Anna Hart finds three towns to suit foodies, partygoers and the smart set
New England looms large in the imagination of the British traveller, calling to mind spiffy Ivy League college towns, the preppy sailing clubs of Ralph Lauren photoshoots and lakeside holiday cabins fringed with rusty-leafed woodland.
But when it comes to translating these images into solid travel plans, we often falter: it’s hard to know where to start, beyond the cliché of genteel fly-drives and leaf-peeping in the Fall.
However, over the past few summers, the sleepy holiday towns of New England have woken up, and today offer international travellers stylish digs, sumptuous eats and deal-clinching activities like helicopter trips and hot-air balloon adventures.
A tour around three standout New England towns – foodie Providence, stylish Newport and creative Provincetown – is the best way to get under the skin of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
As a gateway city, Boston makes for a much softer landing than New York. Most visitors will want a night or two to stroll the Freedom Trail, do a food-crawl inside Faneuil Hall Marketplace, catch a baseball game at Fenway Park and feast on freshly-shucked oysters at the Union Oyster House.
But for travellers wanting to skip the city altogether, setting off from Boston Logan rather than the NYC airports means you can be checking into your hotel in Providence, Newport or Provincetown in under two hours.
Dine in style in Providence
This former factory town has reinvented itself as a culinary capital, with many of America’s top chefs cutting their teeth at prestigious cookery schools such as Johnson and Wales and Chef Walter’s Cooking School.
Innovative gourmet eats are found at the Asian-influenced North run by James Mark, and Birch, an ambitious 18-seater focusing on foraged herbs and local seafood.
For a more neighbourhood scene, head to the Italian quarter of Federal Hill, where Venda Ravioli Italian Marketplace stocks more than 150 varieties of fresh and frozen pasta.
“Simple Italian restaurants have existed here on Federal Hill since the first immigrants arrived in Rhode Island, where male workers would typically arrive a few months before sending for their wives and children,” explains Walter Potenza, a restaurateur and culinary educator.
“Corner restaurants offered monthly subscriptions for hungry migrant workers.”
But food isn’t the only draw. As the home of Rhode Island School of Design, Providence’s homeware and fashion stores are outstanding. Swing by the beautifully restored Arcade – America’s oldest indoor mall – and wander design emporiums such as Clover and Homestyle, before popping into the independent boutiques lining Hope Street.
Best of all, Providence finally has a stylish boutique hotel worthy of its design credentials in the shape of The Dean.
Find out more: goprovidence.com
Join the smart set in Newport
A major 18th-century port, Newport today contains the highest concentration of surviving colonial buildings of any city in the US and is very much the archetypal wealthy Rhode Island harbour town.
By the turn of the 20th century, America’s wealthiest families – the Vanderbilts, the Astors and the Wideners – were ‘summering’ in Newport (only the super-rich use ‘summer’ as a verb) in vast houses coyly called ‘summer cottages’.
Today many of these mansions – The Breakers, Miramar and Rosecliff – are preserved by a heritage foundation that runs tours for £14 (newportmansions.org).
Most straddle the lovely clifftop path and Newport’s most exclusive street, Bellevue Avenue, and can easily be explored on foot or by bicycle. To amp it up a little, take a coastal helicopter tour with Birds Eye View Helicopters, from £50, or sip craft beers aboard the Gansett, from £16, while gazing at Jacqueline Kennedy’s childhood home, Hammersmith Farm.
As well as being the swankiest sailing capital of the US, Newport is famous for golf and tennis: the first ever US Open took place here at the Newport Casino, and today the freshly revamped International Tennis Hall of Fame museum is well worth a wander.
If you’re feeling active, book a court there, from £50, and have a knockabout on the grass courts where legends like Billie Jean King, John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg and Chris Evert have stood.
Afterwards tuck into clam chowder and a lobster roll at La Forge bistro, overlooking the courts. As you’d imagine, Newport is positively brimming with chi-chi resortwear boutiques and high-end sportswear stores (Lululemon is staging a summer pop-up) as well as great hotel and dining options.
