Fairy Tale Ending
Cape Cod Life / Annual Life 2023 / People & Businesses, Recreation & Activities
Writer: Julie Craven Wagner
Nantucket author Elin Hilderbrand, dubbed “The Queen of Beach Reads,” welcomes her fans to her magic kingdom for a memorable weekend.
Once upon a time, in a faraway land, an idyllic island 30 miles out to sea to be exact, the jewel that is Nantucket Island glitters and shines through the grey mist in the month of January. For eight years, Elin Hilderbrand has welcomed legions of her loyal and enthusiastic fans to her beloved home, to experience just a taste of the magical backdrop featured in most of her novels. Hilderbrand, who has penned 29 books to date, most set in the dramatic landscape of Nantucket presents the drama that is found not just in the breathtaking vistas and iconic charm found across the island, but also on the beach, at the tony cocktail parties and behind the closed doors of the wealthy and cosmopolitan set of residents and visitors who consider the island as a playground for their irreverent behavior.
This special weekend, known as Elin Hilderbrand’s Bucket List Weekend is an unparalleled opportunity for the writer’s devotees to experience the extraordinary world Hilderbrand brings to life in her pages.
In 2022, the latest release The Hotel Nantucket created the perfect opportunity for Hilderbrand to acknowledge her valued relationship with The Nantucket Hotel and Resort. Named by Trip Advisor as the #1 Luxury Hotel in the Country, the venerable property is part of the Little Gem Resorts group, which includes properties on Martha’s Vineyard and St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Regardless of the season or the occasion, visitors to The Nantucket Hotel and Resort are treated to a warm and memorable experience as the commitment to guest satisfaction is paramount to the entire organization’s efforts. Ferry and plane arrivals are greeted by one of the capable and beloved employees, Omar or John, dressed in Nantucket Red trousers and navy-blue polos, vests or jackets. The hotel is decorated for the weekend with vibrant blue, dried hydrangeas both inside and out. Their iconic green and white 1932 Ford bus stands at attention in front of the three-story building, whose recent renovation sports classic details like shiplap paneling, intriguing artwork and a coastal design aesthetic which confirms you have indeed arrived on Nantucket. For this special weekend, a bit of a departure from the regular flurry of activity during the warmer months, the staff is at the ready to greet the throngs of star-struck guests, and according to General Manager Carlos Castrello, anticipates this grateful and enthusiastic crowd. “We look forward to this weekend every year,” Castrello confirms, whose Yellow Labrador Easton’s wiggling greeting on the front porch, and his wife Fulya’s broad smile behind the registration desk, let everyone know they have arrived at their Nantucket home, if only for a few days.
The Loyal Subjects
It might be surprising to discover the collection of fans who are fortunate enough to secure a spot for this special weekend, come from wide and far. Texas, Arizona, New Jersey, Colorado, South Carolina and Maryland are just some of the answers provided as intrepid guests broker introductions among themselves. Equally unexpected are the high numbers of attendees for whom this is their inaugural trip to Nantucket. The majority, not surprisingly, are women, mostly of a certain age, but not exclusively. Some cajole and even bribe their twenty-something daughters, and a few convince their husband to accompany them; but for the most part, this is a well-orchestrated opportunity for the Penultimate Girls’ Weekend. Christine and her niece Amanda traveled from Houston and Dallas to make sure their Bucket List was fulfilled, especially since Hilderbrand says this year is her last year to host this event.
The robust itinerary includes morning yoga sessions, daily walks to Brant Point and Lighthouse and surrounding beaches, shopping sojourns and Hilderbrand’s signature elements like color or theme parameters for the evening cocktail parties and dinners.
One of the most intriguing aspects of this unique weekend is the true camaraderie that develops among the attendees. It is rare for almost three hundred women, most of whom start the weekend as strangers, to get together, dress to the nines and experience such support and sisterhood. If there is one word to describe the phenomenon of the weekend it would be: sorority. Participants arrive at the beginning of the weekend, slightly hesitant and a bit unsure of what is about to unfold, and as the events progress, offers for wardrobe accents, shopping tips, photo and email exchanges, and ultimately hugs and promises, culminate in securing new connections and friendships at the end of the four days. The thoughtful understanding of the dynamics of the weekend have been anticipated by Hilderbrand as the itinerary even includes events for those “Solo Travelers” who have come alone in order to ultimately create the same close bonds that groups have already arrived with.
