LOOKING FOR NEW ENGLAND
The all-embracing appeal of Cape Cod
Alengthy 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 holiday 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.
The Outer Cape began attracting summer visitors for its isolation and wild beauty during the 1930s
“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.
“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 off season. 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.
MODERNISM & BEACH HOMES
Provincetown might be a tourist honeypot during the summer, but its hinterland is still remarkably unspoilt. The Outer Cape, as this furthest reach is called, began attracting summer visitors for its isolation and wild beauty during the 1930s. Momentum grew as Boston bohemians bought land cheaply during the Depression years, and fixed up shacks as summer homes. Then things took a rather different direction in the summer of 1937, when Walter Gropius, founder of Bauhaus and then a recently appointed professor at Harvard University near Boston, stayed on the Cape and hosted a reunion of European émigrés who had fled the Third Reich; he started a trend. This community returned for summer holidays. These modernist architects and artists began building holiday homes on the shores around Wellfleet, while building was relatively unrestricted. Some of these homes have been acquired and carefully
For the most impressive historical buildings of all, take the day ferry to the neighbouring island of Nantucket
The dramatic red clay Aquinnah Cliffs are one of Martha’s Vineyard’s must-see tourist attractions
ABOVE: Stars and Stripes decorate a shingle house in Provincetown, Cape Cod, which was the site of the Mayflower’s landing in 1620