Historic Homes for the Holidays: The Breakers

The Breakers, photograph by William H. Johnson

When you think about Newport, your mind might go straight to those balmy summer months, where you might spend the day on the beach and the afternoon on the lawn at Castle Hill, drink in hand. But did you know that one of the best times to visit Newport is actually during the holiday season? The crowds are gone, but the houses have never looked so beautiful. The weekend before Thanksgiving, the Preservation Society of Newport County began the mammoth task of decorating The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House. The mansions are decked out with poinsettias, Christmas trees, boughs of holly and twinkly lights gracing each of the elegant rooms. While all three are simply stunning, the pure splendor of The Breakers is unmatched.

Featured in New England’s Historic Homes & Gardens by Kim Knox Beckius (and the subject of our December digital desktop calendar by William H. Johnson), The Breakers is the crown jewel of Newport. Built by the Vanderbilts in 1895, the 138,300-square-foot, seventy-room Italian Renaissance style mansion is the definition of Gilded Age style and excess. Upon entering the enormous, two-story Great Hall, one can imagine the space alive with well-heeled revelers, members of the elite group, The Four Hundred. While the gold-leaf, crystal chandeliers, Tiffany sconces and customized mosaics might make your jaw drop, it is the humbler areas of the great house that often incite the most interest. The closets and bathrooms upstairs are fascinating to see, and on a recent visit, I never wanted to leave the kitchen and pantry areas.

The Breakers at Christmas, photograph by William H. Johnson

Plan a visit to the Newport mansions this holiday season, and prepare to be in awe. While you can no longer get tickets for the Holiday Dinner Dance on December 17 (those have been long sold out), The Breakers will be open for the season until January 2, with special events each Saturday.

This weekend, plan to visit the mansions for the following events:

December 17 at The Elms

Voices of Xmas Victorian Carolers
Stonehill Collegiate Chorale
Dunn Brothers

December 17 at Marble House

Pianist John Black
Voices of Xmas Victorian Carolers
New World Jazz Trio

December 31 at The Breakers

New World Jazz Quintet

Or plan ahead to visit The Breakers on New Year’s Eve, from 6-8pm. What a beautiful way to finish 2011!

For more information, visit The Preservation Society of Newport County and Kim Knox Beckius’s About.com website, New England Travel.

If you go:

The Breakers
44 Ochre Point Avenue
Newport, RI 02840

Drive time from Boston: 1 1/2 hours
Drive time from Providence: 30 minutes

Curious about the Vanderbilts, Newport, and the Gilded Age? Pick up a copy of New England’s Historic Homes & Gardens at one of the Newport Mansions gift stores or at one of these local bookshops:

Barrington Books, 184 Country Road, Barrington
Island Books, 575 East Main Road #1, Middletown
Books on the Square, 471 Angell Street, Providence
Symposium Books, 240 Westminster Street, Providence

A day of exploring the Newport Mansions (and shopping) can be hard work. We recommend taking some time to put your feet up and enjoy a few of our favorite places in Newport:

Katrina’s Bakery,  1 Casino Terrace #5, next to the Casino and Tennis Hall of Fame, is a great place to re-fuel with their delicious coffee and house-made treats.
Newport Wine Cellar and Petit Gourmet , 24 Bellvue Avenue, a great place to grab a light lunch, fine cheese and bread, picnic supplies and a nice bottle of wine (or two!).
Salvation Café, 140 Broadway, a funky little bar and restaurant that serves up great beer and wine in a very cool, comfortable atmosphere.
Thames Street Kitchen, 677 Thames Street, this farm-to-table restaurant serves up incredible food made with local produce, seafood and meat. BYOB, and make a reservation!

This post is part of a larger series celebrating the sites included in our latest title, New England’s Historic Homes & Gardens, by Kim Knox Beckius with photography by William H. Johnson. See recent posts on the William Cullen Bryant Homestead, Hildene, Mark Twain House, and Victoria Mansion  and Blithewold for fun fall and early winter getaway ideas!

  4 Replies to “Historic Homes for the Holidays: The Breakers”

  1. December 22, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    The three arches of the Breakers is as majestic as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC…with more glorious decoration.

  2. January 10, 2012 at 8:19 am

    Thanks for the comment, Jodi— we agree!

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