You would think that living in Rhode Island, the smallest state in the country at only 37 miles wide and 48 miles long, locals would know every nook and cranny. But the fact is, even though RI is the second most densely populated state, there is a lot that is not widely explored, including parts of its 400 miles of coastline, 800 farms, 35 islands, and some of the most scenic towns in the United States.

Sometimes everyone need a push to break out of their routines and explore the beauty right under their nose and that is where Experience Rhode Island Tours comes in. While Experience Rhode Island caters largely to tourists, there are plenty of locals getting in on the fun to visit Rhode Island in a way they haven’t experienced before.

In May, I joined Experience Rhode Island on their “Springtime in Rhode Island” tour, starting at the Convention Center in Providence and traveling through five of Rhode Island’s nine cities and towns. Along for the ride were some out-of-towners, including a couple visiting from Atlanta and a man from Texas, but most of us on the 25-person luxury coach were from Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. Some were part of a girls’ day out, others joining for a mother-daughter outing, while others, like me, just wanted to see something new.

Experience Rhode Island started just over two years ago and began offering guided tours on Memorial Day of 2013. Started by a band of brothers, you can easily see the passion they bring to sharing their state with others. Instead of the monotonous drone over a crackling loudspeaker that you come to expect on some tour buses, our guide and co-owner Ted Strickland kept us entertained, engaged and captivated by information about Rhode Island, throwing out juicy tidbits faster than I could tap notes into my iPhone.

For example, I knew that Roger Williams founded the state and its full name is The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, but I had no idea that the name came from explorer Verrazzano who saw Aquidneck Island and thought it looked like Rhodes in Greece and hence named it Rhode Island.

Our first stop on our journey through Rhode Island’s most scenic towns was a stop at Blithewold Mansion in Bristol, RI, home to one of Yankee Magazine’s five best public gardens. Once owned as the summer residence by the wealthy Van Wickle Family, Blithewold, or “happy woodland,” was donated to Preserve Rhode Island in 1976 and is open to the public for self-guided touring.

Visit Rhode Island's scenic towns - Blithewold in Bristol, RI

Blithewold Mansion in Bristol, RI

Inside the home, you can tour the dining room, butler’s pantry, billiard room, and bedrooms, each preserved with original finishings.

Bedroom of Blithewold Mansion in Bristol, RI - a stop on Experience RI's Springtime in RI Tour

Inside Blithewold Mansion

While outside I had plenty of time to explore the grounds and enjoy some silent reflection with a scenic view of the bay. Even on a cloudy day I could see the promise of spring with the gorgeous blooms of the tulips and daffodils in the gardens. After strolling through the stately sycamore trees and past the bamboo forest, I rejoined my companions on the bus, ready for more of what Ted and Experience Rhode Island had to offer.

Sailboat in the Harbor off Blithewold Mansion in Bristol RI on Experience Rhode Island's Springtime in RI Tour

Sailboat in the Harbor off Blithewold

Our tour traveled through patriotic Bristol and we were briefly tempted by the treats of Evelyn’s Drive In in Tiverton, of Food TV’s Diners, Drive Ins and Dives fame; but we were headed to the more posh Boathouse in Tiverton for a group lunch. Run by the popular Newport Restaurant Group, the Boathouse welcomed our group and happily accommodated our need for separate checks, making it easy for everyone to get to know each other without the messy dividing up of bills at the end of a meal. While many sampled the restaurant’s famous clam chowder and lobster rolls, I opted for the fish tacos and probably should have passed on the glass of wine if I knew what was coming in the afternoon. Satisfied with scrumptious seafood, we clambered back on the bus to head down to the beach in Little Compton.

With the wind picking up and the fog rolling in, it was mostly just us and the surfers out in Little Compton but I can see why this quiet, secluded spot has such appeal — maybe we shouldn’t let the tourists in on that secret!

