My assignment? To offer you, our readers a picture postcard of what it is like here in Cape May during the holiday season.
I, for one, would love to know what the inside of a B&B looks like at Christmas. Anyone coming into town can see the exterior but only a select few get a peek inside. So, it’s off I go with my camera. I picked the perfect week just before Thanksgiving weekend and just after.
All the innkeepers are scurrying around trying to get ready for their holiday guests.
My first stop was the John Wesley Inn on Gurney Street. Bonnie and Lance Pontin are the innkeepers. Bonnie greets me at the door. I’ve never been inside the John Wesley.
It is the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and I feel like a little kid when I walk in. The front parlor is warm and cozy. There are already dolls and teddy bears about the room.
The Christmas tree in the corner by the window is so colorful. I’m thinking, if I were a kid, what fun it would be to run down the stairs and turn the corner to find this tree on Christmas morning.
And what fun it was to walk into the John F. Craig House on Columbia Avenue Friday after Thanksgiving. Barbara Masemore welcomes me to the inn. Her husband Chip is still putting the finishing touches to his flying Santa which is suspended from the ceiling in the sun porch. But again, it is the front parlor that beckons me. The fireplace was lit as was the tree. The songbook was open inviting me to come on over and play a carol or two but what I really want to do is just sit in the parlor and look at everything – the Lionel train set around the tree, the cute little ornament on the tree of Santa in his birthday suit with only his Santy hat to cover …
well never mind.
The point being – there is so much to take in, so many details to discover that is almost like that book I Spy… I spy a lovingly inviting place to sit back and get away from the fast pace.
My next stop that morning was The Mainstay Inn also on Columbia. I am greeted at the door by Diane, the Mainstay’s innkeeper. After the preliminary introductions, she goes back into the kitchen to finish her chores and I am alone in this impressive house. The front parlor is regal and more in keeping (ha ha all puns intended) with the gentlemen’s gambling club that the Mainstay was built to accommodate.
The Christmas tree is, of course, 13 feet tall and it is eerie standing here with the game table at the opposite end of this very long room already set for a card game. I can almost imagine the servants carrying silver trays of bourbon and sherry to the men sitting about the room. And I think it would be Chopin not Irving Berlin they would be playing on the lovely piano next to the Christmas tree.
Monday morning, I pay a visit to the Mission Inn on New Jersey Avenue (the east side of town). Innkeeper Susan Babineau-Roberts comes to the door and as soon s I walk into the foyer, I am awe struck. Of course, I knew it was a Mexican-styled house and décor but it is so different, so airy and uncluttered. Susan has just finished cooking breakfast and checking out the holiday weekend guests.
The smell of baked pears and the aromas of quiche and baked bread fills the air. The tree in the corner next to the fireplace is lit, as are the greens-laden sconces on the walls about this very large, yet inviting room. The star motif throughout the house, including the tree topper, distinguishes the Mission Inn’s décor in ways too numerous to describe. Somehow the star says Happy Holidays, we’re always happy here, and everyday is Christmas to us. Raymond Roberts tells me the star outside was to be a temporary decoration but the idea struck such a chord with their guests – that it has become a part of the Mission.
The Queen Victoria on Ocean Street, awaited me that same afternoon – Innkeeper Anna Marie McMain graciously showed me the Queen Vic, the adjacent property, the Prince Albert on Columbia Ave, and the Queens Hotel on Ocean across the street from her sister property.
History exudes from these three inns and it is particularly embodied in the three Christmas trees on display. In the front parlor of the Queen Victoria is the McMain family tree. Upstairs is the tree decorated in the fashion of the 1890s where the concept of less is more was way beyond the Victorians. In the front parlor of the Prince Albert the cutest little tree is on display. It is an 1840s tree, pre-Victorian, not free standing and very dedicated to the more pagan aspects of the winter solstice those being fruit primarily. And in the dining room of the Prince Albert is an 1870s tree, also on a table top and filled with stuff but not nearly as much stuff as the 1890s tree. Finally, the lobby of the Queens Hotel is rich and warm. The tree in the corner as you walk in is welcoming, not imposing, but the best thing is the mirror which, surrounded by greens, reflects the warmth of the entire room.
My last stop is the Buttonwood Inn at Broadway and Myrtle avenues in West Cape May. This is the perfect place to stay and watch the Christmas parade. Diane and Roger Ring are the innkeepers and the minute I walk into the front parlor, I am hooked. I can keep my eye on the Christmas tree in front of the large picture window and still watch the parade as it passes by.
If you happen to stay at the Buttonwood on a week when there is no Christmas parade, no worries, the cozy sofa arrangement in front of the fireplace will be more than enough to keep you happy. But the nicest touch in this room is the piano and the harp at the opposite end from the window. I can’t play the piano nor the harp but just thinking about playing both makes me feel serene. The room and the inn look like a divine place to find serenity at any time of the year.