- Hope Gibbs
A Southern Woman’s Guide to Nantucket
Last month, I, along with two dear friends, left Nashville as the sun was rising for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Nantucket, Massachusetts. The idea, for the most part, happened on the spur of the moment, fueled by a couple of glasses of wine when we met for appetizers and cocktails. After we talked about our children and their busy lives, we started discussing our favorite books for the summer. That’s when Elin Hilderbrand’s name came up. I had just read The Hotel Nantucket, gushing over it and the author, who happens to be one of my all-time favorites. My friends love her too. Before I knew what was happening, we decided we were going on a girl’s trip to Nantucket, pulling out our iPhones and throwing out dates.
The next morning, I hosted a little trip planning session. Of course, I brought out some Elin books and champagne for the occasion. After settling on a date, we started looking for a place to stay. Naturally, we wanted to be at the Nantucket Hotel. It was the inspiration for Elin’s latest book, after all. Plus, they offer the Elin Hilderbrand experience, which, of course, we jumped at.
After agreeing on a room, which from the website looked divine, we started working on how to get there, researching the ferry schedules since it’s an island. But much to our surprise, there was a flight from Nashville to Boston, and then one directly into Nantucket. How lucky were we? We’d save hours and the health of my stomach since I suffer from horrific seasickness, even on a lake. We wouldn’t have to drive an hour to Hyannis Port, then catch the ferry, we’d just fly right in. The trip was falling into place beautifully.
A few days later, we got even better news. The Wednesday we would be there, was the last day Elin would be signing books in person at Mitchell's Book Corner. If we stood in line, we’d get to meet my writing idol! A little backstory, she is my biggest writing influence. I’m not sure I’d be here now, having completed and edited a 95,000 word manuscript, deep into my second novel, with a publishing deal with Red Adept, if not for her.
In the weeks leading up to the trip, I devoured several books about Nantucket. I even skimmed through some of my favorite Elin books, hoping to get in the travel mood. I watched my weather app like a hawk, looking for rain in the forecast and debating my packing choices. You see, I live in Tennessee, and the temperature in late September can stay in the mid to high eighties. Sometimes it will hit the ninety-degree mark. But this was an island in the Atlantic, and I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Since we were leaving at the crack of dawn and didn’t want to bother our families, we used a service to take us to the airport so we wouldn’t have to worry about parking fees for four days. Our driver arrived that morning in a lovely, large sprinter van. Unfortunately, the night before, it was used to take a group of women on a bachelorette party. Nashville’s a favorite place for those affairs. The second we shut the door, we could smell how much fun they had. Apparently, the bride left her mark on the passenger-side floor board. Needless to say, we kept the windows rolled down, but we weren’t going to let it dampen our spirits. We were on our way to Nantucket!
Even at six in the morning, the airport was a zoo, but we fought through it and had a lovely breakfast before boarding our plane to Boston. In two hours, we would be one step closer to our dream. Nothing was going to stop us. This trip was going to be a breeze. That is, until we landed in Boston. When we went to the flight board, searching for our gate for Nantucket, there was nothing. No flights. Nada. After a few minutes of confusion, we finally realized why. We had to go to an entirely different terminal to catch this particular flight. Luckily, we had a two-hour layover, so we thought nothing of it. That is, until twenty minutes later, we were still walking.
Finally, we found our terminal. But we had a problem. We needed to go back through security and it was packed. Two of us had pre-TSA, but one didn’t. Forty minutes later, after we managed to get through, we grabbed mimosas to not only celebrate the beginning of our journey but to take the edge off our flying mistake. But no harm, no foul, except for a blister on my foot from wearing a boot with a heel. Shoes, people. It’s all about the shoes on this trip.
After the champagne started taking its effect, we were relaxed and chatty, waiting for our plane to arrive. A few minutes later, a gate attendant called our names to check us in. We were confused. We already had our tickets, the ones we got in Nashville. We assumed we were checked in. That’s when things started coming into focus. First, he asked for my weight. It was a strange question to ask a woman in the first place, but I complied with my number. Then he told me he needed to weigh my carry-on bag. It’s a small tote with only one book, two hats, and a jacket in it. Not very heavy, but okay. Once again, I complied, thinking how odd it was. Then, he asked to weigh my purse. It's a cross-body clutch, which is quite small in the world of handbags. That’s when I started suspecting that our plane wasn’t very big. Maybe it was a regional jet? I told myself. That is, until he walked us onto the tarmac.