Beach in Little Compton, RI - Visit Rhode Island Scenic Towns with Experience Rhode Island's Springtime in RI Tour

Beach in Little Compton, RI

Ocean waves crash on the rocks in Little Compton, RI - one of the scenic stops on Experience Rhode Island's Springtime in RI Tour

Waves crashing on the rocks

Salt ponds in Little Compton, RI - a stop on Experience Rhode Island's Springtime in RI tour

Salt ponds in Little Compton

Nearly bursting with excitement, Ted wanted to make sure we saw all the hidden gems of Little Compton, including Wilbour Woods, where we took a short stroll through the forest. Definitely not a place I would have discovered on my own, I thank Ted for taking us there as it is now one of those special never-heard-of-spots that I can use to impress my out-of-town guests.

Wilbour Woods in Little Compton, RI - Visit Rhode Island Scenic towns

The hidden sanctuary of Wilbour Woods

Leaving the woods, I asked Ted a bit about Experience Rhode Island and he explained how they started to help visitors get to see more of what makes Rhode Island special, but also to help introduce locals to new areas. His suggestion for entertaining out-of-town guests is to bring them on an Experience Rhode Island tour instead of trying to plan a whole itinerary yourself.

After a quick tour of Sakonnet Point, where it was too foggy to see the lighthouse just off shore, we headed inland to Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard. I’ve been there many times for tastings and picnics but this was my first trip back since Carolyn Rafaelian, of Alex and Ani fame, bought the vineyard. Maybe it is her magic touch but the tasting room was jammed during our visit and after paying $10 to taste six wines, I had to wriggle in to get a spot at the bar and claim my tasting. Each pour is quite large and with only 30 minutes to get through six wines, I did a lot of tasting and dumping to find my favorites quickly (still the Vidal Blanc.)

Sakonnet Point on a foggy day - a stop on Experience Rhode Island's Springtime in RI Tour

Sakonnet Point

Wine tasting at Sakonnet Vineyards - a stop on Experience Rhode Island's Springtime in RI Tour

Wine tasting at Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard

Quite happy to not be driving after all that wine tasting, the idea of taking visitors on a tour was making more and more sense. I can definitely say that I’ve driven by our next two stops in Tiverton Four Corners, Sakonnet Farms and the Mill Pond Shops, numerous times — but except a random pitstop at Gray’s for ice cream, I would have never thought to stop without the introduction by Experience RI. And without stopping, I wouldn’t have learned that some chickens lay blue eggs or made friends with such adorable goats.

Feeding the goats at Sakonnet Farm with Experience Rhode Island

Ted from Experience RI watches as we feed the goats

Feeding the chickens at Sakonnet Farms with Experience Rhode Island Tours

Feeding the chickens

Feeding the goats at Sakonnet Farms with Experience Rhode Island's Springtime in RI tour

The baby goats at Sakonnet Farms

Mill Pond Shops in Little Compton showcase local artisans

The waterfall outside the Mill Pond Shops in Little Compton

And with Farmstead departing Providence for good, I am happy to have discovered another amazing cheese shop. I may have to truck down to Little Compton, but Milk & Honey Bazaar offers some delectable pates, cheeses and other delicacies.

Let me tell you, Ted has the charm and salesmanship needed to make Experience Rhode Island a success. On our way back to Providence, he knew exactly how to lead the group to sign up for one of their Dine Around Providence tours by asking about dinner plans and describing some of his recommendations. (I should note I recently took advantage of one of his suggestions by trying one of Providence’s new gastro pubs, G Pub, and he was spot on.) We ended the day back where we started and intrigued by the promise of other Experience Rhode Island Tours.

You can read all about their different experiences on their website at www.riexperience.com, including a summer tour which runs May 28th through Labor Day and includes a pontoon boat ride out into Narragansett Bay; and its Explore Providence tour, which includes a stop at one of Providence’s most popular cafes.

The hardest choice is deciding which one to sign up for next.

Note: Experience Rhode Island provided me with a complimentary Springtime in Rhode Island tour but I have provided my honest opinion on a delightful experience.

 

 

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