Dining, Shopping, Touring, and Falling in Love at Congress Hall, Cape May, NJ
There are so many reasons why travelers fall in love with a place. There is often one really special reason we choose to go back year after year, over all other choices.
For me, when visiting Congress Hall in Cape May, NJ, that special reason would be its story. Not to say that it doesn’t have a lot more to offer, but to know the history of this picturesque resort in the Jersey Shore, is to allow yourself to be transported back in time and enveloped in the beauty of one man’s dream come true.
I met Curtis Bashaw, General Managing Partner, in a pretty formal way, as one in my industry normally would – through the efforts of a press trip, in a casual meeting setting, while preparing for an overview of the locale.
At that point, in my mind, I was simply impressed with the sophistication of Congress Hall and the Cape May area. Beautiful, serene beach town. Lovely resort, good food, comfy beds, amazing spa, pretty decor – you know, real classy stuff.
But to hear Mr. Bashaw tell the story of Cape May, the ups and downs of Congress Hall, and how his childhood vacation retreat is now one he proudly co-owns and manages, is nothing short of awe-inspiring. He gifted us all with a copy of Tommy’s Folley by Jack Wright, which tells the story of Thomas Hughes, who founded Congress Hall in 1816 and all that followed after wards.
But he also gifted us with a personal insight into what this place represents and means to him. In listening to Mr. Bashaw speak of his history here – and that of his family before him, of the moment as a teenager when looking out into the ocean and feeling inspired to transform this place to what it is today – makes one feel immediately connected to it and a bit in love with it all.
During the time of my stay, I felt relaxed and delighted. For despite the little I know about the Jersey Shore, this was nothing like what I expected. When not blissfully serene, there were festive moments and sounds of celebration, as was the case during the beautiful wedding that took place on my first full day there. I saw families, with members of all ages, enjoying the beach, the pool, and the various other activities in the area.
I was able to enjoy some light shopping, a special spa treatment, as well as experience some exquisite dining.
And this brings me to the food. Who would’ve thought that Cape May, NJ would host such a wonderful selection of culinary divinities? The first experience was at the Beach Plum Farm, a short drive away from the beach, and a world away from every day life.
When I arrived, the sun was hot and bright. Covered in a protective layer of bug spray, I toured with Mr. Bashaw as he told the tale of how he came about this vast 65 acres of land. It’s been restored and re-purposed to give meaning to the “Garden State” label of New Jersey state, planted with summer crops like blueberries, asparagus, tomatoes and strawberries, large perennial herb garden, all harvested as organically and naturally as possible. This farm supplies Cape Resorts Group’s restaurants with close to their 50% of seasonal produce.
And it was my fortune to have experienced something they hope to offer more in the future – a luxurious lunch on the farm hosted by The Ebbitt Room’s very own Lucas Manteca.
The food was incredible. Fresh, full of flavor, perfectly prepared and presented. The spectacular views of the farm complimented the meal and it was the highlight of my visit. They offer guests organized bike tours twice weekly in addition to the picnics, which hotel guests can reserve through the concierge for groups of six or more.
Another unforgettable dining experience was at Congress Hall’s own Blue Pig Tavern. Named after a gambling parlor sited in Congress Hall in the mid-1800s, it was the first tavern in Cape May.
The setting outside was beautiful as the pinkish-blue sunset colors adorned the skies. The dining experience here too, along with the impeccable service, made this a wonderful last meal during my stay. Again, all food was fresh, well prepared, and beautifully presented. A great example of what a dining experience should feel like, but is so rarely had.
Congress Hall is one of several resorts under the Cape Resorts Group umbrella. Other resorts include:
The Virginia Hotel and Cottages – Best for couples and those visiting without small children, this hotel is offers 24 intimate rooms in the main house and 5 spacious cottages along Jackson Street. A beautifully restored 1879 landmark building, The Virginia Hotel is one of the most luxurious hotels in the area.
The Star Inn – Is the B&B for families. Within walking distance from Congress Hall, The Star offers 2 spacious condos and 9 rooms. Guests enjoy ample space for families to spread out and take in the Summer or the beauty of the colorful Fall months here. It’s the only hotel in the area with a coffee shop featuring Starbucks products.
The Beach Shack – The most casual of all the hotels, the Beach Shack is welcoming of flip-flops, shorts, and sand in your toes. A family favorite, this locale offers easy access to The Rusty Nail, a casual eating spot, recently named one of America’s Best Beach Bars by Travel and Leisure.
The Sandpiper Beach Club – Meant to accommodate those travelers planning on staying a bit longer than most, this resort offers all the amenities and comforts of home, including housekeeping services, kitchen, living room, balcony, and beautiful ocean views. There are a total of 51 one or two bedroom units in this newly renovated family friendly condominium.
The Chelsea Hotel is in Atlantic City, and is one of Cape Resorts Group’s newest addition. Catering in luxury to the Atlantic City crowd, it promises to bring a taste of Cape May quality to the Atlantic City shores.
There is an endless (truly) list of activities and celebrated events here. No matter what the season, or the weather. The purpose is to celebrate family and bring them together, to inspire happy moments and create lasting memories.
Between this and providing as much comfort as they possibly can, even in minimizing the amount of carry-ons to the beach through their cabana services, it’s no surprise families have made this a favorite destination for so many years.
It’s important for me to note a few things:
There are no trains that go into the Cape May area. You must drive or take a bus. Visit njtransit.com and search for buses to Cape May for more information. The resort is about a 3.5 to 4-hour drive from Manhattan, and once you get there, you can store away your car keys during your stay, as you won’t need them. For more information on traveling into Cape May from NYC and the surrounding areas visit the Getting Here section of CapeMay.com.
Easter, Fourth of July, Christmas are all great holidays and are greatly celebrated in Congress Hall. However, they are also incredibly popular and there is a high demand for them. If you’d like to experience any of these celebrations in Congress Hall and the surrounding resorts, check their Calendar of Events and if you are interested in being a part of the festivities, be sure to reserve your room ahead early, as they book fast.
When looking to book a stay at any of the resorts, be sure to check out the site and even call ahead and let the concierge know what you are looking for and what your expectations are. All the resorts are great, but they also all offer a different experience to each traveler. For example, as noted above, if you are a traveling family you might want to look at the Beach Shack or The Star Inn, as opposed to the Virgina Hotel. If you are looking for more peace and quiet, note that Congress Hall is the central destination for celebrations, gatherings, and other festivities, which can make it a bit noisier at times. Rooms on the 4th floor are the most quiet, but rooms in The Annex are the least so.
Congress Hall and its sister hotels are luxury destinations, and it can be a bit more of a financial commitment for a larger family, such as hers and mine. What was wonderful about discussing these concerns with Mr. Bashaw and his team is that they were able to also express a sincere interest in opening up the experience for more families to enjoy.