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One Traveler's Opinion: Watch Hill, RI

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If you find that summertime beach getaways do little more than replace the noise and chaos of the city for a comparable din along the shore, have I got a place for you. It's called Watch Hill, Rhode Island.

Watch Hill is tucked away in the southwest corner of the state, almost in Connecticut. Because it lies on no major (or even minor) travel route, it attracts little attention from tourists; yet it boasts miles of wide, dune-rich beach frontage and nary a high-rise condominium in sight. The center of town is quiet; traffic is sparse; yet all around you are those magnificent beaches.

This is a resort community that has changed little from the 1880s, and it makes few concessions to tourism. There are three inns in town, the Inn at Watch Hill, Hartley Guest House, and the Cliff House. All are the kind of rambling, low wooden buildings that went out of style decades ago.

If you are just in town for the day, you'll find four parking lots that will charge $15 on weekends, $10 weekdays. We are told the trick is getting there early; the lots are usually filled by 10 a.m. On-street parking is for locals only.

The joy of Watch Hill is in its beaches and its architecture. Even at noon, the beaches are uncrowded. When you're not enjoying the ocean, you can admire the hand of man and the imagination of architects from a time long ago. The housing style is basically gray shingle piles; big roomy houses with lots of parapets and widows walks; interspersed with the odd medieval castle or two. These houses haven't been converted to bed and breakfasts; they're still in family hands.

There aren't a lot of places to eat in Watch Hill. You can get an ice cream cone at the St. Claire Annex and watch the children ride the circa 1886 carousel next door, but that's about it. We just returned from a long weekend and can report the lobsters at Abbott's in Noank, CT are as tasty as ever. Bravo Bravo in Mystic, CT is the kind of tourist hangout that serves (at best) uneven food because tourists eat whatever is put in front of them and still tip well. Finally, we ventured up to Al Forno in Providence, which has recently bifurcated itself into two restaurants, one called Provenzia. The former continues to serve wonderful Italian dishes, the best of which are oven-prepared. Provenzia adds some Provencal menu items to the mix. The food was first rate; the service, unfortunately, was not. Still no reservations, so either go very early or else be prepared to wait forever.

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