Summer Escapes: Drift Away

By Janelle Nanos | Boston Magazine |

RHODE ISLAND

Block Island

Perhaps the only downside to Block Island being named one of the “Last Great Places” by the Nature Conservancy is that now even more people are crowding its dazzling shores. But there are ways to avail yourself of all the beauty the island has to offer without upping your anxiety meds or having to endure
the rabble.

First, the early bird gets not only the worm, but also the primo seats on the high-speed ferry that leaves the mainland from Point Judith. Snagging the first boat headed for Old Harbor (it departs between 7:15 and 9 a.m. depending on the day and season) also means you get first dibs on available parking.

Once on the island, say sayonara to the harbor. You were smart and secured lodging away from the port, so you’ll deal with the crowds only when you want to — not because the ferry dropped them off outside your window. Guest homes on the edge of town, like the Sea Breeze Inn, offer gorgeous pond and ocean vistas.

The island’s 17 miles of beaches are, yes, breathtaking, but they fill up quickly. Bike or moped to the more-secluded spans of Sandy Point or North Lighthouse beach — the latter has a funky beach shack made from sea debris with a first-come-first-served hammock inside.

When your stomach starts growling, look for hearty American fare at the Oar Restaurant. The maritime-themed tavern boasts the best mudslides around, patio views of the central lagoon, and a laid-back atmosphere that’s sure to boost your serotonin levels — no prescription required.  >> Sea Breeze Inn (starts at $150 per night), 71 Spring St., New Shoreham, RI, 401-466-2275, seabreezeblockisland.com— Austyn Ellese Mayfield

 
CHEAT SHEET
Bike Taxi   If you get tired from biking, call Mig’s Rig Taxi. Its vans are equipped to cart you and your wheels around.
Water Works   Go exploring with Pond and Beyond guided kayak tours. $50 per person covers equipment for its Great Salt Pond excursion.

All photos by Jarrod McCabe

New Marlborough

Summertime in the Berkshires shouldn’t mean standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Yankees fans. Instead, escape to Mepal Manor and Spa in tiny New Marlborough. The dirt driveway to this remote European-style estate is a direct path to peace and quiet.

Adding to the aura of calm, the hotel’s 12 guest rooms are appointed with antique and vintage pieces, and all have air conditioning and WiFi (but no televisions). Cell service, by the way, is spotty, so prepare yourself for more than a few dropped calls.

Mornings begin with a generous continental breakfast buffet. Then get ready for deer and fox sightings on the four-mile guided hike up to the marble-white cliffs overlooking the Berkshires. Next, return to Mepal’s spa, a state-of-the-art sanctuary adjacent to the manor, for a deep-tissue massage and a soak in the outdoor hot tub, which features views of the expansive lawn and distant mountains. For a culture kick, check out a Norfolk Chamber Music Festival concert in nearby Norfolk, Connecticut — it’s a mini, rustic Tanglewood, minus the crowds.

What would a vacation be without plenty of great dining options? On Wednesday and Thursday evenings, you can take in the sunset from the manor’s restaurant, Al Fresco on the Terrace. In New Marlborough, the Old Inn on the Green offers creative American cuisine in a candlelit dining room, or take a 15-minute drive to Great Barrington for contemporary fare at Allium or Japanese at Bizen. >> Mepal Manor and Spa (starts at $295 per night), 100 Stone Manor Dr., New Marlborough, 800-286-3139, mepalspa.com. — Naomi Kooker

CHEAT SHEET
Check In  Those who arrive by 4 p.m. receive complimentary tea on the terrace.
Adventurous Eats   Be sure to request a picnic lunch for your guided hike.
Spa Time   Book the Sacred Nature organic body treatment at Mepal’s spa in the afternoon (so you can bask in the hot tub before dinner). 

 

Duxbury

Claustrophobes know that from Memorial Day through Labor Day, Cape Cod equals Cape Fear. So why bother heading south at all? Because sometimes, going only halfway is just as good as going all the way. Case in point: this sleepy town, which exists somewhere between suburbia and vacationland.

Duxbury has long sought to preserve its heritage (read: keep at bay anyone who isn’t a descendant of the Mayflower Pilgrims), but has recently let up a little, and now lures outsiders with terrific shops — like the Studio for handwoven throws — and eateries like French Memories.