For a splurge, Mainsail restaurant in the beautifully renovated Marriott is your best bet, but you get the same glorious waterfront views from Newport Lobster Shack, a deservedly famous fishermen’s cooperative and cult eatery.
Find out more: discovernewport.org
Party on in Provincetown
Provincetown, Massachusetts, on the very tip of Cape Cod, has always attracted creatives and eccentrics along with regular holidaymakers.
The writers Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, Norman Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut, and artists Jackson Pollock and Charles Hawthorne, found inspiration here, and today galleries line the main drag, Commercial Street.
As well as attracting artists, Provincetown is famous as a destination for the LGBT community, and countless gay couples have found themselves seduced by P-town and promptly abandoned high-flying careers in New York, Boston and LA to set up stylish B&Bs, fashion boutiques and restaurants here in Cape Cod.
Provincetown’s charm is that it combines being a quirky, friendly, somewhat kitsch seaside town with an arty, cosmopolitan vibe that rivals the hippest quarter of any major city.
It’s a seaside town unlike any other, and completely beguiling. The best lobster roll in town is found at Canteen, where you can buy a bottle of Sam Adams and feast in the quirky garden to a soul soundtrack.
141 Market is the place where perfect picnics are put together, but the hot ticket restaurant is Joon Bar, with a seasonal menu and cracking wine list.
Beyond the galleries and the gluttony, whale-watching is a must. It’s rare to get this up close and personal to humpback whales, and the local outfit, Dolphin Fleet, wins awards for its conservation work.
Bikes can be rented from Ptown Bikes, for £15 for 24 hours, to explore the dunes at the northernmost tip of Cape Cod, but it’s also worth getting off-road in an hour-long, £18 tour with Art’s Dune Tours to glimpse artists’ beach shacks, including the one where Tennessee Williams wrote A Streetcar Named Desire.
Find out more: provincetowntourismoffice.org
Tried & Tested:
Omni Parker House Hotel, Boston
Grande dame hotel Parker House comes with heavyweight historical credentials: John F Kennedy announced his candidacy for Congress at the Parker House in 1946, proposed to a 24-year-old Jackie Bouvier at table 40 in the restaurant in 1953, and held his bachelor party in the hotel’s Press Room.
Bedrooms are a little tired, but the grand lobby, the prime location and the backstory make it a worthy contender.
Book it: From £150 per night
NYLO Loft Hotel, Providence, Rhode Island
A great option for fly-drivers who don’t mind staying a short drive out of Providence, NYLO is an expansive property that attracts business and leisure travellers alike with its loft-style, industrial-chic rooms.
The light-filled bar & restaurant, with a glorious deck overlooking the Pawtuxet River, is a highlight. About a 90-minute drive from Boston Logan, NYLO also suits visitors who want to skip the big city completely.
Book it: From £70 per night
The Dean, Providence, Rhode Island
This recently opened boutique hotel in the heart of Providence has proved a fast hit with Providence’s new breed of young, hip, food-obsessed travellers.
Rooms are minimalist but impeccably stylish, and the public spaces are achingly hip; think bold neons, a pommelhorse plonked in the lobby, a David Lynch-esque cocktail lounge and a German beer hall, Faust.
Book it: From £59 per night
Gilded, Newport, Rhode Island
A picture-perfect B&B within the stylish boutique Lark Hotels portfolio, Gilded occupies a prime spot in an attractive residential area minutes from historic Bellevue Avenue and Newport Beach.
Quirky interiors, an eminently Instagrammable breakfast and adorable staff elevate this new 17-room property above the ranks of other boutique hotels in Newport.
Book it: From £89 per night
Salt House Inn, Provincetown, Massachusetts
Salt House opened last year and quickly earned a reputation as the most stylish digs in town.
The owners, David and Kevin (a hotelier and interior designer) have used their hospitality pedigree to create the perfect New England beach B&B, with a brilliant breakfast buffet, stylish rooms and decadent public areas.
Book it: From £130 per night
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