Off the Beaten Path: 9 Nature Gems in the Caribbean

Off the Beaten Path: 9 Nature Gems in the Caribbean

With more than 7,000 islands, islets, and cays, the Caribbean attracts sightseers and adventurers from every corner of the world. Besides the region’s ubiquity of clear waters and exquisite white sands that are unanimously favored by visitors, there are a few lesser-known treasures awaiting exploration.

To make the most out of a stay on the Leeward Islands, we put together a list of essential destinations for a one-of-a-kind trip. Best of all, these Caribbean jewels lie in wait only a short flight away on one of Tradewind’s world-class Pilatus PC-12s or Citation CJ3s.

Colombier Beach, St. Barth

A sunset at Colombier Beach in St. Barth

To get a slice of personal paradise, sometimes you have to head off the beaten path. Luckily, accessing the exclusive Colombier Beach only requires a scenic 20-minute hike or a 10-minute boat ride from Gustavia Harbor into the bay. Considered by many locals and vacationers to be the finest stretch of beach on St. Barth, Colombier is a haven for starfish, sea turtles, coral, and various schools of vibrant fish — all of which can be intimately experienced with the aid of a snorkel.

As visitors are drawn to more convenient, amenity-driven beaches on the island, those who make the trek will discover an almost untouched playground of white sand and clear blue water, ideal for swimming or floating under the Caribbean sun. Because there are no amenities, however, guests should bring their own picnic for the day (ask your hotel to prepare a bag or stop by Maya’s To Go).

Little Bay, Anguilla

 Photo: Anguilla Tourist Board

Photo: Anguilla Tourist Board

While Anguilla is acclaimed for its picturesque, uncrowded beaches, there’s one in particular offering even more seclusion and serenity. Only accessible by boat or kayak through Crocus Bay, or by descending down a steep bluff, Little Bay is the most protected and remote beach on the island.

This distinct cove of azure water and small stretch of shore provides an ideal refuge for a day of swimming, snorkeling, and lounging on the sand. Swim to the northeast side of the bay to scale and jump from a massive rock jutting out of the sea. Known to residents simply as “The Rock,” the boulder seems like it’s all but hovering over the bright blue surface of the water. Because the hidden inlet is so exclusive, visitors may only be sharing it with pods of local pelicans.

Devil’s Bridge, Antigua

 Photo: z_Dead via Flickr

Photo: z_Dead via Flickr

The product of countless years of ocean erosion, this rocky arch forms a natural bridge over the tides of Antigua’s northeast coast. As waves crash against its riddled surface, seawater blasts through limestone blowholes in hundreds of piping geysers.

Located in Indian Town — an Antigua national park and historical site where Amerindian artifacts have been excavated — Devil’s Bridge may have been home to some of the island’s earliest residents.

Botanical Gardens, Nevis

 Photo: David Broad via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: David Broad via Wikimedia Commons

Just beyond the twin statues of Cambodian dragons that flank the gate to the Nevis Botanical Gardens lies a tranquil oasis of stunning and delicate flora hailing from all over the world. Wrapped around the ruins of a lost temple, this five-acre rainforest conservatory features waterfalls, lily ponds, a bamboo grove, a tropical fruit garden, over 100 species of palms, and a vibrant orchid collection that’s recognized as one of the largest in the Caribbean.

A wondrous array of tropical color isn’t the only exotic allure inside the garden grounds. Thoughtfully dispersed through its lush, winding pathways are scores of sculptures and artifacts, including a replica of a pre-Columbian Olmec head and a Ganesh statue from India. In the heart of this verdant enclave, complete with flitting purple hummingbirds and talkative African green parrots, sits Oasis in the Gardens — a restaurant serving world-renowned Thai cuisine and offering striking veranda views of Nevis Peak, Charlestown, and St. Kitts.

Friar’s Bay, St. Kitts

 Photo: Fred Hsu via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Fred Hsu via Wikimedia Commons

After a short, two-mile ferry ride from Nevis across “The Narrows,” you’ll find the volcanic island of St. Kitts. With an economy dependent on the exportation of sugar cane up until 2005, the island is relatively new to the tourist industry. What this means for visitors, at least for the time being, is that St. Kitts remains a unique enclave replete with authentic and unfettered local Caribbean culture. 

As St. Kitts tapers off into a thin peninsula on its southern end, a stark duality can be observed at Friar’s Bay where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea. Just a thin strip of land separates the sprawling, choppy Atlantic from the calmer Caribbean, and observing the contrast of the two bodies of water is spectacular on its own. Add to that the choice of two pristine beaches and some of the island’s best snorkeling opportunities, and you’ll be hopping back and forth to savor the unique characteristics of each.

