Sun, surf, nature trails, rolling hills, lush farmland and stunning vistas. Island life without traffic lights, highways or chain restaurants. Seventeen miles of glorious beaches, the vast Atlantic, historic homes and special activities for children. Are you sold yet?
This is Block Island, dubbed by The Nature Conservancy as one of the “last great places” in the western hemisphere. It is a wildlife hotspot, a place for families to relax or be active and marvel at the surrounding beauty and nature. Integrated seamlessly into this landscape is The 1661 Inn, a family-run boutique accommodation run by the Draper and Abrams families. With a level of hospitality unlike any I’ve ever experienced, a number of room arrangements that work well for families, and the staff’s incredible knowledge about the area, there is no better place on the isle for families to reside than this quaint haven — which is in itself a special part of Block Island’s history.
From the minute guests enter The 1661 Inn until the moment they depart, innkeeper Rita Draper is the most affable, helpful and wonderful hostess they’ll likely ever meet. Not only did my family experience her tireless hospitality, but I saw her interact with guests during different moments of the day, divulging to them the best local spots and listening to their Block Island adventures. And lest you think it’s just Rita, it is in fact her whole family that makes The 1661 Inn such a special place. Her grandparents first put roots down on Block Island decades ago, and now, Rita, her husband, and grown sons Ross and Seth manage the inn and give it a special vibe. It exudes comfort, casualness and the feeling that you belong.
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Seth gave my family a private tour of The 1661 Farm and Garden, where we interacted with kangaroos, camels and lemurs (a highlight for all visitors to the island, not just 1661 guests). Rita directed us to the Mohegan Bluffs, spectacular 200-foot-tall cliffs that harbor a secluded beach, and The Oar, a perfect spot for families to chill with good food, award-winning drinks and a big grassy lawn. When my 5-year old was in search of crayons for the coloring book she found in the lobby, a 1661 staff member promptly brought a tub of crayons to our room, as well as several other coloring books and a deck of Go Fish. When it was pouring down rain and we had a ferry to catch, another hotel staff member drove us to the pier. It is these small but magnificent gestures that make The 1661 Inn so special, and the right choice for families looking to feel at home.
The 1661 Inn offers 73 rooms and suites spread over nine distinct properties. Our family stayed in The Akurs Room (one of nine rooms located in the main inn). With two queen-size beds and a full-size pullout sofa, this spacious room accommodates large families well. We had a large wraparound balcony with lounge chairs that was perfect for seagazing or watching little ones play on the large lawn below. The room also featured an in-room bathtub with jets, and yes, the kids were ecstatic about this feature. The staff brought in a pack-n-play for our smallest traveler.
If you are traveling with a larger groups, the inn manages a number of cottages, many adjacent to the main building, that allow for a more private experience. The rooms have different styles. Many have been gorgeously renovated, some boasting floor-to-ceiling windows with a view to the ocean, four-poster beds and luxurious rainfall showers. Make sure to inquire about the different rooms before booking in order to get just what you and your family are looking for.
Every morning, the inn offers a full champagne buffet breakfast featuring an omelet station, eggs any way you like them, pancakes, French toast, fresh fruit, baked fish, baked goods and much, much more. Afternoon brings “Wine and Nibbles,” with a bountiful array of crudité, crackers, dips, fruit and wines. It is a great way to recount your day’s adventures over light bites before dinner.
While there is no full-service restaurant at the inn itself, the staff manages a casual American restaurant called The Oar, which serves lunch and dinner daily. The restaurant is an island institution and a must-visit whether or not you stay at the inn. Children can frolic on the large, grassy lawn, check out the tide pools and pull crab traps up from the dock. Adults can nosh on sushi and order award-winning drinks (side note: The Oar’s Mudslide was named the best one in Rhode Island in recent years).
Only two establishments in Rhode Island have permits to own exotic animals: The Roger Williams Park Zoo and The 1661 Inn. Visitors from all over the island come to see The 1661 Farm and Garden, which features both the ordinary (goats, pigs, bunnies, chickens) and the exotic. Have you ever seen a “zedonk” (a cross between a zebra and a donkey)? If you’ve visited The 1661 Farm, you have!
The menagerie includes camels, lemurs, tortoises, African cranes, llamas, a yak and a kangaroo. My kids were in absolute heaven scooping fresh eggs from the chicken coop, corralling the goats and feeding the yak. The inn has rescued or taken animals from the mainland that others could no longer care for, making it a special haven for animals and an absolute delight for children (and adults) of all ages.
Block Island, located 12 miles off the coast of southern Rhode Island, can only be accessed by ferry (leaving from various locations in Rhode Island and Massachusetts) or by small plane. More than 47 percent of the isle is preserved open space. Block Island has a year-round population of under 1,000, which grows to nearly 20,000 in the summer. While most businesses on the island are seasonal (mid-May through early October), The 1661 Inn is open year-round.
The best way to explore the landscape is via bike. Pedal through the rolling hills and farmland to the southern end of the island and discover the famous Mohegan Bluffs, which offer a dramatic view of the Atlantic and a secluded, rocky beach. Take a walk down one of the many nature trails or rent kayaks or paddleboards and explore the ponds and inlets; legend has it there are 365 freshwater ponds, one for every day of the year. Look for seals and peregrine falcons off the coast. Spot the offshore wind farm that powers the entire island. Surf, sail, kayak, snorkel, go offshore fishing. There are endless opportunities for outdoor exploration on this small island in the Atlantic, which should most definitely be on your bucket list.
Editor’s Note: Loren was hosted by The 1661 Inn in order to review the property. As always, our opinions are our own on Ciao Bambino. Photos by The 1661 Inn and Loren Braunohler.
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