Falmouth, MA: A Hotspot in the Winter
O’Falmouth Village Celebrates St. Patricks Day
Walking down Main Street in Falmouth Village in March is not the same as walking down the same street in July.
You won’t see children holding their melting ice cream cones while attempting to lick up the slow stream of Vanilla heading for the ground. And you likely won’t see long lines inside Eight Cousins Books, usually overflowing with families in the summer. But this doesn’t mean there’s a lack of animation in the off season.
Instead, you might feel like you’re wandering through a more intimate version of Dublin’s O’Connell Street. St. Patrick’s Day inspires green Shamrocks and ribbons that cover lamp posts and shop windows and the
“wearin’ of the green” isn’t in short supply with the shop owners and customers alike. Liam McGuire’s Irish Pub is at the center of the festivities, offering live entertainment that covers all the Irish classics.
About a quarter mile down the street on Palmer Ave is the Palmer House Inn, which is as welcoming as your grandmother’s house on Christmas Day and the place where I called home for three days.
Innkeepers Bill and Pat O’Connell are heading into their tenth season as owners of the historic inn and have learned what vacationers are really looking for in the decade since they took the reigns.
“The first season was a huge learning curve and it gets easier each year,” said Pat. “Neither of us were ready to retire so we were looking to buy an inn and the Palmer House Inn was perfect for us. Our goal was to make sure we preserve the nostalgia and historic atmosphere of the inn but still have all of the modern conveniences.”
None of the inn’s twelve rooms are alike, providing plenty of options for guests. Each room is named after a New England author, from Emily Dickinson to Henry David Thoreau. Every room also has a copy of a work by the room’s namesake. I stayed in the Ralph Waldo Emerson room which featured a king size bed that allowed me to have some of the best sleep of my life.
Each room makes you feel at home, not like you’re in a hotel room. The Penthouse on the top floor features a whirlpool jacuzzi, king size bed and large bathroom complete with candles to inspire romance. Other rooms have fireplaces, four poster and canopy beds, sofas, and teddy bears.
For breakfast on Sunday, March 16, Bill and Pat made a full Irish breakfast, complete with rashers (an O’Connell family recipe), ham, tomato, scrambled eggs, sausage and Irish brown bread (the bread mix is special ordered from Dublin). Their famous Cape Cod Sunrise, which Pat says is only made at the Palmer House Inn, is a favorite among guests. It consists of orange juice and raspberry sorbet, and the sorbet eventually floats to the top of the glass after about ten minutes, hence the name.
The next day, St. Patrick’s Day, a continental breakfast was served and featured the inn’s banana pancakes. The pancakes were as fluffy as a cloud and eating them while looking out on the inn’s garden provided the perfect start to my day. Later that day, Bill and Pat’s daughter, Erin, demonstrated how to make Irish Bread using a family recipe they’ve been making for over four decades. A dollup of butter after the bread just gets out of the oven is quite the treat on a chilly New England St. Paddy’s Day.
The O’Connells and their housekeeper Rosie were the only ones working at the inn during my stay, but in the summer months, and entire staff moves in.
“The staff are wonderful. We’re bringing over students from Romania again this year and they are all so helpful and attentive. They allow Bill and I to mingle among the guests during breakfast to really see what their questions are and help them plan their days. That’s our favorite part about running the inn,” said Pat.
Captain’s Manor Inn, owned by Trish and Kevin Robinson, opened in 2010 after the Robinson’s decided to pursue their decades-long desire to own an inn. It features eight spacious rooms, each with a different theme that gives everyone what they’re looking for. There are multiple guest common areas including a Bistro with refreshments, an elegant living room with the original 1849 black marble fireplace and countless areas to relax on the 2000 square foot wrap around veranda.I got a chance to tour two other inns in Falmouth during my stay, the Captain’s Manor Inn and the Inn at Sider’s Lane.
The Inn at Siders Lane sits across from the Falmouth Town Green and is similar in style to the Captain’s Manor and has three elegant rooms that also include options for families.
The Captain’s Manor Inn, along with the Inn at Sider’s Lane and Palmer House Inn, are members of the Historic Inns of Falmouth group.
“We really try to help each other out to make sure that our guests get exactly what they want. I ask them a few questions and decide which one of our rooms would be best for them. If I think that I might not have a room that suits them, we call around to the other inns to see what’s available so that the guest is satisfied with their stay. We’re a partnership and all of the innkeepers are fantastic,” said Trish.
