September can be the best summer month of all for travel, especially to the New England coast, where the rates go down, the crowds disperse and the weather and water are just sublime.
Watch Hill, R.I.
Let me wake up early on a crystal clear September morning in guest room No. 301 at Ocean House in Watch Hill, R.I., with the sun streaming through the windows and the sound of the surf crashing methodically onto the beach far below. Let me next rise from my cloudlike bed to take in the fresh sea air from the balcony, to gaze up the coast toward the Weekapaug Breachway, then out to where Block Island lies low on the horizon, and finally south, where Watch Hill mansions line up like enormous wedding cakes high above the water.
Ocean House, completely rebuilt and reinvigorated—and reopened just last year—is the most spectacular wedding cake of them all, of course, a stately yellow-and-white confection perched on the coastline’s most prominent bluff. It would be hard to imagine a project that more successfully blends the charms of the past (the first Ocean House went up on the site in 1868) with every possible modern convenience and luxury, or where a spare-no-expense enthusiasm is matched by such good taste, intelligent design and, yes, even restraint.
Back to room No. 301 for a moment. The temptation is to dwell on the panoramic views, but there is much within that’s worth noting as well—the restful pale blue-and-white color scheme, for example, or the tile fireplace, comfortable reading chairs, vintage Watch Hill photos and sailing scenes, pebble-floored shower and pedestal bath. Everything is new, everything works just the way it’s supposed to, yet there somehow remains a feeling of kinship with the past, and with the generations who loyally returned again and again to this spot on the Rhode Island shore going back nearly 150 years.
The feeling continues in Ocean House’s handsome public rooms and outdoor spaces. The bar is an oasis, instantly relaxing, with a sure hand at the cocktail shaker. The dining room, Seasons, has a shiplike feel, with ocean views all around. The menus favor farm-to-table ingredients with an added emphasis on local seafood (my “chef’s menu” dinner included tastes of perfectly fresh local vegetables, Stonington scallops, garden herbs, North Atlantic halibut and more). The OH! Spa has an indoor-outdoor aspect that’s perfect for a late summer afternoon.
There’s more, lots more, but I hope you get the idea. I’m not going to pretend Ocean House is inexpensive. It is, however, at the top of my list of expensive places that I think are worth it. And the rates begin to go down in September, starting at $450 instead of $595 after Labor Day and then going all the way down to $260 later in the fall.
For more info, call (401) 584-7000 or visit oceanhouseri.com.
Hotel Manisses, Block Island, R.I.
Our favorite fact about Block Island is that The Nature Conservancy has dubbed it one of the 12 “Last Great Places” in the Western Hemisphere, the result of a local initiative that set aside roughly 20 percent of its 10 square miles for conservation, providing habitats that support more than 40 rare or endangered species of wildlife. Thousands of migrating birds have made the island an essential stop on their travels along the Atlantic Flyway.
You couldn’t call us “endangered”—we’re a fairly common example of the species Overstressedis middleageum. We also consider the island a great place to visit in late summer/early fall, not because it slows down after Labor Day (if anything, Block Island seems to exist in a state of eternal summer), but because there are a few hoteliers who strive to make the island extra “habitable” for the most threatened thing about us: our wallets.
Take, for example, the Abrams family, owners of several guest accommodations and restaurants including the Hotel Manisses (the island’s oldest). Their Sept. 23-25 “Autumn Taste of Block Island Weekend,” a collaboration with the Chamber of Commerce, features two nights in a standard room for $599, double occupancy. Add a weeknight for $90. The “Fall Weekday Escape,” Sept. 5 through Oct. 20, offers one night, double occupancy, for $250, with additional weeknights at $99 each.
Both packages include amenities like free round-trip passage for two on the Point Judith ferry and a $75 gift certificate to the Gourmet Magazine-acclaimed Hotel Manisses Restaurant, as well as a complimentary daily (yes, daily) champagne buffet breakfast—hosted by one of the Manisses’ sister properties, The 1661 Inn—at which you can dine on custom-made omelets and bluefish while taking in the salt air on the inn’s outdoor porch.
Manissean rooms abound with charm, particularly “Pocahontas,” which has its own private porch overlooking the hotel’s gardens and fountain. But you shouldn’t stay inside for long. To really get to know Block Island, take a taxi tour or rent a bike and visit all the points of interest: Great Salt Pond, Mohegan Bluffs, Rodman’s Hollow. Shop the countless boutiques along Water Street. Hit the beaches, free and open to all. Visit Justin Abrams’ farm, next door to the Manisses, and feed some of its many exotic animals (lemurs and camels and kangaroos, oh my!). Wherever you decide to eat—we suggest The Oar, also Abrams-owned, and the Atlantic Inn—end your day with a “flaming coffee” on the Manisses’ front porch, a treat with a secret we won’t divulge.
For more info, call (800) 626-4773 or visit blockislandresorts.com.
The Wauwinet Nantucket, Mass.
