Boston: Take a walking tour to see why Boston is shipshape and trendy
From ancient vessels to new fashions, the city's shops and museums are easily reached on foot, finds Constance Harris
Boston is one of those cities we think we know, what with its huge Irish history. But it was only on my third foray that I really came to like the old girl and hugely enjoyed a city break that had little to do with shopping. Well, only a very little.
This trip, I decided I was going to enjoy Boston's history and walks. The luxurious Back Bay Hotel, part of The Doyle Collection and where I stayed, is surprisingly the only Irish-owned-and-operated hotel in Boston. I found the Back Bay excellently situated as a base to explore, with it never being too far away to return for a jet-lag induced nap.
Boston is an easy-walking city. Within five minutes of leaving the hotel (passing Chanel and Hermes on my way), I was in the striking Public Garden, with its evocative dark, green-blue weeping willows and many squirrels. The garden leads to Beacon Hill and Boston Common, a hugely historical district, featuring the famous Freedom Trail, and Faneuil Hall shopping and market district.
Two minutes in the opposite direction from the hotel was the stunning Episcopal Trinity Church on Copley Square. Round the corner is Berkeley Street, with great quality boutiques, such as Marc Jacobs, DVF, Anthology, Agent Provocateur and Victoria's Secret, as well as the largest Apple store in the US. Ambling down another leafy street, I came across a moving monument to nine firemen who lost their lives in 1972. Most of the names were Irish.
People in Boston are relaxed and friendly. They walk at a leisurely pace and are happy to strike up a conversation while you stroll along the street. It never ceased to amaze me that even though 25 per cent of Bostonians are Irish, everywhere I went folks still oohed and ahhed over my accent, and asked where was I from. You've got to admit, that type of interest is always endearing. Bostonians are obsessed with lineage, and it truly applies to all classes, all races. Everyone wants to tell you where their grandparents came from.
Boston has an impressive history worth exploring, even if you think the subject doesn't turn you on. From rebel-rousing, to nautical, to merchant, society, interiors, art and design, everywhere you turn there is something of interest to learn, and what is especially enjoyable is you can easily follow the weave of its historic threads.
Its maritime history is rich, from trade to war to pleasure. You will see references to it everywhere. From the Old State House Museum, on Washington Street, which dates back to the early 1700s, with free tours daily, to the 17th- and 18th-Century model ships on show in the Museum of Fine Arts. There are also several naval museums with tall ships and tours.
As Boston is surrounded by water, there are loads of interesting ferry trips to enjoy; from a day trip to Cape Cod, where you can hire bicycles and tour the area easily, to hiring a boat and sailing around the bay yourself.
To my mind, it is folly to go to Boston and not visit the Museum of Fine Arts. Though it houses art and artefacts from all over the world, I prefer to spend my time in the American History sections, which are as diverse as Mayan fertility objects and John Singer Sargent's portraits of 19th-Century Boston's leading socialites. I spent two happy hours listening to music from the 16th to 19th Centuries played on various instruments, including Irish harps, in the museum's music room.
Harvard, too, is worth a few hours of exploration.
On this trip, I also got to take advantage of the Global Hotel Alliance (GHA) loyalty scheme, that links boutique hotels around the world and is based on your number of visits, rather than points. Your loyalty is rewarded with free extras you actually want, such as wi-fi and early/late check-in. Best of all, the GHA Discovery Express Experience is designed to give the visitor a chance to experience something unique, but not too time-consuming, and that only an insider would know.
So my GHA Discovery Express Experience in Boston was a trip to the well-preserved, first of its kind, American hotel the Omni Parker House (founded in 1855), to meet the head baker and learn how to make the original, Omni Parker-invented Boston cream pie.
Then Seamus Murphy, the Parker's senior concierge, treated me to a tour to view some of the House's Victorian, wood-panelled rooms, in which guests such as Charles Dickens stayed in, the dinner table where JFK proposed to Jackie and the room where he later had his bachelor party, to the kitchen chopping block at which Ho Chi Minh worked during his time in America. I kid you not.
The Omni is a seriously special place. I highly recommend you enjoy a meal there; the food is superb and the ambiance unique.
A concierge in a good American hotel, such as the Back Bay or Omni, is a fantastic resource. They can plan your itinerary, whether you are in town for an hour, a day, a week. I am never wasting my time doing research on the internet again.
If you dread jet lag and wonder how to get with the new time zone, I recommend you book a massage. When I arrived, my neck was killing me from the flight. The Back Bay's concierges offered to organise a masseur, or recommend some places nearby.
I always like to get out and check local facilities. I lucked out with Bella Sante Day Spa, on Newbury Street. There I met Erin, second generation Irish, who has the hands of a goddess. An hour and half of bliss later, I drifted, boneless, out of their door and into Thai Basil, on Newbury Street, a modest looking but worthy Thai restaurant, very reasonably priced, with lots of great reviews.
Before I knew it, it was 10pm Boston time (3am Irish) and I was established in my new time zone -- and enjoying a true sense of holiday.
Global Hotel Alliance (GHA) is a new loyalty programme and the first to unite independent luxury hotels across the world, involving Ireland's The Doyle Collection, First, Kempinski, Anantara, Leela, Mirvac, Marco Polo, Omni, Pan Pacific, Parkroyal, Shaza and Tivoli hotels and resorts. Reservations can be booked at www.gha.com, and more information about GHA Discovery can be found at www.ghadiscovery.com. For more details on The Back Bay Hotel in Boston, see www.doyle collection.com/BackBay
Sunday Indo Living