Fountain Cavern National Park, Anguilla

 Photo: Anguilla National Trust

Photo: Anguilla National Trust

For a taste of what life may have been like for natives who originally inhabited Anguilla, pay a visit to Fountain Cavern National Park, a protected archeology site and treasured testament to the history and culture of the Amerindian Taino people. The focal point of the park, set back in a cave 70 feet above the sea, is the Fountain itself. Long used as a local source for reliably clean water, it continuously pumps a fresh stream into Shoal Bay from 50 feet below Anguilla.

Once a place of supernatural worship, the Fountain is the oldest ceremonial cave site in the Caribbean — and through archeological studies of the various glyphs and rock carvings spanning 1,000 years, it’s also deemed as the longest used. Hanging from the massive domed limestone cavern is a 16-foot stalagmite where natives carved the head of Jocahu, the Taino spirit of fertility. Believing that the sun, the moon, and the first people emerged from caves, Caribbean Amerindians used the cavern and its vast, interconnected network of underground grottos to honor the deities in their pantheon and ward off evil spirits.

Anse de Grand Fond, St. Barth

An image of the rocky shoreline at Anse de Grand Fond

Tucked into a bay on the southeast side of the island is Anse de Grand Frond — otherwise known as the “wild coast” — a rugged beach where you can find natural landmarks as mysterious as they are beautiful. Here, where surging ocean meets coral rocks, visitors can hike the shoreline to discover the Washing Machine, a series a small pools roiling in rhythmic, hypnotizing whirls as they are continually filtered by the churning tide.

Further along the rocky path, complete with nomadic goats, bathe in the Natural Pools, sun-warmed pockets of bright green water that have been deposited by the surf.

Nevis Peak, Nevis

 Photo: David Broad via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: David Broad via Wikimedia Commons

The prominent feature of St. Kitts’ sister island, looming 3,230 feet above its sandy shores, is Nevis Peak. Although the volcano has been dormant throughout recorded history, its lush coastal slopes still vent hot sulfurous gases through various springs and fumaroles.

Summiting the highest point in Nevis via guided trek is not an easy feat, but if the clouds cooperate, the peak rewards hikers with sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, plus a panoramic vantage of the Leeward Island chain.

Situated among the tropical gardens on the south side of the volcano is The Hermitage Plantation Inn, a colonial-style boutique assembled from vintage cottages originating around the island. Built around a house originally erected in 1670 (thought to be the oldest standing wooden structure in all the Caribbean), this charming hotel and its meandering grounds afford visitors the opportunity to soak up an authentic dose of island life from the comfort of a veranda or hammock while listening to conversations of green vervet monkeys as they play in the trees.

Buck Island, St. Croix

Whether it’s the impeccable soft sands of Turtle Beach or the marine garden wonderland of the Buck Island Reef National Monument, a day full of breathtaking surprises awaits just one and a half miles off the north coast of St. Croix.

Because two-thirds of Buck Island is surrounded by a 7,000-year-old elkhorn coral barrier reef, the monument area provides some of the best snorkeling in all of the Leeward Islands. In addition to exploring 704 acres of marine habitat filled with over 250 species of varicolored fish, snorkelers can navigate a subaquatic trail (one of only three in the US) to discover an ecosystem teeming with sea life like barracuda, parrot fish, squid, and vibrant brain coral. When they come ashore, visitors enjoy hiking over the crest of the hill to take in spectacular sea views and to try their luck in spotting brown pelicans, least terns, and sea turtles — all endangered species that have made their homes on the protected island.

 

Featured Photo: Anguilla Tourist Board

An Insider’s Guide to Dog-Friendly Martha’s Vineyard

An Insider’s Guide to Dog-Friendly Martha’s Vineyard

Four-legged family members are always welcome on Tradewind Aviation flights, but as every dog owner knows, hotels, restaurants, beaches, and stores aren’t always as accommodating. Here, find out how you can have the ultimate stay on Martha’s Vineyard and never have to leave Fido behind.

Where to Stay

 Photo: Harbor View Hotel

Photo: Harbor View Hotel

It’s a dog’s world, and we’re simply living in it at Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown. Canine guests are showered with amenities through the Island Dog Package — treats and toys by famed island retailer The Black Dog greet upon arrival (plus, mom and dad get a Vineyard Seadogs calendar.)

