Cape Cod's Provincetown may have a reputation as a summer-time party town, but there's still plenty to once winter comes around and the hordes of tourists have migrated to warmer climes.
In summer time, the 4000-plus population of Provincetown is augmented by a few extra visitors in the form of the great white sharks that hunt the town's seal population. Luckily, by the time November comes around, the seals, sharks and tourists have all fled to warmer climes, leaving Provincetown in the hands of 1500 local artists and bohemians, until the next spring when the tourist (and shark) season begins all over again.
A small colonial town at the tip of Massachusetts's Cape Cod might not seem like the ideal winter retreat, but once the whale-watching trips have finished and the ferry to Boston stops for the winter, there's still a surprising amount to do in this historic town.
The main commodity Provincetown (or P-Town to the locals) has to offer at this time of year is peace and quiet, something which I found extremely valuable. My trip to Provincetown revolved around a month-long stay at The Norman Mailer Writer's Colony, a writer's retreat set up in Mailer's former home with the aim of nurturing new writing talent. I had the Mailer Foundation and British GQ to thank for the prize and was looking forward to making the most of the solitude to get some serious work done.
However, solitude is all well and good, but after a day or two there is a risk of things turning into a scene from The Shining. Like all writers, after a day or two I decided I was in need of a drink and decided to venture out to see what the town had to offer.
There is only one road that matters in Provincetown if you're thirsty. Commercial Street runs the short length of the town, parallel to the bay, and even in winter a lively selection of bars can be found nestled amongst the traditional wooden houses and shops. The Mews is a great bar and restaurant, home to a decades-long tradition of Monday night music and poetry readings whilst The Old Compton (or O.C. to the initiated) is the bar that every New York dive bar strives towards, with fishing nets hanging from the ceiling and vagabonds of every description propping up the bar.
If you don't fancy such hangover-inducing activities, a hike or bike ride around the Cape is a must. Herring Cove is a fantastic spot which looks out over the Atlantic Ocean and serves as the start point of a beautiful bike trail which leads through the sand dunes and across the Cape to Race Point.
For travellers with a desire to keep warm, Provincetown boasts a great independent cinema as well as a selection of local coffee shops and numerous art galleries to explore. The Fine Art's Work Centre is particularly interesting. Home to writers and artists lucky enough to have received seven-month fellowships, F.A.W.C run frequent exhibitions, showcasing their resident's latest works. It's also a wonderful place to have Thanksgiving, if you're lucky enough to be invited.
Inevitably, there is a huge sense of creativity in Provincetown, stemming from the town's historic associations with great writers and artists. The homes of both Norman Mailer and modernist writer John Dos Passos can still be seen today, towards the East end of Commercial Street and American poet Stanley Kunitz can be found in the town graveyard, buried beside Mailer.
As is to be expected with such famous former residents, Provincetown is a lively place, even in the winter months. The more time you spend in there, the more you become a part of the town and by the end of a few weeks, everyone in each bar will know your name and grin as you enter. In fact, you'll soon find yourself planning a return trip in the summer when ferries to Boston re-open and the tourists return. Peace and quiet might be harder to come by during the summer months, but if the winter months are anything to go by, you'll be guaranteed a memorable and rambunctious experience, quit unlike anything or anywhere else.
How To Get There
American Airlines offer affordable flights to Boston from many U.K. airports. From Boston Cape Air run light airplane flights over the Atlantic to Provincetown. If the promise of beautiful scenery as you fly through the clouds above the Atlantic is not enough to tempt you into one of these small planes, there is also a ferry service form Boston to Provincetown, which runs from May to October.
Where To Stay
Snug Cottage guesthouse is located on Bradford, just behind Commercial Street and offers rooms from 50USD pp.
Rooms at Carpe Diem guesthouse include access to the onsite spa. Children are not permitted. Prices begin at £154 per night.
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