CHATHAM, Mass. — Cape Cod's 70 miles protrudes into the Atlantic Ocean like an arm flexing its biceps, the leisurely and sparsely settled north shore sprinkled with homes of old-time sea captains, the more contemporary south a maze of shopping malls, condos and summer traffic.
In addition, 300 miles of coast, more than 350 lakes and ponds and excellent beaches and harbor facilities are keeping Cape Cod a summer vacationland.
Surely among its 15 towns and 70 villages you'll find a spot along the shores--Nantucket Sound or Cape Cod Bay--to suit your idea of a pleasant vacation.
Getting here: Fly United, USAir, American, TWA, Delta or Northwest to Boston, regional airlines from there to Hyannis on the cape. There's also regular bus and train service from Boston to Hyannis.
How long/how much? Vacations usually run a week or so, some families visiting for the entire summer. You'll find accommodations and dining at every price level, but generally very moderate.
A few fast facts: Best time for a visit is late May until mid-October. Indian summers are glorious. It takes about two hours to drive the length of the cape. And water on the Atlantic and Nantucket Sound side is warmer for swimming.
Getting settled in: Shoreway Acres (Shore Street, Falmouth; $65 to $95 B&B double) is a sprawling complex of 19th-Century seafarer's homes and more modern buildings on a tree-lined street in Falmouth at the southwest end of the cape. Shoreway is a family-oriented place, with indoor and outdoor pools, plenty of lawns and garden, and a more-than-generous buffet breakfast.
Prices vary. Some accommodations are two rooms suitable for four adults, others have refrigerators or full kitchens. This is a very relaxed place and a short walk to the beach.
The Inn at Fernbrook (481 Main St., Centerville; $115-$125 B&B double) is a century-old Victorian set on 17 acres with gardens and ponds. Several rooms have four-posters and functioning fireplaces. The house was built with no two bedrooms sharing a common wall, assuring privacy.
What they do share is a feeling of opulence, with cherry, maple and oak floors, Oriental carpets, handsome furnishings, plus a few books and a decanter of sherry in each room or suite. Breakfast in the formal dining room could be fresh juice, Irish soda bread, eggs Benedict, espresso or cafe au lait.
The Green Harbor Motor Lodge (Ascapesket Road, East Falmouth; $74-$76 summer, $56-$60 September-October) is a contemporary place on one of the small inlets of the south coast. It has a pool, a boating pier and a broad water-side lawn. More expensive rooms, studios and cottages have kitchenettes and fireplaces.
Regional food and drink: Cape Cod offers plenty of fresh seafood and exceptional clam chowder. Provincetown's Lobster Pot restaurant has won the Chowder Bowl trophy four years in a row, with the Windjammer Lounge in Hyannis a close second.
Portuguese dishes abound at the Lobster Pot, including hearty kale soup and a Portuguese version of chowder with garlic and herbs. Marvelous pastries and breads.
Good dining: Mattakeese Wharf (Barnstable Harbor) is built on piling at dockside. It's a pretty place where you can dine inside or under blue and white canvas beside the water. You might start with baked stuffed quahogs, mussels Dijon or bay scallops en brochette. Then try king crab meat au gratin, crab-stuffed haddock or lobster.
Christian's (443 Main St., Chatham) is an old home turned into a delightful restaurant. You'll find a chevre cheese topped with Westphalian ham and sun-dried tomatoes, then wrapped in grape leaves and grilled.
Christian's littleneck clams are lightly baked, flavored with butter, garlic, herbs and spices. And there's an upstairs with a less-expensive pub menu such as you'll never find in Britain, unless you know of one that skewers scallops, shrimp and swordfish marinated in ginger, lime and tamari, then grills the lot.
Flying Bridge, Portofino Room (220 Scranton Ave., Falmouth) offers the best of all possible combinations: an elegant and outstanding Northern Italian restaurant, access to the finest seafood, and total mastery in the kitchen and service.
Dine inside or on a balcony over Falmouth Inner Harbor on a first course of penne alla vodka (sauteed with fresh tomato, basil, vodka, prosciutto and a touch of cream) or fettuccine di funghi con sugo de noce (mushroom fettuccine with walnut sauce). Then choose from lobster with mussels sauteed in a creamed saffron and white wine sauce, or red snapper with tarragon.
Going first-class: The Chatham Bars Inn (Shore Road, Chatham; $230-$290 double, including breakfasts and dinners) was built in 1914, with the Cape Cod-style main inn considered a New England landmark.