Nantucket: Where to Stay and Play

Superb accommodations and a cherished old links beckon on this beach-ringed island

Adrift in the Atlantic 22 miles south of Cape Cod, Nantucket exhales cool sea air on a hot summer day. But spring and fall, before the world descends on this privileged atoll, may be the best seasons to visit—especially if you want to tee it up on a Bay State sleeper.

The most elegant place to stay on this sandy isle steeped in maritime history is The Wauwinet (pronounced “wau-WIN-it”), which occupies a narrow spit of land on the island’s northeast tip adjacent to a wildlife preserve. Flanked to one side by the dune-lined Atlantic and on the other by a tranquil bay, Nantucket’s finest waterfront inn is 50 yards from either rolling surf or calmer, warmer waters.

Originally built by ship captains in 1876, the main inn, with its weathered gray shingles, white trim and a long porch set with wicker chairs, is a New England classic. Antique pine furnishings, hand-stenciled accents, colorful chintzes, Pratesi bed linens and bouquets of fresh-picked flowers grace the inn’s 26 guest rooms. Many have splendid water views and private porches. There are also four detached cottages popular with honeymooners. A Relais & Chateaux property, The Wauwinet has undeniable savoir faire, but mostly it exudes Yankee charm and fine taste. Tucked away in one of the quietest corners of the 50-square-mile island, the hotel is eight miles from Nantucket Town, a well-preserved 18th-century whaling port (free jitney service is available).

A place to relax: The Wauwinet

With only sea and sand to gaze upon, The Wauwinet is a wonderful place to escape the workaday world. According to general manager Bettina Landt, “Personalized service and the location itself are what keep people coming back. The serenity on this part of the island is medicine for the soul. Despite our list of activities, a lot of guests look forward to sinking into a lounge chair on the lawn and totally relaxing.”

Those incapable of indolence can explore the area on one of the inn’s mountain bikes. (Nantucket is a cyclist’s paradise). Hip waders and fishing poles are available to those who wish to surf cast for stripers and blues. A variety of vessels, from kayaks to sailboats, can be taken into the bay. Sightseeing cruises are available on the Wauwinet Lady, a 26-passenger launch. There’s also a pair of Har-Tru tennis courts on the grounds. Something more restorative? The inn’s Spa by the Sea offers ocean salt scrubs, Atlantic seaweed wraps and a body treatment utilizing crushed local cranberries. Post-treatment, lounges in the spa’s herb garden are the perfect place for an aromatherapy snooze.

The window of opportunity is small, but try to time your visit to coincide with seasonal access to otherwise-private Sankaty Head Golf Club, a rolling, treeless links pressed to the edge of seaside cliffs a mere 4 ½ miles from The Wauwinet.

Distinguished by the landmark red-and-white striped Sankaty Head lighthouse located beside the fifth fairway, Sankaty Head is often described as a “baby Shinnecock Hills,” the course it most closely resembles right down to the gray-shingled clubhouse. Open to the public from the Tuesday after Columbus Day to the Thursday before Memorial Day (got that?), this vintage 1921 layout takes players through rolling dunes and offers ocean views from 14 holes.

Be forewarned, landlubbers: Sankaty commands one of the highest points on the island and is completely exposed to the onshore breeze. The course presents a far sternerchallenge than the scorecard might indicate at 6,655 yards (par 72). On a typically windy day, the small quick greens, deep penal bunkers and knee-high rough can really pile up the score. The undulating fairways may appear wide from the tee, but the hills, knolls and swales in the landing areas rarely produce a flat lie. If your ball disappears in “The Moors”—an impenetrable mix of scrub oak, wild rose and other thick, nettlesome brambles—simply reload.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Among the more memorable holes is the sturdy par-four 10th, to my mind one of the finest holes in New England. Into the prevailing wind, most approach shots gather in a valley 50 yards short of the sharply pitched green. Designed to be walked, Sankaty Head, quirky in spots, is a Yankee links nonpareil. Golf shop: 508-257-6655;

If your dates don’t jibe with the club’s tightly conscripted open season for non-members, The Waiwinet offers preferred tee times at Miacomet Golf Course, a well-groomed, public-access  layout set in rolling, sandy hillocks near the south shore. Expanded from nine to 18 holes in 2003 and completely refurbished two years ago, Miacomet offers ample fairways framed by long waste bunkers and tall fescue grasses. The elevated, subtly contoured greens are very slick. Located less than a mile from the sea, the 6,890-yard course is routinely swept by brisk onshore breezes, adding greatly to the challenge. The Nantucket Land Bank has invested $12 million in this “active recreation” site over the past few years, and it shows. Golf shop: 508-325-0333;

Back at the hotel, nice touches abound. Complimentary port and cheese are served in the cozy library-lounge every afternoon. TOPPER’S, The Wauwinet’s dining room, is one of the best hotel restaurants in the nation. Technicolor sunsets over Nantucket Bay are a prelude to chef David Daniels’ inspired yet simple cuisine. The seasonal menu relies heavily on local seafood (the butter-poached local lobster with sweet ricotta tortellini in a black truffle emulsion is alone worth the trip), though the osso bucco and beef Wellington are sublime. So are the well-chosen selections on the wine list—TOPPER’S is a long-time recipient of Wine Spectator’s Grand Award. Muted colors in the dining room draw attention to the food, though the heated, awning-covered deck brings diners that much closer to the sea. Of course, if only the dunes will do, the hotel can arrange a fabulous gourmet picnic. And shovels for sandcastles.

The Wauwinet is open May 18 – Oct. 24. Rates start at $225. Reservations: 800-426-8718;

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