The further we walked, the smaller the planes got until he stopped at one that was half the size of our sprinter van earlier. Half! Letting out nervous giggles, we climbed aboard. There were just the three of us, a pilot, and one other passenger. This was not what we signed up for.
Needless to say, it was the longest fifty minutes of my life.
Rule number one in the Southern Woman’s Guide to Nantucket—Know your airplanes. Cape May Air is a fleet of Cessnas. If you are claustrophobic or hate flying, take the ferry or fly on one of the bigger commercial planes that go in and out of Nantucket. This was a rookie mistake on our part. However, nothing was going to stop us, so we held hands and said a little prayer. Thank goodness for that second mimosa, or we might have high tailed it back to Nashville.
After an interesting landing (I’ll spare you the details), we happily jumped out onto the tarmac to start our trip. We were in Nantucket!
Driving to our hotel, we took in all the scenery. It’s just how Elin described it in her books. Ten minutes in, and we’d all but forgotten how we got to the island. We had a wonderful taxi driver. He pointed out all the cool spots. When we passed by the Chicken Box (if you’ve read Elin, you’ll understand), we squealed like school girls.
A few minutes later, we were finally at our destination—The Nantucket Hotel. The second I saw it, a flood of excitement pulsed through my body. It was even prettier than the pictures we saw on the website. The staff were incredibly attentive from the start, smiling at us—and our accents.
Once upstairs, after oohing and awing over our room, we dropped off our bags and debated where to have lunch. We had so many restaurants on our list to choose from, all thanks to Elin’s Blue Book of Nantucket.
Rule number two in the Southern Woman’s Guide to Nantucket—Read Elin’s Blue Book found at the end of The Hotel Nantucket. This is a visitor’s guide of sorts to the island. She recommends places to stay, visit and, most importantly, where to eat.
We decided to head to the center of town in search of food. Soon, we discovered Nantucket's streets and roads are not like the ones back in Tennessee.
Rule number three in the Southern Woman’s Guide to Nantucket—Wear comfortable flats or tennis shoes at all times. Do not attempt a heel of any size or you, too, will trip. Or worse, fall down. You see, they aren’t kidding when they say the town is full of cobblestone streets. It’s true. Even in flip-flops, I managed to stub my toe and lose my balance more times than I can count. And the sidewalks? They are just as dangerous. But they are stunning. Beautiful, seasonal flower boxes line the way. I really felt like I was living in a book.
Once we lived through our bumpy walking experience, I stupidly wore my wedges, we found ourselves at The Club Car.
Rule number four in the Southern Woman’s Guide to Nantucket—The Club Car. The perfect way to start your Nantucket journey. The second we stepped foot in this enchanting place—it’s literally a train car from the Nantucket railroad—we knew we’d found the right spot. Though crowded, we were lucky to find three seats at the bar.
Must Haves – A cup of clam chowder and the charcuterie board.
Rule number five in the Southern Woman’s Guide to Nantucket—Clam Chowder. We decided to order a cup at every meal. The parsley oil The Club Car puts on top is to die for. This version was the unanimous choice as the best overall chowder.
After our late lunch and a walk around town, we headed back to the hotel. Upon our arrival, we were greeted with three orange bags. It was our Elin Hilderbrand swag! Inside, we found a letter, hotel gear, and a signed copy of her latest book. We also had a bouquet of flowers on the bar next to a bottle of Sancerre (I had never tried that wine) and a plate of smoked bluefish pâté.
Rule number six in the Southern Woman’s Guide to Nantucket— Every meal must start off with an order of smoked bluefish pâté. Though I’m a pretty adventurous eater, I was skeptical about this dish at first. However, the second it hit my tongue, I was in love. Now, it’s one of my favorite foods.
Our first day was coming to an end. Though it had been a long one, with an airplane ride I’ll never forget, we needed to make time for dinner.
