As a break from the urbanity of Providence or the concentration of sights and activities that is Newport, a side trip down the length of the oddly isolated southeastern corner of Rhode Island is a soothing excursion.
No one has thought to throw a bridge or run a ferry across the water between Newport and Sakonnet Point, prospects the reclusive residents would no doubt resist to the last lawsuit. They have been known to steal road signs to discourage summer visitors, and almost no enterprises are specifically geared to attract tourists. Things are quiet in these parts, and they intend to keep it that way.
To get here from Providence or Boston, pick up I-195 east, then Route 24 south, toward Newport. Take exit 4 for Route 77 south, just before the Sakonnet River Bridge. From Newport, take Route 138 toward Fall River, and exit on Route 77 south immediately after crossing the bridge.
After a welter of small businesses, most of them involved in some way with the ocean, Route 77 smoothes out into a pastoral Brigadoon, not quite rural, but more rustic than suburban. Colonial farmhouses, real or replicated, bear sidings of weathered shakes the color of wood smoke. They are centered in tidy lawns, bordered by miles of low stone walls. No plastic deer, no tomato plants in front yards -- it's as if a requirement of residence were attendance at a school of good taste.
What to See & Do -- There are a few antiques shops and roadside farm stands along the way, and a cluster of shops and eating places at Tiverton Four Corners, about halfway down the point. The building on the near-right corner of that intersection is Provender, 3883 Main Rd. (tel. 401/624-8084), a lunch counter famed for its veggie sandwich, the "Great Garbanzo." It's closed from Christmas until spring. On the far-left corner, at the edge of the parking lot, is a destination dear to the hearts of Rhode Islanders. Gray's Ice Cream, 16 East Rd. (tel. 401/624-4500), scoops out 32 flavors of the super-premium dessert, along with 11 more sherbets and frozen yogurts. Coffee is the best-selling flavor. It's open daily from 6:30am to 7pm in winter, until 9pm in summer.
Another good reason to pull off the road is Sakonnet Vineyards, 162 W. Main Rd. (tel. 401/635-8486; www.sakonnetwine.com), with an entrance road on the left, about 3 miles south of Tiverton Four Corners. In operation since 1975, it is one of New England's oldest wineries and produces 30,000 cases of creditable wines annually. Types range from a popular pinot noir to an honored vidal blanc. Bring along a picnic lunch, then buy a bottle and retire to one of the tables beside the pond. There's also a tasting room open daily from 10am to 6pm in summer, 11am to 5pm in winter. They charge $7 for tastings of six wines (from a list of 12), and you get to keep the glass.
Continuing south on Route 77, the road skirts Little Compton and heads on to Sakonnet Point, where the inland terrain gives way to stony beaches and coastal marshes. There's a wetlands wildlife refuge, a small harbor with working boats, and not much else.
Now head back north on Route 77, watching for the sign pointing toward Adamsville. Take the right turn at the triangular traffic island just beyond, onto a road that seems to have neither name nor number. Shortly, it arrives at a T intersection with a Congregational church and the C. R. Wilbur general store. This is downtown Little Compton. Long situated next to the store was a communal gathering spot, the Common's restaurant. It burned to the ground in 2005 but has been rebuilt and is the likeliest place for a snack or lunch in the area. Turn left (north), and you're back in the country. In less than 2 miles, the road ends at Peckham Road. Turn left to return to Route 77, and turn right (north) to return to your original destination.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.