If you happen to be visiting Boston when the weather’s fine, you might want to consider building in several extra days to do what the locals (and not so locals) do this time of year, and that’s visit one of America’s first and most historic holiday destinations nearby – a 339-square-mile (880-square-kilometre) chunk of Barnstable County, Massachusetts that looks uncannily like an arm making a fist as it protrudes out into the Atlantic Ocean from the coast an hour south of Boston.
Cape Cod is a thoroughly winsome mix of beaches, dunes, forests, marshes, cranberry bogs, lighthouses, and quaint towns filled with cool shops and old New England houses of a charmingly simple woody type that lends its name to a style all its own. There are 15 towns and various more villages strung out for 65 miles (105 km) from Bourne to Provincetown, with especially worthwhile stops along the way including Hyannis (home of the Cape Cod Maritime Museum with historical and art exhibits as well as nautical arts classes/workshops and the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum, documenting the Kennedy family’s long connection to Cape Cod), Brewster (whose nearby Natural History Museum includes not just indoor exhibitions but 80 acres [32 hectares] of marshland, ponds, and woods full of wildlife, with trails and guided walks), and Woods Hole (home to one of America’s most distinguished oceanographic facilities, with a Science Aquarium open to the public).
Then of course out on the cape’s tippy tip, curling back toward Boston, there’s one of my favourite small towns in America, incorporated under the name as Provincetown in 1727 after having been in existence for a century already. After becoming a fishing and whaling centre, and bolstered by immigration especially from Portugal, beginning in the late 19th and early 20th centuries it started attracting both artists and a certain element of the leisure class of the day. Then in the 1960s and 70s it was hippies and gays. Today the P’town tourism economy is firmly established, with most accommodations of the small, quaint, guesthouse variety. The LGBT scene is still going strong (with attendant nightlife), but the beaches, streets, and restaurants like The Lobster Pot are also full of families, couples, and pensioners. It’s all very post-modern 21st-century Massachusetts indeed – small-town edition.
In short, Cape Cod is a slice of New-England-style Americana that’s thoroughly delightful (even if, admittedly, traffic on Route 6 approaching the Bourne Bridge at the start of a summer weekend can try one’s patience ever so slightly). It offers an experience unlike any other in America, and reminds me of singer Patti Page’s dreamy classic of the 1950s: “If you’re fond of sand dunes and salty air, quaint little villages here and there, you’re sure to fall in love with old Cape Cod.” A cliché it may be, but I sure did, lo these many years ago. And you will, too.
-Cape Cod has 216,000 inhabitants.
-The climate tends toward not excessively chilly winters, cool summers, and moderate spring/autumns, with the influence of the Atlantic Ocean surrounding it on all sides tending to moderate any extremes of temperature. Mean temperatures run 31-37° Fahrenheit (-.6-2.8° Celsius) in winter and 63-69°F (17-21°C) in summer.
-The currency is the U.S. dollar.
-More information: CapeCodChamber.org, CapeCod.com, ProvincetownTourismOffice.org, ptown.org; flights to Boston from Spain, UK.