Sometimes we need to feed our fantasies, to see what would be possible if we were spectacularly rich -- say, if we won a really, really big Lotto jackpot. When I lived in California, I liked to drive by the sprawling Mediterranean-style mansions of Malibu, Beverly Hills and the Hollywood Hills. Now, visiting a cousin in Warwick, R.I., I set out for Newport, 30 miles away, to see some of America's original summer homes.
Newport, founded in 1639 and home port to the first U.S. Navy before the British destroyed the harbor, was the summer colony for the industrial magnates of the late 19th century. They built fabulous houses. The Breakers, owned by Cornelius Vanderbilt II, resembled a 16th century Italian palace, with 70 rooms. The Elms, built for coal mogul Edward Berwind, was modeled after the Chateau d'Asniere near Paris.
Rosecliff, built by the famed architect Stanford White, with an 80-foot ballroom, was Gatsby's mansion in the film The Great Gatsby. Marble House, owned by another Vanderbilt, was named for the many varieties of marble it contained.
You can tour some of these houses of the Gilded Age, through the Preservation Society of Newport County (www.newportmansions.org). You can hike along Cliff Walk (www.cliffwalk.com), a 3 ½-mile National Recreation Trail that passes the ocean side of some of the mansions. You can check out the luxury yachts in the harbor.
Go ahead and spend a day feeding your dreams.
This is one in a series of postcards by Marjie Lambert, assistant Travel editor, who has been to all 50 states.