Back in the mists of time, I took a six week road trip through New England, starting in New York and working my way through Rhode Island, Cape Cod, Boston, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine.
It’s a spectacular part of the world, but I was most most captivated by Cape Cod.
What I remember most about the Cape are the white-shuttered houses in picture-postcard towns, and beaches so beautiful that JFK created the Cape Cod National Seashore, which turned 40 miles of this coastline into a protected national park.
So this summer, when HomeAway asked us if we fancied reviewing a summer rental property, I jumped at the chance to review this gorgeous 3-bedroom cottage in Chatham. We invited my good friend Lindy and her family to join us, for a week’s holiday in August.
If you’re travelling to the Cape, you can fly to Boston and drive down to Cape Cod in around 2 hours but we opted to fly into New York and spend a few days with friends before taking the 3-hour train journey to Providence followed by a 90-minute drive to our Cape Cod base in Chatham.
The Chatham House is the stuff holiday dreams are made of. A five minute drive outside of Chatham town centre, the house is down a secluded road, and sits directly on the waterfront of Ryder Pond. We had our own private dock with two boats that the girls could row around the pond, looking for fish and turtles – which were plentiful!
The house also had a wrap-around deck with a gas barbecue and dining table, so we could eat outside in the evenings, overlooking the water. Squirrels and birds were everywhere, including outside Lindy’s bedroom at 6am – she swore blind there was a shrieking squirrel that woke her up every morning, but I slept through it, is all I’m saying…
Inside, the large open-plan kitchen/living room had a squishy sofa for TV watching, and a very plush kitchen – although it should be noted that the one time I started preparing a meal, my control freak friend told me to stop immediately and put down the cooking implements. There were 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms in the main house, and a separate cottage just a few steps from the kitchen, which had its own double bedroom with sofa and TV.
Although the house was a rental, it really did offer everything we needed – there was air-conditioning and WiFi, and lots of beach accessories and thoughtful extras in the cupboards to make our stay totally comfortable. There’s even an outdoor shower with hot and cold water so you can wash off when coming back from the beach (or use to fill up water balloons to throw at your children – whichever floats your boat).
We also had the extra reassurance of having direct contact with the owner of the house, so when questions did arise, we could email Heather with all our daft questions.
So, was Cape Cod as magical as I remembered?
In a word: yes.
Cape Cod is a family-friendly destination, in a gorgeous natural setting. There are beaches and dunes, ocean, picturesque towns, great restaurants and shopping, cycle trails… and in August, it’s warm and sunny and just about one of the prettiest places I can imagine.
Having fantastic travel companions helped, too. I actually can’t remember the last time I laughed quite so much, and so hard, in the space of a single week. I now plan to kidnap Lindy, Simon and Squidge for all my future holidays.
Top tips for family holiday on Cape Cod:
- Allow loads of extra time to get on and off the Cape if you’re travelling on weekends – or time your visit so you’re not arriving on a Friday afternoon or leaving on Sunday. You’ve never seen a traffic jam like the traffic jam that happens on a summer Sunday afternoon as everyone heads back to the city.
- If you’re driving to Cape Cod, fill up with petrol before crossing the bridge – petrol costs increase substantially once you’re on the Cape.
- Book a day trip to go whale watching. The waters around Cape Cod have been designated a sanctuary for whales, so there are hundreds of humpback, finback and minke whales. A trip costs around $50 for adults and $30 for children – we got incredible close-up encounters with both finback and humpback whales, and it really was one of those things you’ll remember for years to come. Highly recommended.
- You’ll be spoiled for choice when you’re looking for beaches in Cape Cod. The Cape Cod National Seashore is always beautiful, but there are some other great beaches for kids on the Cape. We loved Cockle Cove beach, near Chatham, which has a gradual sloping sandy beach and gentle waves, making it a perfect place for children to paddle and swim. Bear in mind that there is a fee for parking at almost every beach you visit – $15 a day is typical.
- If you can, hire bikes. There are dozens of cycle paths across the Cape, including the Cape Cod Rail Trail, a 20-mile long stretch of railroad that’s been converted into a cycle path that takes you through many of the Cape’s prettiest towns and near to some gorgeous National Seashore beaches.
- If you’re in the mood for a less hectic day at the waterfront, check out some of the ponds on Cape Cod. Our rental house was a 2 minute walk from Schoolhouse Pond – a gorgeous, 23-acre freshwater swimming lake. What’s great about Schoolhouse Pond is that only town residents are allowed to park here – which means it doesn’t get as busy as the public ponds and beaches. But if you don’t mind parking nearby and walking or cycling to the pond, it’s well worth the trip. There is a lifeguard during peak hours, and a sandy beach, as well as toilets on-site.
- Take a trip to Provincetown. This town at the very tip of Cape Cod is home to the Cape’s thriving gay community, which makes for an interesting walk down Main Street. There are dozens of restaurants, clubs and restaurants in town, and when you’re done, head over to Herring Cove Beach, which is where you’ll see one of the finest sunsets in the world. Don’t forget to pop into Cuffy’s for your souvenir Cape Cod sweatshirt, while you’re in town.
- If you’re a fan of art, then head to Wellfleet, which is home to many of the Cape’s best galleries, and lots of small, independent shops selling paintings, sculptures and funky home accessories. There’s a fine beach here, with a seafood restaurant that sells fresh lobster and clams out of a side window, along with what I believe may be the world’s fastest-melting ice cream.
- Chatham is one of the Cape’s more upscale towns, with lots of expensive restaurants and boutiques. It’s a great place to spend the morning shopping – we spent a small fortune at The Black Dog, while Flea and Squidge loved Jamie’s Pirate Shop, where kids can fill a small bag with treasure for $5 AND get a free shark’s tooth necklace to boot. While in Chatham, we’d recommend checking out Del Mar’s restaurant – which makes for a lovely night out without feeling too stuffy.
- Take a day trip to Martha’s Vineyard, which is a small island off the coast of the Cape. If you can, take the Island Queen from Falmouth rather than Hy-Line from Hyannis – it’s half the price.
- Once on the Vineyard, you can explore the shops and Victorian carousel in Oak Bluffs, before settling on the beach, or you can take a coach tour of the island. Due to a series of calamities, culminating in Lindy going a bit Portugese on one of the bus company’s employees and an ensuing panic attack, we never made our coach tour, but next time we’d definitely opt for hiring a car or a moped for around $100 for the day instead. We’d like to offer our sincere apologies to Natalie, we hope you’re feeling better now. On a related note, if Lindy ever goes a bit Portugese on YOU, starting to tremble your left hand usually stops her in her tracks.
Details: Return flights for one adult and one child from London Heathrow to Newark, NJ cost approximately £1,500. Business class tickets on the Amtrak train from New York Penn Station to Providence cost $350 return. A week’s rental of the Chatham House through HomeAway.co.uk costs $3,000. HomeAway gave us a 50% discount on the rental fee for the purposes of this review. You can see more photos of the Chatham House and our adventures in Cape Cod over on Facebook.