Most people associate Cape Cod and the neighbouring islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket with summer. But autumn (or fall) and spring are also wonderfully atmospheric seasons to be here. The beaches are deserted of crowds, the skies are crisp and clear (with the occasional moody storm to mix things up), the restaurants are easy to reserve a table in and there is a gentle, wistful, romantic beauty to the place. It's the perfect getaway, especially for a weekend trip from New York City.
It's also the perfect architectural vacation for design lovers, with villages and houses that are so sublimely designed, you'll wish you could buy your own Cape escape. Just pack your jeans, some woolly sweaters, some sandshoes and a camera to shoot all the homes, and hop on a JetBlue flight out of JFK to Nantucket or the Vineyard.
I've been to Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard and the Cape Cod many, many times for work, shooting beach houses for various books, and am often there in either May or October/November. This morning I was watching the video of Gant's HOME collection for 2011, shot at the Kennedy summer house and it brought back the quiet, moody beauty of the Cape.
You can find the Kennedy link here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=6qyJrXJs1L8&feature=related
My parents and I were wandering through Hyannis Port and along the semi-private beach in front of the Kennedy compound one morning (a local policeman was showing us around) when we bumped into US Senator Edward Kennedy. He was alone, walking along the same stretch of sand that his brother used to stroll to contemplate his political problems. He was ill by that time so he was quiet, but friendly and gracious. We later visited the Kennedy Museum and paid our respects to JFK. It was a magical day.
So, here, in tribute to the Kennedys and their favourite getaway, is a Guide to the Cape. Oh – and if you miss the Fall, try to book a weekend in May, before Memorial Day. It's only an hour's flight from JFK to Nantucket or the Vineyard and usually around $100. You may need a hire car on the Cape but not on either island. Just rent a bike or take the bus, like the locals do!
Above: The Kennedy beach and compound at Hyannis, as seen in Gant's summer campaign for 2011. Below: Our view of it. You can almost imagine JFK strolling along here to contemplate his life, loves and political problems.
What to do: If you're on the Cape, hire a car for two days (you won't need one on the islands), and drive around Hyannisport, and then along Route 6A to Provincetown, where many designers such as John Derian now have a weekender. The cape is dotted with gorgeous, gracious old white clapboard homes – just go slow on Route 6A and you'll see them all. Stop for a walk along a beach, grab some lobster for lunch and then find a cute diner to have dinner with the locals. (When we were there we sat next to a famous CNN American newsreader, happily eating among the fishermen and the builders.)
Where to stay: Rent a beach house for a week, like this one gorgeous all-white cottage (pictured above), owned by my friends Jill Katz and Scott Miller. (mermaidboathouse.com/ rental/welcome.html) Then hire a bike from Vineyard Haven village (which also has great boutiques) and cycle the charming country roads, soaking up the island scenes.
What to do: Walk around the beautiful back streets of Edgartown (some of the lanes are pictured above), which is one of America's most enchanting places. Most of the black-and-white architecture is heritage listed and kept in pristine condition. You can also take the ferry over to the island of "Chappy" (Chappaquidick), where Meg Ryan lives. Another must-see place is Oak Bluffs, which – in sharp contrast to Edgartown – is dotted with gingerbread houses painted in pastel shades.
Where to eat: Alchemy (71 Main Street, Edgartown). French bistro dining in a chic Vineyard setting.
(In Edgartown, even the churches are chic!)
Best beaches: Many of the beaches on the Vineyard are private, but there are still many beautiful public ones, such as this one above, which was in front of a stunning house I was photographing. You can access these beaches simply by trying to find them on a map (although check if they're private) and then either walking or riding to them. Most are within half an hour's ride. This one was right in the centre of Edgartown.
Last word: While you're on the Vineyard, keep your eyes posted for the celebs who have houses here. I happened to be photographing a house in Edgartown one day when I was told by the owner that "Lee Radziwill had just stayed over".
Where the Cape and the Vineyard are "old money", Nantucket is very firmly "new money". Lots and lots of it. I was speaking to somebody one day who told me he'd received a phone call from a complete stranger asking if he'd consider selling his beach house. "For a price..." the storyteller said, thinking he'd string the stranger along. The stranger named a price. A big one. Shocked, the storyteller took it. He moved out the next day. The new owner? He was one of the founders of Google. That's kinda what happens on Nantucket.
Where to stay: The Veranda Hotel, Nantucket. Very red, very white, very black, and very, very chic.
Where to eat/drink: At one of the many bars on the harbour. The light and atmosphere at twilight is magic, especially when the boats start trickling in and the sun sets over Nantucket town.
What to do: Walk. Nantucket is made for walking. The town (the main town is also called Nantucket) is small enough to walk around in less than an hour. You can also walk to the beaches along charming island lanes. And when you get tired from walking, you can shop. The town has some of the best boutiques in the USA. (The Ralph Lauren store here is gorgeous: even prettier than the one in the Hamptons.)
Next week: An Architectural Weekend in Miami and the Keys
Next week: An Architectural Weekend in Miami and the Keys