Cape Cod, Massachusetts travel guide: 10 things to know about America's favourite summer destination

I WANT TO SEE SOME CLASSIC CAPE COD SCENERY

Cape Cod, with its collection of 15 charming small towns spread across a J-curve-like peninsula, is spectacular. Even in the warmer months, Cape Cod's beach-studded, 640-kilometres-long coastline provides a sense of wildness, remoteness and civility not commonly associated with other more populated, developed and, yes, commercialised parts of the US. The Cape is divided into four distinct regions, namely Upper-Cape, Mid-Cape, Lower-Cape and Outer-Cape, all of which offer stunning scenery. But while all those golden beaches represent a modern day lure for summer visitors from around the US, the Pilgrims in the 17th century decided not to establish on the lower tip of Cape Cod because they felt it was too sandy to support a settlement. See discovernewengland.org

I'D LIKE TO VISIT A TYPICAL CAPE COD TOWN

Nowhere better typifies classic Cape Cod than bohemian Provincetown, in the far north of the island. Anthony Bourdain, the late celebrity chef and television personality, spent the formative years of his career in P-town, as it's invariably known locally, working in lowly restaurant jobs. This once rough-and-tumble town used to be a favourite haunt of bikies until the local burghers devised the idea of inviting more genteel gay and lesbian Americans to move to Provincetown to live and establish businesses. It worked. The bikies left and now P-town is alive with rainbow flags, See visit-provincetown.com; ptownlobsterpot.com

See also: The irresistible town Anthony Bourdain called 'paradise'

I'D LIKE TO LEARN ABOUT THE KENNEDYS' LOVE OF CAPE COD

Head for Hyannis, Cape Cod's "Camelot". This attractive seaside township has been the summer playground for successive generations of the Kennedy clan, including the assassinated US president John F. Kennedy, his wife Jackie and their children, who spent summers here during his ill-fated presidency. One of Kennedy's favourite pastimes was to sail the waters around Hyannis. On Main Street is the somewhat small but fascinating John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum, detailing the ill-fated 35th president's life and recreational times in his beloved Cape Cod. See jfkhyannismuseum.org

I WANT TO SEE WHERE THE KENNEDYS LIVED ON THE HOLIDAYS

It's possible to glimpse, though not visit, the famed Kennedy Compound, just beyond the main part of town, from the residential streets around it and also from the adjoining beach. Consisting of three Nantucket Harbour Atlantic Ocean-front white clapboard mansions, the homes date to the 1920s when Joseph and Rose Kennedy, the family's patriarch and matriarch and parents of John F. Kennedy, first rented a summer cottage here. Be sure to respect the signs indicating that the compound is a private estate with the main house only open to the public on rare occasions. For true JFK enthusiasts, take the self-guided Kennedy Legacy Trail tour, which explores the former first family's life and times in Cape Cod, taking in key Kennedy sites in Hyannis. See kennedylegacytrail.com

I WANT AN AUTHENTIC CAPE COD FOOD EXPERIENCE

Cod by name, cod by nature. Cape Cod, thanks to its maritime location, is a haven for seafood, with its famed lobster a ubiquitous speciality. To come here and not eat seafood would be akin to visiting Argentina and eschewing red meat. Everyone who visits Provincetown tends to make a sideways movement towards it, but the clapboard-clad Lobster Pot, centrally-located in the main street of P-town, is a lot of fun. It serves an exhaustive menu full of local seafood delights, such as clam chowder, but you really haven't visited Cape Cod until you've sampled a classic lobster roll. Although the aforementioned Bourdain never worked at the Lobster Pot, he did film one of his documentaries upstairs at the restaurant. See ptownlobsterpot.com

I'D LIKE TO TAKE A DAY TRIP TO AN OUTLYING ISLAND

Martha's Vineyard's fiercely independent, Trump-detesting inhabitants don't consider themselves at all part of Cape Cod, even though the island does belong to Barnstable County, which encompasses the whole region. But if you're in Cape Cod for long enough, a day trip to Martha's Vineyard makes for a perfect side trip. The Steamship Authority operates multiple-departure ferry services from Woods Hole to the island, renowned for alternative lifestyle and liberal-minded citizens. Supposedly named in 1602 by English explorer and coloniser Bartholomew Gosnold after one of his young daughters and for its preponderance of wild grapes, Martha's Vineyard competes for the affections of visitors with its counterpart island of Nantucket, which is also well serviced by ferries from Cape Cod. See steamshipauthority.com