Pooches love the residential-style Captain’s Cottages, where a living and dining room, kitchenette, separate master bedroom, and expansive balcony offer plenty of space for discovery, indoor fetch, and cuddles.

Canine guests can also laze days away on The Great Lawn, a spacious and grassy social spot at the property’s core, or chill on the wrap-around porch of the principal 1891 historic building while human companions enjoy a good read — or simply the view — from one of the many ocean-facing rocking chairs.

Where to Eat

 Photo: Alchemy

Photo: Alchemy

Begin your days at Espresso Love. Strong lattes and fresh-baked croissants (especially the almond variety) go well with mornings of doggie socializing — the patio here is equally popular with humans and canines in the morning. The café also serves light fare throughout the day.

Alternatively, hang out on the al fresco terrace of Behind the Bookstore, a pet-friendly coffee shop and bistro directly behind Edgartown Books. In the morning, opt for a “Café Shakerato,” a frothy coffee drink with orange bitters, or an iced mint latte complemented by a sandwich from the “bagel bar.” Past noon, try the poached local scallop bowl over spring pea puree, washed down with an artisanal cocktail like the “Eazy Breezy,” a refreshing mix of hibiscus vodka, lime, elderflower, ginger, and sparkling wine.

For dinner, book a table on the patio at Alchemy, an Edgartown institution that just revamped the menu and wine program on the eve of its 20th anniversary. Though Fido won’t be able to appreciate the elevated wine list (curated by noted wine advisor Jamie McNeely) or the award-winning cocktail list (recipient of “Best Cocktails on the Island” by Martha’s Vineyard magazine), he’ll likely learn new tricks for a bit of leftovers. Expect lots of tail wagging after scraps of the Pan Seared Striped Bass, the Crispy Roasted Half Chicken, or the filet of Beef Tenderloin.

Where to Shop

Retail therapy isn’t just for humans on Martha’s Vineyard. Dogs can shop for fashionable leashes, raincoats, bowls, mugs, and other trinkets and toys at Good Dog Goods in Oak Bluffs. However, the highlight of any visit here is a treat from the doggie bakery, which sells delectable — and adorable — cookies fashioned after lobsters, whales, and lighthouses.

Dogs are also welcomed at all outposts of The Black Dog stores across the island. This iconic retailer, which hails from Martha’s Vineyard, is known nationally for its black-emblazoned merchandise and has stores in Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Vineyard Haven as well as a circa 1971 tavern in Vineyard Haven, where dogs are welcomed outdoors.

Where to Play

A dog plays on a beach in Martha's Vineyard

You’ll need a PhD in beach rules and regulations to know which Vineyard swathes you can stroll with your dog (read: the best thing to do is to consult the concierge at the Harbor View Hotel and pay attention to the beach signs).

At Eastville Point Beach and Norton Point Beach, for example, dogs can roam free outside of tourist season and nesting season (September 15 to March 31.) From April 1 to August 30, dogs are prohibited within 100 yards of a posted nesting habitat, and from May 15 to September 15, dogs are prohibited on the beach between 9 am and 5 pm. So, it’s still entirely possible to enjoy a morning sunrise walk or early evening sunset walk down from Fuller Street Beach (right behind the Harbor View Hotel) to Edgartown Lighthouse Beach, anytime of the year.

For outdoor summertime fun without limits, head to the 72-acre Trade Wind Fields Preserve in Oak Bluffs where dogs can enjoy forested walking trails leash-free – and likely make a few new friends along the way. Alternatively, take the Chappy ferry to Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge, underscored by seven miles of barrier beach and a grove of hundred-year-old red cedars. Year-round, dogs are allowed throughout the refuge as long as they remain on-leash.

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Tradewind offers regularly scheduled shuttles to Martha’s Vineyard from May through November – with up to 15 flights per day Thursday through Monday – as well as private charters year-round.

 

Featured Photo: Harbor View Hotel

On Two Islands, Two Iconic Photographers

On Two Islands, Two Iconic Photographers

When she has a morning or afternoon free to point her camera anywhere at all, Cary Hazlegrove checks the tide charts and heads to Little Neck at dead low. Twice every day, that breezy western stretch of Nantucket island offers up seascape magnificence of one texture or another.

“Every low tide there is amazing,” says Hazlegrove, who arrived on the island 40 years ago with her Canon FTb manual-focus and no notion of making a career in photography. All these decades and installations and coffee table books later, she would qualify as Nantucket’s photographer laureate, if there were such a thing. Raised in Roanoke, VA, where her father practiced law and her mother was (and still is) a painter-sculptor, Hazlegrove made her life and her work into a combined art form, putting down deep roots in a creative community of island dwellers.

