The mere mention of Nantucket often raises eyebrows, even amongst our geography-bright friends. Most people have never heard of the place, they don’t know where it is or they think it is a fictional town.
We first visited Nantucket in 2010 for our honeymoon. Hubby had volunteered for the task of organising this much-needed holiday, before he realised that it was a traditional task of the groom! I left quiet hints about Martha’s Vineyard or the Hamptons, not really knowing too much about these places except that that was where the rich kids vacationed in Gossip Girl. Oh and that these places sounded so … American.
But hubby did one better and made arrangements for Nantucket, a small island off the coast of Massachusetts near Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod. It is the quaint and quieter island when compared to Martha’s Vineyard, the latter being a rather bustling and heavily populated tourist destination. Nantucket, on the other hand, is the place to escape to when you need a break from the city life, or just life in general. The island is rather small and aside from the token museum or two, there is not much to do most days except to hop on your bike and head to the beach for a swim or a spot of sunbaking, and maybe pick up few sandwiches and cookies for a picnic on the way back.
Nantucket is very much a summer town. I’m not sure how pleasant it would be to live on the island in winter, but summer is when the island welcomes back those residents who live most of the year on the US mainland, together with a fair amount of tourists who are looking for a bit of surf and sand. There is a charming village feel to the island and a sense of order about the place; that much is evident from the neatly kept grey shingled homes and perfectly manicured gardens.
Being a small island, the place is absent of any chain restaurants or big-name clothing stores (except for Ralph Lauren) – most businesses are family-owned or locally-owned, a factor which gives visitors a feeling that they have truly escaped the big city.
After a week of generally lazing and bumming around, hubby and I fell in love with the island and had (sort of) serious discussions about buying our own grey-shingled house and turning it into a B&B where I could indulge in my love of baking and cooking food which the guests would hopefully eat. And my husband could, well, still do his normal office job (so we would have a proper income) but remotely, i.e. under a beach umbrella somewhere with sand between his toes.
Our honeymoon was so perfect that we decided to relive it again this year The second visit was just as wonderful as the first, bar the fact that we no longer had the honeymoon budget so we were staying in a cheaper inn (though still quite expensive by comparison to other places where we have holidayed).
An unusual feature of Nantucket is that the inns and B&Bs are not permitted to serve a hot breakfast, only a “continental breakfast”. This would have most people thinking of a European-style breakfast with breads and pastries, but perhaps the Americans have a different definition of “continental”. At our first hotel, we often started the day with a small basket of sweet muffins, followed by something more substantial like a toasted bagel with smoked salmon, and finished off with fresh fruit salad. At the second place we stayed, breakfast each morning was a slice of homemade cake, a tiny saucer of yoghurt (literally a few tablespoons) with a small scattering of fruit, and a glass of juice. Not what hubby would classify as breakfast but dessert for breakfast suited me just fine.
So on those days when we wanted something more savoury and substantial for breakfast, we headed to Black-Eyed Susan’s or the Fog Island Café for a full-on American-style breakfast. Both places are often crowded in the morning with other hungry tourists in search of a proper breakfast. At either place you can find your typical American breakfast fare: thick pancakes drenched in maple syrup, omelettes and egg dishes with an endless variety of fillings, home fries accompanied by bacon, sour cream and cheddar cheese – all typically served in portions to feed several hungry adults per dish. Both places are definitely worth a visit on the island.
And after you have prepared yourself for the day with this hearty American starter, if you’re not inclined to go for a nap after eating so much, you would be advised to hop on a bike and burn off the calories with a short ride around the island. On both visits, we rented bicycles from Cook’s Cycles and this was our main mode of transport during our stay.
Prior to Nantucket, I couldn’t remember when I last rode a bike. Surely when I was … 5? I wasn’t even sure if I had even graduated from a tricycle! So hubby was a bit nervous as we timidly walked the bikes out of the garage to the back alley so I could “learn” how to ride a bicycle again. I was somewhat embarrassed about the prospect of having my husband teach me how to ride a bike but, thankfully, that saying turned out to be true after all – you never forget how to ride a bicycle. Phew! With that first push and wobbly control of the handlebars, I was so proud that I could move on these two wheels! Alas, hubby still had to show me how to use the brakes and gears. I don’t think my baby bike had all of these sophisticated dials and whistles.
The locals are fairly tolerant of cyclists sharing the road, though this year I did have a few drivers yell at me for riding too slowly or not using the bikepath (sorry, but a cobblestone footpath is not a bikepath!). In the centre of town, you are sharing the roads with other cars which can be pretty scary if you are from Australia and not too sure of the give-way rules in the US. But once you manage to get through the traffic, there are some good bike paths with routes taking you to wonderful foodie places like Bartlett’s Farm and Cisco Brewers, and also to the various beaches on the island.
We went down to the beach most days and often stopped by a bakery or shop beforehand to pick up some snacks, whether it was in preparation of a 1 hour long ride to Madaket on the other side of the island, or just a few minutes from the centre to Jetty’s Beach or Brant Point.
