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Blick auf den Hafen von Nantucket, Bild: Telvin Benjamin / shutterstock

Nantucket: Between down-to-earthness and elitism

Beautiful fishing villages with traditional cobblestones and uniform brick and wooden houses in various shades of gray surrounded by idyllic nature, extensive white beaches, dunes and lighthouses: Nantucket, a small island of around 125 square kilometers in the US state of Massachusetts, is a place of longing. People who like the north from Sylt to Scandinavia love Nantucket, located south of Cape Cod and east of Martha’s Vineyard .

The name of the island comes from a Native American language and means something like “the far away land”. In fact, although a fast and comfortable ferry connection connects Nantucket and the mainland, with a view to the rhythm of the windswept island, the striking buildings and the people who can call this paradisiacal island their home, Nantucket and the rest of America are worlds apart.

Nantucket – Meeting place for American celebrities

Brant Point Lighthouse Nantucket
The Brant Point Lighthouse, Image: Marianne Campolongo / shutterstock

In the midst of the colorful, often overcrowded and always striving for progress America, Nantucket embodies a New England, traditional, down-to-earth and at the same time elitist oasis with a European face, which has made a name for itself as a resort town, not least among American celebrities and wealthy families from the mainland. Every year, the elite of the American screenwriting industry arrives in Nantucket as part of the film festivals that always take place at the end of June, and there are also numerous celebrities among the tourists who are looking for a break from the stressful everyday life on the mainland on the small island. As a result, there are more than five times as many people on the island in summer as in winter. Accordingly, it is recommended, especially in the high season, to park the car on the mainland before crossing and to use the bicycle on the island to relieve traffic.

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Especially with pleasant late summer temperatures, the bike offers a great opportunity to explore the island. The idyllic, untouched nature is always just as far away as small, original villages or rather clusters of magnificent traditional, simple and stylish houses.

Fame and fortune in the capital of whaling

The upper main street in Nantucket, Image: John Santoro / shutterstock

Nantucket, whose appearance is characterized by beach villas, white-painted garden fences and old glass lanterns, impressively, authentically and charmingly embodies the splendor of the island’s heyday at the beginning of the 19th century. In the past, the island gained national and international fame, especially through the whaling that originated from there. Thanks to the profitable trade in whale rat and oil, as well as the construction and maintenance of corresponding ships, whaling helped the island’s inhabitants to Nantucket’s economic heyday.

From 1830 onwards, oil discoveries affected the sales of whale trans, which served as a lubricant and lamp fuel, and a serious major fire in 1846 as well as the Civil War and the Gold Rush had a catalytic effect on the incipient decline of Nantucket’s economy. As a result, the population shrank to a tenth within 30 years from 1840 to 1870. Due to the small population of around 10 thousand permanent residents combined with the income from tourism, the Nantucket County has the highest per capita income in Massachusetts and is now reconnecting with the wealth of the past.

In addition to the more than 800 historic buildings in Nantucket Town, which date back to before the American Civil War about 150 years ago, the Whaling Museum on Bond Street bears witness to the wealth of the former “world capital of whaling”. There, for example, there is the opportunity to feel the baleen of these animals. Among the exhibits of the museums is a gigantic whale skeleton, but also the small boats with which the men with the harpoons went hunting and sometimes never returned, or whose fate was accompanied by the decline of the economy.

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Versatile monotony of the “Gray Lady” surrounded by pure idyll

One of the most important reasons that allowed Nantucket to rehabilitate into a posh and elite area of New England was the mandated regulation for the construction of new homes and the resulting simplicity and uniformity in the appearance of the island. For the new building, the use of wood or brick is mandatory, and a spectrum of various shades of grey, including “Nantucket Grey” or “Quaker Grey”, also serves the colour scheme – and incidentally earned the island the nickname “Gray Lady”. Nantucket Town embodies down-to-earthness due to the unspectacular architecture, which only seems monotonous at first glance. The small picture-book towns fit in perfectly with the landscapes towered over by lighthouses and covered with a variety of flowering plants.

Nantucket’s residents live a different rhythm

Not only the architecture, but also the inhabitants of the island itself elude the influences and trends of modernity: they get up early in the morning and rarely party until late at night. Guests of the island usually adapt to this rhythm quite quickly. The morning hours are used for a walk or fishing, followed by a leisurely stroll through the cobblestone streets of Nantucket or relaxing hours on the extensive beaches during the day. If the day is coming to an end, a bike tour (alternatively by bus) to the Madaket is recommended. On this wide sandy beach on the western tip of the island, you can watch the sunset wonderfully.

It’s moments like these that make your stay in Nantucket so special. By the way, the “far away country” can be reached by ferry from Hyannis, Harwich Port, New Bedford (all Massachusetts) and New York within one to one and a half hours. Already at the beginning of the crossing, you withdraw from typical America and the fast pace of modernity and drive a little back into New England’s glamorous past. The months from May to October are recommended as an optimal time to travel, although especially in late summer the temperatures in Nantucket, in this idyll in the middle of fast-paced America, are particularly pleasant