You may not think of Martha’s Vineyard as a winter getaway, but you should. In early February, my wife, Grace, and I escaped the New Hampshire winter for a weekend in Edgartown, Massachusetts. It wasn’t the kind of island retreat most often thought of when the snow flies. But it suited us just fine. The […]
By Ian Aldrich
Oct 27 2016
Lighthouse Beach in Edgartown, MassachusettsPhoto Credit : Ian Aldrich
You may not think of Martha’s Vineyard as a winter getaway, but you should. In early February, my wife, Grace, and I escaped the New Hampshire winter for a weekend in Edgartown, Massachusetts. It wasn’t the kind of island retreat most often thought of when the snow flies. But it suited us just fine. The chance to be near the ocean, even a frigid Atlantic along the New England coast, felt warming.
And it was.
This story begins, however, with our accommodations. Our home for the weekend was the grand Harbor View Hotel, where we didn’t so much have a room as a cottage, replete with a sun drenched bedroom, elegant kitchen and bath, and full-blown living area.
The Harbor View first opened its doors in 1891, just when the whaling industry was gasping its last breath. That development had an especially hard impact on Edgartown. It seemed like a whole town was on the verge of closing up shop. The large captain’s homes that define the town’s architecture were in ruin. So was the harbor. And then something extraordinary happened. In the middle of this wicked downturn, a few forward-thinking investors pulled together $5,000 and built a hotel. The demand for whale oil might be gone, they reasoned, but maybe it’s effect could be replaced by tourism.
It wasn’t an instant miracle, mind you, but over time the Harbor View became an anchor point for the town, now looking forward with its whaling past behind it. It was the place for cast and crew to stay when the film Jaws was made on Martha’s Vineyard in the 1970s, and today calls to all kinds of island visitors throughout the year, from young families to honeymooning couples to retirees.
Its location doesn’t hurt. Situated just a few minutes’ walk from downtown Edgartown, the Harbor View – the water, even an open lighthouse – calls to those who simply want to retire their car for the weekend. And in winter, when rates are down but the view of the harbor remains, it’s a prime retreat.
Actually, the entire island is. That’s the thing about popular summer destinations in the off-season. They’re still open. The beaches, restaurants, and shops still welcome visitors. Sure, the ice cream stand may be closed for the season, but you can still get the best burger you’ve ever tasted at Atria in Edgartown, delicious scallops at Henry’s Hotel Bar, the Harbor View’s year-round restaurant, or find an outstanding collection of island-made brews at Off Shore Ale in Oak Bluffs.
But it’s also when a place like the Vineyard is quieter, less frenetic, slower; when a visitor can really get a sense of the soul of a place. Who the characters are. How it operates. At breakfast one morning at an Edgartown café called Espresso Love, we were surrounded by year-round residents. As we meandered through a morning of breakfast burritos and coffee, we heard one man go into great detail about the front step he was replacing. Another complained about a sill that was rotting at his house. A woman nearby discussed some outdoor photography she was going to attempt. These were projects they intended to get to this winter. When there was time. It was like the island was rebooting, resetting itself for another tourist season. Catching its collective breath. We just happened to be lucky enough to step into it.
Elsewhere, we visited an empty beach, then found more solitude at the cliffs in Aquinnah. We passed by quiet forests, through plodding downtown centers, and ate until we could eat no more at the Harbor View’s restaurant, Henry’s Table. It wasn’t the fully-opened Martha’s Vineyard one gets in July, but the February version suited us just fine. Maybe even better. And you can’t put a price on that.
The hotel lobby gave visitors a nice respite from the weekend’s biting temperatures.
Our cottage bedroom alone was as big as some apartments I had in college. And, you know, a little nicer.
We were big fans of the rest of the cottage, too. Like…
Did we mention the dining area?
We could have, of course, spent every hour in that beautiful cottage. But the rest of the island called to us.
When it was time to head back inside, we found quiet, colorful destinations where we could refuel.
Then it was back outside we went where we found these beautiful winter scenes.