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Destinations

Martha's vineyard: the All-American dream

A painfully difficult to get to rock, a few kilometres off the bottom of Massachusetts in the US, Martha's Vineyard has an all-American guest list each summer.

The attorney-general, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, a senior advisor to the president, and several Kennedys also dropped in this August. Only George "Dubya" Bush, who reckons it's a dive for chardonnay-sipping elitists, steers clear.
For all its patriotic stripes, though, Martha's Vineyard feels most like a place Americans go to take a break from themselves. There's no McDonald's. You can't eat a Whopper, catch a movie at the multiplex, nor pick up a box of bullets from Walmart.
In fact, there is no gun crime. The last time a cop used their weapon in the line of duty was to pump five bullets into a marauding wild turkey more than a year ago. You don't need to lock up the house: island alarm systems are only installed to satisfy insurance companies. Many year-rounders even leave their car keys in the ignition (for an extra precaution, take them out and craftily hide them in the centre console).
There is huge wealth on display in small pockets of the island, but there is little in the way of bling. Shiny wheel rims get too scuffed on the dirt roads and high-end fashions clash with the local style of torn T-shirts and tatty thongs. And though it accommodates a generous share of holidaying A-listers, it foregoes the hardcore glitz of the Hamptons and the antiseptic twee of neighbouring Nantucket.
You can watch as Larry David sceptically inspects a pricey bottle of mineral water, eye Bill Murray having a quick dip at Squibnocket Beach, and observe Meg Ryan cycling daintily through Edgartown.
The thing is, once you're there, you likely won't bother. On the island, famous people play second fiddle to fresh seafood and Atlantic sunsets. There are dozens of public trails on pristine conservation land (hewn by glacier) to hike and freshwater ponds — some of the smaller ones are harder to find but can be empty, even at the height of summer, and are clean enough to drink from — to kayak.
Aquinnah is a tiny town at the quiet historic western end of the island, where the Native American tribe Wampanoag is the only indigenous population in the US to have never been entirely displaced. The setting sun reflects spectacularly off a range of craggy sandstone cliffs marking the western tip of the island. In Edgartown to the south, you can tour the old whaler's cottages and try the cobs of corn from Morning Glory farm.
Oak Bluffs is the action town, where pool balls crack and margaritas mix, and where you'll find many of the locals hunkering down, waiting out the summer for the tourists to head back to the mainland — the journey known as "going to America".
Speaking of the boat (the island can be accessed more expensively and precariously by propeller plane), the last few kilometres of your trip to Martha's Vineyard are best enjoyed with a beer and a cup of clam chowder on the top deck. You'll have plenty of time to finish both. The giant vessel moves so slowly that it's as if it just gets a good shove at the dock, gliding into the port town of Vineyard Haven some 45 minutes later.
There's no Starbucks — instead, try a cup of the Ring of Fire coffee from the Scottish Bakehouse in Vineyard Haven and a breakfast sandwich with island eggs and locally grown spinach inside an English muffin. (By the way, there's nothing Scottish about the bakehouse, nor English about the muffins.)
But for all its blasé attitude towards the glitterati, the island can still get a little overcome during the height of summer. It was definitely in a tizzy over the first family visit, not least because the presidential motorcade of 20-plus vehicles stopped everything in its path, en route to the seafood takeaway or golf course. And since there are indications that the Obama’s will be back next year, a good bet would be to plan for a September trip when rent prices are lower, the water is still warm, and all the "Americans" are gone.

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