ROCKPORT — We chose The Emerson Inn as our home base during a recent stay in this coastal village town. Ralph Waldo Emerson, the inn’s most famous guest, once referred to it as “a proper summer home.” If Emerson visited today, he might christen it proper year-round.
Bought last year by the Migis Hotel Group, the historic inn and its in-house restaurant, the Pigeon Cove Tavern, also rejuvenated, reopened in May.
Fine art, chandeliers, oriental rugs, and wide, winding staircase retain the historic feel. Light, neutral paint replaced wallpaper. Room rates, which start at $200 in the summer, include a full American breakfast and modern amenities, including a flat-screen TV, Wi-Fi, and spa tubs. Half the rooms face the ocean.
An air of casual elegance pervades the inn. Is it the ocean view? Attentive staff? Or seemingly endless places to rest, what with all the comfy couches, antique rockers, Adirondack chairs, and chaise lounges thoughtfully placed throughout?
Must. Resist. We’re here to explore.
Steps from the inn is the Atlantic Path, one of six free, self-guided walks in Rockport outlined in a brochure available at the Emerson, visitor centers, and many shops. Weaving along the rocky coastline behind coastal homes, it’s a perfect place to paint, read, write, or for birding.
Halibut Point State Park is only a four-minute drive from the inn (daily parking fee, $5 for cars with Massachusetts plates, $6 for out-of-staters) or 20-minute walk. Our walk took longer because we bumped into local artists painting , including Dan DeLouise, owner of DeLouise Studios on Main Street, one of 30-plus galleries in the Rockport Art Colony.
The park has miles of trails. One circles a quarry, a reminder of Rockport’s once-flourishing granite industry. Reaching a lookout point overlooking the ocean, a map pinpoints Mount Agamenticus in Maine and the Isles of Shoals in New Hampshire, both viewable on clear days.
While treating ourselves to ice cream cones at Sunday’s Ice Cream Shop on Bearskin Neck, we discover, hidden in the backyard, front-row seats for viewing Motif No. 1. The dark red fishing shack, decorated with a rainbow of fishing buoys, is an oft-painted and photographed icon, one recognized around the world.
Blinking at us from a distance are America’s last operating twin lighthouses, built in 1861 on Thacher’s Island. We could rent kayaks but instead we book seats on a new six-seater boat tour run by the Thacher Island Association. (Tours ended for the season on Labor Day weekend.) Once there, we walk around the 50-acre grounds, climb 156 steps up the North lighthouse, (the South tower is still maintained by the US Coast Guard), tour the new visitor center, and consider the rustic campground for a possible future trip.
Driving along scenic Route 127, we spot small signs forThe Paper House. Following them into a residential neighborhood, we find it: A house made of — yes, paper. It was made in 1924 by Elis Stenman, a mechanical engineer who constructed the summer cottage for his family by tightly rolling up newspapers like logs and then heavily shellacking the rolls together. Stenman even made the furniture inside from newspaper — a bed, lamps, desk, chair, grandfather’s clock — even a working fireplace. Today, Edna Beaudoin, his grandniece, maintains it and offers a self-guided tour. It costs $2 to visit, paid on the honor system.
Down the street from The Paper House, we discover Cynthia Curtis Pottery. Rows of colorful, handmade mugs hang on a wooden door painted sea-foam green. Inside, ocean-inspired platters, bowls, vases, and mugs cover the tables and walls.
Back in town, we park outside the Rockport Art Association and Museum. It’s one of the country’s oldest art organizations and is astoundingly big. Three buildings house art and, upstairs in the yellow Colonial building, photography.
Knowing our time is limited, we buy tickets to a future performance at the Shalin Liu Performance Center, where the stunning view of the ocean behind the stage plays backup to the wide range of performances year-round.
Pigeon Cove Tavern
Returning to the Emerson, it’s time for dinner. Wide glass doors opening from the dining room to the deck create an unmatched, 110-seat alfresco experience against, if you’re lucky, brilliant sunsets.
Chef Doug Papows’s farm-to-table menu features locally sourced seafood, craft beers, a well-curated wine list, and creative cocktails and spirits. We started with chilled raw oysters ($3 each) from Damariscotta, Maine, and truffled rangoons ($13). Those are a French riff on the Asian appetizer, a wonton noodle stuffed with English peas, chèvre with charred green garlic aioli, fresh thyme and chive oil, then lightly fried. The Sasquatch smokehouse sampler ($20) of smoked salmon, cod, trout, and mussels covered a wooden platter. Virgilio’s Italian Bakery in Gloucester provides the crostini and breads. Pan-seared scallops ($28), accompanied by a spring quinoa with a citron sauce and beurre blanc, were hard to resist, and just as pleasing was the prime burger ($15), a juicy patty covered with applewood bacon, cheddar, charred green garlic aioli, and house pomme frites on a bulky St. Joseph roll.
As the sun set, we savored a nightcap in the lounge, promising to return again.Kathy Tully can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.