Are You Kidding Me?
What’s a stressed out diva to do when she is desperate to escape the magical madness of the Big Apple but air travel is a hassle and the dollar is weaker than Beaujolais Nouveau? “Go to New Jersey, ” said my friend Karen - the professional traveler. I laughed. Heartily.
“Seriously, go to Spring Lake on the Jersey Shore. It’s supposed to be really lovely,” she insisted.
The Jersey Shore? I’m no frisky coed on summer vacation. Has Karen lost her mind? After some gentle cajoling, I type Spring Lake into Google. “The sweetheart of the Jersey Shore” pops up. Hmm, this looks promising. Rambling Victorian houses. A 2-mile non-commercial Boardwalk. 11 historic inns. My skepticism melts away. Spring Lake here I come!
Two days later I pack my red Samsonite and hop the subway down to Penn Station. The ticket agent at the New Jersey Transit booth is extremely patient with my naiveté about the workings of the rails and he patiently explains that I have to transfer at Long Branch. $21.50 buys me an off-peak round trip ticket and I climb aboard the North Jersey Coast Line train for the 2 hour trip to Spring Lake. It actually feels like an adventure. As the train rumbles down the tracks deep into New Jersey, I realize how little I know about my neighboring state. Atlantic City. Jersey fresh peaches. Bruce Springsteen. Is that all I know about New Jersey? Truly shameful and unacceptable. These 3 days in Spring Lake will be my Intro to New Jersey for Self-Involved and Jaded New Yorkers.
Spring Lake: The 411
Incorporated in 1892, Spring Lake is located in Monmouth County, New Jersey and is about 65 miles from New York City. According to the Irish Centre’s website, “the area is known locally as the Irish Riviera, a name given when Martin Maloney's huge estate, Ballingarry, dominated the area.”
Covering a land area of only 1.31 square miles, Spring Lake has a population of almost 3,500 and about half of those are year-round residents. Spring Lakers know how to enjoy life – this small town has more than 60 shops and galleries, 7 public tennis courts and easy access to golf, boating and other leisure time activities. A picturesque town of turn-of-the century Victorian homes, Spring Lake’s time-stood-still quality is reinforced by a total of zero stop lights. Forget hailing a cab but bike rentals are easily arranged and your feet will take you far.
Home Away from Home
The Chateau Inn & Suites was my home base during my Spring Lake sojourn. Just 3 blocks away from the train station, the Chateau was formerly a Victorian home built circa 1888. Known in the 1950’s as the “Summer Home of the Stars”, many luminaries of the silver screen cocooned at the Chateau, including Basil Rathbone, Geraldine Page, and Ann-Margret. Fast forward 50 years and the Chateau is still sought out by bold faced names looking to relax in unpretentious luxury. Recent guests have included supermodels, Broadway stars, actors, and bad boy rockers on their best behavior!
Jean and John Smith were the original proprietors of the Chateau in the 1950's and the property is now managed and owned by their son Scott. Scott’s attention to detail and impeccable taste have transformed the Chateau into an appealing hybrid property that masterfully combines the ease and comfort of an inn with modern luxuries. Not a lace doily in sight. The Chateau’s 37 guestrooms and one-room suites feature 42-inch plasma televisions, imported marble bathrooms, Jacuzzis, wood burning fireplaces and wet bars. The Aveda amenities in the bathroom are also a very nice touch. Exquisitely appointed with Italian fabrics, plush leather sofas, and mahogany furniture, the rooms also feature patios, sundecks, or balconies. One of the simple pleasures of my stay was grabbing a cup of tea from the continental breakfast buffet and bringing it back to my room to sip while sitting on the balcony and catching glimpses of Spring Lake ( yes, there really is a lake) through the trees. WI-FI access made staying in touch an easy option but Spring Lake’s beauty inspired me to ignore my laptop, Blackberry and all manners of digital nuisances. I did, however, put in a phone call to wise Karen to tell her how beautiful everything was!
