A magical Christmas at The Ocean House


Since childhood, John Masefield’s “Sea Fever” has struck a chord: “I must go down to the sea again for the call of the running tide is a wild call and a

clear call that cannot be denied.” 

As a grown sybarite, I now substitute “sea” for “Ocean House”, a nineteenth-century landmark, built by a discerning sea captain, on a spectacular stretch of Rhode Island coastline that has lured Victorian steamboat passengers and modern-day travellers, to her butter-yellow tower, like moths to a flame.

Despite decades of being ravaged by floods, fires and hurricanes, this architectural beacon has weathered all storms and stood the test of time, largely thanks to the passion of local landlord, Chuck Royce, who to the tune of $146 million has painstakingly restored The Ocean House to majestic Golden Age,

former glory, with as much dedication to artistic detail and desire to dispense indelible joy as Father Christmas. 

The result is a hotel whose stellar reputation has floated to distant shores, and where merely stepping over the threshold matches the magic of opening a Christmas present.

Of course, The Ocean House’s location at the lighthouse end of a nature reserve on East Beach, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in the affluent community of Watchill is a huge part of the equation. 

I arrived late on an autumn afternoon at low tide and felt compelled to run down the wide wrap-around veranda and to follow the boardwalk past bull rushes,

croquet lawns and surrounding dunes through the striped gazebo and loungers of the Cafe Bar – a brand new beach addition – to join the fishermen and their rods parked for pristine kilometre after kilometre together with smart SUVs, poised for psychedelic sunsets, rather than the next silvery catch.

Returning from an exhilarating ramble, shell collecting, wave watching and boat counting, I found myself still adrift, this time waylaid by the magnificent collection of original marine art lining the broad passages of every carpet coated floor of this porticoed mansion. 

Royce is a collector of Ludwig Bedelmans and Sem – both nineteenth-century caricaturists – the former of Madeline Children’s Book fame. Bedelmans’ sketches have seeped onto Ocean House Menus and stationary, like butter on hot bread – a testimony to Victorian humour and European omnipotence. 

Resident artists and artisans are encouraged at The Ocean House to celebrate art and to foster art education. This creative predeliction extends to local cuisine that must please the eye, as well as titillate the “palette”. Dishes are designed by executive chef, Jennifer Backman, handpicked all the way from Los Angeles, to add flavour and fame to the farm to table, fine dining restaurant, Coast, where all ingredients, not least of all turkeys, are seasonally sourced from the best of nearby New England farmers.

Ensconced in my nautical-themed, Spode blue suite, facing Watchill lighthouse, I wallowed in a foam bath, big enough to harbour a whale, before morphing into one, contemplating what to eat or not to eat pre-dinner. 

This post a private cooking lesson on how to sear fresh scallops and steak. One is spoilt for choice in these “Madeline moments”: jars of giant chocolate malt balls, Japanese crackers, homemade cookies or a charcuterie tray, resembling a Miro painting, delivered to your butler’s station?  Laced hot chocolate and High Tea in front of that legendary stone fireplace, or cocktails and canapees lounging at the Bistro Bar? This is the constant epicurean dilemma that one is confronted with beyond soap suds, swan soft towels and Molten Brown amenities, and to which the answer is you succumb to all. 

If necessary you can appease your conscience by swimming it off in the heated lap pool, while watching a cherry pink sunrise – or of course hitting that endless shoreline at the gallop.

There are a constellation of Michelin-starred restaurants on the East Coast but few with a view to match Coast’s, and somehow good food tastes even better when you are a stone’s throw from whence it originates. Seared scallops and giant red lobsters, that melt in your mouth.

While every festive occasion is royally celebrated at The Ocean House, none is more so than Christmas. And If The Grinch Did Steal Christmas as Dr Seuss would have us believe, then he has brought it back from the North pole to the North shores with even more reason to celebrate: Santa checks in here on almost a weekly basis over the festive season and you can book your beautifully decorated tables under those iconic blue lanterns to have brunch, tea, dinner and a Christmas cabaret all with the ubiquitous bearded man himself presiding over the celebrations.

This is Disneyland meets Dr Seuss meets Chuck Royce, Bon Vivant all wrapped in one, and your own elves will never have been kept busier or happier: There is a Gingerbread Village and workshops ranging from Feast Of Fishes, to yule log making, to holiday beverages and cookie and cupcake decorating all interspersed with carols and fireside cocktails – a cacophony of swirling gulls – and food glorious food to make the Grinch go green with envy and your eyes light up brighter than that vermillion lighthouse. 

If there is no snow outside to sprinkle the dunes like iced puddings, then there is a White Christmas movie night inside to reincarnate every halcyon memory of Christmas’ past…

And quite frankly it would be almost impossible to improve on the Christmas present, because you are in the ultimate hotel in the ultimate location which is why, with apologies to Masefield – “I must go back to The Ocean House, to the glorious mansion and skies, where the call of the wave is a wild one but always full of surprise…”


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