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LIVING: TRAVEL: HISTORIC ISLANDS OF CALM.

Byline: DYLAN DRONFIELD

A WORD not often used to describe America is understated.

Its brash casinos, movie industry and loud-mouthed sports fans mean it is hardly a Mecca of calm for visitors.

But a trip to Cape Cod and its neighbouring islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket will be as much of a surprise to the tourist as the area is a popular and sophisticated escape for East Coast Americans.

The three destinations in Massachusetts are havens of American history from the days of the English Pilgrim Fathers' landing in 1620.

And not only did the colonials form much of today's American culture, not one McDonald's restaurant or hotel chain has managed to breach the fiercely protected Cape or its islands.

Instead, beautifully painted wooden houses line the quiet, litter-free streets while visitors enjoy long, sandy beaches, coastal walks and watersports.

This is a part of America where Americans come to get away from themselves and for European guests it is almost home from home.

Martha's Vineyard is a short boat ride from the mainland and on arrival you could be forgiven for thinking you had landed on the north Norfolk coast during a heatwave, but the comparisons end there.

The island was populated by the Wampanong Indians before it was discovered in 1602 by English explorer Bartholomew Gosnold and a few descendants still live on the island.

It is thought that the island got its name from its plentiful wild grapes. Today no grapes remain, and anyone looking forward to wine-tasting trips is very much mistaken. In fact you can buy alcohol in only two towns - Edgartown and Oak Bluffs.

Instead visitors are rewarded with a deep feeling of getting away from it all - they even talk of 'going back to America' when their holidays end.

Accommodation is pricy. For around pounds 100 a night you will get a room in a blissfully homely inn with friendly owners.

Walking, watersports, cycling and golf are the main pursuits, while for first-time visitors a drive around the island is a must.

Its richer neighbour, Nantucket, is a 15-minute flight or slightly longer ferry ride away. Flatter and smaller than theVineyard, Nantucket has a rich whaling history dating back to the 1700s.

It is a destination reserved mainly for the wealthy and day-trippers - the cheapest B&B will cost around pounds 200 a night.

Activities are similar to the Vineyard although the excellent nature walks and well-stocked bird reserves are more heavily promoted.

An hour-long high-speed ferry ride takes you back to Cape Cod.

Discovered in 1620 by the Pilgrim Fathers, the Cape is a huge spit of sand shaped like a flexed arm offering 300 miles of stunning, long, sandy beaches and excellent watersports.

Its major attraction is whale-watching, while long beaches are popular swimming and surfing spots.

Like the islands, the Cape remains understated despite not having the same sophisticated aura. This is reflected in the prices, which are typically more affordable than the islands.

Candy floss, dolphin-shaped hats and sticks of rock are readily available but hotel and restaurant groups have yet to make it.

As you cross the bridge leaving the Cape, the golden-coloured M sign of a McDonald's glows, reminding travellers they are back in America.

The area is busiest in July and August. The best months to visit are May, June and September.

Factfile

Dylan Dronfield travelled to the Cape with Continental Airlines via New York and Providence airports.

A 12-night package taking in Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket and Cape Cod costs from pounds 983 per person with America As You Like It. Prices include flights and car hire. For more information call 020 8742 8299.

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CHARMING... Edgartown lighthouse
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Jan 27, 2002
Words:614
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