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Block Island, Rhode Island

Live life in the slow lane at this isolated escape off the coast of New England.
Block Island, Rhode Island
Ocean Grove/Asbury Park, N.J.
Cape May, New Jersey
Great Barrington, Mass.
Salisbury, Connecticut
Milford, Pennsylvania
Mount Desert Island, Maine
Margaretville, New York
 
On the porch: Spring House Hotel.

BY SARAH BERNARD

"It's against my principles to encourage anyone else to come here," says a man who retired to Block Island after vacationing there since the sixties. "It's a barefoot-and-bicycle kind of place." If you're looking for glitz, this pork-chop-shaped eleven-square-mile island off the coast of New England probably isn't the right speed. In fact, speed is another thing that goes against Block Islanders' principles. When mopeds got to be too popular in the eighties, and the Rhode Island DMV refused to restrict them, the island threatened to secede. (Massachusetts and Connecticut offered to annex it.) Locals still prefer that visitors park their cars on the mainland and ferry over on foot. Of course, this inconvenience only increases the island's aura of exclusivity and isolation. "There's no golf, no tennis," says a Connecticut weekender. "And no place to go to be noticed."

Lay of the Land: Old Harbor, with its Victorian bed-and-breakfasts, welcomes incoming ferries. New Harbor -- on the Great Salt Pond on the west side -- has seafoodrestaurants and a marina. The beaches are all public, as are the southern end's Mohegan Bluffs -- dramatic 180-foot ledges that are often compared to the coast of Ireland. Nearby is a 200-acre bird sanctuary with a web of flower-lined trails known as the Maze.


Things To Do: Cyclists abound. A hilly but scenic ride takes you from Old Harbor, where many of the bike-rental shops are, to the historic Southeast Lighthouse on Mohegan Bluffs. The boating crowd converges for race week, the third week in June. In September and October, the bird-watchers descend on the island, which sits in the path of the Atlantic Flyway. Surf-casting and spearfishing for striped bass and bluefish are popular pastimes, as is clamming on Great Salt Pond.

Familiar Faces: Ted Kennedy Jr. held his wedding reception at the Spring House Hotel overlooking the ocean. AOL Time Warner's Richard Parsons, Christopher Walken, and author Roy Rowan all have homes here. "Woody Allen tried to buy a place in the eighties," says a weekender, "but they didn't sell it to him."

Social Scene: Nightlife revolves around traveling dinner parties -- from casual barbecues to catered seafood-and-tenderloin cookouts. "You'll never find an ice carving on Block Island," insists Joan Abrams, owner of the 1661 Inn & Hotel Manisses and the island's top caterer. The two movie theaters draw a good summer crowd. Bars like McGovern's Yellow Kittens Tavern in Old Harbor host bands on the weekend. Captain Nick's Rock & Roll Bar will throw a music festival on June 11.

Don't fence me in: Outside the Weather Bureau Inn, on Block Island

Property Values: Quaint shingled homes with wraparound porches predominate, along with a few colorful gingerbreads and modern split-levels. The average sale price is $1.3 million. You might find a rare fixer-upper for $500,000, says a broker. When land is sold, the buyer pays 3 percent of the purchase price into the Block Island trust, which buys open land to preserve it from development. "We're about 33 to 35 percent protected now," says a year-rounder. Some of the island's founding families still own substantial undeveloped tracts, but if the acres become available, buyers will be bidding against the deep-pocketed land trust. Rentals range from $1,000 per week for a two-bedroom cottage to $8,000 per week for a nine-bedroom house on the ocean.

Recommended Realtors: Attwood Real Estate (401-466-5582), Ballard Hall Real Estate (401-466-8883), and Sullivan Real Estate (401-466-5521) all have a good mix of sales and rental listings.

Weekend Visits: The 1661 Inn & Hotel Manisses, outside Old Harbor, is a complex of Victorian cottages, many with ocean views (800-626-4773; doubles start at $185; blockislandresorts.com). The Manisses's dining room is one of the best on the island. Joan Abrams describes the menu as American, "with local fish and herbs from our garden." For down-home fried-fish meals, try the Beachhead (401-466-2249).

 
Next: Go honky-tonk on the Jersey Shore>>>
 
   
Photos: Top by Kenneth Chen, bottom by Stewart Ferebee
From the June 3, 2002 issue of New York Magazine.