People watchers will enjoy observing the eclectic mix of travelers at the Chateau. During my 3 days I encountered young honeymooners still decked out in their nuptial garb, a stylish mom vacationing with her two adorable little girls, a group of friends sharing tea in the lounge, and single travelers looking for a time-out. Scott and all of the staff at the Chateau were gracious hosts and easy conversationalists. Robert, the General Manager, indulged my curious nature with old pictures and news clippings of the Chateau. Lisa, at the reception desk, shared my passion for travel memoirs written by women traveling to far-flung locales in search of romance. Scott chivalrously rescued me from a 10 block walk to dinner in Manhattan high heels with a ride to the restaurant and an insiders’ tour of the town. I was spoiled and loved every minute of it!
If you prefer to stay closer to the beach, The Breakers boasts 73 rooms and is the last of Spring Lake’s seaside grand hotels. The largest full-service hotel in Spring Lake, The Breakers’ seaside veranda is the perfect place to enjoy a sunset cocktail. For a cozier experience, choose the Grand Victorian. Also located by the sea, the décor of the Grand Victorian’s 13 rooms is inspired by the calming colors and ambiance of the beach. The charm of Spring Lake is that it offers accommodations to suit every personality from the bed and breakfast traditionalist to the edgier modern traveler. To find your perfect Spring Lake oasis, visit www.historicinnsofspringlake.com.
So Much to See
The Chateau is a comfortable walking distance from all of the attractions in Spring Lake. Just across the street is the bucolic lake with its 3 footbridges that beckon you to languidly stroll cross them. During season, the Lake is even stocked with trout for fishing. The Spring Lake Historical Society is also across the street and the knowledgeable volunteers will gladly answer any of your questions.
The Atlantic Ocean is perhaps Spring Lake’s most alluring natural sight. A leisurely 15 minute stroll from the Chateau will take you past majestic Victorian homes and sycamore lined streets and before you know it the salty sea air is tickling your nostrils. Spring Lake’s 2 mile boardwalk is a pristine non-commercial treasure and the longest non-commercial boardwalk in New Jersey. Voted one of the 10 best beaches in America, the beach and boardwalk are tranquil yet energetic with joggers, couples holding hands, families lunching on the beach, young mothers with baby carriages and old-timers shooting the breeze.
If you love the theater, plan your visit around one of the Spring Lake Theater Company’s critically acclaimed productions. This 350+ seat theatre is housed in the lovely Spring Lake Community House and presents 6 shows per season of both original and classic works. The costumes and sets are lavish and many of the actors have professional credentials. The Spring Lake Community House is also home to the dollhouse like public library – a must see!
Enjoy a moment of splendid solitude amidst the captivating frescoes and other impressive works of art in St. Catharine Church (circa 1910). St. Catharine’s holds court dramatically alongside the lake. To find the church simply follow the bells. Throughout the day St. Catherine’s melodic (believe-it-or-not they’re electronic) bells chime throughout Spring Lake. A clever bow to modern times in this timeless place.
Forget the Diet - Fresh & Fabulous Food
It’s no surprise that many of Spring Lake’s culinary offering are inspired by the sea. Chef Mark Mikolajczyk of the Black Trumpet creates his menu around what the local “day boat’ fishermen have reeled in that day. Not frozen. Not flown in. Chef Mikolajczyk selects fish fresh from the dock each day and serves dishes that are innovative but allow the natural taste of the ingredients to shine through. The restaurant is named after his favorite mushroom and standouts at the Black Trumpet include fresh from the dock Skillet Seared Fluke served with Fingerling Potatoes, Corn & Beans and Porcini Dusted Manasquan Inlet Day Boat Scallops served over a Rock Shrimp Potato Pancake.
Chef Claudette Herring is working wonders with Italian rustic fare at Vivere Ristorante at the Grand Victorian. Born in Tuscany, Chef Herring serves satisfying and authentic meals inspired by the flavors and textures of Northern Italy and Mediterranean country cuisine. Her Stuffed Pork Tenderloin cooked in a Madeira Demi-Glace and served with Sautéed Pearl Onions, Pancetta & Fresh Peas is a mouthwatering mélange of simple home-style cooking melded with the artistry and technique of a passionate pro. Vivere’s romantic seaside setting makes it easy to believe Chef Herring when she proclaims “A tavola non si invecchia mai.” (At the table, one never grows old.)