I WANT TO TAKE A WALK ALONG THE COAST

Fancy a Sandwich? The town of Sandwich, that is, the oldest town in Cape Cod and one of the oldest in the US, having been founded 150 years before the American Revolution. One of this quiet, if not sleepy, town's most outstanding features is its spectacular boardwalk. Destroyed by a hurricane in 1991, the nearly half-a-kilometre-long structure was rebuilt by locals whose names were inscribed, for the price of a donation, on many of the boardwalk's planks. The boardwalk crosses a large marshland and a creek, a popular swimming spot for youngsters who leap into it from timber guardrails above, until the structure eventually reaches the dunes of the prosaically-named Town Neck Beach. See sandwichmass.org

I LOVE TO SHOP. WHERE CAN I GO?

Cape Cod isn't Fifth Avenue but your best bet would be (you guessed it) Provincetown with it colourful main drag, Commercial Street, brimful of unpretentious clothing, jewellery, and gift shops and, it must be said, the odd tourist trap. Then again, if you're after US designer clothing and upscale homewares head for the chichi township of Mashpee (an Anglicised Native American name meaning "great") in the Upper-Cape. Mashpee is also home to Blue, a decent French restaurant on Market Street, with its menu, featuring dishes such as roasted rack of lamb and mallard duck breast, offering a respite of sorts from Cape Cod's "name your poisson" fixation. See bleurestaurant.com

Advertisement

I WANT SOMEWHERE WITH A GREAT VIEW

One of Cape Cod's most curious constructions is the Pilgrim Monument, the design of which mimics Italy's Torre del Mangia, the famous 14th-century tower in Siena, Tuscany. It's well worth tackling the 116 steps to the top of the 77-metres-tall Pilgrim Monument, where you'll be rewarded with some fine views of not only Provincetown but the surrounding coastlines and ocean. Back at ground level there's a good museum dedicated to Provincetown's seafaring history. See pilgrim-monument.org

I LOVE COFFEE. WHERE CAN I FIND A DECENT CAFE?

Believe it or not, considering the Stateside reputation for coffee, Cape Cod is home to some excellent independently-run cafes, with the likes of Starbucks not as ubiquitous as elsewhere in the US. If you're catching the ferry at Woods Hole to or from Martha's Vineyard, make some time for a visit to the funky and friendly Pie in the Sky Bakery & Cafe, perched on a hill just above the ferry wharf. Elsewhere, Provincetown's Kohi Coffee Company, a hole-in-the-wall style cafe with peek-a-boo sea views, may be the coolest place for a serious espresso in all of Cape Cod. See piecoffee.com; kohicoffee.com

I WANT THE FACTS

POPULATION

213,444

LOCATION

Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is a 1¼-hour drive south-east from the historic city of Boston. It's also possible to catch a ferry from Boston to Provincetown. Air Canada operates flights from Australia, via Vancouver, to Boston's Logan International Airport. At Vancouver's excellent airport there's the convenience of being able to clear US Customs and immigration due to a reciprocal agreement with Canada. See aircanada.com

CLIMATE

May, June and September, and even October, can offer pleasant temperatures and fewer tourists than the high-season between July and August.

ARCHITECTURE

One of the pleasures of any visit to Cape Cod is the charmingly architectural style of its gable-roofed and shingle-studded private homes and public buildings developed by the early settlers.

ACCOMMODATION

The relaxed, 265-room Sea Crest Beach Hotel, located on the oceanfront just outside the township of Falmouth, is a relatively affordable, centrally located hotel-cum-resort option in Cape Cod. See seacrestbeachhotel.com

TOUR

Collette's eight days and seven nights Islands of New England escorted journey, beginning in Boston, includes a visit to Provincetown as well other major Cape Cod centres such as Hyannis and Falmouth. The tour also includes visits to the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. See www.gocollette.com 

MORE

traveller.com.au/north-america

Anthony Dennis visited Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard as a guest of Collette and Air Canada

Comments