When Bartholomew Gosnold sailed south of whatwe now call Cape Cod in 1602, he found "manyfaire islandsâ€¦1 with an incredible store of vines wherethey run upon every treeâ€¦that we could not goe fortreading upon them."
Martha's Vineyard has changed since those times,but it's still so different from the mainland that when itslocals go "off island," they say they're "going toAmerica." Its residents are proud of the differences,especially of their simple life with no billboards, noneon signs, and no traffic lights.
Chris Brooks, a tour guide with VineyardGuides(508-560-2720; www.vineyardguides.com), opines,"Martha's Vineyard is a more realistic reflection of societyat large, and it's easier to get to." Ferries from CapeCod chug over in 45 minutes from Wood's Hole, andCape Air (800-352-0714; www.flycapeair.com) speeds infrom Boston, Hyannis, Nantucket, New Bedford, andProvidence with interline baggage handling.
The vineyard scenery is more varied than Nantucket'sand it has more attractions, including the PollyHill Arboretum (508-693-9426) and the Cape Poge (508-627-7689) Wildlife Refuge. There are 6 towns on theisland, each with its own personality, and nearly eachwith its own lighthouse.
Edgartown's upscale tone dates back to its foundingdays, when the island's prosperity was linked to thewhaling business. The town boasts several whaling captains'old homes, a whaling museum with great exhibits,and a very photographic lighthouse. Oak Bluffs, a formerMethodist retreat, has charming Victorian gingerbreadcottages and the oldest carousel on the NationalRegister. Aquinnah, the most westerly town, is thehome of the Wampanoag tribe and has a lighthouse onits ever-eroding Clay Cliffs. The East Chop Lighthouse inVineyard Haven and West Chop Lighthouse in Aquinnahpatrol the eastern and western ends of the island. Theisland's fifth lighthouse rests in Chappaquiddick.
Restaurants on the island run from 5-star status tohometown simplicity. Upscale dining includes Opus atthe Winnetu Inn and Resort (508-627-3663) on SouthBeach, whose lobster bisque is a sensory perfection;Atria (508-627-5850) on North Main Street, whosedesserts are out of the proverbial world; and theCoach House (508-627-3761) at the 1891 Harbor ViewHotel, whose chef specializes in, among other items,exquisite cheese dishes.
Simpler places fringe the Oak Bluffs harbor, like theCoop de Ville (508-693-3420) bought 16 years ago byPete Berndt when he was age 25. His grandfather, Dr.Ned Cook, was the head neurosurgeon at the MayoClinic, but Pete is equally proud he once closed his snackbar to cater a party for President Bill Clinton.
The island, 25 miles long and 10 miles at its widest,runs about 100 square miles. Louis Paciello, who ownsAuto Rentals of Edgartown (508-627-7241) on 141 MainStreet sums it up: "You can rent bicycles, but the island'stoo big. Mopeds? Too dangerous. Tour buses? Too con-fining." When you rent from him, a hometown boy,you get local insight and the island's best prices.
NEW ENGLAND HOSPITALITY
Accommodations vary greatly. Couples seekingromantic places might check out Lambert's CoveCountry Inn (508-693-2298; www.lambertscoveinn.com). The original part of the inn, a 1790 farmhouse inWest Tisbury, is bordered by stonewalls that enclosegardens and an old apple orchard.
In Edgartown, the Colonial Inn (800-627-4701;www.colonialinnmvy.com) has overlooked the harbornear the Chappaquiddick ferry since 1911, but thepremises have been completely modernized. Theattentive staff is particularly helpful. Breakfast andafternoon tea are complimentary—a considerablebenefit in an area where prices run high. The inn hasits own salon and spa, and services are offered outsidein the fresh air, a nice touch for patrons on vacation.Other hotels in town include the Daggett House(800-946-3400) with its supposed ghost, constructedaround 1660, and the Charlotte Inn (508-627-4151),built in 1860 and beautifully restored 31 years agowith carefully selected, original antiques.
A vacation on Martha's Vineyard is an authenticglimpse at what America used to be like, and apoignant reminder of what we may have lost as ourcountry stumbles into the 21st century.