Her colleague and friend on the neighboring outpost of Martha’s Vineyard, the estimable Alison Shaw, has earned a similar distinction on her own shores. Shaw, who also made her way to these isles off Cape Cod in the experimental days of the 1970s, even has her own commercial space. You can admire her fine-art photos of the Vineyard year-round at the Alison Shaw Gallery, which Shaw owns with Sue Dawson, her partner in life as well as in business. The gallery can be found in a converted firehouse tucked into a historic section of Oak Bluffs called the Arts District.

 Ferry Martha's Vineyard docked at Oak Bluffs, by Alison Shaw

Ferry Martha's Vineyard docked at Oak Bluffs, by Alison Shaw

When Shaw took up residence in Martha’s Vineyard, she was already a photographer and already familiar with the terrain, having spent childhood summers exploring it. She went to work for the island’s weekly paper, the Vineyard Gazette, and shot her own stuff on the side. Her mother had been a professional photographer, back in the pre-digital days of film, and young Alison learned by her side — in the field and in the darkroom, too.

Unlike Hazlegrove, who takes pleasure in shooting portraits, weddings, and the island’s manorial homes, Shaw uses time away from gallery management for fine-art photography only. “I have wonderful clients who come back year after year — one of them owns about 60 of my pieces — and when they ask about family portraits it’s always a painful moment,” says Shaw. “I have to find a polite way to say no.”

One of her many departures from this practice involves wooden boat-building — the aesthetics of that craft being so reliably interesting. A 40-by-50 color print on canvas, titled, “Schooner, Gannon & Benjamin Boat Yard 2001,” attests to what she can do with this visual material. It’s in the Shaw catalogue priced at $3,625.

 Bike riding in Codfish Park, by Cary Hazlegrove | NantucketStock

Bike riding in Codfish Park, by Cary Hazlegrove | NantucketStock

In a typical year, roaming the Vineyard in all conditions and at all hours, Shaw produces 20 to 25 new pieces that she can call gallery-worthy. To see a wide selection of Hazlegrove’s work you would be guided to installations like the one put up recently at the Sconset Cafe, a top-rated eatery and exhibit space on Nantucket's eastern edge.

Hazlegrove moonlights as a singer in a progressive bluegrass and folk band called 4EZ Payments, who do some of their most inspired picking at Cisco Brewers out on Bartlett Farm Road. Her husband, the musician and composer A.W. Bullington, writes scores for films, podcasts, and ads and also composes the soundtracks for his wife’s documentary-style productions, which are montages of still photographs, video segments, original music, and a voice track of island residents offering descriptive and narrative ruminations. She’s done a long series of these multi-media expressions, which are available as DVDs and iBooks.

Shaw’s other creative outlet is teaching. She co-teaches a six-month mentoring program on the Vineyard together with Dawson (who brings to the program her expertise in graphic design, writing, social media, website design, and marketing) and also conducts workshops on the island, as well as in Maine and across the sound on Cape Cod. “I get a lot of fulfillment being with people who are true photo enthusiasts,” Shaw says. "Teaching keeps me energized, and so does the change of place I get when I do it.”

 Lagoon Pond, by Alison Shaw

Lagoon Pond, by Alison Shaw

Locales like an Outer Cape beach are not exactly exotic for Shaw, but they have the benefit of being elsewhere than Martha’s Vineyard. Living on a relatively small island and spending a lifetime shooting landscapes and seascapes, you end up looking through the viewfinder at a lot of scenery you’ve already photographed. “If I were living in a mainland environment,” Shaw says, “I would head off to the next town or the next city to find something that’s visually new to me. On an island you’re forced to dig deeper.”

The Vineyard’s long summer days are an idyll for the rest of us, but for someone who earns a living shooting exteriors, it means getting up at 3:30 am to make good use of the morning glow, then waiting forever for the interesting contrasts and shadows of late-day light.

“Weather is an inspiration,” says Shaw. “The bigger storms light a fire under me. They can make the world change before your eyes, and when they’re gone some of them will have left the landscape — dunes and beaches especially — amazingly different from what it was before.”

