The Main Room features an extensive
collection of 19th Century art and antiques.

Relais and Chateaux

“Listen to the quality of the silence,” Robin says, speaking softly as we sit facing each other in deep, over-stuffed leather chairs.

In this moment we are being warmed by the glow of an October fire and a glass of San Emilio sherry. “It’s because of the building” she concludes, “It’s just so substantial.”  Indeed, the main edifice of the Charlotte Inn was built in 1864 and it’s here in the Green Room we have settled into an oasis of tranquility on Martha’s Vineyard, the isle eight miles off the coast of Cape Cod. Nestled on a linden-tree shaded street, a block off Main in Edgartown, Innkeepers Gery and Paula Conover have created a place dedicated to reviving Edwardian-era elegance: stunning rooms that are each sumptuously decorated, fine art and antiques in every nook and cranny, meticulously tended gardens, and an internationally acclaimed restaurant. (See the accompanying feature, L’etoile: Gourmet Treasure on Martha’s Vineyard Island.)

Housed below the Coach House suite
is a wood-paneled 1939 Ford station
wagon and a 1920s pony cart.

The Charlotte Inn, open year-around since the Conovers bought it in 1970, is actually comprised of five buildings. In addition to the main building, there is the Carriage House, whose rooms feature private terraces, working fireplaces, double French doors, and timeworn brick courtyards. The Coach House, a refurbished, vintage garage includes one of the inn’s most popular rooms with a beautiful Palladian window through which guests can glimpse Edgartown’s storied harbor. A narrow path leads to the 300-year-old Garden House where rooms offer superb views of charming gardens and in the next door Summer House, notable for its wide verandas, the Conovers have created yet another refuge from the bustle of modern life.

The tranquility we observe does not happen by chance, but rather by a conscious effort to make the inn a place where guests’ desire for privacy and quietude comes first. In fact, the inn does not accept groups of any sort, nor children under 14, and as such, is not a place for everyone. The typical guest is a well-to-do, discriminating traveler who expects to be accommodated in a place that is an exemplar of elegance, refinement, and romance.

The Living Room combines elegance
with a quiet, comfortable atmosphere.

Originally built for Samuel Osborne, the grand home was a fitting symbol of the wealthy merchant’s station. Since the 1920s it has been a haven for generations of discerning travelers during all four of the island’s distinctive seasons. The inn’s interiors reflect an enduring interest in elegance and refinement and behind the buildings’ splendid facades is an extensive collection of 19th century art procured in America and Great Britain. (For more original art and prints visit Tim Conover next door at the Edgartown Art Gallery, also the island’s exclusive rep of famed American Impressionist Ray Ellis.) All of the inn’s antique fixtures are still in use — standing clocks, converted gas lamps, umbrella and hat stands, and all manner of other elegant accoutrements.

All manner of charming antique
accoutrements come together
throughout the inn.

The inn is the only Martha’s Vineyard member of Relais & Chateaux, the fifty-year old association of some 400 plus privately-owned hotels and gourmet restaurants in 40 countries throughout the world. Some are countryside locations, others are former estates, castles, abbeys, or private residences, and according to their marketing mantra, all deliver the standard 5C’s of character, courtesy, calm, charm, and cuisine. Leading travel, leisure, and gourmet magazines have repeatedly named The Charlotte Inn one the best in America.

Entering through the front door into a foyer resplendent in fine antiques and paintings, you get a thrilling sense of having traveled back in time. Straight ahead you approach the grand mahogany desk to sign an old-fashioned ledger and be greeted by Manager Carol Read, a charming, 40-something woman whose reading glasses, perched perilously upon her nose, convey her thoughtful nature. “How was the ferry ride?” she asks in a warm and welcoming tone, and then, “Let’s get you settled in and we can talk about where you’d like to have dinner.” After a short orientation of the main house, including the brief respite in the aforementioned Green Room, we are led, literally, along the garden path to our weekend retreat.

Room One.

Room Five.

Room Eighteen.

Room Nineteen.

Room Three.

Room Fifteen, above.

Bath in Room Fifteen in the Summer House, above.

Room Twenty-One.

