Cape Cod: Timeless beauty, historical pride, patriotism lend nostalgic allure
(Story previously published in Winnipeg Free Press)
The east coast has always held an alluringly nostalgic attraction. It’s where early European settlers received first impressions of the mysterious New World after leaving lives behind and journeying far across the ocean.
As a newcomer to Cape Cod, my first impression of this timelessly romantic landscape was that it’s nothing short of impressive.
Just 120 kilometers from Logan Airport in Boston, Massachusetts, the Cape is an arm-shaped peninsula and island region, and world-class summer resort area stretching along 900 kilometers of unspoiled coastline. Driving south from Boston, you’ll see why Massachusetts is nicknamed ‘The Bay State,’ with brief glimpses of ocean coming into view along the way.
WELL-KNOWN HISTORY & FAMOUS FAMILY
Cape Cod is famous for Plymouth Rock and its significance to American history. It was the 1620 landing spot of English separatists in the Mayflower who broke away from England to establish the first permanent European settlement in ‘New England.’Today, visitors to the region still feel the strong sense of historical pride, and prominent patriotism accentuated with each and every star spangled banner hanging from storefronts, homes and businesses.
Cape Cod is also known for sparkling beaches, stunning windswept seacoast, unbelievable seafood, and the Kennedy’s.
“I always go to Hyannisport to be revived,
to know again the power of the sea and the master
who rules over it and all of us.” –John F. Kennedy
The famous family has been connected to Hyannisport on Cape Cod since family patriarch Joseph Kennedy bought a summer home there in the 1920’s. the 1960 presidential election, during which John F. Kennedy was elected 35th US president, helped land Hyannisport on the world map.
Today the tourists still flock to the Kennedy compound to see who they can see, while the JFK Museum and JFK Memorial in Hyannis remain among the most popular Cape Cod attractions
AROUND THE TOWNS
Cape Cod has 15 distinctive towns to be explored, each one with an assortment of villages, and countless attractions, sites and activities.
Throughout the region visitors will find an array of arts and cultural pursuits, a jumpin’ jazz scene emanating from coastal coffeehouses, and soaring symphony concerts. There are 83 museums, 475 galleries, and one Cape Playhouse – America’s oldest professional summer theatre.
Accommodations vary from affordable to upscale hotels, antique farmhouses, charming bed and breakfasts, and quaint seaside inns. Whether traveling with full-on swank or on a budget, alone or with a family, there are options for all.
The more active traveler can explore 170 kilometers of bike paths, while an abundance of baseball is sure to please the sport-lover. It won’t take long to get caught up in Red Sox fever, which seems to be everywhere in conversation, and on every public television.
Meanwhile, the Cape Cod Baseball League (CCBL) is the region’s premier amateur baseball league and popular sporting tradition since 1885. During the summer there are CCBL baseball games every day. With free admission, it’s the most affordable family entertainment around.
THE FINE ART OF DINING
Cape Cod offers a diverse mix of dining experiences, ranging from upscale elegant eateries and oceanfront restaurants to old-fashioned clambakes and shanties. Renowned for serving the freshest seafood, a wide range of options for diners includes everything from sushi, Brazilian barbecue and Italian cuisine, to Indian curry and French fare. Pizza and ice cream parlors, bakeries and coffee shops are never hard to find.
One of the best dining experiences was at Tugboats Restaurant at Hyannis Marina. The view from Lewis Bay at sunset is spectacular, with a never-ending stream of fishing fleets and ferries coming and going, and yachts anchored at the piers that are bigger than your average house.
The only thing better than the view is the food, with tuna steak so tender you don’t need a knife to cut it. It was here I got my first taste of authentic New England clam chowder – or “chowda” as written on the menu. Every restaurant in the region prepares it with its own special touch, and if you take the “clam chowda challenge” and order it at a different locale everyday, you will discover each bowl is uniquely delicious.
If you are a fan of seafood, you can’t visit the Cape without indulging in lobster. The Paddock has been serving fine food in a friendly atmosphere for 37 years, with diners surrounded by the warmth of antique wood and candlelight. Gazing across the dimly lit table, with a glass of velvety red wine in hand, it was here I first laid eyes on him…
I knew he was the one for me as the waitress brought him over to our table. He was stunningly beautiful, steaming hot, and by far the biggest lobster I had ever seen. Weighing in at nearly a kilogram, it was going to be hard work to finish him off. But, with a bowl of melted butter, plate of lemon slices, and plastic lobster bib on my chest, it was a challenge I wholeheartedly accepted.
WHICH WAY TO THE BEACH?
With 115 accessible beaches, Cape Code is one of the most famous beach regions in the world. You can spend countless days near or on the water – swimming, kayaking, sailing, waterskiing, snorkeling or surfing. Back on land, tour one of the many historic lighthouses. With eight still functioning along the coast, mile-for-mile its one of the largest concentrations of working lighthouses in the world.
For a more leisurely day, comb for seashells in the sands, or soak up the sunshine with a good book and beverage of choice. Anything except Caesars – which, by the way, don’t seem to exist outside of Canada, eh? Try as I might to find just one good Caesar away from home, I’m still resorting to smuggling clamato juice into unsuspecting lounges.
Despite the fact there are no Caesars, tourism is the number one industry on the Cape. The locals have an absolute passion for the place, and are proud to share their knowledge of it. This became evident in the warm welcome received upon reaching Hyannis on the southern coast – ferry landing to the Islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
The Holiday Inn Hyannis is brand-newly constructed from the ground up, with a warm stylish look that is sleek and modern, yet reminiscent of a ship’s galley. A glass wall in the lobby opaquely overlooks the indoor pool and hot tub, while the glass wall behind the bar in the lounge mesmerizes with swirling bubbles and softly glowing lights that morph from one vibrant colour to the next.