 Brant Point Lighthouse, by Cary Hazlegrove | NantucketStock

Brant Point Lighthouse, by Cary Hazlegrove | NantucketStock

Well-remembered comments by New Englanders about man’s juxtaposition with nature include this musing on the part of Henry David Thoreau: “For many years I was a self-appointed inspector of snowstorms and rainstorms, and did my duty faithfully, though [I was] never paid.” Some hear ironic self-deprecation in Thoreau’s comment, others a sincere grievance. Asked about it, Hazlegrove says she has long admired that quotation from Walden though she doesn’t personally identify with it.

“He felt a responsibility for what he came across in his ramblings,” she says — and indeed the rest of the quote is about Thoreau’s labors to keep “woodland paths open” and “ravines bridged and passable at all seasons.” That would not be the Hazlegrove mindset. “I’m drawn to whatever it is nature chooses to do, with no thought of cleaning up after it,” she says. “I just want to appreciate it.”

There are wintertime stretches when these islands experience a storm, its aftermath, another storm, another aftermath, over and over. “Weather is entertainment out here,” says Hazlegrove, citing the visual drama of a Nor’easter barreling up the Seaboard, bound for Nantucket. “But if you look at my work you’ll probably notice I tend to shoot what’s peaceful.”

 Oak Bluffs Jetty, by Alison Shaw

Oak Bluffs Jetty, by Alison Shaw

Art that’s peaceful can still challenge an audience’s discernment, every bit as much as something raucous or confrontational. Shaw studied painting at Smith College and earned an art history degree there. She observes that, “The painter and the photographer end up in the same place, it’s just that the photographer starts with reality and has to work away from it — that’s a subtractive process, versus the painter starting with a blank canvas and doing something additive.”

That observation dovetails well with a trenchant line from Susan Sontag’s modern philosophical treatise, On Photography. In it Sontag declares, “The painter constructs, the photographer discloses.”

It’s estimated that over a trillion digital photos are taken each year with smartphones, most of them so heedlessly executed they give point-and-shoot a bad name. For the artist with a camera, wandering woodland or dunes or shorefront — and bearing the weight of their lofty aesthetic standards — the pursuit is demanding, at times surely daunting. View by view, motif by motif, you frame up the surface of the world, aching to give it depth.

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Tradewind Aviation offers up to 25 scheduled shuttle flights to Nantucket every day from late April through early December – as well as private charters. Shuttles to Martha’s Vineyard run Thursday through Monday from May through November, with up to 15 flights per day.

 

Featured Photo: Aerial view of Great Point Lighthouse, by Cary Hazlegrove | NantucketStock

An Escape to Block Island

An Escape to Block Island

Only 13 miles of Atlantic Ocean separate a bubble of nearly autonomous New England charm from mainland reality.

With its white-sand beaches, towering bluffs, and glacier-carved hillsides speckled with colonial cottages, Block Island is completely walkable, stretching just 7 miles at its longest and 3 at its widest. Hovering below the radar of other, more spot-lit destinations of the Northeast, this storied enclave offers a Victorian-style escape, just a quick whisk away on a Tradewind on-demand charter flight.   

From quintessential coastal retreats to hikes along Block Island’s distinctive shoreline, here are our top recommendations to make the most of your getaway from the first minute you touch down and inhale the bayberry and salt air.

Where to Stay

 Photo: Block Island Tourism Council

Photo: Block Island Tourism Council

Due to regional governance, Block Island remains one of the few places in the modern world that keeps corporate conglomerates marooned on the mainland in favor of local mainstays. The area’s innate resistance to chains extends well past coffee shops and fast food. Much like Block Island’s overarching essence, its locally-owned hotels afford guests an opportunity to delve back into the mid-19th century.

There’s Hotel Manisses, a renovated boutique replete with claw-foot tubs and other Victorian-era antiques, sitting seaside and piped with white-trimmed porches perfect for gazing at the shifting Atlantic. While there is no shortage of inspired eats on the island, Manisses houses its own renowned restaurant showcasing the very best in local seafood.

Then there’s the 1661 Inn, another beloved boutique hotel just down Spring Street whose flower-flecked open patios and sloping lawns greet the vast ocean to the east. It’s not just the Inn’s distinct ambiance that invokes notions of old-time Northeast; it is home to an acclaimed New England buffet breakfast—complete with locally-caught baked bluefish, omelets, pastries, pancakes, and of course, champagne.

Because the area’s hotels are family-owned, they usually offer an underlying bonus to visitors. By fostering inherent local connections, they can help guide itineraries or spontaneous adventures true to the steadfast spirit of the community—making an Atlantic getaway all the more immersive.

