A lengthy spit of sand and hollows jutting into the Atlantic, Cape Cod has long been a place of ebb and flow. The landscape itself seems transient, the shores of breezy dunes and freshwater kettle ponds constantly shifting their boundaries. Created from piles of glacial moraine as the last ice sheet receded, its days are numbered; it now has less than 5,000 years to go before the ocean consumes it.
But right now, it’s New England’s vacation destination for visitors of all stripes – non-stop partying weekenders from Boston and New York, beachcombing families from New England, and plutocrats and presidents who jet in from Washington to their compounds, a tradition begun by the Kennedys. Cape Cod and its two islands – Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket – is a place where you come to meet people, but also to escape; to eat the seaside dishes our grandparents ate, but also to push out the boat with some cutting-edge cuisine.
Most striking of all, though, is the light and the scenery; mile after mile of white sand beaches, backed by the bleached-bone white of clapboard houses and weathered cedar shingles. Eventually you get to Provincetown at the very tip, where the Mayflower first landed before moving on and leaving it for the Nauset Indians.
The European settlement of the Upper Cape came much later. “Since the 19th century, American artists, from the amateur to the avant-garde, have been drawn to Provincetown as a site of inspiration,” says Christine McCarthy, executive director of the Provincetown Art Association and Museum. “The reasons for that are many and complex. However the lure of the sea and the desire to experience its natural beauty are certainly at the forefront.”
As McCarthy explains, “This spit of land serves as a haven for all that is creative and unique, spiking at 100,000 visitors in the summer months, which drops to 3,000 year-round residents during the offseason. For those who are lucky enough to call Provincetown home, the off season is magical.”
Magical indeed. My first visit was 20 years ago, with a new American girlfriend who wanted to show me her childhood holiday spots. I was bowled over by the beauty of the historic Cape buildings, the dazzling beaches and the chumminess of the locals. We returned the following year. I was introduced to her family. Eventually, we married.
We’ve been going there nearly every year since – most recently with my extended US family – each season exploring something new: the seafood, the craft brewery bars, the cycle tracks, the secluded walks, the islands. We’ve researched buying a home and moving there, and we may do yet. The winters might be tough, but the summers are long and idyllic, making the Cape hard to resist.
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
Boston’s Logan airport is the best arrival point. There are hourly buses to Hyannis, transport hub of the Mid Cape, and ferry service to Provincetown and the two main islands. The simplest and best way to explore the Cape is by car; it’s a two hour drive from Logan airport to the port of Hyannis, three or more to Provincetown.
Currently Massachusetts requires visitors arriving from other states (except Hawaii, North Dakota and Puerto Rico) to have a negative PCR test taken 72 hours prior to arrival or remain in quarantine for 10 days. A travel form must also be filled out. Mask mandates are in place although curfews were lifted in February.
MODERNISM & BEACH HOMES
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The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas
BEST FOR Oceanfront stays with terrific dining, swimming pools and an expansive beach.
The Crane Resort, Barbados
BEST FOR Clifftop views with vigorous ocean breezes, exotic dining and all-suite accommodations
Chock full of history, this easy-to-reach destination is a kaleidoscope of old and new experiences for everyone
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