Autumn is the moment for a road trip along the east coast of the US. Take the boat to Nantucket along the way, says Kate Simon

Watch your step in Nantucket Town. I didn't and was dealt a bloody nose courtesy of a loose brick on the old cobbled path along Easton Street. Either that or I'd enjoyed the generous hospitality at dinner a little too much. I'd dined at the Brant Point Grill, an upmarket steak and lobster eaterie run by my hosts, Nantucket Island Resorts, the owners of four hotels, two restaurants, two spas and a marina on this outpost off the Massachusetts coast – a positive empire on an island just 3.5 miles wide and 14 miles long.

I retired to nurse my wounds at my home for the night, Orion, one of The Cottages & Lofts at the Boat Basin, the company's collection of cute little shingled houses and lofts that line the wharfs of this harbour, where slain whales were once landed. The views of the waterfront are quite benign today, nothing more dramatic than a beautiful sunset is likely to disturb your clambake on the terrace.

Next day, I crossed to the north-east coast – hardly an arduous journey – to The Wauwinet, an elegant shoreside mansion topped with the signature grey shingle roof required by law to sit atop houses here. This feted hotel delivers a refined take on east-coast life, where guests can enjoy a bracing walk along the beach, then cosy up among the florals and plaids in this luxurious country retreat. Definitely one for the romantics.

The rooms

The Cottages & Lofts feature 24 cottages and five lofts, from studios to three-bedroom dwellings. The styling is seaside barefoot luxury, expressed through pine flooring and nautical colours. They're an immensely good-value choice for families, offering plenty of space and fully equipped kitchens. And you're not quite cut adrift – housekeeping is provided and there's even a shuttle bus to beaches where towels and chairs are laid on.

The Wauwinet is a calm, intimate hotel of 32 guest rooms and cottages, with the most charming communal spaces, from the cosy drawing room to the outdoor terrace. My only grumble, the thunderous noise made by the heater in my room: inexcusable in a hotel of this standard.

The food and drink

As well as the Brant Point Grill, set in the White Elephant Hotel, Nantucket Island Resorts offers fine dining at Topper's at The Wauwinet. Otherwise, stop off for clam chowder at the Club Car in Nantucket Town, a diner set in an old Pullman Coach which once served the island's now obsolete railroad. Self-caterers can stock up on essentials at the grocery and buy fruits of the ocean at the Straight Wharf Fish Store.

The extras

To properly understand Nantucket, you need to visit the Whaling Museum (, a well-presented space which features the 46ft skeleton of a sperm whale and charts the history of this remote community and the bloody business of hunting whales. In contrast, the African-American Meeting House, dating from the 1820s and now owned by the Museum of African-American History in Boston, is a landmark that deserves more tender loving care (there's a self-guided walking tour that plots sites on the island linked to local black heritage). Other historic sites include the 17th-century Old Mill, America's oldest operating windmill, and Brant Point and Great Point Lighthouses. The island is a National Historic District and it has a swathe of protected wilderness at its heart. Explore by bike and then retire to the spa at the White Elephant Hotel or The Wauwinet.

The access

The Woof Cottages at The Cottages & Lofts are pet friendly, and part of the fee you pay for your pet to stay is donated to an animal charity.

The bill

A night at The Cottages & Lofts at The Boat Basin costs from £140 for room only. One night's B&B at the Wauwinet costs from £140. British Airways (0844 493 0758; boston) offers a seven-night fly-drive through Boston from £419, including return flights and car hire.

The address

As well as The Cottages & Lofts and The Wauwinet, Nantucket Island Resorts features other accommodation at the White Elephant Hotel and Residences, and the Jared Coffin House. For information go to