We establish ourselves in the Carriage House suite, one of two at the inn, and I can tell immediately it suits Robin well because, within minutes, she has taken a novel and crawled fully-clothed into the down-bedecked bed. I sit by the fire in the adjacent room, one reminiscent of a men’s hunt club, to read the Vineyard Gazette. Established in 1846, it’s one of the last remaining real broadsheet newspapers in the country (fully opened the paper spans nearly 3 feet) and is the main source of news for islanders. The magazines placed around the suite include not just the familiar Architectural Digest, Country Homes and Southern Accents, but also the less common British editions of Tattler, Harpers & Queen, and The Field. The latter is a lushly-designed periodical aimed at the horse and hound set and I flip through the pages momentarily imagining myself as something of a country-squire.

The Grand Mahogany
desk at reception.

A couple of hours later, and fully refreshed, we meet Carol back at the big mahogany desk to look over a book of menus from Edgartown’s restaurants and bistros. We are saving our big appetites for Saturday night at L’etoile, so we choose the nearby Alchemy, an atmospheric, though typically pricey spot, around the corner from the inn. We find places at the bar for dinner and discover a bistro bursting with locals. Our casual conversation soon includes bar mate Bill Hudgins, who first came to Martha’s Vineyard as a young boy in the summer of 1955 while cruising the New England coast on his family’s 60’ Rhodes sailboat. When asked about his profession Hudgins says, “I drive boats,” which he later translates to mean 30 years as a Captain sailing very large yachts for a very wealthy clientele across the North Atlantic between Europe the U.S. and the Caribbean.  Although he settled on the Vineyard only three years ago, Hudgins typifies the island personality and, judging from the constant flow of neighborly encounters, he’s one of the better known characters in Edgartown. After dinner we bid our friendly farewells and retire to the inn and the comfort of our Carriage House hideaway.

Innkeeper Gery Conover with
Ozzie, the official greeter.

The Rose Garden exemplifies the
passion of the inn’s owners.

On most mornings at the inn, this Saturday included, one is likely to find Paula or Gery Conover in the courtyard painting a wrought-iron table or trimming the boxwood hedges into neat globes, even pushing a vintage reel lawn mower around rose-bedecked arches, antique tile borders, and pots of flowering geraniums or impatiens. Devotees of traditional English perennial gardens, their inspired plantings of foxglove, hollyhock, coreopsis, phlox, and lilies converge in a passionate expression of nature’s bounty. In the Garden Cottage, the Conovers’ private sanctuary, artfully placed vintage trowels and watering cans, an old wooden wheelbarrow and even an antiquated seed box may recall the unhurried world of a Merchant-Ivory film.

We brought our car over on the ferry which is a much easier feat in the off-season. It’s a small convertible, fun for touring, and we have plans for a leisurely drive to the six towns on the Vineyard — Aquinnah, Chilmark, Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Vineyard Haven, and West Tisbury — because each one offers a different taste of the island. “Up-island” locales are more remote with agrarian roots that date back centuries. The land is more rugged and hilly culminating with the cliffs at Gay Head. Several years ago we stayed in this area in a renovated boathouse on Nashaquitsa Pond and we’d like to see if our instincts will lead us back to the same place. With a tip from our hosts we set out first for the indoor flea market at the Chilmark Community Center . Poking around in a mix of islander crafts and semi-precious collectibles, we find a perfectly-preserved, 1930s era wood and leather suitcase with brass trim that belonged to one Inga Stenmark, whose nametag is still on the case, and who we are told came from Denmark and still lives on the island. It seems a fitting remembrance of our stay, so at $50 we snap it up and load it in our back seat. The case has a slightly magical effect and I now imagine us touring in an altogether different decade, a time characterized by more lightness and civility.

The Gay Head Lighthouse.

Dine at L'etoile

Our day unfolds at a meandering pace and we become lost in island time, stopping by roadside shops and conversing with shop owners.  We visit the great cliffs at Gay Head, home to descendants of the Wampanoag Indians, the islands first inhabitants, and take in the impressive view of Vineyard Sound. We stop by other natural sites and drive to a point very near the “Quitsa” boathouse where we spent a week once upon a time, and now find old memories that have returned to mingle with the day’s quiet thoughts. We drive out to the picturesque fishing harbor of Menemsha before wending our way through Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs. The hours drift by and it is late afternoon when we find ourselves back in Edgartown, the island’s largest town, still abuzz with weekenders. Happily, we have saved time to do nothing but curl up with another book and lie about our sumptuous suite before dressing for the evening’s main event, dinner at the inn’s award-winning restaurant, L’etoile.

