An insider’s guide to Cape Cod, the magical landscape that has long inspired creative souls.
The magic of Cape Cod slowly envelops you, like the drifting tendrils of its famous fog. Jeff Ippoliti, who, along with his wife Kayla, owns and runs The Chatham Inn, has felt this inexorable tug all his life. “I celebrated my first birthday on the Cape,” he says, sitting on the broad veranda of the Inn, “and it’s never lost any of its charm.”
The Inn, a gracious, federal-style building dating from 1830, has the distinction of being the Cape’s oldest. Entirely renovated, the 18-room property seamlessly blends an aura of history—ever-present in a village with one of the largest concentrations of historic houses in the country—with contemporary style and ease. Wide-plank floors and cozy fireplaces are paired with Matouk linens and Frette towels, and modern touches, like rain showers, are carefully integrated without compromising the historic integrity of the architecture.
Chatham has a convivial vibe, as villagers strolling down quiet lanes lined by 18th-century houses—many bearing the names of their first inhabitants—stop chatting over white-picket fences, and the Inn aspires to a similar feel. “We want guests to feel like they’re friends even before they’ve arrived,” says Ippoliti.
It certainly helps when there is top drawer dining just down the stairs. At the restaurant Cuvée at Chatham Inn, Chef Isaac Olivo, who grew up in a food-loving family in Queens, New York, creates an ever-changing menu inspired by the seasons and the availability of the local catch—Chatham has the Cape’s largest commercial fishing fleet. I opted for day-boat scallops with peaches, champagne, and Calvisius caviar, prefaced by a salad of heirloom tomatoes, simply prepared but singing with flavor, having just been picked that morning. “Sourcing is one of the things I take a lot of pride in,” says Olivo in the dining room during a rare quiet moment. Resting on a nearby table is his ever-present notebook, where he constantly jots down menu ideas.
Never quite knowing what the tides will bring in is one of the pleasures of the Cape, Olivo says. It might be striped bass, caught overnight; or oysters harvested at Pleasant Bay, a short walk from the Inn itself. And while he draws upon the agricultural bounty of Massachusetts and beyond with farmers he’s known for years, he’s putting in his own garden next spring at the Inn.
While one could certainly while away the hours in the Inn itself, perhaps reading, as I did, Henry David Thoreau’s Cape Cod while tucking into a crab cake Benedict at breakfast, it makes an ideal base from which to explore the pleasures of the Cape. These begin just outside the door. To your right, a short walk brings you to the iconic Chatham Light, whose bright beacon still revolves; as well as one of the town’s smooth, white-sand beaches.
Taking a left from the Inn, a short stroll along Main Street brings you into town, with its lively, nearly mile-long mix of restaurants and shops, from Chatham Candy Manor, where chocolates are hand-dipped into copper kettles (you’ll find one on your bedside table at turndown) to the Fisherman’s Daughter, an “eco boutique” featuring work from local artists and designers; to Yellow Umbrella Books, an independently owned institution and excellent place to take brief refuge from the hubbub outside.
One of the Cape’s best clam chowders, notes Kayla, is found at the small stand at the Chatham Fish Pier, where fisherman unload their catch every morning—and frisky seals gather to dine on the remnants. For a great picnic, she recommends hiring the Chatham Beachcomber, a cheery yellow shuttle boat that will ferry you to an essentially private sandbar. For a spot of Thoreau-style nature immersion, she recommends the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, home to everything from migrating raptors to scores of waterfowl.
Chatham, nestled at the “elbow” of the Cape, is well situated for exploring Cape Cod’s 500-plus miles of coastline. Take a test-drive of one of the Inn’s complimentary fleet of Volvos out to the cultural mecca of Provincetown (the original landing spot of the pilgrims’ Mayflower), go beachcombing in the Cape Cod National Seashore, or browse antiques in the postcard-perfect towns of Dennis or Orleans. You can even pop over on the ferry to Nantucket for a day trip (don’t miss the Whaling Museum).
“The time must come when this coast will be a place of resort for those New Englanders who really wish to visit the seaside,” wrote Thoreau in Cape Cod. Those things that so enraptured Thoreau—the wildness of the sea, the moody beauty of the landscapes, the quaint villages—are still well in abundance.