One of the most celebrated slices of real estate in America, Cape Cod boasts a dazzling, three-hundred-mile coastline with some of the best beaches in New England. Unsurprisingly, this means that the Cape’s main haunts are packed in the summer. If you’re planning on driving in during June or August, try to start your trip on a weekday or a Sunday night. If that’s just not possible, and a weekend jaunt is what you’re hankering after, aim to the leave the Boston area by 2pm on Friday, so as to avoid rush hour and the hordes of sun-worshippers clamouring to get over the Sagamore Bridge. Alternatively, a visit to the Cape midweek during May or September will find lower hotel prices, thinned crowds and quite pleasant (albeit cooler) weather.
Cape Cod was named by Bartholomew Gosnold in 1602, on account of the prodigious quantities of cod caught by his crew off Provincetown. Less than twenty years later the Pilgrims landed nearby, before moving on to Plymouth. Today, much of the land on the Cape, from its salt marshes to its ever-eroding dunes, is considered a fragile and endangered ecosystem, and once you head north to the Outer Cape, past the spectacular dunes of Cape Cod National Seashore, you get a feeling for why this narrow spit of land still has a reputation as a seaside wilderness. Provincetown, at the very tip of Cape Cod, is a popular gay resort and summer destination for bohemians, artists and fun-seekers lured by the excellent beaches, art galleries and welcoming atmosphere.
Just off the south coast of Cape Cod, the relatively unspoiled islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket have long been some of the most popular and prestigious vacation destinations in the US. Both mingle an easy-going cosmopolitan atmosphere and some of the best restaurants and B&Bs on the East Coast. Nantucket is usually considered the more highfalutin’ of the pair, teased for its preppy fashions (no matter what you’re wearing, it’s still an incredible island); Martha is more expansive and laidback, known for its elaborate gingerbread-style houses, vintage carousel and historic African-American community.
The compact fishing village of PROVINCETOWN (or, as it’s popularly known, “P-Town”) is a gorgeous place, with silvery clapboard houses and gloriously unruly gardens lining the town’s tiny, winding streets. Bohemians and artists have long flocked here for the dazzling light and vast beaches; in 1914 Eugene O’Neill established the Provincetown Playhouse in a small hut. Since the Beatnik 1950s, the town has also been a gay centre, and today its population of five thousand rises tenfold in the summer. Commercialism, though quite visible along the main drags, tends to be countercultural: gay, environmentalist and feminist gift shops join arty galleries, restaurants and bars on the aptly named Commercial Street. However, strict zoning ensures that there are few new buildings in town. Albeit crowded and raucous from July through to September, P-Town remains a place where history, natural beauty and, above all, difference, are respected and celebrated.