When considering summer weekend getaways, east coasters usually go for one of the mainstays: The Hamptons, Martha’s Vineyard, perhaps Cape Cod. But those looking for an escape from big-city madness should consider adding Block Island to their list. Located 12 miles off the shore of Rhode Island, northeast of Montauk, in Long Island, it’s a paradise of beaches, shopping, and relaxation, just a couple hours from New York City, Boston and New Jersey.
As New Yorkers, my girlfriend and I took the two-and-a-half hour Amtrak ride to New London, CT, where we connected to the Block Island Express ferry (www.goblockisland.com). You seriously feel your tension melt away as soon as you sit down onboard. I ordered a Sam Adams from their surprisingly robust dining area (beers, wine and cocktails as well as tons of food and snacks are offered), and headed to the upper level where I could watch the mainland move further away as the sun and beer worked their magic. Vacation had begun.
Within an hour, which passed like five minutes, we arrived at the island. Having begun the morning in the crowded craziness of Penn Station, looking over the sand, ocean and bathing suits, I could not quite shake the feeling I was in a dream. The ferry lands right next to the center of town, where most of the hotels, shops and restaurants sit, so as soon as we stepped off the ship, we could start getting comfortable, with a stop at Ballard’s Beachclub Restaurant and Bar.
Getting a spot on the outside deck that rolls right onto Ballard’s Beach, we snacked on fish and chips and shrimp cocktails, and chatted with other new arrivals who offered tips on great shopping spots.
But now it was time to check in to our hotel. Just a few minutes’ walk from the restaurant was the Hotel Manisses (www.blockislandresorts.com), an elegant Victorian inn with 17 uniquely appointed rooms. We stayed in the Antoinette (all rooms are named after local shipwrecks that happened before 1872) on the ground level of the hotel, which allowed us to enjoy our very own front deck, perfect for enjoying late-night brandy (provided complimentary to every room) or morning coffee while watching passersby.
Each room features vintage artwork and floral wallpaper of different designs furnished with authentic 19th century desks and dressers and a massive wood-framed mirror. A set of comfy wicker chairs create a nice contrast to the rest of the heavily carved and wrought-iron furnishings. We had the opportunity to further relax while meeting other visitors at the Manisses’ complimentary wine and cheese hour, offered between 4:30 and 5:30 each afternoon.
This, as well as the generous champagne buffet breakfast (provided each morning), take place at the Manisses’ sister property, the 1661 Inn, just a minute or two up Spring Street. Both properties have been run by the Abrams family for decades, who also own The Oar restaurant (see the second part of this story for more on that). They also own the Abrams’ Animal Farm, located just behind the Hotel Manisses, which boasts a range of friendly barnyard animals as well as the famous “zedonk” mixed zebra and donkey (yes, they actually exist). The farm makes for a nice stop before heading to the beach for the afternoon.
We spent the next few hours exploring the town, checking out local art at the Spring Street Gallery, picking up quirky gifts at Glass Onion and learning about Block Island’s history, and many ghosts, at the Island Bound bookshop. After taking in the final few hours of sun on Scotch Beach (a popular spot for young vacationers and locals alike, with its fine sand and fantastic views, yet hardly crowded), we headed back to the Hotel Manisses for dinner.
The hotel’s restaurant offers great local seafood dishes, like the Tuna 3-Ways (sashimi, tartare and tetaki), and Seafood Linguini, which includes cod, swordfish and white shrimp, but a range of other dishes as well. The Spring Gyro, with slow-braised lamb in a pita with feta cheese and sweet onion confit, may be the best gyro I’ve ever had. Not what I was expecting of Block Island dining. Visitors to the Hotel Manisses restaurant will also not want to miss trying one of their signature flaming coffees, ignited tableside.
Surprisingly tuckered out after a day of relaxation, we finished off the night with brandy on the patio.
To read about Block Island’s many other offerings, including mopeds, lighthouses, bluffs and the Spring House Hotel, click here to read the second part of this story.
5 Spring Street
Block Island, RI 02807
Phone: (401) 466-2421 or (800) 626-4773