For the most part, though, the community remains blessedly isolated, thanks to an impressive land-conservation effort. As a result, a certain quietude pervades, much of it extending to the shoreline. So if you’re coming in from Route 3, don’t follow the signs to the water; they’ll only lead you to a cramped parking lot. Instead, book yourself at the Winsor House Inn, a historical spot resplendent with fresh flowers and canopy beds. Then wake at 8 a.m. and drive Powder Point Avenue along the bay until you encounter the epic wooden bridge. Do not drive across; parking on the other side is for town residents only, and you’ll be getting there early enough (right?) that spaces will still exist in the small lot before the bridge. Instead, walk the half-mile span, then spend the day lolling on sands frequented exclusively by locals. At day’s end, cross back over the bridge, sandy-footed and possibly a little sunburned but exhausted only by the place’s voluminous beauty. >> Winsor House Inn (starts at $120 per night), 390 Washington St., Duxbury, 781-934-0991. — Alexandra Hall

CHEAT SHEET
Shopping Stop   Gear up for the beach at Millbrook Market; the local institution carries necessities (every kind of SPF you could need) as well as snacks for the beach (sandwiches and baked goods).
The Scoop   Finish the day with a swing through Farfar’s Danish
Ice Cream Shop   For one of the sweetest dairy experiences around — don’t bypass the peanut butter or bubble gum flavors.

Martha’s Vineyard

Here’s a concept: the stress-free family vacation. No, it’s not an oxymoron, particularly at the Winnetu Oceanside Resort on Martha’s Vineyard.

Ditch your car and prebook the VIP Island Queen ferry package, which includes guaranteed parking in Falmouth and a 35-minute boat ride to Oak Bluffs, where a Winnetu staffer will whisk you to the resort. The 53-suite hotel sits directly on South Beach, removed from the bustle of downtown Edgartown but still close to restaurants and shops, thanks to water taxis and shuttles. A bonus: The Vineyard’s bus system, which covers the island, stops at the end of the driveway. Not that you ever need to leave, what with the heated pools, tennis courts, clambakes on the lawn, and daily distractions like a putting green and kayaking. Kids are occupied morning and afternoon by organized dune and lighthouse tours and games like capture the flag.

If you choose not to sample the fine restaurants in town — or brave the lines at Chesca’s — the suites in the main hotel are equipped with kitchenettes, and the rental homes have full kitchens. (A shuttle runs to the nearby Stop & Shop so you can stock up on provisions.)

Not everyone who comes to Winnetu plans to spend the night, especially since the resort’s aptly named Lure Grill is reason enough to visit, with its beautiful ocean views, poolside lunches, and new chef, Aaron Wratten (of New York’s Daniel and Aureole). Plus, sitters will engage the kiddies in the family dining room’s play area while couples enjoy a romantic meal in a quieter space. >> Winnetu Oceanside Resort (atarts at $380 per night), 31 Dunes Rd., Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard, 508-310-1733, winnetu.com. — N.K.

CHEAT SHEET
Ferry Along   Take an early afternoon Chappy Ferry from Edgartown to Chappaquiddick Island and explore the Cape Pogue Wildlife Refuge and Cape Pogue Lighthouse.
Movie Night   Drop off the kids at 5:30 on a Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday evening for their own dinner and a movie, then escape to Lure Grill’s outdoor deck to catch the sunset.
Happy Hour   Don’t feel like making a beer run? Before heading to the beach, order a bottle of 2001 Chandon Étoile Brut and a box of Chilmark chocolates to be delivered to your room.

MAINE

Kennebunkport

Just outside this seaside town lie 60 wooded acres of laid-back luxury that put Blair Waldorf’s summer camp to shame. Book a two-bedroom cottage at Hidden Pond Resort, or opt for one of the 20 new bungalows, which feature floor-to-ceiling stone fireplaces and screened-in porches perfect for sipping a Dark and Stormy. Also new this summer: the gourmet restaurant Earth, which boasts a Ken Oringer–designed menu.

Guests are given free range of the grounds, meaning you can pick from the resort’s organic vegetable patch, create a bouquet of fresh flowers, or channel your inner Monet with artist-in-residence Judith Kinsman, who offers an hour of free instruction in the garden. Or get a bamboo facial in one of the spa rooms, perched 8 feet off the ground and connected by a catwalk through the trees.

The rest of your trip, though, can remain wonderfully unplanned. When Hidden Pond staffers arranged a lobster boat tour for guests Jeff Baron and his family, the elder George Bush had his boat docked nearby in the canal. “We came right by and the president was waving to us,” Baron recalls. >> Hidden Pond Resort (two-bedroom cottages start at $945 per night), 354 Goose Rocks Rd., Kennebunkport, ME, 888-967-9050, hiddenpondmaine.com. — Sharon Male

CHEAT SHEET
Insider Tip
    Order a lobster roll at Cape Porpoise Chowder House. “It’s a little quieter, with fewer tourists and more fishermen,” says Judith Kinsman.
Deal Alert!   The new bungalow cottages at Hidden Pond are renting for just $399 per night through June 23. Once the cottages are booked, the deal is over.
Know Before You Go    Many of the beaches near Kennebunkport require a parking pass. Before you book, ask whether your hotel will provide one; if not, expect to pay $10 to $15 for parking.

