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A place all its own

In the shadow of Newport, quaint town offers access -- and an escape

By Marie C. Franklin
Globe Staff / September 26, 2007
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Despite living in the shadow of Newport, 5 miles away, this community is comfortable in its skin. Consider these: The town is in Newport County. The Newport Polo Series is held in Portsmouth, at the town-owned Glen Farm. Robert G. Driscoll, the town administrator, says residents accept the association. "We also like that we have access to all that Newport offers, but at the end of the day we can come home to Portsmouth."

Settled in 1638 by Anne Hutchinson, Portsmouth was the second settlement in what is now Rhode Island, and the first community in the New World founded by a woman. One of three towns on Aquidneck Island, which it shares with Middletown and Newport, Portsmouth boasts 56 miles of shoreline, five marinas, a winery, a topiary garden, several golf courses, and on Prudence Island, the only operating one-room schoolhouse in the state.

PLAY
Fore! It isn't St. Andrews, but Portsmouth is home to several golf courses with a view. Green Valley Country Club (371 Union St., greenvalleyccofri.com, 401-847-9543) is a par 71, 18-hole public course. Montaup Country Club (500 Anthony Road, montaupcc.com, 401-683-0955), open to the public year-round in the afternoon, boasts a spectacular vista at its signature par-5 16th hole, overlooking Mount Hope Bay. On the Portsmouth/Middletown line is the 200-acre, 18-hole Newport National Golf Club (324 Mitchell's Lane, Middletown, newportnational.com; 401-848-9690), built on a former tree and shrub nursery, with views of Sakonnet Passage, the Atlantic, and the bay.

In summer, swim at Sandy Point Beach (off Sandy Point Road), where there are lifeguards, restrooms, and parking.

In autumn, let the kids get lost in an 8-acre maze of corn at Escobar's Highland Farm (133 and 251 Middle Road, escobarshighlandfarm.com, 401-683-1444), take a hay ride through the farm, or pick out this year's jack-o'-lantern.

SPEND
Portsmouth is not rich in retail options, but there are a few nice stores. For traditional women's clothing, as well as unique gifts, try Portsmouth Shop (2511 East Main Road, 401-683-2184), or Ma Goetzinger's (2918 East Main Road, 401-683-9400).

Eagles Nest Antiques (3101 East Main Road, 401-683-3500) is a cooperative shop, brimming with antiques from 100 dealers who rent space. You'll find furniture, glassware, artwork, and more. The shop is open from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-5 Sunday.

Garden lovers should head to the Gift Shop at Green Animals Topiary Garden where gardening tools, books, ceramic pots, travel games, and other unique gifts are sold.

For the dinner table, load up on heirloom tomatoes, native corn, and all sorts of fruits, vegetables, and flowers at Mello's Farm and Flower Center (444 Boyd's Lane, 401-683-6262).

FUEL
For a casual breakfast or lunch, try Nana's Cafe, tucked in a corner of Clements' Marketplace (2575 East Main Road, 401-683-0180, $4-$10). Choose among fresh pastries and coffees, a deli, and sushi and salad bars.

Or, follow the locals to Cindy's Country Cafe (1324 West Main Road, 401-683-5134, $5-$15), for homemade breakfast, lunch, and Friday dinners.

Sakonnet Fish Co. (657 Park Ave., 401-683-1180, $12-$25), serving lunch and dinner in Island Park, has an oyster bar, an extensive seafood menu, and a beautiful view of the water.

Melville Grille (One Lagoon Road, 401-683-4400, $7-$15), overlooking a marina, serves lunch and dinner in a nautical dining room, offering dishes such as General Tsao's calamari, crab cakes, and shrimp pizza.

DO
Take time to tour Greenvale Vineyards (582 Wapping Road, greenvale.com; 401-847-3777) where a small number of estate wines are grown along the Sakonnet River. (Daily tours 2 p.m.)

The Newport International Polo Series at Glen Farm Equestrian Center (163 Glen Farm Road, glenfarm.com, 401-846-0200) offers matches every Saturday, with the final matches this coming weekend. Even if you don't know the game, you'll enjoy the stunning grounds and family-oriented crowds that gather. Bring a picnic and tailgate on the lawn. Tickets (adults $10, under 15 free) go on sale 90 minutes before the match (September chukkers start at 4 p.m.).

Stroll through Green Animals Topiary Garden (380 Corey's Lane, tickets.newportmansions.org/mansion.aspx?id=1003, 401-847-1000; adults $11; children 6-17, $4), where 80 topiaries, including 21 shaped liked animals and birds, adorn the gardens of historic Brayton House.

Fish, swim, bird-watch, or hike the 4-mile trail at Melville Pond Nature Preserve (181 Bradford Ave., 401-682-2424), a town-operated park of 150 acres, with walking access to Narragansett Bay.

For visitors with more time, spend part of a day on Prudence Island, where the Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (nbnerr.org, 401-683-6780) is open for hiking and biking. The 25-minute Prudence Island Ferry leaves daily from nearby Bristol (401-253-9808 for schedule/reservations; roundtrip adults $6, children $2.50, driver and car $31.50.

REST
Shamrock Farm Inn Bed & Breakfast (465 Union St., shamrockfarminn.com, 888-451-1240, $195 a night this month and next) is a six-room country inn, with antiques, fireplaces, and Jacuzzis. Innkeeper William Conheeny serves a full Irish breakfast and hosts a happy hour overlooking the inn's gardens and a pond.

Or, motor down in your RV or pitch a tent at Melville Ponds Campground (181 Bradford St., portsmouthri.com/MelvilleCampground.htm, 401-682-2424, tent site $22 a night, RV site $35. Fees are based on a family of four. Open through October.)

PARTY
Back at Greenvale Vineyards, listen to live jazz at the 8th Annual Summer Jazz Series, held in a rustic tasting room in a converted barn with a view of the Sakonnet River, every Saturday afternoon through October. The vineyard also has a yearlong schedule of other concerts.

Or, take in a concert at Common Fence Music (Common Fence Point Community Hall, 933 Anthony Road, 401-683-5085, commonfencemusic.org). An exciting slate of folk and jazz artists is scheduled at this 1950s-style dance hall between now and May. Next up is Boston's favorite jazz and hillbilly band, Tarbox Ramblers, on Oct. 6. Tickets average $20. Bring your own beverages and picnic supper.