One place you might want to visit is the Petticoat Row Bakery on Centre Street (yes, it is the British spelling!), if only for the pretty decor. Despite the large premises, there is only a small selection of baked goods on display, mostly cookies and a random selection of slices and desserts. Hubby made a good observation, one which perhaps only a Frenchman would notice: despite calling itself a bakery, there was no bread in sight. Perhaps starving one morning after staring down his sugar-laden breakfast, hubby went off in search of proper bread, only to return back to the inn a bit crestfallen with a serious craving for carbohydrates. It is possible that the bakery is still establishing itself and hopefully one day it will be a bustling business (and maybe venture into bread baking).
One place we love visiting for a healthy lunch is Something Natural. This lovely sandwich shop is set in an old house on the edge of Coffin Park amidst lush and tranquil greenery. The garden in front of the shop is so close to nature that even cute little rabbits make an appearance now and then, just to remind you that you’re not in the big smoke anymore. The sandwiches are piled high with fresh ingredients of your choice and make for a satisfying lunch (especially if you ate cake for breakfast).
On one particular day, hubby and I rode our bikes across the island to the village of Siasconset, or more commonly referred to as ‘Sconset. This picturesque and historic village is worth a visit just to experience its quaintness; you almost feel like you’ve stepped back in time and are walking through a movie set.
After about an hour of cycling at a granny pace – well ok, correction, grannies were actually overtaking me much to hubby’s amusement – my body was in need of sustenance from the rare exercise, and our first stop was at Claudette’s for a restorative snack consisting of a hearty sandwich and a few home-baked cookies. Hubby ordered a meatloaf sandwich, and mine was a simple but delicious ham, cheese and tomato combination.
As we were sitting, quietly chowing down our lunch, I thought in amusement at how we had happened upon this sandwich store. On our first visit to Nantucket, the hotel had a small library where guests could donate or exchange books. I came across a girly novel by Elin Hilderbrand, a writer who lives on Nantucket and whose novels are all set on and around the island. Her books are a bit reminiscent of Marian Keyes with romance and mystery the main, yet predictable, themes. Nevertheless, her books make for good summer reading when you don’t want anything too grim and heavy. And if you happen to be on Nantucket whilst you are reading her books, you could literally use them as a guide on where to eat and shop; all of the restaurants, cafés, supermarkets, etc. which are mentioned in the pages happen to be real establishments. Moreover, Hilderbrand’s classy characters only dine at the best places, which is a good recommendation as any for us
Deciding where to have dinner each night will be perhaps the toughest decision you will make all day; “tough” because there are so many wonderful restaurants to choose from. Our favourites include Sushi by Yoshi, a small and simple Japanese restaurant serving great sushi and traditional Japanese dishes. If you need a break from deep-fried fish, deep-fried shrimps, deep-fried scallops (you get the picture), this is the place to go to restore your diet. It’s best to book in advance as they can get quite busy in the evenings, but take-away is also a good option if your hotel is nearby.
Another fabulous establishment is American Seasons. On both occasions when we have eaten there, our meals were just exquisite. They take advantage of the best regional ingredients and have an amazing way with introducing new twists on classic dishes. I chose to have my birthday dinner there this year and settled on fish and chips for my main, but not just any fish and chips; mine was pan-fried Halibut with a few thick cuts of potato which had been cooked in duck fat, a sprinkling of fresh peas with a malt vinegar reduction. Someone please tell Michelin about this restaurant!
Le Languedoc is also a wonderful place to dine in Nantucket. The restaurant is a bit fancier than the others, but being a French restaurant, that’s sort of to be expected. We’ve always received wonderful service at this restaurant and the food has our highest compliments (reminder that hubby is French!). Their Cheese Soufflé with Sauce Mornay is an absolute must for a starter. In fact, I want to try this at home one day …
No beach island would be complete without an ice-cream shop, and the Juice Bar is the place to go for fresh waffle cones baked on the premises and the most delicious assortment of ice-cream flavours, my favourite being Cookies & Cream. I loved it so much that I couldn’t bring myself to try any other flavour! The queue in the evening outside of the shop can be a bit overwhelming, and so is their hectic ordering system, but greed often finds a way.
And a regular favourite of ours has to be the Ropewalk. Tucked away at the end of the main street and facing the harbour, this casual restaurant has a great, lively atmosphere from morning to night. The menu includes your typical seafood fare, but the afternoon menu is what we often come for. Between 3.00 pm and 5.00 pm, the Ropewalk serves a special snack menu which includes my favourite, the Surfside pizzette. This thin-crust pizza, which tastes pretty much like a Flammkuchen, is topped with fresh tomatoes, red onions, jalopenos, parsley and cheddar cheese – the ultimate reward after your husband insists on riding several kilometres around the island. After the pizzette and a few drinks, we like to order a serve of sweet potato fries and further indulge.
Often, we sit in the back near the bar where it’s a little quiet and daydream about one day owning our own holiday home on Nantucket, and maybe also a private jet so we can escape to this idyllic island whenever we want. We’ve been extremely lucky to have had the chance to visit Nantucket twice and I really hope there will still be another time.