Lose track of time in a good way.
By Katrice L. Mines
When I imagined a long weekend in Nantucket, I envisaged days gazing out to an oceanfront bathed in sails, legendary seafood and crisp air. I arrived to more than I could imagine. Flying in through unnerving rain and heavy fog that delayed our departure from Boston for hours, I was hardly prepared for the sight that would emerge out of the storm like salvation as we neared the quaint island; nothing but marine hues of blue and green below.
We arrived to Nantucket Memorial Airport, likely the most charming terminal you'll ever encounter, and the visual welcome was an appropriate preclude to the rest of the island where understated refinement is its signature.
Walking in to the cottage-like weathered gray building, I had a feeling that there was something set-apart – far away even – about Massachusetts’ least populated county. The drive to my first destination, The White Elephant Hotel proved my inclination true. As we passed nestled shops and restaurants along the winding cobblestone streets, I studied the windows we passed for glimpses of the locals. It was the end of tourism season in October and the town of just over 10,000 year-round residents was perfectly serene.
Some businesses were still open, others had shuttered for the season though many would reopen for special holiday events as the year wound to a close.
And suddenly the White Elephant, one of only a few historic Nantucket hotels, appeared pressed back alongside neighboring residences. Situated aptly on the waterfront, it was just minutes from the boutiques, art galleries, restaurants and museums I had glimpsed on my way through town. From the front, you feel as if you’ll be cozied in bed and breakfast-style accommodations, but there is more to this landmark of 66 chic, light-filled guest rooms, suites, and garden cottages than meets the eye. A quick stroll up the walkway from the welcome area opened up to a massive lawn of plush green grass and an enamoring harbor view. From here, it seems that everything is in optimal reach – from Nantucket’s lovely beaches to Brant Point Lighthouse and anywhere else you’d want to be on the island. From here, it could be conceivable, as well, to stay put – moving between chic but comfortable accommodations to Brant Point Grill, the hotel’s library and Nantucket spa – just beyond its welcome center.
But, Nantucket beckons you and knowing that virtually everything is within walking distance draws you out.
One of your first stops, if you know a bit about the island’s history (and even if you don’t), will be the Nantucket Whaling Museum. Opened in 1929 and restored in 2005, the museum features a restored 1847 candle factory, exhibition space, a rooftop observation deck overlooking Nantucket harbor and the sperm whale skeleton as well as the captivatingly retold true story of the Nantucket-based whaleship, the Essex.
Its silver screen adaptation – “In the Heart of the Sea” – illuminated the island when it hit theaters in March. The film, directed by Ron Howard and starring Chris Helmsworth, recounts the story of the Essex – crewed by Captain George Pollard Jr., first mate Owen Chase, second mate Matthew Joy, and cabin boy Thomas Nickerson. During its 1820 voyage, the ship was sunk after being rammed by an enormous and enraged bull sperm whale, ultimately leaving its crew shipwrecked at sea for 90 days more than 1,000 miles from land. After the attack, the crew sailed for South America with just eight of the 20 sailors who set out on the voyage surviving. The museum offers a 90-minute In the Heart of the Sea Walking Tour, focusing on the survivors and their lives on Nantucket in later years; fascinating lore.
Round any corner in the town center and you’ll be on the doorstep of something good to eat. But before even venturing out, the day after I arrived, breakfast at Brant Point Grill ruined me for the first meal of the day anywhere else on the island. Quite possibly the best French toast to ever touch my palate, the Grill’s Vanilla Bean and Challah French Toast, topped with spiced caramelized apples and butterscotch sauce was like a special occasion in and of itself. A standard was set and my high expectations were met from one end of the island to the other. TOPPER’s at The Wauwinet, a luxury hotel on the northeast corner of Nantucket, is home to a lobster roll so delectably piled that you just have to dive in; a theme that carried over to my last dinner. If last impressions are as important as firsts, The Boarding House is an appropriate finale. In the heart of Nantucket’s historic downtown, the dimly lit cellar dining room was an unassuming backdrop for southern fried chicken, braised collard greens, broccoli slaw, and macaroni and cheese, but it tied things up nicely.