The flexed arm of Massachusetts, Cape Cod is one of those wonderful places that offers both rich history and extravagant natural beauty. The name “Cape Cod” dates to 1602, but of course, its human history goes back much further. The Cape’s beaches, dunes, salt marshes and forests were the home of the Wampanoag people for thousands of years before the Mayflower arrived there in 1620. The whole of the region offers compelling attractions, from Sandwich, incorporated in 1639 in its southwest, to the lively resort town of Provincetown, near the Outer Cape’s northeastern tip, connected to Boston by ferry.
This time, we rented a car and explored the Lower Cape from a base at Chatham, in the elbow of the peninsula, and rambled along the Cape Cod National Seashore stretching north from there. During our visit not long after Labor Day, we enjoyed warm weather and an absence of tourist crowds. We hiked in near solitude around the coastal dunes and beaches of the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, along the panoramic trails of Fort Hill and amid the idyllic inlets and forests of the Nauset Marsh. Restaurant reservations, parking and traffic were all easy. And shoulder-season hotel rates came slightly closer to earth (always a consideration, since we stay undercover and pay full price).
The pedestrian-friendly Main Street of Chatham has numerous colorful boutiques selling resortwear and coast-themed souvenirs, and — more interesting to me — ice cream shops and seafood-focused restaurants. At one end of the half-mile commercial stretch is the gabled Chatham Inn, built in 1830 and reportedly “the oldest continuously operating inn on Cape Cod.” Recently expanded and renovated, the 18-room property has earned an array of plaudits and is now a member of a major small-luxury-hotel association.