I boarded the jet for Nantucket stuffed up from cold symptoms and allergies, but I felt better as soon as I stepped onto the tarmac at Nantucket Airport. Though I was too congested to confirm it, the moist air smelled like flowers on this sunny July morning. I knew because I’ve been coming to Nantucket since I was no taller than the beach grass, to Madaket, a village on the westernmost point of the island. “Village” is a stretch, as the only store is a shack that opens from May to September to sell beach supplies and ice cream. No, the action is in town — where the ferries dock, where shops and fine restaurants line the wharf. That’s why I stayed out of town for a few days.
It’s entirely possible to find a nearly deserted beach even at the height of the season, when the population on-island swells to 55,000. Just cycle down a couple of dirt roads that look like they lead to nowhere. I sunned at Ladies’ Beach, and went for jogs on the trail that winds through the conservation lands of Sanford Farm. When I could smell the rosa rugosa, the sweet pepperbush and the hypericum, I called an end to my fresh-air cure.
I checked into the Vanessa Noel Hotel, an eight-room boutique hotel in the center of town. Noel, a young designer with Philly connections, is a longtime summer resident. She bought the 1847 house a few years ago as a spot for her eponymous shoe shop, which is on the ground floor, and refurbished the rest, installing marble bathrooms, white-on-white furnishings, and wide-plank pine floors. Town gets a little glitzier every year: Last summer, a Polo store replaced Nantucket Looms, a landmark on Main Street for three decades; it’s moved to Federal Street. At the Polo shop, you can look at the silk-linen blend, shocking-pink sport jackets and their quadruple-digit price tags, but don’t touch.
Later I walked over the cobblestones (tip: leave your stilettos at home) to the Straight Wharf for dinner with old friends. We dined on asparagus meuniere with gnocchi and fresh morels, and wild king salmon in a shallow pool of lemongrass broth. Then we did what we do every summer: We regressed with a tray of Goombay Smashes — the rum drink served in mason jars that is the signature cocktail at the adjoining bar. Now I saw the appeal of staying in town — stumbling home, into those Frette linens, starting off the next morning with omelets at Black-Eyed Susan’s. So much for my curative vacation.
»Vanessa Noel Hotel, 5 Chestnut Street; 508-228-5300.
Rooms from $340 to $480.
»Straight Wharf Restaurant, 6 Harbor Square; 508-228-1095.
Dinner for two, about $150 with wine.
»Fahey & Fromagerie, 49A Pleasant Street; 508-325-5644. The best place to pick up gourmet food and wine.
»The Pearl, 12 Federal Street; 508-228-9701. Chic, all-white
dining room; dinner for two, about $160 with wine.
»Black-Eyed Susan’s, 10 India Street; 508-325-0308.
Breakfast, served 7 a.m. till 1 p.m., about $30 for two. BYOB dinner, about $90 for two.