In a town full of elaborate Victorian mansions, the Peter Shields Inn stands out, a sparkling white, stately Georgian Revival-style house situated mere steps from the beach. My husband and I arrived outside one recent Sunday afternoon as the sun was setting, casting a golden glow over the pillars that flank the Inn entrance, a dramatic welcome to Cape May.
The Peter Shields Inn is a wonderful blend of B&B intimacy and high-end hotel luxury, located at the most southern tip of New Jersey. With only nine rooms, it’s small enough to feel cosy, but the service and style give it an upscale atmosphere. Our first taste of this came when we checked into our room, located in prime position at the front of the house (hello, ocean view!), and were greeted by a waiting bottle of chilled champagne and even a Christmas gift from the staff.
After a sip or two of the bubbles, we headed to the beach to watch the sunset – which just so happened to be the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen. In the summer months, beach chairs and towels are available from the Inn, and the town lives up to its century-old tradition as a popular vacation destination, but in the winter months wellies and scarves are more appropriate than beach chairs and cocktails. For me, the winter evening was nothing short of perfect: an empty stretch of sand for just the two of us to enjoy.
When the sun slipped below the horizon, the unusually mild December temperatures dropped rapidly, so we hurried back through the pillars and up the imposing double grand staircase to our seaside retreat. I loved how the Inn was decorated in a contemporary style that still displayed nods to the Inn’s original incarnation as summer cottage (a very large cottage) for the prominent Pennsylvanian businessman, Peter Shields, and his family in the early 20th century.
When we visited, the entire building was decked out for the holidays, with Christmas decorations in tasteful tones of silver and gold. There was a roaring fire in the lounge, where photos of the Shields family hang on the wall; intricate stained glass windows at the top of the grand staircase; and plenty of communal areas for guests to relax in when not in their rooms or out exploring Cape May.
Our room offered original hardwood floors and an intricately carved four-poster, king-sized bed that was the focal point of the room, coupled with modern accents like dark teal paint on the walls, red velvet lounge chairs, and a hi-tech fireplace. The en-suite bathroom was magnificent: it was as large as the bedroom, covered in original white tiles and featuring dramatic curved ceilings, a huge walk-in barn door shower, and – my personal favourite – a large claw foot bathtub. Nothing says luxury quite like an indulgent bathroom and some fluffy towels.
Our indulgence continued downstairs in the restaurant, which I had read countless rave reviews about. Even in the winter months when there are fewer tourists in Cape May, the Peter Shields Inn Restaurant is nearly always full (for good reason, as we were about to discover). Opting for a table by the fireplace, we settled down to what would turn out to be one of the best meals I’ve ever had.
To start with, I went for the foie gras while my husband chose grilled octopus. I’ve enjoyed foie gras once before, at the Michlein-star La Cuisine at the Raffles Hotel in Paris, and I’d go as far as to say that the Peter Shields incarnation was even better. The foie gras was lightly seared on the outside, soft as butter on the inside, and layered on top of a bed of figs, toasted brioche, pistachios and cherry compote, the sweetness of which contrasted perfectly with the richness of the meat. In short, it was heavenly. (I’d drive the two and half hours back to Cape May just to order that foie gras again!)
But the culinary experience was about to get even better. We were expecting our main course, but were surprised instead with a special ‘surf and turf’ course from the executive chef, Carl Messick. Displayed delicately on the plate in front of me was a seared scallop with melted leeks and potato gnocchi, along with a rare slice of steak nestled on lobster risotto; it was so good that I’m still talking about it weeks later.
Next up was pan roasted Scottish salmon on a bed of barley risotto and broccolini (for me), and the largest pork chop I have ever seen (for my husband). The salmon was tender and full of flavour, with a deliciously crispy skin that crackled under my fork. The pork was cooked medium rare, something I’ve only ever seen done in Paris; clearly this is how it’s meant to be, as the Berkshire Pork Porterhouse with bacon shallot marmalade and aged balsamic was incredible. Our meal was rounded off with some lovely homemade hazelnut ice cream – the amount of food we had just consumed mean that anything larger was off the table!
We woke up the next day to sunlight peeking through the curtains and sparkling over the ocean. Although coffee was available from 7.30am, we waited until breakfast was served in the sun room to get the day started. I ate so many of the light and fluffy mini blueberry muffins from the self-service table that by the time it came to choose one of the many cooked breakfast options, I was already full. (But that didn’t stop me opting for a vegetable omelette all the same, washed down with coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice, and enjoyed with a view of the ocean.)
I decided to work off my breakfast (and the previous night’s feast) by using one of the Inn’s complimentary bikes to explore the seaside town; Cape May is so quiet at this time of year that I didn’t even have to worry about traffic. By late afternoon, we were both back at the Inn for the complimentary wine and cheese served in the second floor seating area and on the adjoining balcony (from where I watched the sunrise on our last morning). It was a great way to get to know the other guests, some of whom have been visiting for years and were eager to give us their tips, and others who were first time visitors like ourselves.
The staff at the Peter Shields Inn were truly lovely, genuinely friendly, and eager to chat whenever they saw us, and so it was on their recommendation that we started our second evening in Cape May with drinks and dinner in the heart of the town’s historic district, just a 10 minute walk from the Inn. When we returned, it was to relax by the fire in our luxurious room, although if we wanted we could have sipped a drink in the lounge, grabbed a coffee from the community room that is always stocked with cookies and drinks, or even played board games.
Spending a winter weekend by the beach might seem like an unusual decision, but I can’t recommend the Peter Shields Inn enough. It’s an idyllic, romantic beach hideaway full of character, perfect for an escape and a spot of relaxation during the busy festive season, or any other time of year. Many of the couples at Peter Shields are return visitors, some of them even booking a stay in their favourite room up to a year in advance. After our exceptional experience, I can see why they return: there really is something special about this historic summer cottage by the sea.
Many thanks to Danielle and the rest of the staff at Peter Shields Inn for hosting us, and to Select Registry for sponsoring our stay. As always, all opinions – and travel adventures! – are my own.