Elin’s sister, Heather Osteen Thorpe, is another one of the most remarkable elements of this unique adventure. Heather is truly the glue that connects all throughout the weekend. The close relationship between the two sisters is evident, but if one had to pinpoint each on a scale between introvert and extrovert, the assignment would be clear—Heather is the life of the party, as she works the crowds, the rooms, and every last event. Morning breakfast has guests making new connections as tables are filled with both strangers and friends, and Heather flits and glides from table to table, checking in downloading anecdotes from the night before and advising on where to be and when, (and sometimes what to wear) for the day’s events. It is fortuitous Hilderbrand has such a Ying to her Yang because juggling the hundreds of followers who want to maximize their exposure to the enigmatic woman, who creates such memorable fantasy, would exhaust the most energetic of souls. The pair’s chemistry works in such a flawless manner that participants of the weekend leave with a satisfying sense of unencumbered access to a favorite writer who achieved global celebrity with her tantalizing tales.
Nantucket in the off-season pales in comparison to the buzz-worthy, world-class playground for the exclusive and exotic during the summer months. Yet, this is the Nantucket that Hilderbrand holds dear as her home. A place where she has chosen to put down roots, raise three children, and write those dozens of books. Because she recognizes the frailty and honest truth of the island that has anchored many chapters of this country’s history, serving as a sort of ambassador, she deliberately chooses to share her special place at a time when perhaps the island could benefit the most. “It is important to me to contribute to Nantucket in any way I can,” she explains. “This island has been my center for so long, if I can invite a few hundred women during the most bleak time of the year, not only to get them to lift the local economy, but each of them takes a piece away with them and shares it with the rest of the world, so that it just keeps coming back.” To that end the weekend itinerary is filled with plenty of opportunities to shop, dine and imbibe at the local businesses. Private shopping parties are featured at places like Jessica Hicks Jewelry, a close friend of Hilderbrand’s whose creative baubles sparkle almost as much as Hilderbrand’s expressive blue eyes. The sight of groups and throngs of women, navigating the brick sidewalks and cobblestone streets, and often bracing against winds of the Atlantic and bands of wet snow, on a January weekend is a reality that would not otherwise occur without this deliberate occasion.
In a world that has seen a decline in brick-and-mortar booksellers, Nantucket is fortunate enough to have two lively and vital bookstores. It is not a coincidence the world-renown resident writer considers principals from both as some of her closest friends. Wendy Hudson, owner of both Mitchell’s Book Corner and Nantucket Book Partners; and Tim Ehrenberg, Marketing Director at the latter, weave in and out of Hilderbrand’s life throughout the year and are key ingredients to the success of the Bucket List Weekend. Hudson’s colorful table, piled high with dozens of Hilderbrand’s books, is stationed throughout the weekend in the lobby of The Nantucket Hotel, all the while Hudson’s beaming smile coaxes attendees to browse, share and purchase their favorite books.
For some people in this world, they have found their perfect calling; Elin Hilderbrand is one of those people. With her golden, sun-kissed skin, twinkling blue eyes the hue of hydrangeas, and her beach-blonde locks, she embodies the quintessential beach girl. Maybe that is why the romantic and sentimental, and at times cheeky and irreverent, plot lines and characters living colorful lives in the pages of her books come so easily to her. Hilderbrand loves what she does, for a variety of reasons. First, at her core she is bright, inquisitive and creative. But a real indicator of what drives her, is evident in her frequent acknowledgment and support for other writers and their work. Her open access during this special weekend is an extension of the open and candid sharing she does on her social media platforms. What is indisputable is the gratitude the author has for her fans and her friends. Melissa Titov from Wrentham, recounted a moment during the pandemic when she sent Hilderbrand a message on Instagram asking her to wish her best friend a Happy Birthday. Her best friend, Amy Lamoureaux who attended the weekend with Titov recalls, “I thought it was a prank. But she really did send me a text on my birthday, I absolutely couldn’t believe it!”
Fans have been disappointed to learn that Hilderbrand has said that she is all but finished with her exploration of Nantucket beach stories. In a bit of a twist, she has signed a two-book deal to write a new series with her daughter. She doesn’t firmly commit to an end of her writing career but does foreshadow a shift in tempo and focus for her next chapter. Anyone who knows her wonders how she would otherwise channel her creative and inquiring energies, but the future will reveal all when the time is right. The Nantucket Hotel is committed to hosting Elin-themed weekend as they have just announced a January 2024 date based upon Hilderbrand’s newest book, Five-Star Weekend (release date June, 2023) where the author will curate the itinerary and provide limited appearance.
Elin Hilderbrand has become known for her Bucket Lists as she works various recommendations, callouts and name drops into her stories of an enviable existence. It may be a chicken-or-the-egg kind of scenario, but perhaps the “Queen of the Beach Reads” never suspected that a weekend away on Nantucket with her would be enough to qualify as someone’s own Bucket List.
Julie Craven Wagner is the editor of Cape Cod LIFE.