‘The Last Resort’ Then and Now
I grew up going out to Montauk, Long Island in the summers. As a young kid, it was a great adventure. My whole family piled into our Oldsmobile with ocean accessories and we headed east leaving the dense population of living near NYC behind.
Relatively soon, there was more space, more trees and fewer cars. Three lanes became one. We slowed down. The temperature dropped and the air smelled and felt different. We headed for the tip of the south fork of Long Island, Montauk, also known as Montauk ‘the end.’
For me it was like going to the end of the world. We stayed in a simple, rustic inn close to the ocean’s edge with room to roam. It was about exploring the ocean world. It was about fishing with Dad. Life seemed simple and satisfying. We spent hours at the beach; we would eat and go to sleep with the motion of riding the waves imprinted in our water logged bodies.
I’m always somewhat fearful about revisiting magical places from the past but decided to re-visit my childhood with my Mom on day in September. I have to say that while all the towns west of Montauk have become somewhat precious, Montauk still has an undeveloped and wild feel.
This is largely due to the fact that over 60% of its land has been preserved as parks. Robert Moses established state parks on either end of Montauk, Hithers Hills State Park in the west and the Montauk Point State Park in the east.
Now there are four more: Shadmoor State Park, Montauk Downs State Park, Amsterdam Beach State Park and Camp Hero State Park each with a distinctive character. It’s a nature lovers’ paradise. An extensive marked trail system traverses these parks.
In some places there are low rolling dunes that hug the beach; and other trails have high cliffs and panoramic views. East of Ditch Plains, a popular destination for surfers, the beach gets narrower and the sand mixes with pebbles and rocks.
Beaches on the north side of Montauk front the Block Island Sound with ferry service and offer an easy passage for day trippers. The history of Montauk dates back to 4,000 years ago by the artifacts of the Native Americans, the Montauketts.
They were an Algonquian-speaking peaceful tribe who hunted, fished and farmed. The rest is pretty common history. Ravaged by war and smallpox that chapter came to a close. Ranchers who grazed livestock laid out the Old Montauk highway in the 1700s.
In 1792 George Washington authorized construction of the lighthouse that is still active after 200 years. It’s the fourth oldest lighthouse in the United States and houses a museum and gift shop, and of course dramatic views from the tip of the island.
All of Montauk $151K!
In 1879, Arthur Benson bought all of Montauk for $151,000. Incredible when you think about its worth today! During World War II much of Montauk was turned into a Navy Base. There are still remnants today- Navy Beach and Camp Hero State Park that encompasses 415 acres of diverse landscape and an historic military installation.
More history dates the area from Captain Kidd who supposedly buried loot in Money Pond to Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders who set up camp here in 1898 when they were quarantined with yellow fever.
Montauk, ‘The Last Resort’ is still a tourist beach destination known for its laid back style. The expansive beaches are the main attraction. Montauk has many affordable bed and breakfasts, motels and hotels. Such accommodations are hard to find elsewhere in the Hamptons.
Many of the Montauk hotels are only open April through November although there are some that cater to fishermen and year round travelers, like the well-known Gurney’s Inn where we stayed.
Gurney’s first opened in 1926 and has maintained a relaxed style ever since- kind of an antidote to the rest of the Hamptons. Perched atop the cliffs, its biggest claim to fame is its spectacular ocean vista. We had a modest room with a small balcony and a big view.
There’s an impressive Olympic size salt-water pool and a newly renovated state-of-the art spa. It’s one of the few places in the country that offers Thalassotherapy- treatments that use ocean and marine products like algae and seaweed.
The name comes from the Greek words thalassa (the sea) and therap (Treat). How fitting given its location. I tried the 90 minute Marine Kur Treatment that started with an exfoliation with seaweed toning gel followed by a stimulating Swiss shower.
I was sprayed with hundreds of tiny jets from head to toe. This was followed by a Thalasso tub hydro water massage in seawater and a wrap in a warm cloth to seal in the minerals and seaweed that was applied as a paste.
One more Swiss shower and a massage with seaweed body cream. Ahhhh! Besides its beaches, Montauk is most famous for its fishing and covets the title as the fishing capital of the world, claiming to have more world saltwater fishing records than any other port in the world.
There are a dozen major marinas that ring Lake Montauk. It’s easy to arrange for a fishing charter off the point to troll for striped bass or offshore trips for fluke, flounder or shark. If horse back riding is your thing, check out Deep Hollow Ranch, America’s oldest cattle ranch run by five generations of the Dickinson family who have managed the ranch since the 1800s.
They offer trail rides on 3,000 preserved acres and along the coast as well. If you’re looking for another activity, there are 40 vineyards near-by that offer tours and tastings. It’s easy to find a place to eat outside where food is a match for the setting.
At one end of the spectrum are casual clam shacks with your typical beachside fare. One night we had a traditional lobster bake at Gurney’s overlooking an expansive ocean sunset.
Another night we tried The Harvest, known for its locavore cuisine. We ate outside in a very pretty garden with the shimmering last light on Fort Pond beyond. Swans with their cygnets were nice touch.
We happened on the farmers market at the town green that was a real treat. I got the flavor of Montauk, as markets are usually a good indicator of local life. The market claims to ‘grow it, bake it, catch it!’
There were great home baked breads, flowers, oils and vinegars, artisanal cheeses, herbs and even pickles. Artisan pickle man Nick Horman had 10 varieties, including Sweet Cajun Pickles, Horseradish Pickles, Brown Mustard Pickles, and Red Flannel Pickles named for the red peppers mixed in with the brine. Yum!
Meeting A Local Sculptor
An unexpected highlight of my visit, although bittersweet, was meeting Suse Lowenstein, a local sculptor whose most important life’s work came about from a tragedy. She lost her 21-year-old son in the tragic terrorist attack aboard Pan Am 103 that went down over Lockerbie, Scotland.
To help process her grief, rage and hopelessness she sculpted over 75 larger than life sculptures of the women who lost their loved ones, called Dark Elegy. Her family received a large sum of money from Colonel Gadhafi and the Libyan government, which she intends to use to cast the work in bronze.
I was touched by her story and was extremely moved seeing her work. It can be viewed on the grounds of her home from 10:00-12:00 daily at 11 East Lake Drive. Ms Lowenstein is searching for a permanent home for the work.
Montauk is the perfect travel destination for R & R. The season gets better after Labor Day when the ocean temperatures are the warmest and the numbers of tourists gets smaller.
Travel Details for Montauk: The Long Island Rail Road provides train service from Penn Station, New York, and there are several bus companies that leave Manhattan quite often in season.
The Hampton Jitney is one of the more popular companies. A round trip ticket costs $53. Small planes can fly into the Montauk Airport. Montauk is 120 miles from N.Y.C.
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