Rule number seven in the Southern Woman’s Guide to Nantucket—Dinner at Dune. This place is incredible. We sat at the bar, watching Monday night football while eating the most spectacular meal. It’s one of the coziest places in Nantucket, and it had one of our favorite bartenders. The woman was amazing.
Must Haves –The Bartlett Farms Tomato Salad.
The next morning, we woke up refreshed, other than a few strange noises throughout the night we couldn’t explain. In the book, The Hotel Nantucket, there’s a ghost who haunts the place. For a few moments, we thought she might really be in our room. However, we cast off our fears and headed for a scrumptious breakfast down stairs before putting on our running shoes for a walk around the island.
Rule number eight in the Southern Woman’s Guide to Nantucket—You must walk so you can take in all the island's beauty.
Eight miles, one lighthouse, and two beaches later, we returned, ready for an afternoon at Cisco Brewers, where we had another phenomenal bowl of chowder along with a lobster roll. It’s a cool place, with barns, bars, live music, and food trucks.
Being so close, we decided to walk down to Bartlett’s Farms because it’s exactly what Elin would do! We laughed our heads off because we didn’t know where we were going and we almost got hit by a car. The woman literally sped up around a curve when she saw us. We almost starred in a different Elin Hilderbrand novel, Golden Girl. IYKYK.
After our return to town, we stopped by Stubby’s for a hamburger and, of course, clam chowder. Neither disappointed.
After our wild adventure and almost being mowed down by a local, we headed back to the hotel for a little R&R and reading before getting ready for dinner. I’ll give you one guess what book we chose.
After another fabulous dinner, this time at Straight Wharf, we called it a night because the next day was the big one. The reason we came.
After a workout and a shower, we headed over to Mitchell’s Book Corner to meet Elin. She signs books starting at 11:00 a.m. in the summer. When we arrived, there was already a line around the block. But we would not be deterred. We would wait no matter what. Luckily, it went by pretty quickly. But with each step we took, getting closer to the end, my heart raced. I was about to meet my writing idol. Finally, we made it. Elin was so gracious, asking us where we were from and how we liked Nantucket. She signed all three of our books with a smile on her face. I had brought my copy of The Blue Bistro, my favorite book of hers; the one that’s yellowed and still had the Border’s Books price tag on the back. Then, we took a picture with her. It was an incredible experience. I'll never forget it.
Rule number nine in the Southern Woman’s Guide to Nantucket—If you get the chance to meet one of your favorite authors, stand in line. It’s worth it. Trust me.
Rule number ten in the Southern Woman’s Guide to Nantucket—You must go to Mitchell’s Book Corner. Even if Elin’s not there. It’s charming and packed full of incredible books.
Though I was floating on air, I managed to walk to the shuttle down the street, taking us to the other side of the island. We had a lunch reservation at Topper’s.
Rule number eleven in the Southern Woman’s Guide to Nantucket—Take the time to go to Topper’s. It’s one of the best restaurants on the island. Of course, we ordered some smoked bluefish pâté, which was our favorite of the trip, and we splurged on a bottle of Laurent-Perrier rosé. We were literally living a scene out of one of Elin’s novels.
Must Haves—The Topper Burger. Oh my goodness. It was delicious.
After catching the shuttle back to town, we spent the rest of the afternoon shopping. Nantucket has some amazing stores. Before heading back to the hotel, we stopped by Queequeg’s for, you guessed it, a cup of chowder.
After dropping off our purchases, we freshened up. We had a stop to make. If you’ve ever read an Elin Hilderbrand novel, you know what I’m talking about... The Chicken Box.
Rule number twelve in the Southern Woman’s Guide to Nantucket—The Chicken Box. It does not sell fried, hot, or any other chicken. I know. If you’re from the south, when we hear chicken, we come running. This is a bar. A dive one in the best sense. This is a place where you pull up a chair and order a beer. Then, you play a game with dice. We didn’t know what we were doing, yet we had a blast.
After our Chicken Box experience, we walked to the wharf. We heard there was an incredible sushi restaurant there. Since we had no reservations for the evening, we took a chance. On the way, we spotted a fudge shop.
Rule number thirteen in the Southern Woman’s Guide to Nantucket—Eat the fudge. A good southern woman never passes up this treat and we went wild, scooping up as much candy as we could.
