A well-kept secret in Massachusetts
Boston is a delightful city break at any time of year and if you have the time I urge you to add on a few days to explore the magnificent coastline known as Cape Ann. Not quite as ‘hip’ as Cape Cod this is a laid back area that is full of surprises and offers a welcome respite from city life. Cape Ann is renowned for the freshest seafood and this is where you can enjoy lobster bake; lobster rolls in fact anything with lobster or clams.
The Cape is small at around 30 miles in length and just under an hour’s drive from the city. We centred ourselves just outside the artisan town of Rockport in the beautifully restored Emerson Inn by the Sea.
This landmark New England style building sits majestically on the rocks overlooking the ocean, just a few minutes drive from town. A sea view room is a must as the sunrise over the Atlantic can be spectacular. But the hotel also has a long back porch, complete with rocking chairs, where you can sit and enjoy the changing seascapes with a snack and a drink. The property is steeped in local history and the friendly staff are happy to fill you in on all the tales from years gone by.
The Pigeon Cove Tavern is the hotel restaurant and a popular with guests and locals alike. Breakfast was a delight with freshly prepared fruit, a selection of hot dishes, bread and pastries.
Just along the road is Halibut Point State Park where you can follow marked trails taking you around the granite headland, passing tide pools and emerging onto great flat rocks overlooking the ocean, with views in all directions.
A short drive takes you into Rockport, a quaint little town with a picturesque harbour and plenty of shopping opportunities. Bearskin Neck is a small stretch of land jutting out into the harbour and lined with speciality shops, boutiques, art galleries and restaurants. Great to wander around at any time of day, stopping for coffee, or a lobster roll, along the way.
Drive a bit further and you come to the larger, more commercial town, of Gloucester, famous for tall ships and whale watching. On the day we visited it was quite a grey overcast afternoon, but the sea was dead calm and apparently these conditions are ideal to spot whales. Three species congregate along the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, just off shore; Humpbacks, Minke and Finback. We were lucky to spot large numbers of enormous Humpbacks and a couple of smaller Minke. The icing on the cake was observing the Humpbacks ‘surface feed’, which doesn’t happen so often. These enormous animals come to the surface with their jaws wide open and scoop up vast numbers of fish – an amazing sight. I was astounded that they come so close to the boat, and yet seemed completely unfazed by a group of humans oohing and aahing and snapping away with cameras.
If you are ever in Massachusetts check out 7 Seas Whaling Watch for a truly wonderful experience.
Our last day on Cape Ann was spent exploring the town of Essex, once the shipbuilding centre for the region but now a major clam producing area. We took a leisurely boat trip along the Essex River through the tidal ‘clam flats’ to learn about the history of the region. Essex also boasts more than its fair share of antique shops and attracts browsers and shoppers from far and wide. We ended our day with glorious seafood at the newest eatery in town, situated as their name suggests, overlooking the river – The Riversbend Restaurant. The chef prides himself on serving quality local produce with an imaginative twist.
Our 3-night break by the ocean soon came to an end, but what a wonderful contrast to the city of Boston.