle and surf lessons, and for those who prefer to comb the sands looking for sea glass.... I can assure you that you won't come up empty handed - especially if you're there early in the morning. For hungry beach goers there's Dune Cottage located in a shady pergola right on the private beach. The restaurant offers a casual elegance with simple, yet sophisticated Mediterranean–inspired menu. An outdoor kitchen offers fresh, brick-oven pizzas, salads, sandwiches and grilled skewers. For more click here.
Accommodations and Service
As one expects when one stays at any 5-Star hotel, specifically a Relais & Chateaux property, service is nothing less than impeccable. The staff were friendly, courteous and always at the ready to help, offer advice, information or suggestions.
It might have been the charcuterie and cheese platter that initially grabbed our attention, but as with everything else at Ocean House, our room was warm and welcoming as well. With French doors that opened to our own private balcony, perfect for enjoying that early morning coffee. If you're not one to wake early, you may want to consider just once - the sunrises are nothing less than breathtaking. More impressive to me than the bedroom, was the bathroom. Outfitted with the deepest tub I have ever seen, I thought who needs a spa when you have this? It felt like a personal swimming pool. I emptied my sachet of bath salts and soaked until every worry disappeared. Might I go so far as to say that the shower might have been the best hotel shower I have yet to experience? I might! (And I've stayed at my fair share of luxury hotels.) I don't think it was so much the water pressure and the hot water (I like it very very hot) massaging my back, but what was underfoot. Smooth river rocks inlaid at the bottom of the shower offered the most healing of touches. I could have stood there all day. I should not overlook the full sized bottles of Molton Brown shower products, another small but perfect touch.
At Ocean House one cannot help but notice the incredible, careful attention to detail which is evident everywhere you turn.... from the hallways, to the dining areas to the accommodations, dining and activities.
In short, Ocean House epitomizes the quality and service expected at the world's top resorts. It is not without reason that the hotel has earned so many awards and top accolades by the most prestigious travel sites and publications. Whether you're visiting for the day or a few days, Ocean House will offer an experience that will be savored and forever etched in your memory.