Must Haves—The peanut butter fudge.
After our epic buying spree, we stumbled across what we were looking for, Bar Yoshi.
Rule number fourteen in the Southern Woman’s Guide to Nantucket—If you can only go to one restaurant on Nantucket, Bar Yoshi should be at the top of your list. We fell in love. The wait staff were top notch and the food was divine.
Must Haves—The Dynamite Roll, Yellowtail Roll, and the dumplings.
After our fabulous dinner, we headed over to The Gaslight for a nightcap. However, once we got there, our plans changed. It was karaoke night!
Rule number fifteen in the Southern Woman’s Guide to Nantucket—Always sing Karaoke when you get the chance. I never pass up a microphone, and I wasn’t about to at The Gaslight. We spent the rest of the night singing and supporting our fellow wannabe musicians.
It’s never easy to say goodbye. We woke up with a little less pep in our step. Perhaps it was our sadness that our trip was coming to an end and we had to pack. Or it could have been that our ghost was louder the night before than she had been earlier in the week. Maybe she was going to miss these crazy southern women after all.
Since our flight wasn’t until five, we decided to head over to Galley Beach for, you guessed it, clam chowder.
Rule number sixteen in the Southern Woman’s Guide to Nantucket—Galley Beach is a must. First, it’s right on the ocean and the views are stunning. And second, the food is incredible.
As we were digging into our fiftieth clam chowder for the week, along with another bluefish pâté, our phones began buzzing. Text messages were flying out left and right. That’s when we were informed that our flight to LaGuardia was being delayed because of bad weather. Apparently, the outer bands of Hurricane Fiona were disrupting flights into New York and out of Nantucket. *Ironic name if you’ve read The Blue Bistro.
After twenty minutes of frantically researching the weather and the Delta flight board, we knew we’d never make our connection back to Nashville. At this point, with the wind picking up by the second, we feared we might not make it off the island at all. So, we started looking into the ferry schedule. Maybe we could get one to Boston or New York!
Rule number seventeen in the Southern Woman’s Guide to Nantucket—Ferries are slow and they don’t have one from Nantucket to Boston or New York. When we asked a couple next to us, after they noticed our obvious worry, they laughed. Just because the northeast is small in comparison to our massive land masses in the south, you cannot just get on a boat and expect to be in Boston in an hour. This island, rightfully so, makes you work to be with her.
We rushed back to our hotel in a tizzy. The one we checked out of hours ago, looking for a room. We could be stuck here for the weekend and have no place to shelter. Of course, the wonderful staff found us a room just in case the weather turned. Several people told us to hunker down and ride it out. Then it came. A huge storm hit while we were sitting at the bar. As we were about to call it quits and check back into the hotel, we got a notification that our flight was still on.
We rushed to the airport, the rain pounding down on our taxi, and checked our bags. Since we had an hour to kill, we hit the restaurant.
Rule number eighteen in the Southern Woman’s Guide to Nantucket—Eat at the airport’s one and only restaurant. Because I was scared beyond scared, getting ready to fly out, I threw caution to the wind and ordered ribs. That’s right. This southern girl needed a little reminder of home to get me back up in the air. And guess what? It was delicious. It was one of the best meals I had the entire week.
Luckily, we were able to take off, though there was about five minutes that I’d rather not discuss. Wind, rain, and Mother Nature were not our friends. As Forest Gump would say, "That’s all I’ll say about that."
Thankfully, we made it to New York. Though this little layover was certainly not what we planned, we were grateful we’d made it in one piece. Now, we had a night in the Big Apple. Luckily for me, I have a husband who used to travel all the time. One phone call to him, and he had us a room waiting in Manhattan before we could retrieve our bags.
It was almost midnight before we fell into our beds. All we wanted were a couple of bottles of water and a Sprite for me.
The next day, we flew back home. Not directly, of course. New York to Atlanta and back to Nashville, twenty-four hours later than planned. But you know what, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I will always cherish the gift that was my time spent in Nantucket. Even if she makes it difficult to get there and even harder to leave, the effort was well worth it. This southern woman will never be the same again. I think I left a little piece of my heart there.
Thank you, Elin, the one who inspired me to go there in the first place.
Until next time….