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Grand Awards North America 2012

January 23, 2012

Ocean House, Watch Hill, Rhode Island

Proximity to both New York and Boston long ago made Rhode Island a favorite summer retreat. Newport, with its enormous mansions—quaintly referred to as “cottages”—became an important part of American social history. On a lesser scale, the town of Watch Hill drew wealthy families from the Midwest after the Civil War.

Built in 1868, Ocean House was a stately mansion with a curved portico and rocker-lined verandas set on a hill that sloped gently down to an arc of golden sand. Guests sipped tea in the afternoon and, after dinner, men in white tie and women in couture gowns danced to bands brought up from New York. Watch Hill became so popular, however, that the town gradually turned into a residential community, and the hotels declined. In 2003, Ocean House’s owner decided to sell. Studies showed that the original building was too far gone to restore. Unfazed, local resident Charles Royce determined to recreate it. So more than 5,000 original elements—such as the 19th-century elevator—were put into storage.

The reborn hotel has the same yellow clapboard exterior, black shutters, wide verandas and mansard roof as the original. In the lounge, clusters of overstuffed chairs and potted palms are reminiscent of days gone by, but the massive stone fireplace blazes with a gas rather than a log fire. And therein lies the appeal of Ocean House: It evokes the charm of another age, but is also a comfortable modern hotel. All 49 rooms and suites are generously sized and come with views of the sea, the most desirable being those with terraces on the second floor. The décor might be described as country house colonial. Sumptuous baths provide river-stone flooring in the showers, and soaking tubs.

The hotel’s primary restaurant, Seasons, affords soothing views of the sea. There, we especially enjoyed a roasted rib eye—from Wolfe’s Neck Farm in Maine—that was perfectly cooked and came with grilled baby leeks, sautéed maitake mushrooms and a rich sauce Périgourdine.

The next day, we attempted to mitigate the previous night’s indulgence with a session in the lovely in-door pool, part of an inviting spa. Other diversions include golf, tennis, fishing, boating and culinary classes. The charming village of Watch Hill, with its shops and galleries, is just a short walk away.

Ocean House Terrace Room, from $550; Suite, from $775. 1 Bluff Avenue, Watch Hill, RI 02891. Tel. (888) 552-2588 or (401) 584-7000.

Glenmere Mansion, Chester, New York

Since its debut in 2010, this 18-room Italianate villa has received a chorus of praise from the travel press. For once, I tend to agree. The Gilded Age mansion suffered from decades of decline until Dan DeSimone, an orthopedic surgeon, spotted it during a Sunday drive and called his broker. Several years and $30 million later, the old pile was reborn as a fetching weekend escape that effortlessly blends the old with the new.

Driving up the hill, you are greeted by a wonderfully discordant image: a bright Mediterranean villa with cheery pink stucco walls and pale-blue awnings set amid classic British countryside. Formal gardens are strewn with vine-covered arbors and playful statuary, and a broad lawn spills down to Glenmere Lake. Inside, a handful of sparkling public rooms surrounds a sunny cortile. Guest rooms range widely from cozy ground-floor nooks to a grand suite with a fireplace in its Carrara marble bath.

The Supper Room enjoys a deserved reputation for its Hudson Valley cuisine, resulting in a pleasant mix of guests and locals at dinner. There is no lack of diversions throughout Glenmere’s 150 acres: two bocce courts, two tennis courts, croquet, two miles of walking trails, a heated outdoor pool and a 10-person whirlpool spa. A full-service spa will open shortly.

Glenmere Mansion Superior Room, from $750. 634 Pine Hill Road, Chester, New York. Tel. (845) 469-1900.

By Hideaway Report Editor Hideaway Report editors travel the world anonymously to give you the unvarnished truth about luxury hotels. Hotels have no idea who they are, so they are treated exactly as you might be.
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