“I’m writing about Nantucket for our September issue,” I told the program director of Nantucket Town’s new, improved, knock-your-socks-off Whaling Museum (imagine a 46-foot sperm whale skeleton and film footage of an actual whale hunt). “Oh, yes,” she whispered, “September is our best secret.”
She’s right. In July and August Nantucket’s population of 11,000 swells to 60,000, but come September you—and the lucky locals—have this special island all to yourselves.
And there’s no better island hideaway than The Wauwinet, a Relais & Chateaux inn nine miles from Nantucket Town and a dreamworld away. Set on a spit of land between Nantucket Bay and the Atlantic, this 32-room seaside charmer (decorated à la Laura Ashley but with a New England sensibility) offers swimming, sailing, tennis, even a soothing new spa, and is still splendid in balmy September. While July and August rates are $495 to $955 for rooms, $800 to $1,200 for cottages, come September they’re $325 to $800 and $650 to $1,100 respectively (it closes for the season Oct. 30).
To enjoy Nantucket Wauwinet style, you might start with breakfast on the deck (try the divine lemon-ricotta pancakes), then join a cruise or a ride over the dunes, aka a “Nantucket sleigh ride,” out to whale-watching waters, return for Port and cheese in the library, and cap the day with a leisurely dinner at Topper’s, the inn’s four-star restaurant (think elegant fare like butter-poached lobster with parsnips, smoked bone-marrow risotto and a red-wine emulsion). Another day you might hop the jitney into town, stepping back into 19th-century time via the Whaling Museum, the whaling captains’ and merchant princes’ mansion-homes and the landmark inn-cum-restaurant Jared Coffin House, then discovering the delightful nonchain shops—among them Nantucket Gourmet, a mini Williams-Sonoma with lunches to go; Caroline’s Closet, a fun women’s boutique; Nobby Clothes Shop, the place for “Breton reds”; and The Gallery 35 Main, a local artists’ showcase.
Visit during Restaurant Week, Sept. 26-Oct. 2, and you’ll enjoy three-course dinners for just $25 to $45 at Nantucket’s finest restaurants—notably American Seasons, a foodies’ favorite known for wonderfully inventive, locally sourced fare; Brant Point Grill at the White Elephant, The Wauwinet’s stylish harborside sibling; and Topper’s, tops in anyone’s book.
Seaside splendor, living history, neat shops, fine restaurants—Nantucket’s treasures are still yours to savor in September, with more attractive rates and without the madding crowd. With the Hy-Line ferry from Hyannis you can be there in an hour. Guess the secret’s out.
For more info, call (508) 228-0145 or visit wauwinet.com.
—Dale B. Salm
Castle Hill Inn Newport, R.I.
On our hunt for luxury on a budget, we hit the road toward Newport’s storied Ocean Drive and the dreamy Castle Hill Inn, with a location, location, location that commands a hefty sum for nightly accommodations in season. The 1874 Victorian mansion, built as a summer home for Harvard marine biologist Alexander Agassiz, overlooks Narragansett Bay from atop a 40-acre peninsula offering spectacular vistas from all vantage points. In summer, well-heeled guests gather for cocktails on its manicured lawn while sailboats glide by on a shimmering harbor. Once the boats are gone and the temperature drops, so do the rates—and the ocean’s power and beauty are still as seductive as ever in September.
The main house has nine meticulously restored guest rooms and suites, including The Turret Suite ($1,279 in July, drops to $799 in September, when other rooms are priced as low as $480). It’s a luxurious and whimsical two-story circular chamber with a surround of windows that provides spectacular 360-degree ocean views. The resort’s secluded waterfront accommodations are located in small harbor houses near the inn and larger beach cottages down the road. We settled down in a pretty cottage decorated in the colors of the sea, with a galley kitchen, rain shower and heated tumbled-marble bathroom floor ($1,200 in July, drops to $795 in September; smaller cottages priced at $525). It was perched on a dune facing the Atlantic with our own sandy cove and a hiking trail beyond that leads to the romantic Castle Hill lighthouse. We could have easily watched nature’s show from inside but instead opted to open the doors to the deck and allow the warmth of the outdoor fireplace (all suites and cottages have one) to take the chill out of the air. The sounds of the waves and clanging of far-off buoys lulled us to sleep each night.
Everything at the inn from service to food is stellar. Executive chef Jonathan Cambra prepares gastronomic delights with local and organic ingredients. A three-course menu, five-course tasting menu or eight-course dégustation menu are offered at dinner. A hearty gourmet breakfast is readied when you rise, and formal tea is served each afternoon in the Agassiz Room.
Many of Newport’s attractions are open year-round (and offer discounts), including its Gilded-Age mansions, the Cliff Walk, a 3.5-mile oceanside National Recreation Trail, and antiques shops, boutiques and restaurants on Spring Street and Bannister and Bowen’s wharves. This month, venture out with your sweetie to Newport and raise a glass to the waves as they pound the boulders, and to the bargain you’re getting for a getaway you thought you could never afford.
For more info, call (888) 466-1355 or visit castlehillinn.com.
—Cathy P. Ross