It is Friday at noon and Robin and I are sailing across Nantucket Sound on the Grey Lady, Hy-Line Cruises third generation, water-jet catamaran, a high-speed ferry that will take us from Hyannis to Nantucket in just one hour. (Opening photo: The Wauwinet draws its name from the land on which it was built, which in turn was named for a 17th century Native American sachem who controlled the eastern part of Nantucket Island. With 35 exquisite rooms it serves guests from May through October.)
Like most passengers aboard, we begin to feel the tug of urban life loosen its grip as we anticipate the slower pace of island life just ahead. At near full-capacity the Grey Lady is delivering its daily catch of island regulars and first-time weekenders to the isle some thirty miles off the coast of Cape Cod. We stare at the water and watch the ripple of waves emerge from the catamaran’s hull. We bathe in the hypnotic effect of the sea, the sun and the spirals of wind that touch down on the surface. Happily, by the time we arrive at the historic wharves of Nantucket, we are already relaxed.
We disembark and pick up our luggage from the rolling carts the crew has hustled from the ship’s hold. A few steps from the gangway we see a friendly face hoisting a hand-carved, hand-painted sign overhead that reads, “The Wauwinet.” We work our way through the mid-day crush of visitors that spills from the shops of the town center and within minutes are aboard the inn’s jitney, making the nine mile drive toward Great Point and the quiet side of the island.
“Welcome back,” our driver Clarence intones in a deep Caribbean timbre that makes us feel like we’ve been wrapped in a soft blanket. “We’ll have you there in a bit,” he adds. “The weather is wonderful and you’ve come at just the right time.”
Nantucket’s only Relais & Chatêaux member resort,
The Wauwinet commands an isolated point
between Nantucket Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
The Wauwinet is located on a strip of land between the Atlantic Ocean and Nantucket Bay, tucked in next to a bird sanctuary. It is itself a sanctuary from the often frantic pace of the island’s center and is the last commercial property on the road to Great Point Lighthouse and the nature preserve that surrounds it. Approaching the mid-19th century inn, one might not guess that in the two years prior to its reopening in 1988, it was virtually rebuilt from the foundation up in a $3-million renovation by new owners Stephen and Jill Karp, who purchased The Wauwinet House — as it had previously been known — in 1986. To conform to the strict code of Nantucket’s Historic District Commission, the exterior of the building retains the look of the original with unpainted cedar shingles that have weathered to a soft gray.
“We’ve been expecting you,” Innkeeper Bettina Landt greets us in a most likable tone. The bellman and reception crew scurry to attend our arrival as she adds rhetorically, “You had a good cruise?”
Our eyes soak in the stunning décor, antiques and oil paintings that surround the cozy reception room, and from our first steps inside The Wauwinet, we sense that this is an uncommon place. It feels more like we have just arrived for a summer stay with old friends, and they are genuinely happy to see us. The Wauwinet is the only Relais & Chatêaux property on Nantucket, the 50-year old international hotel and restaurant association whose signature “Five C’s” stand for Character, Calm, Charm, Courtesy, and Cuisine. I add one more C, for “clearly”, this is not just another inn on the island.
The Wauwinet as seen from the gated rear
lawn reserved exclusively for the inn’s guests.
Our bay-view room, like each of the 35 guest rooms, is individually decorated. The Karps worked closely with New York interior design firm Kuckly Associates to transform the historic inn to meet the needs of a contemporary clientele accustomed to the best in accommodation. Each of the high-ceilinged rooms was equipped with paddle fans and guest-controlled heating and air-conditioning. Cozy nooks were fitted in to provide comfortable spots for reading or taking in the seascape visible from the windows. Antique pine armoires and chests, upholstered headboards, chairs and decorative objects such as baskets, hat boxes and wood-carvings are all distinctly individual as are bedspread and drapery fabrics and wallpaper borders around the ceilings. Fresh flowers stand on bedside tables while sheets and pillowcases are eyelet-trimmed. Bathrooms are embellished with brass fixtures, their floors tiled in white and their walls paneled with bead-and-board wainscoting. Above the paneling, hand-sponging or glazing by local artisans in pastel glazes suggests the style of 1920s seaside cottages.
At night the inn becomes a cozy shelter
from the day’s surf and sand activities.
We unpack in a jiffy, fill a tote with summer novels, soft hats and sunscreen and head out to further investigate the inn’s nooks and crannies. We discover that even the hallways are decorated with the same attention to detail as the rooms. Ceiling panels on the top floor are painted with blue sky and clouds. Marbleized paper decorates lower wall panels. Three-dimensional carvings over each guest room incorporate the dolphin and seashells of The Wauwinet logo. A large wooden bowl of fresh fruit, continually replenished, stands on a side table at the head of the stairs.
After poking around a bit more, the outdoors beckons and we make our way through the French doors that lead to the great lawn on the bay side of the inn. The lawn is surrounded by beach rose and dozens of song birds singing cheerfully in the bush. It is a lovely place, soft and inviting. Here guests read and doze away the afternoon nesting in thickly-cushioned, white-wicker recliners.
The Wauwinet’s transformation was also designed to restore the marine activity that had long characterized the northeastern end of the island. To this end, the Nantucket Bay beach was renewed and a 254-foot dock added, reminiscent of the historic wharf where sailing vessels from Nantucket Town once disembarked guests for diner and overnight stays. Now, Captain Rob McMullen sails The Wauwinet Lady on twice-daily cruises that bring up to 26 guests from town to Topper’s, the inn’s award-winning restaurant led by Chef Christopher Freeman. (See the accompanying feature, Zagat: Topper’s Best on Cape and The Islands.)
