You can visit one of the dozen "Last Great Places" in the Western Hemisphere
Block Island is home for some very great restaurants and inns
By Walter & Patricia Brooks
The Nature Conservancy added Block Island to its list as one of its original "The Last Great Places." The list consists of twelve sites in the Western Hemisphere. About a fifth of the Island is set aside for conservation and this treasure a 55 minute ferry ride south of Point Judith RI has been loved and visited by Presidents Bill Clinton, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Ulysses S. Grant.
The island lies half way between the southern coast of Rhode Island and Montauk Point at the eastern end of Long Island NY. The only town on the island is New Shoreham. The island is a popular summer tourist destination and is known for its bicycling, hiking, sailing, fishing, and beaches.
American Indians inhabited the area as far back as 1300 BC, but the European settlers didn't start coming until 1637 when Massachusetts Governor Henry Vane ordered his troops to "massacre all of the Native men on the island".
The colonists burned sixty wigwams and the corn fields. They also shot every dog, but the Niantic Indians fled into the woods, and the soldiers only managed to kill fourteen of them.
Relations between natives and visitors today is far more cordial, and the island hosts one of the preeminent sailing events in America in late June, the Block Island Race Week.
17 miles of pristine beaches on a 7 mile long island
Block Island is seven miles long and three miles wide at its widest southern end. The northern area comes to a point at the North Lighthouse shown above.
Yet there are 17 miles of pristine beaches, protected by lighthouses and spectacular bluffs, and surrounded by rolling roads and winding paths on this special place. Many of the beaches on the island are isolated and nearly untouched providing breathtaking views and utmost tranquility.
Block Island has been called the "Bermuda of the North," so it is only fitting that most visitors choose bicycles or mopeds as their primary form of island transportation. Many beach-goers find it easy to walk straight to the beach from the ferry landing, or rent a bike or moped to explore the beach further out.
Admission to all beaches, as well as parking, is free.
A rarity indeed
The island's chamber of commerce can brag that due to the particular forces of nature that went to work on Block Island, no other place on earth shares its geography, nor its balance of species.
Block Island is a rarity in another sense; it's a place that moves at its own pace and is known for a relaxed way of life.
It's where "dressed up" means a pair of shorts. Islanders speak of going to the mainland as going "off island" - an expression of the feeling that Block Island is its own entity, as unique as the North Light or the 250-foot bluffs.
How to get there
One of the joys of visiting Block Island is starting your journey at the great New England fishing town of Galilee RI.
Not only is this one of the few towns in our region which has not been ruined by tourism, but it's one of the very few places left where you can get clam chowder the way it was originally before the master chefs destroyed this staple by adding cream.
Traditional Rhode Island clam chowder has clear broth. This traditional clear chowder generally contains quahogs, broth, potatoes, onions, and bacon, and it is what Cape Cod Clam Chowder was like fifty years ago, and like black coffee vs. with cream, it has a lot more flavor.
The Block Island Ferry leaves from here, and you should consider spending a night at the Lighthouse Inn directly across from the ferry dock where you can also save a parking fee for your car because I'm sure you are wise enough to either bring your bike of rent one on the island.
We always choose the regular ferry for the 55-minute voyage across Block Island Sound although a faster ferry is also and option. The voyage is a delight and even has free WiFi for us cyberfreaks.
Getting around the island
We brought our bikes, but still rented a car on the island to get around more. Turn left as you walk off the ferry to Old Harbor Bikes where you can rent wheels. The 10 square mile island is great for biking, but the 90 degree heat last month led us to rent a Convertible Jeep. They also offer Mini-Hummers, Smart Cars, Mini-Vans, Mountain Bikes and even Kayaks. We can not recommend Old Harbor Bike Shop, Boat Basin & Moped and Auto rentals too highly.
Where to stay: The Rose Farm Inn
Although we've visited Block Island several times, we always ask our fellow travel writers which inns they like the best. Several recommended The Rose Farm Inn which is a short distance from town.
The inn was voted one of the best in Rhode Island by Yankee Magazine last year.
A working farm until 1963, the grounds of the Inn are now home to marsh hawks, ring-necked pheasant and white-tailed deer. Although this peaceful sea and country setting is only a few minutes walk from the village and beaches, the quiet and privacy of the Inn is reminiscent of the Block Island of years gone by.
Our two buildings (the original Farm House and the newer Captain Rose House) feature spacious and beautifully appointed rooms, some with whirlpool tubs. From first floor, private entrance rooms to the cozy charm of beautifully renovated and maintained 19th century rooms, we make it easy for you to relax in style.
Where to dine: The Atlantic Inn and Hotel Manisses
The Atlantic Inn is in front of the Rose Farm Inn and has one of the island's most spectacular aspects as it looms over a nearby wild animal preserve and the town and harbor beyond. Executive Chef Aaron Wisniewski must be a great artist since he's a look-alike of that famous Van Gogh self-portrait in the straw hat. His menu changes frequently, reflecting the availability and quality of different types of seafood and produce as they come into season on the island.
We started with Grilled Scamorza Affumicata ~ roasted black garlic, zucchini scapece, purple basil, $10. and the Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras ~ barbeque unagi seaweed salad, daikon, charred rambutan gastrique, crispy rice, Japanese mustard, $2, followed by two of that evening specials which were superb not as well.
Patricia and I have dined at many of the world's most praised and noteworthy restaurants, and it would be impossible to exaggerate the food Chef Aaron prepared for us that night. Suffice it to say that we spent well over three hours at the table tasting one perfect dish after another, and the time literally flew.
Another night we went to the nearby Hotel Manisses restaurant where he were again delighted with the attention compelling food. Here's the menu, and we tried the Tuna Poke: Hawaiian Marinated Sashimi Tuna, Crisp Wonton Bowl, Seaweed Salad, Fresh Oregon Wasabi & Avocado Sauce $12 and the Lobster Johnnycake: Lobster & Cornmeal Pancakes, Sweet Corn Salsa & Fennel Pollen Butter $15 and shared East Meets West Oysters on the Half: Daily Selection of 3 each, Twin Tobikko & Fresh Wasabi Mignonette $14.
Our entrees were Portugese Style Striped Bass: Littleneck Clams, Linguica Sausage, Sweet Corn, Garden Kale & Potatoes, Garlic & Port Wine Fumet $27 and the Morroccan Spiced Pork Chop: Grilled Harissa Rubbed Peaches, Gingered Cous Cous, Cognac-Cardamon Jus $27 plus a side of the restaurant's famous Lobster Mashed Potatoes $11.
The service equaled the savor.
Race Week XXIV 2011 at New Harbor