VERMONT

Quechee

Come fall and winter in Green Mountain country, you can barely reach for a jug of maple syrup without bumping into some leaf-peeper or skier. And during the nigh-eternal, unpleasantly chilly spring, you wouldn’t want to be found anywhere near the place. (They don’t call it mud season for nothing.)

But here’s the thing about Vermont: In summer, it just might be where God goes on vacation. The crowds are nowhere in sight. The locals take over. The farms come into their own, as does every last bit of the land around them: The mountains look as majestic as they do in high season, but instead of being burdened by foliage or snow they erupt in the entire spectrum of green — and more than accommodate hikers, campers, mountain climbers, zipliners, and picnickers, who can find plenty of space all to themselves.

And then there are the shoppers who are drawn to the Quechee/Woodstock area by the local artisans’ handiwork. To join them, start out by browsing Shackleton Thomas’s crafty-meets-minimalist ceramics, which fit as nicely in a refined-rustic home as they do in a metro-sophisticate condo. Afterward, drive 10 minutes to neighboring Woodstock and settle into an ultraplush room at Jackson House Inn to rest up for yet more shopping the next morning at Simon Pearce, a temple to all things gleaming and glass, pretty and pottery. Pay up in the store, then make your way to the fantastically situated riverside dining room (where it’s almost impossible to get a table in fall and winter). There, tuck into a plate of horseradish-crusted cod, take in the waterfall just beyond your window, and enjoy the rush. >> Jackson House Inn (starts at $185 per night), 43 Senior LN., Woodstock, VT, 802-457-2065, jacksonhouse.com. — A.H.

CHEAT SHEET
Take a Hike
   Beautiful trails flank Quechee Gorge, the mile-long stretch of the Ottauquechee River that flows 165 feet below Route 4.
Happy Meal    Dig into all-American classics — burgers, hot dogs, and milkshakes — at the Farmer’s Diner; all of the ingredients are locally grown.

Siasconset

It’s funny, actually: Ever since Queequeg’s heyday, Nantucket has prided itself on being the most secluded New England island. And yet we defy you to walk unencumbered down any of its cobblestoned main streets in summertime. (If it isn’t an SUV cluster you’re running into, it’s a 12-stroller pileup.)

It’s a different story altogether in Siasconset. (That’s ’Sconset to you first-timers.) The teensy village at the island’s east end is less than a 15-minute car ride — 45 minutes by bike — from the frenzy of Nantucket Center, but feels like it’s an entire world away. The action (such as it is) centers on the Summer House — the easygoing microresort on a salty-aired hill above the sea. The roofs on its cluster of historical cottages are so low,they seem straight out of a hobbit shire. But who stays in them? Oh, you know, the usual: Katie Couric, Todd English, and the like, who come to get closer to the ocean and farther from the autograph seekers.

And if you do happen to trip over a celeb down at the pool, faux shudder as necessary and retire to the Chanticleer — the ne plus ultra of fine dining on the island — which offers thoughtful dishes like Moroccan chicken with fresh figs and arugula, madeira sauce, and chorizo. The next morning, recover from the feast by making a beeline for the outskirts of the abutting dunes, where you might see a dozen people all day. But with so much nothing to accomplish, who has time to count? >> The Summer House (starts at $600 per night), 17 Ocean Ave., Siasconset, Nantucket, 508-257-4577, thesummerhouse.com. — A.H.

 

CHEAT SHEET
Dining Out
   The Summer House restaurant sets out a tiny continental breakfast, but at night gets fancy with table linens, enormous floral bouquets, and a menu that focuses on (what else?) seafood.
Beach Time   Need a change of scenery? You’ll get slightly larger crowds at Siasconset’s main public beach, but its cuteness (a lighthouse sitting at one end is well tended by a preservation society) makes up for it.

RHODE ISLAND

Newport

If you love a good sea breeze but can’t stand crushing crowds of Izod-clad tourists, rest assured — there is a better way to experience Newport. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing hideout or top-shelf service, it’s all within a few minutes’ drive of downtown.

Check in at the recently renovated Hyatt Regency Newport, a secluded 257-room resort just across the causeway on Goat Island. Sign up for a family outing on a local sailboat, grab bikes and head to a Newport beach for the day, or stay put and sip cocktails at the saltwater pool before dining at the newly refurbished restaurant, Pineapples on the Bay. At sundown, gather at the fire pit for s’mores and a movie on the North Lawn.  

