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Checking in

Luxury complements intrigue in Newport

By Ellen Albanese
Globe Staff / December 4, 2005
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NEWPORT, R.I. -- Ah, Beatrice! What mystery clouds the soulful brown eyes in your ever-youthful face? What despair led you to turn your back on the world in this beautiful mansion at the edge of the sea?

Cliffside Inn is the former home of reclusive Newport artist Beatrice Turner (1888-1948) who painted more than 3,000 works of art, some 1,000 of which were self-portraits. Many of these decorate the common areas and guest rooms of this Second Empire Victorian manor house. Aloof and pensive, Turner watches you eat breakfast and sip tea, follows you up the stairs, catches your eye as you round a corner.

We arrived at 10 on a Friday evening, not realizing the inn locks up at 9, and found a welcoming note taped to the door with our room key. A formal breakfast room was set with china, crystal, and cloth napkins in silver rings. The sideboard held a lush bouquet of fresh roses and sunflowers.

The Blue Room featured a four-poster queen bed, so high we needed the two-step stool to launch ourselves into it. It was wonderfully comfortable, and pillows of varying thicknesses were a treat. A window seat in front of a bay window at one end of the room made a cozy spot for reading, and we could just glimpse the ocean through the trees. We liked the fact that we could open the windows to the salt air.

Above a corner gas fireplace, a gilt-framed mirror hid a television so seamlessly we didn't know it was there until we read our guest information booklet. Two upholstered chairs faced the fireplace, and we had a radio/CD player and a telephone. An armoire with drawers below contained robes, an iron, and an ironing board.

The bathroom was small with limited storage. It had a shower and whirlpool tub for one. Fresh-scented Elemis Aromapure spa line toiletries included soap, body lotion, shampoo, and conditioner.

The Cliffside's eight suites and eight guest rooms all have at least one fireplace (some have two or three), king or queen beds, Beatrice Turner artwork, and period antiques. Some baths have double whirlpool tubs, fireplaces, stereo systems, and ocean views.

The Cliffside Inn offers several thoughtful extras. Should you want coffee or juice before breakfast service begins, just leave a note on your door. The turndown service includes chocolates and a card with the next day's weather forecast. A wine and champagne room service is offered. The guest information book is comprehensive, delivering not only an introduction to the inn but also details specific to your room, such as how to operate the fireplace, heating, and air conditioning, as well as restaurant and sightseeing recommendations. (We followed one of them to Tucker's Bistro, a romantic and funky Parisian-style eatery on Broadway.)

When we first saw the breakfast menu, we figured it represented the range of entrees the inn might offer over time, and one of them would be the current day's entree. In fact, we could choose from the wide selection, which included crepes, French toast stuffed with cream cheese and banana, eggs Newport (Benedict-style on crab cakes instead of Canadian bacon); pancakes, and omelets -- all in addition to the buffet of fresh fruit, cereal, granola, and yogurt. There was not quite enough sit-down space to accommodate a full house, however, and some guests were encouraged politely not to linger over coffee.

Afternoon tea more than met the standard set at breakfast. We sipped the inn's own brand of tea and helped ourselves to quiche, sandwiches, and pastries, including scones with Devonshire cream and English curds in lemon, raspberry, and apple.

Marvin and Donna Shepard of Eureka Springs, Ark., told us they had stayed at several lodgings in Newport and decided to try the Cliffside Inn because of its nearness to the Cliff Walk and its reputation for luxury.

''We were looking for a bit of an upgrade," Marvin said, ''and this certainly met our expectations."

Added Donna, ''We'll be back."

For those who want to learn more about Turner, every guest room has a videocassette tape or a DVD of a television program about the artist. Dated but fascinating, it recounts her repressed childhood, reclusive adulthood mostly spent caring for her mother, and death from starvation despite her significant resources. It is a chilling tale, but one that brings to life the arresting portraits on the walls of this intriguing inn.

Contact Ellen Albanese at ealbanese@globe.com.

If You Go

Cliffside Inn

2 Seaview Ave., Newport, R.I.

800-845-1811

www.cliffsideinn.com

What we liked most: The array of gourmet offerings at breakfast and afternoon tea.

What we liked least: Learning of the sad demise of artist Beatrice Turner.

What surprised us: How conveniently located the inn is, an easy jaunt to downtown and the Cliff Walk.

You know you're at the Cliffside Inn when . . . Turner's pensive visage looks out from nearly every wall.