Nothing speaks ‘Summer’ to me like the island of Nantucket. I have visited the charming island, just 30 miles south of Cape Cod, a few times over the years, both with my husband alone and with my family. It is hard NOT to fall in love this quintessential New England destination the minute you arrive.
The minute I step off the plane at ACK, and take in the salty, sea air, I feel relaxed. The grey cedar clap board houses, harbors and wharves, lighthouses, and hydrangea-lined cobblestone streets (leave your heels at home!) all create a sense of stepping back in time. What I love most about island is that not much changes. It is one of few Summer destinations that has resisted huge development, with no chain stores or even traffic lights to be found on the island.
If you are not renting a place on the island for the Summer or want to stay just for a short weekend, undisputedly, the best places to stay are the one of the iconic Nantucket Island resort properties which include Jared Coffin House, the White Elephant Hotel and Village near town or the more secluded, Relais & Chateaux The Wauwinet hotel.
Although I stayed with our family at the White Elephant Village two years ago (you can read our review here), it has been many years since I stayed at the sister property, The Wauwinet. Then, I was still dating my now-husband and we stayed in one of the small cottages on the property. After the iconic hotel reopened this April with a soft renovation, I decided it was time to re-introduce myself with the quintessential New England fixture, open since the late 1800’s. This time, I went with one of my daughters for a long weekend in early June just as the island was just getting into Summer mode.
The Wauwinet is located on the secluded North-East part of the island, sandwiched between Nantucket Bay, the Atlantic Ocean and a wildlife reserve. Just a 20-minute taxi ride from the airport, and I felt like I was in another world.
The iconic hotel appeared much as I remember it from my stay 20 plus years ago, just fresher and updated (note: this was first major renovation of the hotel in 30 years). I appreciated the newly ‘upgraded’ Wauwinet in the updated public spaces and guest rooms with new fabrics and furniture and bathrooms. The essence and charm of makes Wauwinet so special hasn’t changed. There is just a little less chintz.
The only Relais and Chateaux property on the island, The Wauwinet stands out in its simplicity, historic charm and beautiful serene surroundings. Luxury means different things to different people: here, the luxuriousness of this place is in its stunning surroundings, where time stops and old fashioned activities like boating, walking and kayaking reign supreme. Sure, you have all the luxurious amenities and bells and whistles. But for me, the Wauwinet is all about the Ss: sea, sand, scenery and service.
We checked into the Beach Plum cottage, one of the four cottages on property, located in a cluster of cottages across from the front of the hotel. Our cottage was simple, charming and pretty: new bedding, furniture and most welcoming of all, two newly renovated marble Carrara baths. A few books by local authors were placed on our nightstands welcoming us to read them at night.
The only thing I wish were updated were the flimsy window shades on the windows, which fell down twice when I closed them at night. It was acknowledged by the Wauwinet that these require more work due to the unique size of the windows in the cottages. These were scheduled to be updated by the end of the Summer and assume that they have been.
We spent the afternoon of our first day on the island relaxing at the hotel. As the weather was too chilly to paddleboard or kayak, we rode bikes around ride around outside the property, walked the private beach along the Atlantic and ended the day watching the sun set on the lawn. Special tours of oyster farms, the town of Sconset and Great Point at the resort with Captain Jeff all looked amazing (especially those on the 1947 wooden wagon Wauwinet Woody or on board the Wauwinet Lady ) but our time was too limited to take advantage of them.
We spent the next few days getting reacquainted with the island. We rented a Wrangler jeep one day to drive to Sconset, visit the lighthouse and the beaches while we took advantage of the complimentary shuttle (it loops back and forth from the hotel to town on the hour) to shop and eat in the town we spent (9 miles from the Wauwinet). I take pride in the fact that we hit every shop, restaurant and sight on our ambitious list.
Throughout our stay, all the staff – from pre-arrival concierge to the front desk and the restaurant – were absolutely wonderful. Everyone was friendly and eager to share their tips and recommendations with us.
FOOD & BEVERAGE
The well known upscale Toppers is the only restaurant on the property, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is the only only 5-star Forbes rated AAA restaurant on the island. Guests not staying at the hotel have a special experience arriving by boat.
We had breakfast every day and dinner one night at Toppers. Breakfast, which we chose to take on the outdoor patio, was delicious. Everything is freshly baked and my daughter said the Lemon ricotta pancakes were amazing.
We ate dinner our first night at the hotel. The staff is extremely friendly and the presentation (particularly this birds nest surprise with ceramic eggs) is exquisite. For a meal with my tween though, the atmosphere was a bit too formal for our liking (it is popular with an older, dressed up crowd) and the menu a bit too fancy for what we were looking for on our trip.
WHO SHOULD STAY HERE
As children under 12 are not accepted at The Wauwinet, this is a resort more suitable for families with older children or adults. It is very much an adult retreat and purposely so as it is attracts those looking for a serene, remote getaway to recharge. Families with children under 12 will thoroughly enjoy the sister property, White Elephant Village, as we did on our prior stay. Right in town and in close proximity to several beaches, there are a host of amenities (including a pool) for families.
While the renovations to The Wauwinet added welcome contemporary touches, it is still very much old-school New England and largely unchanged. Guests who come here year after year appreciate this.
