- Where to Go
- The Best of Vermont
- Rumblings of Revolution
- New, New England Dining
- Boston’s Artistic Expression
- Vermont Leaf Peeping
- Into the Wild
- Vermont Skiing at Its Best
- Visit Vermont’s Maple Sugar Shacks
- Connecticut for Kids
- Vermont’s Covered Bridges
- A Shore Thing
- Vermont with Kids
- Portland Maine Art Galleries
- Small-Town Flavor
- Connecticut’s Wine Trails
- New Hampshire’s Farmers Markets
- A Weekend of Vermont Art
- Family Matters
- Maine Wilderness Camps
- Vermont Cheddar Houses
- Connecticut Spas
The grey cliffs that rise from the waves of Block Island’s north shore are conspicuously naked. If this were another island within such easy grasp of both Boston and New York City, they would be capped with sprawling homes of moneyed summer folk. But only the green fringe of conservation land tops the cliffs of Clay Head, the first sight that you are likely to see of the island coming over on the ferry from Point Judith. It’s a fitting introduction to an island that counts conservation land as almost half of its land area, the result of a dogged campaign by island residents eager to preserve Block Island’s sense of tranquility.
Since the secret got out a few years ago, Block Island has been reluctantly colonized by the overflow of tourists from the Vineyard and the Hamptons, and the main drag of Old Harbor can get crowded in summer. Especially during the shoulder season, however, you can still find deserted beaches, country roads scenically bordered by stone walls, and dramatic vistas of clay and limestone that plummet 250 feet down to the waves below.
The heart of Block Island is Old Harbor, which has a population of just 800 in the winter but swells with as many as 10,000 seasonal visitors. On the fringes of nearby Great Salt Pond, New Harbor is a bit more upscale, with anchorages for pleasure craft gracing the waterfront. Even so, the overriding attitude of the entire island is unpretentious and even a bit funky, the legacy of the island’s agrarian past and perhaps too of the hardships it has faced over the years.
Stuck out all alone in its eponymous sound, Block Island has always been easy pickings for invaders, including pirates and French privateers who were constantly sacking the island’s early settlements. (It’s rumored still that no less a seadog than Captain Kidd buried treasure on the north shore.) The early settlers made their livings through agriculture, and stone walls and sheep herds are still to be found within its shores.
In the second half of the 19th century, it enjoyed a brief time as a tourist destination, when its fame as “Bermuda of the North” sprouted leviathan grand hotels of the period. These days, however, the joy of visiting for many summertime guests is rambling among unspoiled trails and grassland, biking the roads with the wind and sea spray in their faces, and topping their days off with long afternoons sunbathing beneath the cliffs.
Getting to Block Island
The easiest way to get to the island is by ferry. Block Island Ferry (401/783-7996, www.blockislandferry.com) runs boats year-round from Point Judith (State Pier, Rte. 108, Galilee, 55 min.) and during the summer from Newport (Fort Adams State Park, July–early Sept., 2 hrs.). If you just have to get there, Island Hi-Speed Ferry (877/733-9425, www.islandhighspeedferry.com) runs a fast boat from Point Judith that gets there in half the time. From Connecticut, Block Island Express (860/444-4624 or 401/466-2212, www.longislandferry.com/bif/home.htm) runs a fast ferry from New London (2 Ferry St., 1.25 hrs.).
Block Island also sees a limited amount of air traffic. New England Airlines (56 Airport Rd., Westerly, 800/243-2460, www.block-island.com/nea) has regular flights from Westerly Airport in South County, while Action Airlines (East Haddam, Conn., 800/243-8623, www.actionairlines.net) has flights from New London/Groton airport in Connecticut.
Cars are not only unnecessary on Block Island, they are liable to be more hassle than they are worth. Instead, rent a bike or moped in town. Try Old Harbor Bike Shop (432 Water St., 401/466-2029) at the ferry landing, or the slightly less expensive Island Moped and Aldo’s Mopeds (Weldon’s Way, 401/466-5018). If you are just craving four wheels, the former also rents cars, though expect to pay dearly for the privilege. For the occasional auto trip, several taxis run service throughout the island, including Monica’s Taxi (401/742-0000) and Mig’s Rig (401/480-0493, www.migsrigtaxi.com).
© Michael Blanding and Alexandra Hall from Moon New England, 2nd Edition