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Cape Cod

Sand Dunes and Salt Marshes

Cape Cod, a crooked piece of land that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean from the eastern end of Massachusetts, is sand dunes and seashore, history and a setting with a multitude of moods. Although there are touches of hype--a carnival-like atmosphere in Provincetown and fast food outlets in Hyannis--the quiet Cape takes visitors back a few decades and more.

The air is as clear as a Baccarat wine glass, the landscape is woods and ponds and no site on the promontory is farther than 10 miles from the ocean. From the byways a clear line of blue is often visible as are sudden twists in the bay. Cars often travel no faster than a Pilgrim's wagon or the speed at which Thoreau once trekked over the terrain on his walking tours here. No matter, exploring the peninsula is a leisurely adventure and although several alternate roads are possible, state Rte. 6A is rural and offers the most regional charm. Known as Old King's Highway, the 34-mile stretch was laid out in 1634, following the path of Indian trails and wagon tracks, and is said to be the lane where John Alden squired Priscilla in his oxcart. The road winds along the bay, splicing cranberry bogs and salt marshes through a succession of comely seasoned villages of white steeples, manicured lawns and flower-laden picket fences.

Cape Cod
Champagne Sabering, Ocean Edge, Cape Cod (credit: Edwin Fancher)
Old King's Highway is dotted with towns--Sandwich, Barnstable, Yarmouth, Dennis, Brewster and Orleans, where the road ends and the bay is on the right and the houses on the left. The communities seem to blend into one another with no clear demarcation between hamlet and countryside. The vegetation is dense, trees are everywhere. Nothing on 6A is taller than two stories and the classic gray-shingled house, the Cape Codder, shares the space with a plethora of lobster restaurants. There's hardly a 100-foot stretch that doesn't command the visitor's attention.

The dignified homes of former sea captains have been transformed into inns and antique shops. Pottery, crafts, artifacts, fine furnishings and paintings are offered along with old-fashioned hospitality. Despite the bucolic setting, there's no dearth of historical sites, museums and landmarks that call for inspection.

Points of interest include the Historical Society and Cape Cod Natural History Museums in Brewster and the Glass Museum and 76 acres of gardens at the Heritage Plantation in Sandwich. Barnstable is home to the Tayser Museum and a 19th-century customs house. In Dennis, the Scargo Hill Observation Tower provides views across the bay to Provincetown.

Brewster is the essence of Cape Cod, with all the warmth and grace of picturesque small-town America. This sophisticated, serene and sedate enclave of elegance by the sea is ideally located and the perfect place to overnight. As you amble by The Brewster Store and watch the patrons watching the world go by from the benches out front, you may be tempted to join them for muffins and coffee, a chat about local events or just a chance to see life from the vantage point of the edge of Old King's Highway.

A gentle reincarnation of the bygone Cape takes place each summer in Brewster on a Sunday afternoon during the annual Lawn Cotillion at the Ocean Edge Resort and Golf Club. Some ticket holders drive to this community charity event in roadsters and most wear suspenders, boaters, cloches, diaphanous flowing dresses, flapper-style attire and sporting apparel in shades of cream and white.

The main activity is a croquet tournament, but even if wielding a mallet is not your game, you'll still be part of the fun. Watch a fashion show of vintage clothing while sipping a cocktail under the big tent or join the group in the mansion gardens to see the danscape performance. A champagne sabering and a dinner take place after the tournament. A group of chefs, some from as far away as Boston, serves up a medley of dishes so beguiling you'll want to taste everything. Local artists show their works and fine wines, gift certificates and prints are auctioned off. The festive evening ends with confections and coffee, cigars and brandy.

The year-round resort with its sprawling grounds is an ideal setting for a 20s party. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the property was originally built in 1890. In addition to a Victorian-style mansion and carriage house, there are numerous accommodations with a variety of layouts. The bedroom villas are spacious and beautifully furnished, but there is a cookie-cutter look to their facades. Diversity would have been preferable.

Ocean Edge Resort and Golf Club, Route 6A, Cape Cod Bay, Brewster, MA 02631. Tel. 800-343-6074, 508-896-9000. Off-season rates begin at $95. www.oceanedge.com

Spring 1999