There are 32 guest rooms over three floors in the main house and four 1-BR cottages clustered together on the property at The Wauwinet. All are updated with Pratesi linens, robes, new furnishings, fabrics and beautiful white and grey Cararra baths.
One special 3-BR, 3-bath private house, the Anchorage House, is located across from the main inn. Perfect for up to seven individuals, it is decorated by Serena and Lily and comes with a private BMW.
I had the opportunity to visit several of the guest rooms with the General Manager Eric Landt during my stay. Guest rooms are are all unique but are similarly decorated in a New England style with calming palettes. In my opinion, the best rooms are the ones facing the bay on the 1st and 2nd floor (especially since there is no elevator). My favorite was the spacious Coatue Suite located on the first floor of the hotel. With a sitting area, king-size bed and French doors leading out to a sundeck with beautiful views of Nantucket Bay, this is the money room.
Our cottage, Beach Plum, consisted of a bedroom with a living room and two baths. They have been beautifully updated but it is important to know the cottages are historic and thus have small closets and narrow door frames. Our bed was oddly very high, almost needing a step stool to get in it. For couples seeking privacy, these are ideal but they are set away from the bay so there are no water views.
THE Last Word
Even after sitting five hours at the airport on my departure waiting for our plane due to gale force winds, I still love Nantucket more each time I visit. I am happy to say, the historic Wauwinet is as charming as ever. The recent soft renovations to this iconic fixture have brought welcome enhancements but have not changed the fact this hotel still is the essence of Nantucket
Note: Due to COVD-19, the hotels will be opened later this Summer to prepare appropriately. The opening dates as of now are: White Elephant Hotel (June 17), White Elephant Residences (June 19), White Elephant Inn (July 1) , Wauwinet (June 16).
OUT AND ABOUT: OUR Fave PLACES IN ACK
See our comprehensive insider black book of the best places to eat, shop and play in our Nantucket Destination Guide. Below are a sampling of a few of our favorite shops and restaurants – both new and standbys.
Restaurants and Markets
In Sconset, pick up a sandwich pre-beach at the old-time Claudette’s Sandwich Shop. 10 Main Street, Siasconset.
Or’ The Whale: Located on Main Street, this new restaurant isfrom the owners who brought you the Sandbar at Jetties Beach and has been quickly embraced by locals and tourists alike. It was only open a week when we at here and we loved it. Highly recommend the clam chowder, lobster rolls and to-go daily fresh-baked donuts. 38 Main Street.
Sandbar at Jetties. A popular casual open-air restaurant right on the beach with a fun atmostphere. 3-5 p.m. it gets packed for $1 oysters and live music at sunset. A must. 4 Bathing Beach.
Galley Beach: Just down the road from Sandbar, this indoor/outdoor restaurant is also on the beach and more elegant (not for families with younger kids). This is the place to go around sunset and lounge outside for cocktails. Seafood, raw bar, burgers and dogs. 54 Jefferson Avenue.
Nautilus: Rustic-modern hotspot in town featuring global small plates and inventive cocktails with whimsical names (I recommend the Nauti Dog or Kermit the Frog). One of the best dinners I have had. Great ambiance and menu. They only take same-day reservations. Order the crispy duck and ribeye ahead. 12 Cambridge Street.
Lola 41: Located directly across White Elephant Village, this is another constant favorite of ours. Incredible cocktails, sushi and burgers are the best on the island as are the fries and Mac n’ cheese.
Via Mare: The only restaurant on my list that I didn’t get to try is this atmospheric Italian bistro in the new boutique hotel, Greydon Housein town. I did get a tour of the hotel and restaurant during our visit and this is the top of my list for my next trip back. The menu features crafty cocktails and wonderful Italian dishes.
Provisions: Amazing organic sandwiches and salads to-go at this quaint café on Straight Wharf. Great for pre-beach or picnic pick up. Something Natural is also similar.
It’s a toss up between these two. You can expect lines at both for their amazing homemade ice creams:
Jack & Charlies: Located on the wharf
Juice Bar: On the edge of town, conveniently close to the White Elephant Village. 12 Broad Street.
Mitchells Book Corner: Our favorite bookstore in Nantucket. Very old-school, independent bookstore with local authors. 54 Main Street.
The shops below are ideal for shopping with your teen or tween:
Peter Beaton Hat Studio: Just beautiful and customized straw hats and totes. 16 Federal Street.
Skinny Dip: Another great teen clothing spot. Great swimsuits. 23 Old South Wharf.
Cattivo: Inexpensive, cute outfits for teens. 20 Centre Street.
Jack Wills: British store offering preppy classics with a trendy twist. One of only two boutiques in the States. 1 South Water Street.
Vineyard Vines: Classic preppy clothing, always find something I love here. 2 Straight Wharf.
Res Ispa: Next to Salt boutique, this store has great jeans, sneakers, and unique clothing. Your teen will love it. 4 S. Water Street.
Perch: Clothing store on the harbor. Last Summer, they did a pop-up with Veronica Beach. 2 Harbor Square.
Salt: 4 South Water Street.
Goop MRKT pop up: Pretty store sparingly filled with expensive apothecary items but like the ones I visited in Brentwood and Montecito, I never find anything I want to buy. 22 Centre Street.
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