The welcome sign is hung
year-around at The Charlotte
Inn, the isles’
only Relais & Chateaux.

Rates: Weekend room rates In-Season range from $295 to $895 per night. Rates in the Interim-Season are from $275 to $550 with Off-Season rates from $250 to $550. There are 23 rooms and 2 suites at the inn. Cancellation and reservation policies apply to advance credit card charges, early departures and cancellations. For reservations and information call 508/627-4751.

The Island’s Natural Places:

Join the Trustees of Reservations and tour a side of the Vineyard you may not otherwise discover. Their tours travel by over-the-sand vehicle, canoe and kayak and are led by expert naturalists. You can visit the remote sands of Chappaquiddick and the legendary fishing beaches at Wasque Point and Cape Poge Lighthouse. You’ll find rare shorebirds and hawks, piping plover, least tern, and Northern harrier. Photograph egrets, herons, or the American oystercatcher. Paddle by canoe through Poucha Pond and visit the vast expanse of the salt marsh and tranquil tidewaters. See ducks, ospreys, cormorants, and perhaps a great blue heron. Explore Tisbury Great Pond in West Tisbury by canoe or kayak and learn about the local ecology and natural history of Long Point Wildlife Refuge. Observe marine life, shorebirds, and the spectacular sand plains of the refuge. Founded in 1891, The Trustees of Reservations became the first private, statewide conservation and preservation organization in the nation. On Martha’s Vineyard they protect Wasque, Cape Poge, Long Point, Myoti Garden, and Menemsha Hills. The island’s regional office is located at 135 Beach Road in Vineyard Haven. For information and reservations call 508/627-3599.

Getting to The Island:

By Ferry: In season there are hourly ferry trips between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. to and from Woods Hole and either Vineyard Haven or Oak Bluffs. Passenger fares are $6.00 one way for adults and $3.25 for children. Reservations are strongly recommended and if you wish to take an automobile onto the island, $70.00 round-trip plus passenger fares, you’ll need to book well in advance for Friday-Sunday prime season travel. For ferry information visit or call 508/477-8600.

The Island Off-Season:

Many of the inns and hotels on Martha's Vineyard close during the off-season — Columbus Day to Memorial Day — but The Charlotte Inn is open year-around. Innkeeper Gery Conover is proud of saying that, since they purchased the inn in 1970, it has never closed, “not for a day, not for an hour.” For many guests an off-season visit to the inn is preferred as a time to savor the golden, sun-dappled days of Fall or Winter and curl up in front of one of the inn’s welcoming fires with a long-neglected book. From the family gatherings of Thanksgiving to the joys of a traditional country Christmas, the air is crisp, spirits are high and the good-humor of the season prevails. In Spring the island explodes with color, everywhere you turn there are April daffodils and tulips, June roses, and the scent of lilacs in bloom. Off-season is an enchanted time on the island and The Charlotte Inn offers less-expensive rates during this period.

By Plane: There is year-around scheduled air service from Boston, Providence, Hyannis, and other mainland towns. Visit or call 508/771-6944. M.V. airport is located in the center of the island and has facilities for private planes. Charter services are also available.

By Boat: Marina and mooring services are available in four town harbors. Contact the Harbormasters in Edgartown at 508/627-4746, Menemsha at 508/645-2846, Oak Bluffs at 508/693-9644, or Vineyard Haven at 508/696-4249. We have sailed into the Vineyard during high-season and can attest to the need to call ahead for a berth. Without one you will most likely find yourself cruising back to sea after a brief visit.

Relais Chateaux Blog from
Getting Around The Island:

If you arrive by foot, as most visitors do, there are numerous taxi services, bicycle, moped, motorcycle, and auto rental companies located right in Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs. Best of all there is an island bus that runs regularly between each of the six towns. Carol Read at the Charlotte Inn is very knowledgeable about all of these services and can arrange for a rental car or other transportation in advance of your arrival. Free maps of the 25-mile island are conveniently available just about everywhere. Pick one up as soon as you land as you’ll need it to navigate the main streets and back roads, and to find the hidden gems that are tucked away in some unlikely places.

Feature by Jim Hollister, Jetsetters Magazine Luxury Editor. Photos by Jim Hollister, The Charlotte Inn, and Martha’s Vineyard C. of C.