Fall Getaways 2010
Where to go and what to do: Six nearby spots where you can shop, dine, explore — and relax
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Waterworld: With its long and colorful marine history, Bristol is no stranger to sailing and sailors. The town’s Herreshoff Company built a string of America’s Cup winners at the turn of the 20th century; the Herreshoff Marine Museum is home to sailing memorabilia and the America’s Cup Hall of Fame
Photograph courtesy of Herreshoff Marine Museum
Bristol Rhode Island
Plenty to do and see in this New England harbor town and its environs
By Greg Olear
The small, tourist-friendly harbor town of Bristol, Rhode Island is a historic and well-preserved city on the east side of picturesque Narragansett Bay. It combines all you’d want in a vacation: interesting museums, a variety of restaurants and pubs, special events, diversions for the kids, and romance for the grownups draped in natural beauty.
If you’re not familiar with Bristol, it was established way back in 1680 and became a center of seafaring commerce and industry in the 18th and 19th centuries — one of its biggest money-makers being the slave trade.
The DeWolf family was a principal player in the so-called Triangle Trade. The DeWolfs made rum and other goods, and traded them to African merchants for slaves. They then sent those slaves to Cuba and South Carolina for molasses, lumber, and other goods. Their then-center of operations is now the Bristol Harbor Inn, a good spot to set up camp for exploring the area.
The inn was fashioned out of repurposed historic buildings — including James and William DeWolf’s distillery and rum storage room, and a former bank. It features original hand-hewn beams, plaster walls, and pieces of African granite, which was used as ballast on the slave ships. This period architecture is balanced with modern amenities and dazzling harbor views.
Across the street is the DeWolf Tavern, circa 1818. It features a unique menu focused on seafood — of course — but with the added twists of chef Sai Viswanath’s Indian spices and flavorings.
The inn and tavern anchor the Thames Street Landing, a section of shops, restaurants, and boardwalk views that represent how the city has strived to keep things quaint, charming, and tastefully commercial. The rest of the Bristol is easy to traverse and offers a surprising number of things to see and do.
Since the sea is integral to the town’s history, start at the Herreshoff Marine Museum. The Bristol-based Herreshoff Company built five consecutive America’s Cup Defenders between 1893 and 1920, as well as military and commercial vessels (the America’s Cup Hall of Fame is also here). The nearby Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology is devoted to art and artifacts from native peoples of the Americas, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific.
If you enjoy touring estates, Bristol offers many. Blithewold Mansion is a 33-acre seaside house with world-class gardens; Linden Place is an 1810 Federal-style mansion that was home to the DeWolf family. For a taste of 18th-century life, visit 200-acre Mount Hope Farm, on which the Governor Bradford House was built in 1745 (and featured in the Steven Spielberg film Amistad).
Recreation is a big part of the area’s attractions. Colt Park, former home of Samuel P. Colt (of Colt firearms fame) features magnificent rolling lawns and gardens along Narragansett Bay, and is a good place to catch world-class sunsets. For more active types, the East Bay Bike/Hike Path runs from Thames Street all the way to East Providence.
During the fall, catch family-friendly events like a scary movie festival at the library and a pumpkin sale at the Coggeshall Farm Museum, which features reenactments depicting town life in the 1790s.
If you plan a longer stay, Bristol offers easy access to both Newport and Providence, each about a half-hour’s drive away. Newport, of course, is the home of Homes, the grand Gilded Age mansions of the Vanderbilts and their buddies.
But don’t dismiss Providence, which serves up some fine getaway fun as well. The city’s Waterplace Park and its adjoining cobblestone and brick river walks make up the heart of the renewed downtown, where concerts and other events are held. Providence also has a Little Italy — the Federal Hill area — with terrific restaurants and ambience. You can grab an espresso and cannoli, toss a coin in the DePasquale Fountain, and even take a river cruise — on a gondola.
If Italian food isn’t your thing, try to get reservations at La Laiterie at Farmstead. It offers local, seasonal, bistro-style cuisine that combines hints of New England and Europe. Try their grilled Greek sardines or smoked beef tongue bruschetta to make your Rhode Island getaway even more memorable.
Bristol Harbor Inn. 259 Thames St., Bristol, RI 401-254-1444, www.bristolharborinn.com
Where to stay:
Point Pleasant Inn & Resort
333 Poppasquash Rd., Bristol . 401-253-0627
This stately English country manor, situated on Bristol Harbor, offers daily cocktail hours and live weekend entertainment.
Where to eat:
259 Thames St., Bristol. 401-254-2005
South Asian-New England fusion in the historic site of Bristol’s most notorious family.
31 State St., Bristol. 401-254-7474
This modern restaurant serves American cuisine, and was named Best Restaurant by Rhode Island Monthly.
301 Hope St., Bristol. 401-254-9732
Fine Italian cuisine and a great wine list in an old-world bistro.
La Laiterie at Farmstead
184-188 Wayland Ave., Providence. 401-274-7177
Features local, seasonal food in what’s called “haute farmhouse cuisine.”
What to do:
Herreshoff Marine Museum & America’s Cup Hall of Fame
1 Burnside St., Bristol. 401-253-5000
This museum aims to preserve the legacy of its namesake boat manufacturing company; the Hall of Fame honors those involved in the America’s Cup competition.
Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology at Brown University
21 Prospect St., Brown. 401-863-2065
Explore diverse cultures via archaeological findings, researched collections, and native artifacts.
Blithewold Mansion, Gardens, & Arboretum
101 Ferry Rd., Bristol. 401-253-2707
Tour the mansion for a peek at bygone days, or stroll the 33-acre grounds for stunning displays of flora and foliage.
500 Hope St., Bristol. 401-253-0390
Estate and gardens of the aforementioned DeWolf family. The house was featured in the film The Great Gatsby.
Mount Hope Farm
250 Metacom Ave., Bristol. 401-254-1745
The impressive landscape of this saltwater farm features more than 200 acres of meadows, forests, streams, and ponds, with views of Mount Hope and Narragansett Bay.
Coggeshall Farm Museum
1 Colt Dr., Bristol. 401-253-9062
This museum brings the town’s past to life through reenactments, historic structures, and more.