Tuesday 21 May 2019

Cape Cod, USA: A Cape crusading road trip

Cape Cod National Seashore, Provincetown, MA
Cape Cod National Seashore, Provincetown, MA

Thomas Breathnach

From student J1ers, working the bars of Hyannis, to Boston-Irish millionaires, summering in their seaside mansions, Cape Cod has a long-standing pedigree as Ireland's holiday home-from-home.

Now, with the summer sun fading and the 'wash-ashore' throngs heading back to the big city, I made a trip to the Massachusetts coastal mecca, to discover its scene beyond the Kennedys and clam 'chowdah'.

The Cape escape

My journey started fresh out of Boston on the I-95 South, bumper to bumper with the Friday out-of-office exodus. From Logan Airport, the journey clocked just over an hour.

Soon, the ponds and cranberry bogs of eastern Mass switched to glistening bays and inlets as the mammoth Sagamore Bridge dipped onto New England's favourite playground. Welcome to Cape Cod: grab your cooler box and your beach club fleece.

Breakfast at Sandwich

Once geared off Cape Cod's Route-6 traffic, the region's charm was soon unwrapped with quintessential quaint towns, hotch-potched with everything from antique stores to food trucks.

My first stop was Sandwich, where locals, dressed in full pioneer garb, were out in force ahead of the town's 375th anniversary celebrations (as America's original Pilgrim stronghold, history here abounds).

Across the street, brunch awaited at Dunbars; a chintzy colonial tearoom where yesteryear twee wafted off every willow pattern china cup. I ordered the country omelette, which came stuffed with Vermont cheddar and apple-smoked bacon ($12) - truly delicious sustenance.

Heavenly hiking

Cape Cod blankets a 900km shoreline of undulating dunes and coyote-denizened woodlands, which gives the area a raw wilderness feel amid the manicured beach mansions.

National Seashore state park is the most visited natural haunt, but the nearby Sandy Neck reserve offers a similar hiking haven (minus the $15 parking).

Equipped with my welcome map, I foot-printed along its sands; the ocean to the left and wetlands to the right as a massive murmuration of swallows dipped and dived around me.

A lighthouse family

Snacking on the road-side produce stalls en route (try the blueberry pies at Crow Farm), I crossed the Cape to one of its cutest seashore towns, Chatham.

On the water's edge, a dream New England beach wedding was taking place beneath the backdrop of Chatham Light, one of the Cape's 14 lighthouses. Of the calendar collection, perhaps the finest specimen was later discovered at Race Point; a towering beauty.

Divine Provincetown

While the overall Cape Cod vibe may appear a little vanilla, at its very tip lies the effervescent cherry-on-top of Provincetown, aka P-town.

The streets here had a beatnik, free-love air, where silver-haired Republicans strolled between lesbian couples attending the town's 'Dyke Weekend'. After dining at organic burger bar, Local 186, a thumping baseline led us to the Boatslip Resort, where the evening pool party was just kicking off to KC and the Sunshine Band.

Oh Cape Cod, I think I just got started.

Need to know

GETTING THERE: Aer Lingus (0818 365 000; aerlngus.com) fly from Shannon to Boston throughout the winter with the current ‘Shannon: your gateway to the US’ fares starting from €438 return. For car hire, visit aerlinguscars.com.

STAYING THERE: Budget visitors to Cape Cod can overnight in classic motels, like the Pine Knot in Yarmouth, with rates from €25pps (pineknotmotel.com), while the Chatham Bars Inn attracts the more ‘en route to Nantucket’ crowd (chathambarsinn.com; €150pps). For the in-spot in P-town, try the 8 Dyer Hotel (8dyer.com; €60pps).

TRAVEL TIP: Given its promontory, Cape Cod is one of the few places on America’s east coast to view the sun setting over the ocean. For the best Instagram moments, head for the west-facing shores of Herring Cove.

MORE INFO: capecodchamber.org.

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