Where to Eat

 Photo: Winfield's Restaurant

Photo: Winfield's Restaurant

At first glance, Eli’s seems like a house plucked and placed from another whimsical era. Considered off-the-beaten-path from the island’s main attractions, this quaint eatery has been a local favorite since 1994, when it started offering Asian-inspired comfort food with upscale service and presentation. Eli’s seasonally-shifting menu offers everything from marbled-cut Bavette bistro steak to Nicoise-style seared tuna to an old-fashioned root beer float.

Just a few hundred feet to the northwest, Winfield’s Restaurant provides an informally cozy yet traditional setting in which to enjoy fresh seafood and local produce. “Simple elegance” is how Chef Berke Marye describes his Southern twist on haute cuisine, though you’ll find unmistakable hints of Italian, new American, and Asian influence in his island-inspired dishes as well.

For a spectacular dinner setting, the Atlantic Ocean backdrop of the Spring House Hotel can also be enjoyed from its charming in-house restaurant, which serves succulent dishes made from local meats and fresh sea catches, along with fruits and vegetables grown in its very own garden.

What to Do

 Photo: Block Island Tourism Council

Photo: Block Island Tourism Council

With 40 percent of the island set aside for conservation, there’s a reason why its sprawling seaside plains and windswept hills boast some of the most treasured island hikes and birdwatching on the planet.

The island’s seven nature trails add up to 25 total miles which can be explored via hike, bike, or horseback. Each one highlights a unique perspective of wildlife or ocean view—like Clay Head Hill Trail, which rambles along dramatic bluffs on the northeast shore to finish at the historical marker and sunset vantage dubbed Settlers’ Rock.

Lighthouse aficionados will find two attractive beacons on Block Island. Less than a half mile from Settlers’ Rock, the octagonal tower of North Light stands sentinel to the Atlantic tide. On the south side, raised 200 feet above the ocean on the Mohegan Bluffs, stands the red-bricked and architecturally-refined Southeast Light.

 Photo: Block Island Tourism Council

Photo: Block Island Tourism Council

While the island is nearly surrounded by beaches—17 circuitous miles of them—a few are worth mentioning above the rest.

Fred Benson Town Beach provides the most traditional beach setting on the island, complete with pavilion, lifeguard patrol, bathrooms, concession stand, and rentals. Some, however, may want to pursue a more private stretch of sandy coast, and to find it they only have to venture north.

There you’ll find Scotch Beach, where white sands and few rocks set the ideal stage for body surfers and body boarders to ride the tide. Even further north lies Mansion Beach. Named for a burned-down manor and farthest away from town, it’s generally known for clearer waters, smaller crowds, and even larger waves.

Its undulating landscape blending seamlessly into sea and sky, Block Island remains one of the few places where you can start your day with a stunning sunrise on the eastern shore, bask in an island daydream all but lost in time, and bookend it all with a beautiful sunset on the western coast.

 

Featured Photo: Block Island Tourism Council

A Life in Cinema, Split Between New York and Nantucket

A Life in Cinema, Split Between New York and Nantucket

In anticipation of this year’s Nantucket Film Festival, accessible by Tradewind with daily scheduled flights and private charters to the island, we sat down with Executive Director Mystelle Brabbée to talk past, present, and future of the acclaimed film showcase.

In the Oscar-nominated 2015 film Brooklyn, a young Irishwoman walks New York streets longing for the salt air and village life of her childhood in County Wexford. In the spirit of movies, storytelling, drama, and character, it’s easy to ascribe similar romantic yearnings to Mystelle Brabbée – needing only to substitute windswept Nantucket for Enniscorthy, Ireland.

A Brooklyn resident herself, Brabbée has been executive director of the Nantucket Film Festival since 2012, and she’s curated the festival program for a total for 16 years. Blond and athletic-looking, with a style both humble and intense, Brabbée annually spends the last week of June like the main character in the final reel of a blockbuster action flick, striving for all manner of happy endings as a year’s preparation unspools over six exciting days.

Nantucket_Film_Festival.jpg

Plenty of New Yorkers split time between the city and Nantucket, but do any of them bring their work out to the island in such a climactic – not to mention high-pressure – fashion? It seems not, and as the late spring days keep NFF staffers working late, Brabbée falls into a mood akin to what Emerson must have felt when he wrote that “the air of Nantucket comes into your face and eyes as though it were glad to see you.”

