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Photo Travel Essay of Fairhaven and Mattapoisett, Mass.
"Two coastal Massachusetts towns that remain true to their roots"
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Picture of Fairhaven MA Town Hall and Linrary
A section of downtown Fairhaven, Mass., featuring the Millicent Public Library (front right) and Fairhaven Town Hall (photos by Eric H.)

Article and photos by Eric H.

While many coastal towns have become gentrified, refined and overly precious and touristy, towns like Fairhaven and Mattapoisset remain joyously normal and unpretentious. On a recent day trip to these southeastern Massachusetts towns east of historic New Bedford here are some observations...

Fairhaven
Fairhaven is more than a fair haven.

Ideally located just over the bridge from urban New Bedford, you'll find plenty of coastal scenery in Fairhaven where the Acushnet River flows into Buzzards Bay, an arm of the Atlantic Ocean. Fort Phoenix State Reservation on Green St. offers some nice public beachfront where swimming and hiking are most popular. The most impressive part of Fairhaven, however, is the historic downtown district where you'll can still feel the whaling and shipbuilding feel in the air. Fairhaven, in fact, was once --along with New Bedford -- one of the most important whaling centers in the United States. The mix of sea captain's homes, well-maintained smaller (but still pretty big) colonial and Victorians and public buidlings are perhaps one of the most impressive I've seen in New England. The stately gothic tall brick Town Hall, the Italian Renaissance Millicent Library, and the English Gothic Unitarian Memorial Church -- with its castle-like look and beautiful front lawn -- will all make you want to walk around the block again and again. I did just that!

The downtown is small but tree-lined and charming and includes a few restaurants, an old barber shop  and a Fairhaven Visitor's Center that offers walking tours of the historic Fairhaven district. Usually, I want more stores in a downtown, but in small town Fairhaven it doesn't matter: here, it's just nice to walk the area and admire all the architectural history and water views. Plus, with plenty of restaurants and stores on commercial Route 6 and an excellent dining and shopping scene in the Historic Whaling District of New Bedford, you'll do just fine.

Also of significance in Fairhaven is the Elizabethan style Fairhaven High School and a 3.5 mile bike trail with nice views of the water.

Fairhaven is truly beautiful. It doesn't get much press, but it has plenty of pull with us, given its pure New England coastal beauty with a significant amount of well-preserved history.   Book a hotel room at the lowest rate in Fairhaven

Mattapoisett

Picture of Mattapoisett Shipyard Park

Shipyard Park in Mattapoisett (photo by Eric )

My wife, Joan, used to vacation in Mattapoisett during childhood with her family (the Kerrigans) where the brothers and sisters, mom and dad, and relatives gathered for memorable times swimming, picnicking, clam digging and boating.

The town doesn't look much different than 40 years ago with well-kept summer homes and rentals and pleasant modest Cape Cod-like residential neighborhoods. The Town Hall looks like a home, too, nestled in a residential neighborhood. Upon arriving at Mattapoisett, you can instantly see and feel the appeal of Mattapoisett with some wonderful Buzzards Bay coastal views and recreational opportunities at Shipyard Park and the Town Beach.  There's no hype, bright lights, obnoxious souvenir shops or overpriced restaurants. What you see is what you get -- a nice, relaxed community that wouldn't look out of place on the roads less traveled at Cape Cod.

Back in the day, the Kerrigans always gathered at the Nest Diner where hard-working Uncle Joe provided comfort food. The Nest is now called The South Coast Local (81 Fairhaven Rd., Route 6) and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I arrived early at the diner and was the only one in the dining room. Eventually, many locals arrived sharing relaxed conversation with one of its owners, Sherry. I told Sherry about Joan's family and The Nest and she knew and appreciated the diner's lineage. As validation of Sherry's respect for the diner, Joan said the diner hadn't changed much at all after viewing the photos I took. Sherry and her husband Bill, who is an accomplished local chef, have kept the place spotless and meticulous with not a glass or plate out of place behind the counter.

I sampled a delicious light but tangy New England clam chowder and tuna melt, and will definitely be back. Nice to see a diner that holds onto to its past while taking pride in its current presence.  "We make everything from scratch!," exclaimed Sherry before I returned home.

While at home, I kept going back to my digital camera to see the photos of Fairhaven and Mattapoisett. Like visiting other places, one of my main criteria of a "A List" travel destination is "Does this place serve as just a travel destination or could you picture yourself living here?" While I strongly believe that a travel destination should serve as an escape from the routine, I also value the sense of place of a community. Preservation, nice people, a balanced quality of life are just a few of the criteria I look at when evaluating a town or city. With Fairhaven and Matapoisett, the answer is an enthusthiatsic "Yes!" to being nice travel destinations and "real places." Look forward to returning soon!

Image of South Coastal Diner, Mattapoisett MA

Picture of South Coast Local Diner, Matapoisett MA

South Coast Local Diner (photo by Eric H.)

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