Photo courtesy of Skylights Magazine

Rhode Island's Hidden Treasures
Skylights Magazine
January 2007

By Brenda D. Farrell

From the sun-splashed harbors of Narragansett Bay to the genteel streets of Providence's historic East Side, there's a commonly held belief that Rhode Islanders may travel, but seldom move away. And why should they? Here in the nation's smallest state, an abundance of aesthetic delights can be found on just about any city street or village square.

Over the last decade, a convergence of design, architecture and culinary excellence has helped transform the capital city of Providence into one of the Northeast's most alluring destinations. Take a stroll through the arts and entertainment district and you'll find the creative influences of Rhode Island School of Design and Johnson & Wales University everywhere.

Anyone who likes to eat will savor a tour of the Culinary Archives and Museum at Johnson & Wales University. The museum is an extension of the university's renowned College of Culinary Arts and contains tens of thousands of familiar and unusual artifacts from food history. The exhibit Diners: Still Cookin' in the 21st Century shows how these iconic eateries were born in 19th century Providence and have evolved into the retro, and sometimes sophisticated, dining establishments of today. Other exhibits include a comprehensive collection of White House menus, cookbooks and china, primitive eating and drinking elements from all parts of the world, and a fascinating collection of cooking stoves and refrigeration devices.

Take an insider's tour of the Federal Hill neighborhood with Chef Cindy Salvato and you'll learn something gourmands around the country already know—that this "Little Italy" boasts some of the finest culinary ingredients this side of the Atlantic. Chef Salvato's Savoring Rhode Island tour brings visitors into the kitchens and storehouses of some of the neighborhood's best bakeries, cheese shops, wine stores and gourmet markets for cooking demonstrations and taste testing.

A recent influx of artful boutiques is adding an exciting new shopping element to the downtown arts & entertainment district. Lilypad Home Furnishings sells one-of-a-kind and handcrafted decorator items and furniture at surprisingly affordable prices. Owner Mark Beliveau imports from villages around the world, taking care to purchase items made from recycled products, including rainforest wood, and crafts that help support rural economies.

Seeking a hot water bottle in the shape of a rubber duckie or an uber-retro chrome lamp to hang over your kitchen table? Décor Craft, Inc., a Manhattan-based wholesaler of design-centric gifts, recently opened its first retail shop in the heart of downtown Providence, DCI 275. No tchotchkes here—just gift items that are as fun and fabulous as they are functional. A must-stop for anyone who has hard-to-buy-for tweens on their gift list.

At the end of a long day of shopping and sightseeing, Providence offers a cornucopia of trendy bistros and fine dining restaurants. The newest star in the city's culinary constellation, Citron Wine Bar and Bistro, fuses organic ingredients with the flavors of New Mexico, California and the Pacific Rim. Citron offers a wine tasting menu featuring 17 different flights, with fanciful names like Que Syrah Syrah and Three Deadly Zins. Brunch—featuring a Bloody Mary Bar with 11 different vodkas—is served on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.

Newport: City By the Sea
Much has been written about Newport's legendary yachting scene, Gilded Age mansions, seaside music festivals and simmering nightlife. But the City by the Sea has a quieter side, best seen on the historic Point section's annual Secret Garden Tour. Slated for June 15-17, 2007, this self-guided tour of privately-owned Colonial houses and their grounds reveals a rare glimpse of one of this resort city's prettiest residential neighborhoods.

Two weeks later, Newport will host its largest Tall Ships festival since the Bicentennial Year event in 1976. From June 27-July 1, the Newport waterfront will look a bit as it did two centuries ago, as a contingent of some 25 ships from around the world drop anchor and welcome visitors. The festivities include an international village, street parade, youth programs, fireworks and a black tie ball.

A one-mile taxi ride is all it takes to get away from the hustle and bustle to a truly secluded Newport experience. Historic Rose Island Lighthouse offers a "Keeper for a Week" program that allows visitors to spend a week living and working as lighthouse keepers. Depending on the number of hours worked and chores performed, a portion of your expenses may be tax deductible as a charitable contribution.

One-of-a-Kind Wickford
From Newport, cross two bridges and you'll soon arrive in Wickford, a pocket-sized 17th century fishing village where it's easy to while away a leisurely afternoon. Many places claim to offer unique shopping, but Wickford delivers on this promise because—with the exception of one pharmacy—it has no chain retailers. Original artwork and jewelry, nautical items, pet products, clocks, antiques and clothing styles ranging from preppy to Bohemian can be found up and down the village's two main streets.

For an egret's eye view of Wickford, rent a kayak from the Kayak Center and paddle around Wickford Harbor for a couple of hours. If you agree to stay within the harbor, you can set out on your own. Or to go farther, join a guided tour. The Kayak Centre's moonlight paddle was recently voted a "Best Date" activity by the readers of Rhode Island Monthly magazine.

In July, Wickford welcomes throngs of visitors and artists for the annual Wickford Art Festival, traditionally held the weekend after Independence Day. More than 200 juried artists from around the country participate annually, representing mediums ranging from painting and drawing to sculpture and photography.

On the map, Rhode Island is indeed small. But once you set out to find its hidden and not-so-hidden treasures, you'll soon discover the big reasons why the locals rarely leave for very long.

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