In the run-up weeks before this year’s 23rd edition of the event, she indeed confessed to a bout of Nantucket fever. “It’s the same every year at this time,” she says. “I can’t wait to walk away from this desk, leave the city behind, and get out to the island.”

Its physical beauty and sensory effects were a revelation when Brabbée first visited Nantucket, during college. “I grew up in Colorado, and at the time I was studying at NYU, so I had never seen anything like it,” she says. “There was a sweetness and softness to the air that was all new to me.” As others have reported, she experienced the odd sensation of standing on solid ground yet feeling she was far out at sea.

If you’re an enthusiastic moviegoer and have not yet attended this festival, make a note to do so. The brother-sister duo of Jon and Jill Burkhart founded it and have guided the operation through nearly two dozen seasons, with Brabbée’s competence giving them an opening to step back. “For a festival of this prominence to be family-operated is unique,” Brabbée notes. “Over the years I guess I became part of that family, which extends to all our patrons and our filmmakers, too.” And indeed she did become an honorary Burkhart, according to Jill, who first hired Brabbée as a volunteer and soon offered her a staff role in programming.

Mystelle_Brabee_Mark_Ruffalo.jpg

“Mystelle said yes to my offer and we just went from there,” Burkhart says. “She is the longest-tenured staff member of NFF, and that’s owing to her combination of talent and knowledge – and especially to her passion. I sleep easy at night knowing she’s there running the show.”

Many of the moviemakers premiering their work on the island have returned again and again, including writer-director Debra Granik (Down to the Bone and the Oscar-nominated Winter’s Bone). “Debra’s entire career has been connected to and supported by our festival,” says Brabbée. “That’s one of the great things about being around so long.”

Few, if any, film fests are as inviting and walkable as Nantucket. And while it’s not the only such event with a heavy schedule of forums and presentations, it can claim a particularly inclusive mood to its programs. “This year we’re taping live with National Public Radio – their “Ask Me Another” Saturday show,” says Brabbée. “We’ll also have a Q&A session with Noah Baumbach, Adam Driver, and Ben Stiller.” If you’re attending for the first time, you will surely relish the anybody-can-talk-to-anybody atmosphere this gathering fosters.

The Burkharts, who as kids moved to Nantucket from (where else?) Brooklyn when their parents made a somewhat impulsive lifestyle reboot, envisioned a festival atmosphere in keeping with the island’s high-season escapism. “From the beginning, we likened it to summer camp,” recalls Jill Burkhart. “All it needed to succeed was people who love film, love this place, and want to share the intimacy and the storytelling.”

Nantucket_Film_Festival_Shops.jpg

She recalls a night during year three when a young filmmaker screened his movie, spoke with audience afterward, and noticed one couple particularly taken by the film and its auteur both. “It so happened he’d never had a lobster dinner, and these folks said they had to fix that, so they took him out for lobster,” she says. “That wouldn’t happen at Sundance or Toronto or any big-city festival.”

Historic preservation is tantamount to a religion on Nantucket, dating back to the 1950s and Walter Beinecke Jr., who was heir to the S&H Green Stamps fortune and a devotee of classic island architecture and anti-commercialism. When the festival celebrated its 20th anniversary, Brabbée and her team sketched a design for classy-looking canvas signs that would hang from street lamps throughout the town’s cobblestone-paved center. They were informed that their signs were, ahem, against ordinances.

“The NFF is a commercial enterprise, so we’ll come up with plans and ideas that any business would,” says Brabbée. “Now and gain we run into prohibitions. The same preservation ethic that keeps the island so pristine can derail some of our plans. You learn to adjust.”

Asked to search through her long tenure and find a few festival moments that stand out, she at first stumbles, as too many memories flood in. Then she recounts the screening of Life, Animated, an award-laden documentary based on a father’s account of his autistic son’s obsession with Disney animated films – and how that fixation became a doorway for the boy’s dramatic progress in regaining speech and other capacities.

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The filmmaker, Roger Ross Williams, provided background on the story and its central figure, Owen Suskind. Also in attendance was renowned composer Stephen Schwartz, author of so many familiar tunes in the Disney animation songbook. “Stephen played, and as he did the boy got up on stage and sang,” recalls Brabbée. “We plan and prepare all year, then something amazing will happen on its own.”

When the last ferry sails and the last flight out departs, ideas for the next year’s festival can begin to percolate. “Our fundamental value, the thing that guides us,” Brabbée says, “is the importance and the craft of storytelling – and in fact the joy of it.”

That idea resonates from Brooklyn to Nantucket and surely around the world. On occasion, like the evening a profoundly autistic boy stepped onstage to sing, the story will unfold right in front of you.