A Close Community
Falmouth had its own Riverdance of sorts when a local Irish step dancing school gave a demonstration at Falmouth Museums on the Green on Sunday, showcasing different skill levels from girls age six through twenty. The different dresses signify what level of competition the girls have achieved. A Simple blue dress worn by the younger girls single a beginner, while the more elaborate colors indicate some of the highest levels of competition. These dresses can cost thousands of dollars and are often handed down, but advancing to the next level of competition requires several hours each week of practice and winning multiple competitions in order to advance.
I toured the museums after the demonstration and got to take in some impressive Falmouth history. I learned of Katherine Lee Bates, one of Falmouth’s most notable residents, who is famous for penning “America the Beautiful,” whose house still stands on the village green and is a private property.
The bell in the steeple of the First Congregation Church on the Falmouth Village Green rings too often for some of the Palm
er House Inn’s guests’ tastes.
“Some guests tell me they can hear it in their rooms in the summer, even with the windows closed and the AC on,” said Pat.
Historic Highfield Hall welcomes visitors for all sorts of occasions, from weddings to dinners. Highfield was the first summer vacation home on Cape Cod. The estate sits on 700 acres that was built by James Madison Beebe in the late 1800s as railroad service from Boston to the Cape began. Many performances are also held at Highfield, and Beebe woods is a great place for a leisurly stroll on a warm summer’s day.
Eight Cousins Books
But no trip to Falmouth is complete without stopping in Eight Cousins Books, owned by Carol Chittendon and a Falmouth staple since 1986. Eight Cousins is nationally recognized for the breath of children’s literature and events that it offers, and Chittendon boasts how photos of the Eight Cousins’ bags have been taken at landmarks across the globe. The bookstore is also a member of the New England Independent Booksellers.
Chittendon came to Falmouth in the early 1980s from Seattle with no experience in running a business but always had a love for reading and knew that she wanted to open a children’s bookstore.
“I love kids and helping them be winners,” said Chittendon, wearing a green sweater. “Books are universal and our motto has stood the test of time- ‘imagination serves you well.””
“This building used to be abandoned before we opened at the current location in 1992 and there’s no way to ever know whether or not the paintings were
actually here, I’m just going off the many rumors that I have heard. The back of our building is walled in and sneaking those paintings in the back of the building at night wouldn’t have been difficult or noticed,” said Chittendon.
Chittendon’s favorite children’s books are Charlotte’s Web and Bridge to Terabinthia. Her most popular sellers are “The Day the Crayons Quit” and “Pocket Full of Poses.” She even brings characters to life which can be seen in the store’s summer 2013 YouTube video. A small selection of adult books are available at the front of the store for parents who want to chip away at their own reading lists.
When she’s not at the store, Chittendon’s likely out in the community. She attends lectures and events to sell books and also goes to birthing classes at local hospitals to recommend books for children.
“Falmouth is rich in community involvement and Eight Cousins is part of that, we try to be as involved in town as we can,” she said.
Falmouth Village is nearly 3000 miles away from Ireland and its main street offers dining options that mostly resemble palates from Southern Europe rather than the Emerald Isles.
I ate at Anjeo’s Mexican Bistro and Tequilla Bar and indulged in some of the Cape’s best Mexican food. The Nachos were a great starter, followed by the chicken chimichangas which practically melted off of my fork. And of course an Irish maragarita had to top it all off.
The following night I ate at La Cucina Sul Mare, bringing a little bit of Italy to the cape. I almost felt like I was sitting in a restaurant in Rome as the walls inside are decorated to make you feel like the old country is just around the corner.
Main Street offers cuisine from all over the world, whether you’re looking for Mediterranean or Asian. And visiting in the winter usually means avoiding wait times, but still getting the fresh seafood you crave.
Everything about Falmouth makes you feel at home, starting at the place where you rest your head at night.
Dan Peltier is a freelance writer from Billerica, MA who first traveled internationally at the age of 17 to Australia and New Zealand and hasn’t stopped traveling since. He studied abroad in Rome, Italy during his junior year of college and fell in love with the Eternal City along the way. Follow him on Twitter @djpeltier and visit his blog http://danpeltier.wordpress.com to read more of his work.