As creatures of habit, we tend to get comfortable revisiting the places we know. In other words, we stop being adventurous. But memories can be enlivened again if infused with a sense of surprise. A last-minute trip to Boston, this past January, forced my family and I to relocate from our traditional Back Bay hotel district to a different part of town. The kids were not too thrilled to be away from the trendy and crowded Newbury and Boylston areas. We found a room at the Royal Sonesta Boston, just across the Charles River, between the Longfellow Bridge and the Charles River Dam, which means in Cambridge. But the mood settled quickly when the family realized that the hotel’s proximity to downtown was only a bridge crossing away. Longfellow Bridge leads straight to the entrance of one of the most charming districts in Boston, Charles Street in Beacon Hill and steps to Boston Common. The new location turned into a source of genuine excitement.
Our first impression from the high-perched spacious room was one of quietness. An inviting change from the constant bustling of downtown, with its endless flow of noisy traffic and pedestrians. My wife sampled the mattress at once and gave a big thumbs up. One of those non-negotiables for her. Our windows gave onto a very still Charles River. Even if Boston is a familiar haunt, I’ll bet you’ve never seen the captivating Charles River when viewed from the North. Especially at night, with the millions of lights reflecting in its water, redefining Boston’s skyline. A mesmerizing experience indeed.
We got in late at the hotel after a long drive from New York on a Friday night. The kids were tired, so we agreed to eat at the hotel restaurant. Set right off the retro-futuristic lobby, “Dante” has all the charm of a Mediterranean setting, including a large patio looking straight at the Charles, which I assume must the in-place to lounge and be seen during the Summer months. “Dante” offered an eclectic menu of traditional and modern Italian dishes, including a large selection of vegetarian and gluten-free fares. Being a modern family, everyone with their special requests, amazingly, we did not have to compromise our choices. Each one of us found something to suit their palate.
I recommend starting with the high-note Sicilian oregano classic bruschetta . . . which was the best door-opener for successive dishes. The name of the game is indulgence, which I did with the spicy grilled octopus in olive oil. For main course, the grilled swordfish cooked on a bed of roasted mushrooms and sweet shallots was a home run. My wife selected the roasted citrus chicken with the roasted vegetables, and finished her plate. Something very unusual for her. Even if the dishes opened wide our appetite past regular mealtime, they were only half the story. The surprise came via the wine list. Though admittedly, not the most appreciative of Italian wines, I was sold. Among other delicious choices, the menu offered a surprising Barbera d’Alba and Nebbiolo Langhe, by the glass, earthy and with costume-made bodies for our meal. Only one word can apply to “Dante,” simply divine.
The following morning, my wife took advantage of the hotel’s brilliant location, while I took the children to the hotel’s pool. As pointed out by the friendly and helpful reception staff, if you are a runner, the Boston-Cambridge bridge connection makes for a unique running loop. You can run from one embankment to the next without interruption, and without worrying about traffic. Walking out the Sonesta from the riverside, you literally step on to the “track,” an outdoor feature of the hotel that might elude a majority of tourists. Boston is actually an outdoor city. The contingent of runners on the both sides of the Charles was impressive. As for the pool, unlike those of many city hotels, this one is large, sun-drenched and a perfect place to watch the runners go by and stare out at the city while the kids splash about.
Steps from the hotel, a two-minute walk away, stands the austere-looking Science Museum. Austere only in appearance since the mood shifts as soon as you enter the multi-floor building. Beyond all the activities and interactive experiments, my favorite being to learn about the curvature of my feet and the quickness with which my hands get cold, we visited the special exhibit on Leonardo da Vinci. A major retrospective with dozens of replicas of his most memorable creations: the helicopter, the catapult, the sub-machine gun, and of course the cranes. One corner of the exhibit was dedicated to the world’s most famous painting, the “Mona Lisa,” with an infrared breakdown exposing multiple layers, the improvements, the alterations and corrections da Vinci made over time. Well worth the visit, even for simple curiosity’s sake. For those looking for less contemplative exercises, no less than four ice-skating rinks are within a ten-minute walk. Or if shopping is your thing, the CambridgeSide Galleria is located across from the main road of the hotel’s entrance. Overall, the Royal Sonesta Boston is a unique place offering the best of indoor comfort along with access to top outdoor activities, at an enormously attractive value.