Newport’s Multi-Mansion Meetings

When the Vanderbilts and other barons of industry built a series of sprawling mansions in the New England fishing village of Newport, Rhode Island, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, little could they know that centuries later meeting planners would look upon their grand “summer cottages” and fantasize about something known as a “VIP retreat.”

To the contrary. The VIP acronym would be strange enough, but what was a “meeting planner”?

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Charming details inside Chanler

Today the luxury Chanler at Cliff Walk overlooks the same sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean as those spectacular mansions of yesteryear. But the 20-guest room Chanler, a mansion itself dating back to the 1870s, is a luxury hotel, offering discreet meeting spaces that make it well suited for board of director meetings, senior-level strategic planning sessions, executive retreats and—with an eye to its expansive lawns—low-impact team-building programs.

But views of the Atlantic aside, The Chanler sits on the doorstep of Bellevue Avenue, also known as “Millionaires Mile,” home to the Gilded Age mansions. Among the best known are The Breakers, the 70-room former home of the Vanderbilts; Chateau-sur-Mer with its abundance of hand-carved woodwork imported from Italy and Rosecliff, designed by architect Stanford White to resemble the Grand Trianon at Versailles.

Owned and managed under the umbrella of the Preservation Society of Newport County, the restored houses are open to the public for tours and, more to the point, are available to planners for a fee for a range of private events. So with attendees housed and attending some sessions and F&B functions at The Chanler, planners are able to enhance their overall itinerary by turning to The Breakers and its spectacular siblings.

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Rosecliff, designed by architect Stanford White to resemble the Grand Trianon at Versailles.

The over-the-top, two-and-a-half story Great Room at The Breakers, for example, would make an appropriately imposing setting for an awards ceremony or reception to introduce a new CEO. Likewise, the Renaissance Revival style of the ornate dining room at Chateau-sur-Mer would be appropriate for a final night, candlelight supper.

Special events aside, private tours of any of the Gilded Age mansions are available for attendees (or spouses) who may have a special interest in history or high achievers who harbor their own secret Commander Vanderbilt daydreams. Admission charges and rental fees help the not-for-profit Preservation Society fulfill its mandate to “protect, preserve and present” what it sees as an important slice of America’s history.

Using more than one venue during a meeting will take some coordination with the conference services team at The Chanler, but Chanler managers already have established relationships in place with the neighboring mansions, so that’s a definite advantage. In addition to the Chanler’s resources, the Preservation Society maintains its own list of recommended local suppliers, which can help with providing extra transportation, photographers, musicians, florists, party favors and so on.

For attendees, meanwhile, it will make for a deeper and more rewarding experience of both the meeting and of Newport. After all, if meeting in one gilded mansion is enriching, what is meeting in two or three? And when the time comes when attendees need a break from “meeting by mansion,” free-time visits can be arranged to other nearby Newport attractions, which range from the National Museum of American Illustration to the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Photo credits: Courtesy of Chanler at Cliff Walk; Rosecliff image by Felix Lipov / Shutterstock.com

Bruce Serlen

Bruce Serlen

Bruce Serlen is a veteran travel writer, based in New Jersey, who has written extensively on meetings management and hotel operations. Most recently, he was executive editor at Hotel Business.

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