Travel: Insiders’ Island

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.