Elena Bowes

New York-London travel & design writer of a certain vintage looking for meaning and wholeness in life

Gimme Shelter

July 10th, 2015
Shelter Island, Long Island
Wanderings: US

What a difference a ferry makes. I can pledge allegiance to the flag (of which I saw many last 4th of July Weekend) that Shelter Island which lies between the North and South Forks of Long Island  really is the non-Hamptons.

Yes, Shelter Island is surrounded by water and there is no convenient connecting bridge, but it only takes about five minutes to cross from either Greenport to the north or North Haven to the south. North Haven is next door to touristy Sag Harbour which we cycled to for lunch. Sag Harbour is that close. Shelter Island is as serene and peaceful as the Hamptons is not.


About a third of the island is covered by the Mashomack Preserve, and the rest of the island is full of trees, starry skies and the occasional Osprey.


Here’s a beach we went to at lunchtime on one of the busiest American holiday weekends. I rest my case.


This is an island where people go to the post office to pick up their mail, an island without traffic lights, an island without traffic. Shelter Island is about 27 square miles with under 3,000 full-time residents, many of whom can date their ancestors here back to 1776. The island has a small-town, old-fashioned feel.



That either floats your kayak or it doesn’t.


Just because Shelter Island lacks the flash and splash of the Hamptons doesn’t mean that it’s dull. I went with my boyfriend Ken who is a planner with a capital P.


We went sailing, kayaking, biking. We cycled past farmers’ markets, Victorian houses and minimalist barns.


We squeezed in a few excellent pilates classes.


But I drew the line at paddle boarding. We listened to live jazz at the picturesque Ram’s Head Inn one night.


We even gave Andre Balazs’ hip Sunset Beach a whirl for dinner. It was fun, but I preferred it at breakfast. The eggs were delicious, and the crowds were asleep.



Our favourite dinner spot was the popular Vine Street Cafe. Don’t miss the heirloom tomatoes if they’re in season.


We stayed at the charming Chequit, the  newly  re-opened, 37-room boutique hotel, which first opened in 1872. During its heyday in the fifties the centrally-located Chequit is rumoured to have hosted Frank Sinatra, JFK and Miss Monroe amongst others.


No such celebrities spotted anywhere this time, unless you include Marie of the Marie Eiffel lifestyle brand, a real rags to riches local story. Marie came to Shelter Island ten years ago after a debilitating car accident requiring 13 operations left her penniless and addicted to painkillers. She went cold turkey, opened a tiny consignment shop. A designer leant her clothes to sell, Marie borrowed hangers from a dry cleaner and hung the clothes on nails on the wall. Racks were too pricey. Business was initially slow save for one kind customer who came in every Sunday night and  asked,

How’s business?

and bought enough to keep Marie going for another week. That lasted two years. Eventually, Marie got a bank loan, and now owns three shops on the island and one on Sag Harbour. As she says,

The rest is history”.

Marie works 13 hour days, seven days a week and has the biggest smile on the island.


After four action-packed, exhilerating days it was time to wave goodbye to Shelter Island and brave that long ferry ride back to another world.


July, 2015