The Ultimate Guide to Newport, Rhode Island

Grab some sunnies and our comprehensive guide and make the best of summer in the City by the Sea.

Order on the Court

How a newbie discovered her swing.
By Casey Nilsson

newportThe historic grass fields are swamplands.  The gravel paths are rushing tributaries. My sneakers are waterlogged and mucky. It’s pouring in Newport, and I’m lost on the grounds of the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

I’m searching for the Pro Shop, where I’ll meet an instructor for my first-ever tennis lesson. Instead, I climb the steps of the Casino Theatre and quickly descend. I muddy the plush carpeting inside the Tennis Hall of Fame Museum before realizing that I cannot, in fact, get there from here. And, more out of curiosity than common sense, I push open the complex’s massive, creaky street-side doors, stepping out onto Bellevue Avenue. I feel like a trespassing plebian. Eventually, I find a map.

“It was built to not be approachable,” says vice president of marketing and communications, Anne Marie McLaughlin, of the 137-year-old complex.

Once known as the Newport Casino, McLaughlin says the venue hosted concerts, shows, dancing and lawn sports, including croquet and tennis. It catered to the city’s elite, including the Astors, the Vanderbilts and their white-gloved contemporaries.

But the grandeur wouldn’t last. In the 1950s, the complex was in danger of demolition. Then-president of the Newport Casino, Jimmy Van Alen, successfully lobbied to transform the grounds into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Today, it hosts the only grass court tournament in the Americas and lures the sport’s biggest names to the annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony in July; this year’s inductees include Andy Roddick and Kim Clijsters.

Also onsite is a stately museum that chronicles the birth of tennis to its practice today. Highlights include a hologram of Swiss tennis star Roger Federer, a two-player tennis trivia game, a colorful tennis can wall and tennis fashion through the ages.

And from late spring to early fall, athletes of all abilities can rent time on thirteen grass courts, six hard courts and one clay court. In colder months, players head under “the Bubble,” a temperature controlled dome over the hard courts. Experienced players hone their skills and newbies like me — who have never held a tennis racquet in earnest — learn the fundamentals from the country’s best instructors.

After I shake off the rain, head tennis instructor Ryan Harry, a Cape Cod native, takes me to the Bubble for a one-on-one lesson. We bounce the balls between our racquets and the ground — or, rather, he bounces his and I chase after mine — and Ryan tells me he discovered tennis after a childhood accident. When he was eight, he was attacked by a dog and underwent several facial reconstructive surgeries. Baseball, his chosen sport, was too risky, but tennis was sanctioned by his doctors. He’s played ever since.

We send the ball back and forth over the net a few times before we’re joined by three women for a beginner’s clinic. Ryan lines us up to work on our swing. He encourages us to find a strong resting position, sweep the racquet back on our dominant side, make contact with the ball and carry our swing over the opposite shoulder.

“I tell the kids in our junior clinic to kiss their forearm,” he says. Sound advice, so I do it, too. Ryan tosses balls to us and gently reminds us to watch the strings on our racquets. If the strings face left, the ball will go left.

Most of my balls go rogue, whizzing into the net or far outside court lines. And then — pop — I make contact at the right time. And I do it again. And again. The Astors and the Vanderbilts would be proud.

After the clinic, I flip up the hood on my raincoat and head outside. I think ahead to a dry evening on a neighborhood hard court with my husband, traces of magical Hall of Fame mud still stuck in the grooves of my sneakers. The poor guy doesn’t stand a chance.

How’s your mansion trivia?

Give yourself a check for each factoid you know.
By Grace Kelly

Old buildings, old stuff
■ Fact: The oldest object in the Newport Preservation Society’s collection, an Egyptian bronze sculpture of Horus, the falcon god, is more than 2,500 years old. Horus made his way to Newport via William Vanderbilt, who purchased the sculpture while cruising the Nile aboard his yacht. It’s on display in Vanderbilt’s study in the Marble House.

You think you can hold an awesome party?
■ Fact: On September 1, 1901, the Berwind family of the Elms hosted a massive housewarming soiree with 400 guests in attendance, complete with trained monkeys that roamed the grounds.

When you have too much time on your hands
■ Fact: The pagoda-style Chinese tea house at Marble House was a labor of love. Decorated by Newport painter William Andrew MacKay, assisted by chemist Langdon Valentine, the duo experimented with 1,000 lacquer and varnish colors before settling on a final nine.

Have money, will eat
■ Fact: William Vanderbilt was a man of fine food. He reportedly lured a famous Parisian chef to work for him by promising an estimated annual salary of $20,000, an exorbitant amount in the late 1800s. Today, the chef would be rolling in $580,000 a year.

Time can be unkind
■ Fact: To date, approximately forty-two Newport mansions have been destroyed.

No biz like show biz
■ Fact: Here’s what it’ll run you to shoot a film or TV show at one of the mansions:
Filming: Interior $7,500 per day; exterior $5,000 per day. Overtime: interior $1,250 per hour; exterior $750 per hour. Attendant (required with photo or film crews): $20 per hour, per attendant, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Overtime: $30 per hour per attendant. Police/security: $65 per hour.

How’d you do?  
1–3 ✔: you’re a Newport newbie. 4–5 ✔: you could be giving tours. 6 ✔: did you say your name is Vanderbilt?

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