Weekapaug Inn’s resident naturalist, Mark Bullinger, cuts the engine of our boat, the Quonnie Queen, and points silently toward the shore.
An otherworldly stillness descends as a black cormorant glides gently onto a rock at the edge of Quonochontaug Pond, one of many saltwater lagoons – or “salt ponds” – dotting the wild Rhode Island coastline. Sitting comfortably in royal blue-cushioned wicker armchairs on the canopied deck of the small wooden vessel, fellow passengers take turns peering through Bullinger’s binoculars to watch the seabird stretch out its slick, wet wings.
After a few moments, the cormorant takes flight again, and we head off to explore Quonochontaug Pond a while longer, before returning to the inn’s private boat dock. What to do now? A luxurious spa treatment at Ocean House, a sister hotel to the inn located just a few miles away, or a glass of Burgundy in front of the fire at the Weekapaug’s cozy lounge?
It’s this alluring combination of natural beauty and effortless luxury that makes a weekend or longer vacation at one of these two Rhode Island retreats – both members of the exclusive Relais & Cha?teaux portfolio – such a delicious treat.
Located in Westerly, on the southern edge of Rhode Island, each hotel offers a very different kind of getaway, from the naturalistic charm of Weekapaug Inn to the sumptuous splendor of the grand Ocean House.
Guests can access an array of high-end amenities and activities at both hotels, while more family-oriented seaside suites are available at a third sister property, Watch Hill Inn, also in Westerly.
Recalling the relaxed and intimate elegance of early 20th century New England guesthouses where the same families returned each and every summer, Weekapaug Inn encourages its guests to socialize.
The inn’s 27 comfortable guest rooms and four two-bedroom signature suites are blissfully devoid of TVs and telephones – an intercom system connects guests with staff – and the common areas are filled with books, newspapers, board games, snacks, and antique Stickley rocking chairs.
Gourmet dining here also takes inspiration from the natural Rhode Island landscape. Jennifer Backman, the inn’s creative executive chef, uses only the freshest produce from local farmers and fish suppliers to create delicious seasonal dishes like handmade squid ink pasta, crispy duck confit, and ice cream creations that change daily.
Despite the cozy interiors, a stay at the Weekapaug Inn is all about the great outdoors, whether it’s boating on peaceful Quonochontaug Pond, playing shuffleboard, borrowing a bike for a spin around town, taking a dip in the saltwater pool, or roasting marshmallows at the inn’s outdoor fire pit.
Just five miles from the delightful Weekapaug Inn is the five-star Ocean House, a grand dame of New England seaside hotels, where exceptional details – both big and small – are de rigueur, from butler service on the private beach to monogrammed pillows in the 49 guest rooms and 16 exquisite signature suites.
From its dramatic position atop a hill, the hotel is a vision of Victorian grandeur, with an expansive whitewashed verandah and almost 250 windows offering spectacular ocean views.
The interior is just as stunning. The present-day hotel was rebuilt after the original circa-1860s Ocean House fell into disrepair. More than 5,000 artifacts from the original hotel were saved and incorporated into the new hotel, giving it a feeling of classic modernity.
A standout example is the lobby’s impressive and welcoming fireplace, which was meticulously rebuilt, stone by stone. Striking pieces of original artwork line the hallways, including whimsical and colorful pieces by Ludwig Bemelmans of Madeline fame, and works from a rotating artist-in-residence program.
The various accommodations, ranging from standard guest rooms to spacious suites, villas and self-contained cottages, are decorated in palettes of white, seaside blue, sand, and other natural hues, along with plush feather-top beds and soaking tubs.
Other upscale amenities, like the deluxe OH! Spa, fine dining restaurant Seasons, culinary classes, a croquet lawn, and cabanas on the hotel’s private beach, make Ocean House an enclave of chic relaxation. weekapauginn.com, oceanhouseri.com
1: A short walk from Ocean House, the pretty village of Watch Hill offers charming boutiques, eateries and a celebrated antique carousel. watchhillvillage.com
2: An easy 20-minute drive from Westerly is the classic New England town of Mystic, Conn., home to a picturesque seaport, aquarium and popular performing arts center. mystic.org
3: Wine lovers can drive the Connecticut Wine Trail with tastings at Saltwater Farm Vineyard, Stonington Vineyards and Jonathan Edwards Winery. ctwine.com
Image Credits: Photo courtesy of Ocean House.