Provincetown, Cape Cod travel guide: The irresistable town Anthony Bourdain called 'paradise'

 Cape Cod is a tiny peninsula that stretches out, claw-like, from Massachusetts' capital Boston. It's about a three-hour drive, making it a popular summer escape for Bostonians and New Yorkers.

At the tip is the popular party town of Provincetown, the town that gave Anthony Bourdain his start in the kitchen as a dishwasher and a line cook. He referred to it as "paradise", and once you're there, you understand why. Long since known as a tolerant, free-spirited artist enclave, it's also the hottest gay and lesbian destination in the north-east US.

You can still visit two places he name-checks in Parts Unknown's Massachussetts episode. The first is the Lobster Pot, a two-storey whitewashed corner building on the beach with neon signage and splendid views. Bourdain missed its Portuguese kale soup, a local dish introduced by fishermen from the Azores, islands that lie between Provincetown and Portugal.  A serious cocktail bar is heavily patronised at midday on a Saturday. But I've got an eye on the Cape lobster roll, cold and dressed with mayonnaise, served with a potato salad.

The owner of Bourdain's other favourite, Spiritus Pizza, used to let him sleep outside the restaurant when he had nowhere else to go. "I cannot tell you how frequently I dream about Spiritus Pizza," he said of it.

In late September, the sun is still shining warmly but there are fewer tourists around. I stroll down Provincetown's main street, drawn to its irresistible, carefree allure. Candy-coloured buildings are filled with art galleries and shops. There are murals to admire and sunny decks offering cheap mimosas for brunch and really good seafood. Most of them overlook the sheltered, glass-like waters of the bay, which is filled everything from dinghys to sailing boats.

Set back a few blocks, the towering Pilgrim Monument dominates the landscape, commemorating the first landing of the pilgrims in 1620. It's 77 metres high and is the tallest granite structure in the US. If the fortress-like tower looks familiar, it's modelled after the Torre del Mangia in Siena, Italy, and you can climb its 116 steps for amazing views around Cape Cod.

There's also a pirate museum (and who doesn't like pirates?) which houses 100,000 items of booty from the one and only authentic pirate ship that came a cropper off its coast. 

Just outside this tiny town there are plenty of sandscapes to keep visitors occupied. The Cape Cod National Seashore stretches for 60 kilometres along the outer cape from central Orleans to Provincetown, and Province Lands Visitors Centre offers 360-degree views of it all Race Point Beach. Here, a light breeze blows bright green heather along the dunes, where unspoilt beaches provide some excellent swimming and whale-watching opportunities. The world's most endangered whales, the North Atlantic Right, of which there are only about 350 left in the world, frequent these waters. If Provincetown gets a little too hectic, you can rent one of the three rooms at the Race Point Light Station.

Provincetown's swimming beaches sit just outside of town, and cater to everyone from families to nude sunbathers, despite it not being exactly legal. The Long Point Lighthouse is one of the more remote beaches, which you can hike to from the centre of town or catch a boat in high season.


While the town and its beaches teems with daytrippers and families during the day, once the blood-red Atlantic sun sets, night time holds a whole different kind of charm.

P-town and its "townies", as they are affectionately known, head to the Mythical Tea Dance at the Boatslip Resort overlooking the harbour. A $10 glass of its planters punch is  guaranteed to get the party started.

Provincetown is a year-round destination for parties and festivals, but at the end of the night – or the wee hours of the morning – everyone gravitates to Atlantic House, the oldest gay nightclub in the US. You can understand why Bourdain probably didn't want to relive his youth when he returned.

Come tomorrow morning, those invitingly sunny decks, beckoning with their cheap bloody marys and mimosas, will delay the onset of any hangover for another day.

See also: How Anthony Bourdain changed the way I travel

See also: The US state overlooked by Anthony Bourdain (and most tourists)



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Sea Street Inn, Hyannis;

This new inn was opened by an energetic, driven New York couple who opted for a seachange. With impeccable taste, this small boutique inn near the sea has been newly renovated, with top of the range bedding and furnishings for maximum comfort, while common rooms have been designed as a gallery space with rotating artists and a welcoming lounge. The piece-de-resistance, their crowning jewel, is the food. Innkeeper Adrian Ambrosi retrained as a chef, and his four-course breakfasts served from their kitchen are five-star. Guests even get one of Cape Cod's best lobster rolls at check-in.

The writer travelled as a guest of Discover New England.