It was from our homeport of Hyannis we ventured out each day in a different direction, in search of scenic landscapes, sunny skies, and greener fairways.
THE GOLF COAST
There are few areas in the world that can rival Cape Cod when it comes to quality golf, with 27 public and 15 private facilities between Plymouth and Provincetown, most within a half-hour’s drive of each other.
The region’s scenic beauty and diverse topography has provided golf architects to design courses that preserve the natural splendor of their surroundings while providing all levels of golfer with challenge and fun, and a whole new zest for the game.
Ballymeade Golf & County Club in North Falmouth is the jewel in the Cape Cod crown of golf, with a championship 18-hole golf course redesigned by Chi Chi Rodriguez, and utilizing the natural topography of the area. The golf carts have satellite tracking, so you know exactly how far you’ve hit the ball with each shot, and how much distance left between you and green as you creep closer with each stroke.
It’s a picturesque course, but don’t be lulled into complacency by the beauty of the place. Ballymeade is also plenty challenging and you’ll figure this out right away, with the first hole being one of the toughest on the course – a 225-yard par 4 (from red tees) with dog-leg right, lined with trees, and elevated green protected on both sides by bunkers.
After a humbling start at Ballymeade, my groove came on No. 5 – a 121-yard par 3 with rolling hills and rocks to the right, sand and water to the left, and one narrow opening right down the middle. I aimed right at the opening, and much to my surprise, my ball actually flew right at it, coming to rest near the flag. Two putts later I had my first (and only) Cape Cod par, and a great boost of golfing confidence that remained for the next few holes. Until reaching No. 9.
This signature hole is a 287-yard par 4 that plays long and straight towards a waterhole the width of the fairway and placed right in front of the green. It is backed by a row of luxurious-looking houses perched atop a cliff, no doubt giving residents a spectacular view of people foraging in the marsh reeds looking for their lost ball (which I had firsthand experience at).
The Captains Golf Course in Brewster sports a seafarer theme, with two different 18-hole courses to choose from – named Port and Starboard. We played Port, which is shorter than Starboard, but more difficult. While the rough is fairly forgiving, it’s the treacherous areas scattered about that you want to stay clear of. For if you land anywhere near these drastic drops, your ball gets sucked into the vortex and doesn’t ever want to come out again. Consider yourself warned.
Pinehills Golf Club in Plymouth was created to rival the country’s most prestigious clubs, bringing world class golf to New England. Dedicated to offering players of all levels a total golf experience, Pine Hills offers two 18-hole championship courses – Jones Course andNicklaus Course – designed by Rees Jones.
Nicklaus is especially stunning, with rows of towering pines, thick grasses, and rolling hills punctuated by dramatic glacially carved kettles – what they call those drastic drops. I just called them ugly. In fact, anytime I said “there’s a big patch of ugly on the left of the green” everyone knew exactly what I was talking about.
Golf seems like a hallowed pursuit in Cape Cod. The mainland courses are immaculately maintained with lush fairways and plush greens, and diligently managed play. The only sacred tradition missing is the beer-cart, since you can’t consume alcohol on many Cape Cod courses.
If you like beer and golf, this means you’ll have to go in after the front nine and tip one back before it’s your turn to tee off again. By the third game, this ritual will have become an integral part of the Cape Cod golf experience – which must also include jumping on a boat and discovering the islands.
THERE ONCE WAS A GIRL FROM…
With golf clubs in tow and limericks dancing in my head, we boarded the Hy-Line Fast Ferry for the crescent-shaped island of Nantucket. It only takes an hour to travel the 48 kilometers across Nantucket Sound in this high speed boat, compared to two hours on the regular ferries. Sit on the outside upper deck at the stern to feel the full effect of the Hy-Line cruising across the water, with warm sea winds on your face, and churning wake trailing behind as far as the eye can see.
For a relatively small island, Nantucket’s pristine terrain is hugely varied – with moors and heaths, cranberry bogs, ponds and salt marshes, shady lanes, and dazzling beaches. Three lighthouses line the shores, and stately homes, gracious mansions, and cozy cottages still utilize traditional wooden clapboard shingles that fade over time to a shade of old weathered grey, giving a sense of history and feel for the community’s long-standing maritime resilience.
Nantucket Town itself is a national historic site, with cobblestone streets and gas lanterns that recall days when the island was whaling capital of the world. Today, Nantucket Harbour is the ideal place to sit and watchthe modern world pass by whilst enjoying the fresh salty air, local brew Whale’s Tale Pale Ale and the catch-of-the-day.
Unique shops, boutiques and crafters line the streets, offering world-class (albeit pricey) shopping, while lines of taxis wait to whisk you away to discover the inland treasures tucked away on Nantucket.
Our destination was Miacomet Golf Course, Nantucket’s only public 18-hole golf course. Located in the rolling hummocks southwest of Nantucket Town, the course offers breathtaking views and challenging golf shots. It’s an idyllic and inspiring place, and the kind of course you can shoot a low score with enough affirmation along the way.
I managed to snag seven bogeys at Miacomet, which for me translates into pretty good golf. This certainly added to the overall excellent experience of Cape Cod – with many favourable first impressions and even more lasting memories.
So now, if only they’d catch on to delicious Canadian tradition of salty-rimmed Caesars with celery, and make them available for seaside sipping at sunset, Cape Cod just might be the best place in the world.
HOW TO GET THERE:
By air to Logan Airport in Boston, followed by one hour’s drive south along the coast.
Ballymeade Golf & County Club in North Falmouth http://www.ballymeade.com
Captains Golf Course in Brewster http://www.captainsgolfcourse.com
Pinehills Golf Club in Plymouth http://www.pinehillsgolf.com
Miacomet Golf Course on Nantucket Island http://www.miacometgolf.com