American Idyll

by Daniel Cappello

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Pulling up to the Ocean House today, it’s easy to understand why generations of families have been flocking here since 1868, when Jonathan Nash erected the storied property in its original formation. Perched high on the bluffs of Watch Hill, Rhode Island, the Ocean House is a grand, timelessly elegant Victorian-style structure in a most welcoming shade of yellow. Overlooking a private stretch of beach with staggering views of the Atlantic Ocean, the iconic seaside resort is the first and only Forbes Five Star and AAA Five Diamond hotel in the state.

From your first steps on the front veranda to your arrival in-room, expect to be swept back in time to a genteel era of travel. Bellhops unload the car with sun-freckled smiles; front-of-house staff expedite an effortless check-in; and dedicated floor valets greet you by name. The effect is instantaneous comfort; even first-time visitors feel like they’re returning home.

And what a home it is. Beautifully appointed, yet casually elegant, the Ocean House is a combination of British Colonial, early American, and seaside styles integrated with modern conveniences everywhere, from high-tech in-room communications and entertainment to state-of-the-art sensory technology.

With private beach access and cabana services, championship croquet on the South Lawn, complimentary afternoon drinks and snacks, a 20-meter indoor lap pool, and treatments for all tastes available at the impeccable 12,000-square-foot OH! Spa, it’s hard to do anything but relax at the Ocean House. The OH! Spa features a private line of premium spa products for sale inspired by the beach and local ingredients. Even my sensitive skin yearned for more of the lavender-infused massage cream used during a 60-minute customized treatment. “It’s so natural,” my therapist reminded me, “You could probably eat it.”

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Tempting, but with a host of both casual- and fine-dining venues offering classically inspired farm-to-table cuisine of the Atlantic Northeast, I opted instead to try the award-worthy preparations of the culinary team: succulent lobster rolls at Dune Cottage, by the beach; chicken salad at Seaside Terrace, next to the pool; and a not-to-be-missed seven-course chef’s tasting menu overseen by executive chef John Kolesar (complete with wine pairings by wine director Jonathan Feiler and sommelier Gregory Astudillo) at Seasons, the main dining room. The most superb summer pairing—a cucumber soup with crab, mango, and avocado alongside a stunningly crisp and clear 2011 Chablis by Simonnet Febvre—was among the many savory surprises of the courses-long meal.

Watching the setting sun over vanilla-bean soufflé, I sighed in relief that this singular sanctuary was saved from disrepair and possible destruction. Thankfully, in 2004, a group of summer residents, led by Charles M. Royce, rescued the site and preserved the Ocean House by faithfully replicating the historic portion. With 49 rooms and 23 private residences, the new Ocean House provides a more spacious retreat. Still—amazingly—all of the resort’s 247 windows remain in their original positions, which gave this guest something to think about as he caught the ocean’s view from just about every corner.