Innkeeper Bettina Landt
prepares for the daily sherry
& cheese hour in the library.
At 4:00 p.m. Bettina Landt reappears to announce the start of sherry and cheese hour in the library. Normally, the library is locked except for house guests who may use the quiet space at anytime, gaining entrance with their room key. The doors are left open only between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m. and again at 7:15 in the morning for early risers who wish for coffee and homemade muffins. On this day Bettina pours your choice of sherry or port and prepares a plate of fresh crackers with Chevre, Camembert or Crottin Chavignol, which she serves in the library or delivers back to your chaise on the lawn.
We learn that Bettina and her husband Eric, who heads up the food and beverage area, are in their third year at the inn. Before that she had spent nearly five years with the Four Seasons in New York City and Hawaii. Eric, in turn worked several years with both Hilton and Sheraton. They bring a rare blend of knowledge and experience from the big-time, corporate hospitality-trade that gives them the confidence to serve their guests in a charming, easy going manner.
The inn’s jitney runs to town and back every hour or so and we, along with a young Manhattan couple, Cindy and Dave, take the 6:25 to make dinner at The Pearl, an exotic seafood-fusion restaurant. The Pearl’s motif appears predominately turquoise — the wait staff wears turquoise shirts and a turquoise, glowing-light scheme, that seems to emanate from the large fish tank in the center of the room, gives the overall effect of dining underwater. Somehow, it works and the Sashimi taste delightful.
The reception hall looking
from the library.
Back at the inn we stop at the intimate Topper’s lounge for a nightcapand are introduced to a “flight” of Calvados — the equivalent of one drink split across three ascending price levels, served in cordial-size glasses on a silver tray; the 1st tier a VSOP, the 2nd a Selection, and the 3rd a 15 year Hors d’age — all Calvados Morin from the Maison Fondee founded in 1889.
We chat with David Silva, a sixth-generation Islander and owner of The Galley, one of the island’s most popular restaurants (known for its spectacular sunset view) and inquire as to why he is at Topper’s. “All the restaurant owners know each other out here and we eat at each other’s places,” he explains. “But in my opinion,” he offers, “Topper’s is the best restaurant on the island.” Considering the source, I’m struck by his ready endorsement.
Saturday begins with an hour of yoga under sunny skies on the deck by the bay side beach. Paul Bruno of The Yoga Room in Nantucket leads us through a vigorous, Iyengar-style class that leaves us feeling stretched, strengthened and invigorated. Paul’s classes are held exclusively for guests on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday at 8:30 a.m. and are open to all levels. We dash from class back to our room where a pre-ordered breakfast of omelets, scones and coffee awaits. We have twenty minutes before we will meet up again with Cindy and Dave, and Naturalist David Perks for a three-hour, four-wheel drive excursion to the Great Point nature reserve. The Wauwinet is the only commercial establishment on the island that has been given rights to transport guests on the reserve.
Our vehicle is equipped with binoculars and island maps that lead us through the delicate environment officially known as the Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge. We pass nesting gulls, cormorants, egrets, and plovers. We hike through The Cedars, a wooded area of mostly scrub oak, pine, and sassafras to emerge on Coskata Pond where we view two pairs of osprey nesting atop telephone-pole height perches. There are twelve pairs of osprey on the island, a good sign for the health of the environment. We watch an entertaining oystercatcher perform, using his bright-orange, four-inch long bill to drill along the shore, deftly popping oysters from the sand before cracking open the shells to feast on the fresh meat. Along the way our guide brings to life the history of Nantucket, its whaling and fishing lore, stopping now and again to point out special features of the reserve or inspect a pair of mating horseshoe crabs by prying apart the ancient creatures for a look at the squirming legs underneath.
Like most of the activities at The Wauwinet, the tour is included in the room tariff. The same holds true for the inn’s mountain bikes and tennis courts. In summer, guests are free to use the inn’s sail, rowboats, and kayaks. You can cruise the bay in the launch, or be dropped off at a secluded cove for a private picnic, a carefree swim, or a little beachcombing for whelk and scallop shells. There are two private beaches, one on Nantucket Bay and one on The Atlantic and the inn’s setting between them is a major draw. The island has 82 miles of beach — and at The Wauwinet, 26 of them are yours. Beyond the great lawn, the grounds are an Eden of gentle dunes, sandy paths, beach rose and dazzling water views.
The Great Point Lighthouse.
Our time at The Wauwinet winds down with Sunday Brunch at Topper’s and another cherished afternoon on the lawn deliberately lost in our summer reading. In the minutes before departure, we visit with Eric and Bettina and make plans to return. We learn that nearly one-third of their guests are repeat customers, but we are not really surprised. In the week before our arrival, I came across a line of copy in the inn’s brochure that said knowingly, your first time at The Wauwinet is never your last. I hoped now that it was really true.
Weekend room rates for the Spring and Fall range from $590 to $850 per night or $1,500 per night for a Cottage Suite. Rates in June and mid – September are from $660 to $960 and $2,000 for a Cottage Suite with Summer High Season (July 1 — September 5) topping out at $800 to $1,150 per night or $2,300 for a Cottage Suite. The Wauwinet’s Taste of Nantucket offers special mid-week packages during the Spring and Fall.
Reservations – 800-426-8718
Ferry Info to Nantucket by Phone:
High Speed Ferry
800-492-8082 or 508-778-0404
Steamship Authority Ferry
— Feature by Jim Hollister, Jetsetters Magazine Luxury Travel Editor. Photos by Jim Hollister and The Wauwinet.