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The 23rd Annual Nantucket Film Festival will be held June 20 – 25.

 

All photos courtesy of the Nantucket Film Festival.

A World Away in Montauk

A World Away in Montauk

Compared to the bustle of New York City, some 110 miles away, Montauk really does feel like another world. The bohemian-chic neighbor of The Hamptons is home to beautiful Atlantic seascapes and stylish villages straight from your summer dreams, yet it is completely accessible for quick getaways or weeklong retreats with Tradewind's on-demand private charter flights.

Perched on the outermost tip of Long Island, Montauk spans from the village of Napeague in the west to the burgundy-and-white Montauk Point Light in the east – encompassing 13 miles of beaches flecked with quaint bed and breakfasts, upscale restaurants and boutiques, trendy beach clubs, and a flourishing new arts scene.

Touch down at Montauk Airport, where the relatively short runway cannot be accessed by larger jets but makes for an easy landing in a Pilatus PC-12. Then, whether you envision yourself sailing the coastline or dining on the freshest catch, here are our best recommendations for how to spend your getaway:

Where to Stay

During the summer, you have several choices in which to unwind at the end of a beach day. The most famous is Gurney’s Montauk Resort & Seawater Spa, a landmark inn boasting 2,000 feet of pristine shoreline, elegant guestrooms and beachfront cottages, the Seawater Spa with a one-of-a-kind, ocean-fed saltwater pool, and the lively Beach Club. (It’s also Montauk’s only year-round resort.)

 Photo: Gurney's Montauk Resort & Seawater Spa

Photo: Gurney's Montauk Resort & Seawater Spa

For yachting enthusiasts, there is no place better than the iconic Gurney’s Montauk Yacht Club & Resort. The historic property – which recently underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation – overlooks the azure waters of Lake Montauk and offers a 200-plus-slip marina with plenty of opportunity for world-class sailing and fishing. And for more modern vibes, check out the stylish Montauk Beach House downtown. Known for its cozy, poolside fire lounge, the boutique hotel hosts a variety of upbeat events in season from fashion shows to DJs to pop-up shops.

 Photo: Gurney's Montauk Yacht Club & Resort & Marina

Photo: Gurney's Montauk Yacht Club & Resort & Marina

Where to Dine

Waterfront views and fresh coastal fare await in the midst of Montauk’s vibrant culinary scene. Start your day at Joni’s Kitchen, a beloved local eatery with an easy ambiance. While you indulge in breakfast wraps, globally inspired pressed sandwiches, and fresh fruit smoothies, take in the array of vintage surfing photos on the walls – or take your breakfast to go to enjoy on the beach.

The setting is distinctly nautical at Duryea’s Lobster Deck with lobster crates decorating the bar and spectacular vistas of Fort Pond Bay beckoning on the deck. Bite into a much-acclaimed lobster roll for lunch or one of many other high-quality seafood choices like the Montauk Pearl Oysters.

 Photo: Doug Young, courtesy of Duryea's Lobster Deck

Photo: Doug Young, courtesy of Duryea's Lobster Deck

Dinner takes you to the lush gardens of Arbor. Surrounded by greenery, the Mediterranean wine and beer bistro offers pan-seared scallops, grilled Spanish octopus, bouillabaisse, and other delectable entrees in an elegant atmosphere. For lighter fare, head to Swallow East on the harbor. You can share savory small plates of burrata, steamed clams, or tuna poke in an intimate setting with friends and family.

What to Do

Upon touching down in Montauk, your first destination should be the beach. With more than 5,000 acres of public beaches and parkland, the easternmost part of New York state abounds with natural beauty – from shorelines framed by rolling sand dunes to incredible, 70-foot-tall bluffs. Swim at Hither Hills State Park beach, hike the trail at Amsterdam Beach State Park to reach a secluded surf spot with great waves, or sip drinks in a breezy beach club.

Next, head to Montauk Point Light, the fourth oldest active lighthouse in the country, for sweeping views of the bluffs and the Atlantic. Closer to town, you will find pursuits for every interest from cycling to horseback riding to golfing – as well as a spectacular array of boutiques. Stop into Kailani (Hawaiian-inspired resort wear) or Montauk Dazies (designer styles) to pick up something to remember your time in Montauk.

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To reserve a private charter flight with Tradewind, call us at 1-800-376-7922 or click here.

 

*Featured Photo: Gurney's Montauk Yacht Club & Resort