If, however, you prefer the gilded, gated life, opt for Carnegie Abbey, a members-only sporting club that hugs the coastline in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, just six miles from Newport — close, but not too close. Renowned for its rolling Scottish links golf course right on the ocean, the Abbey also proffers a clubhouse, spa, pool, restaurant, yacht slips, and miles of equestrian trails. Rentals range from one-bedroom condos to five-bedroom homes with private swimming pools overlooking the ocean. If you fall in love with the Abbey, and the Abbey likes you, expect to pay a one-time $43,000 fee for a nonresident social-only membership ($175,000 for a full golf membership). Or flirt for the year with a $12,500 trial run that can be applied toward full membership when you’re ready to commit.  >> Hyatt Regency Newport (starts at $299 per night), One Goat Island, Newport, RI, 401-851-1234, newport.hyatt.com; The Carnegie Abbey Club (starts at $340 per night), 125 Cory’s Ln., Portsmouth, RI, 401-682-6000, carnegienewport.com. — N.K.

CHEAT SHEET
Stress-Free Sips
   Make an appointment at the Hyatt’s Stillwater Spa between 2 and 5 p.m. for a complimentary cocktail with any mini spa or “tapas” treatment.
Tee-Time Tipples   It may not help your game, but Carnegie Abbey often arranges single-malt scotch tastings on the 14th hole, close to the tee box.

 

 

CONNECTICUT

The Last Green Valley

Thanks to a rebranding strategy, the “Quiet Corner” of northeastern Connecticut is now called the “Last Green Valley.” Whatever its name, this area is a day-tripper’s paradise, with working farms, pristine woodlands, and some of the best fishing in New England.

Head southwest to Putnam, an old mill town that attracts both antiques shoppers and food lovers. Sample the offerings at 85 Main, where chef James Martin offers a locally sourced menu with Asian influences, or just grab some fruit from a farm stand and enjoy a picnic on the banks of the Natchaug River in nearby Eastford. The state forest has gorgeous trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. Later in the summer, look for large-mouth bass in lakes and streams throughout the region.

If you’re taking the leisurely drive along Route 169 (the nation’s first scenic byway), plan a stop at the Prudence Crandall Museum in Canterbury, which celebrates the work of the woman who in the 1830s opened Connecticut’s first school for black women.

On a Friday or Saturday, reserve a table at the Golden Lamb Buttery in Brooklyn, Connecticut, and feast on roast duckling, Châteaubriand, or pan-seared salmon ($75 prix-fixe).

If you’re staying the night, check out the Inn at Woodstock Hill, a 21-bedroom B&B that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In the morning, you’ll enjoy a continental breakfast in the elegantly appointed sitting room before starting out on the day’s adventures. >> The Inn at Woodstock Hill (starts at $175 per night), 93 Plaine Hill Rd., Woodstock, CT, 860-928-0528, woodstockhill.net.   — S.M.

CHEAT SHEET
GPS? Heck, yes!
   Getting lost is part of the fun, but don’t worry — your GPS will work just fine (though it might take a couple of minutes to acquire a signal).

 

 

MAINE

Bar Harbor

Bar Harbor is five hours north of Boston, but it’s more than worth the drive — mostly because there’s an activity (or lack of activity) to suit every mood. Top-rated Kebo Valley Golf Club, with PGA pros on hand to help with your swing? Check. Easy access to Acadia National Park, with hundreds of miles of trails to explore? Check. The chance to have your pictures framed by the same guy who does Martha Stewart’s? Check! (That’s Raymond Strout at Ahlblad’s.)

Avoid the downtown crowds by hopping on the free Island Explorer shuttle bus, which heads right into Acadia’s 49,000 acres of scenic woodlands. “Just stay on the bus until you see a trail with an empty parking lot,” says Greg Veilleux, who owns Window Panes, a home and garden store on Main Street. If you’re feeling adventurous, Acadia Mountain Guides can help you scale the precipice of Mount Kebo. Or ask the staff at National Park Kayaking to take you on a tour of Mount Desert Island’s coast, where you’ll spot seals, otters, and porpoise. If that’s too ambitious, simply laze among the wildflowers in the great meadow; a short walk gets you back to town in time for lunch at Galyn’s, where you can gaze out over the bay while dining on lobster enchiladas.

Stay in one of the Harborside Hotel’s stately guest rooms (or opt for an oceanfront three-bedroom suite), then get your Rockefeller on with a treatment at the deluxe Bar Harbor Club Spa, conceived by Nelson himself more than 40 years ago. >> The Harborside Hotel (starts at $389 per night), 55 West St., Bar Harbor, ME, 207-288-5033, theharborsidehotel.com. — S.M. 

 
CHEAT SHEET
Jam Session  
The Bar Harbor Music Festival, now in its 45th season, runs throughout July (tickets range from $15 to $80).
Don’t Miss   MDI Ice Cream, just steps off Main Street on Firefly Lane. “My favorite flavors are ‘Wing Nut’ and ‘The Dude,’” says Michael Boland, proprietor of popular local spots Rupunni and Havanna (where the Obamas had a date night last summer).
Insider Tip   Park your car — and leave it there. “This is a walking and biking city,” says Greg Veilleux.

 

 

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