For a lively night out and a taste of Spring Lake’s Irish roots, stop by St. Stephen’s Green Publick House. The building may be more than 120 years old but the energy is upbeat and very now! Sit at the bar or at a fireside table at this spacious and handsome wood paneled pub. Live Celtic music performed by local musicians provides an upbeat and genuine soundtrack while enjoying a pint of beer and traditional favorites such as Shepard’s Pie and Potato Leek Soup. Save room for the Irish Banoffee Pie – an oddly delicious pie made with bananas, condensed milk, and homemade whipped cream drizzled with toffee on a graham cracker crust. When I first saw the menu, I had no idea of what the heck a “banoffee” was. Once the manager explained it to me, it was embarrassingly obvious that the word Banoffee is a portmanteau fusing the words banana and toffee. That little tidbit will impress your dining companions!
To further indulge your sweet tooth, Susan Murphy’s Old Time Ice Cream and Jean Louise Handmade Candies offer good old-fashioned sugary goodness with a side of small-town quaint ambiance. Who’s On First is a local favorite for diner style deli eats.
Pamper Me Please!
Lest, all this talk of sea breezes and freshly caught fish leads you to think that Spring Lake was krypton to my diva tendencies, au contraire. Spring Lake taught me how to tap into a lower maintenance and slower paced diva. A stop and smell the cherry blossoms kind of diva. If you wish to become acquainted with the local Spring Lake fashionistas, Juli Mei Purity Beauty Lounge is the place to go. If Juli Mei were in Manhattan, I would be there at least twice a week or be tempted to apply for a part-time job. Located on Spring Lake’s main shopping thoroughfare Third Avenue, Juli Mei is named after gorgeous owner Juli Scrabis and her oh-so-adorable daughter Mei. New Jersey’s first boutique spa “dedicated to using natural and organic ingredients, Juli Mei is an open and airy beauty emporium with a Soho vibe.
I indulged in a mineral makeover and was delighted with the final result. Makeup artist Diana’s artistic touch combined with the phenomenal La Bella Donna mineral cosmetics left me looking fresh and rejuvenated not made up. Juli Mei sells a variety of high-end cosmetic, skincare and fragrance brands including Jane Iredale, Jurlique, Calypso and L’Artisan Parfumeur. The dressaholic in me was thrilled by the thoughtful selection of stylish frocks, including several pieces from high end designer Tracy Reese. You can easily spend the day at Juli Mei: have a massage and a facial, enjoy a makeup application, buy a fantastic outfit with the perfect accessories, spritz on some fragrance and watch out Spring Lake! Other Third Avenue shops include The Irish Centre, The Pink Pony, Ye Towne Shop and many more.
Rejuvenated and Educated
Where did the three days go? Looking back on my trip I did not do anything extraordinary. I walked. I ate. I shopped. Arguably, these are quotidian activities that can be done right here at home. Yet, three days later I feel utterly energized and rejuvenated. I slept like a baby every night at the Chateau. Then it hits me - simplicity is the magic of Spring Lake. In Spring Lake timelessness wins over trends. The unhurried pace and peaceful ambiance enabled me to truly experience the incomparable Zen of a seaside stroll, the awakening of taste buds to a beautifully prepared meal, and the exhilaration of a stroll with no destination in mind.
Spring Lake, without smugness or conceit, showed me that the place next door can sometimes be the most magical of all. I was just 2 hours from home but I discovered a destination that perhaps too many New Yorkers dismiss too quickly. I don’t claim to be an expert on all things New Jersey but I can say with conviction that Spring Lake offers accessible beauty, elegance, and luxury - everything a diva adores! It turns out that sometimes peace of mind is a New Jersey Transit ride away. Go figure.
Karen, feel free to say, “I told you so.”
The Chateau Inn & Suites
Historic Inns of Spring Lake
Juli Mei/Purity Beauty Lounge
Spring Lake Theater
Spring Lake Chamber of Commerce