A Tank Away: Portsmouth, R.I.

In the country, with shorelines

A bay and a river frame a bucolic, winemaking town

The view from Portsmouth’s Greenvale Vineyard, with its 24 acres of vines, stretches to the Sakonnet River and beyond. The view from Portsmouth’s Greenvale Vineyard, with its 24 acres of vines, stretches to the Sakonnet River and beyond. (Kathleen Burge/Globe Staff)
By Kathleen Burge and Rich Barlow
Globe Staff / February 2, 2011

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Leave the opulence and bustle of Newport behind, pass a line of strip malls, and enter Portsmouth, with its long fields that stretch to the water’s edge. One of three towns on Aquidneck Island, and the most rural, Portsmouth has 56 miles of shoreline, so you are never far from water. Established in 1638 by Anne Hutchinson, it was the first town in the country established by a woman.

STAY There are just a handful of places to stay in Portsmouth, but lodging abounds in neighboring Middletown, which has several chain hotels, and Newport, four miles away. In Portsmouth, the Shamrock Farm Inn (465 Union St., 401-851-1240,, from $150) opens again for the year on St. Patrick’s Day. A night in one of the inn’s six rooms is followed by an Irish country breakfast — the owner’s family came from County Galway. Escobar’s Farmhouse Inn (2072 East Main Road, 401-293-5777,, from $99) lies across the street from Escobar’s Highland Farm, a working dairy farm. The four rooms, each named after the parents of the couple that owns the inn, include a large suite that sleeps six, with a kitchenette and dining area.

DINE Anna D Cafe (954 East Main Road, 401-683-6338,, $2-$17.95) is a popular spot with a wide assortment of sandwiches, wraps, panini, and salads. We liked the Asian salad ($8.50), with heaps of vegetables, grilled chicken, cashews, and Thai peanut dressing. In warmer weather, the cafe scoops from a long list of ice cream flavors. Down the street, Fieldstones Portsmouth Grille (980 East Main Road, 401-293-5200,, entrees $9-$25) has a large menu, heavy on seafood, that ranges from pizza to pasta to sole and scallops. El Parque (514 Park Ave., 401-682-2171,, entrees $5.99-$14.99) serves burritos, tacos, enchiladas, and quesadillas. 15 Point Road (15 Point Road, 401-683-3138,, entrees $16-$26) is an elegant restaurant, pricier than most in town, with rows of windows looking out over the Sakonnet River. The restaurant also focuses on seafood, from drunken lobster penne to sole Sarafino, but the menu includes a selection “from the land.’’

DURING THE DAY Greenvale Vineyards (582 Wapping Road, 401-847-3777, offers daily wine tasting in a renovated stable. Wine from the vineyard’s 24 acres is also for sale here, from cabernet franc to chardonnay. This family-run winery along the Sakonnet was once a Victorian farm and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Prudence Island, a 7-mile-long island west of Portsmouth in Narragansett Bay, is reached by boat, including the daily ferry that leaves from Bristol. Nearly two-thirds of the island, which belongs to Portsmouth, is managed by the Narragansett Bay Natural Estuarine Research Reserve (Prudence Island, 401-683-6780, It is crisscrossed by paved and dirt roads that make walking easy, and the reserve offers a self-guided hike in the southern part of the island. Prudence is also home to Farnham Farm, on an area that had been farmed at least since the mid-1600s, and to a one-room schoolhouse still in use. The Green Animals Topiary Garden (380 Cory’s Lane, is open from early May to mid-October and is a fun place to visit. The country’s oldest topiary garden, the grounds of this estate are filled with 80 topiary trees sculpted into an elephant, a unicorn, and other animals and geometric designs. The Portsmouth Arts Guild (2679 East Main Road, 401-293-5278, offers exhibits, classes, and workshops. Upcoming exhibits include “Emerging Arts,’’ a show of students’ work, and “Poetic License,’’ where all artwork is accompanied by a stanza of poetry.

AFTER DARK The Common Fence Music Series (933 Anthony Road, 401-683-5085,, tickets $12-$25) inside the Common Fence Point Community Hall brings performers who play folk and world music on Saturday nights. The next performance is Rumbafrica on Feb. 19. There is often an indoor picnic before the concert, where guests can bring their own food or buy soups, desserts, and drinks. The Portsmouth Community Theater (shows at Aquidneck Island Christian Academy, 321 East Main Road, 401-683-1460, performs a show or two a year, most recently “The Fantasticks.’’ Some restaurants in town offer music at night, including The Beach House (500 Park Ave., 401-293-5700,, which has live music every Friday and Saturday night, as well as regular nights for acoustic music and karaoke.

Kathleen Burge and Rich Barlow can be reached at