Today, more than ever, a vacation to Oak Haven Cottages in Fairhope, Alabama, is a true getaway. If you need time for unplugging and unwinding, yet haven’t the desire to camp or hike your way into the wilderness for the desired effect of escape, then consider a drive and check into a homey cottage within view of Mobile Bay.
I love Mother Nature, but my idea of camping involves indoor plumbing. I want certain luxuries like running water, air conditioning, and the option to watch television if so inclined. What I do not want are cookie-cutter cubicles within a could-be-anywhere-U.S.A. hotel or some Airbnb with its granite-counter-topped fancy kitchen, wet bar, movie-theater-sized flat-screen TV, Rooms-To-Go furniture, and carpeted floors that my dog will certainly deem pee-able. What I do want is a home away from home. Oak Haven is that place for me. Over the years, I have come to know nearly every one of the 16 cottages dotting the several acres of tree-shaded land. But it is Number 3 that was my first cabin to call home.
Nearly 25 years ago, my best friend Marinnette and I drove over to Fairhope from New Orleans to attend my Aunt Ethel’s 95th birthday bash. On our way home, we drove past Oak Haven Cottages, and my friend, intrigued by the place, turned the car around, pulled in, and drove to the office. There we met and began a friendship with the proprietor, Miriam. After a short tour of the grounds and a peek into a couple of cabins, we booked the first of many, many vacations there. Later, when Boyfriend came into my life, he was introduced to Fairhope and the cottages. He now is considered “family” by Miriam and her husband Ralph.
All of the cottages have their own personal identities that we have further personalized, based, in part, on when and why we stayed in them. Number 3 was our first and is a sentimental favorite, especially to Marinnette. Boyfriend and I favor Cottage 5 when it’s just us. Number 9 was where Miss M. and I spent a rainy Labor Day weekend binge-watching TV reruns of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Cabin 6 is where Boyfriend and I rode out a hurricane. Cabin 8 was where I made spring rolls. The apartment above Miriam’s house was where we stayed when in town for Aunt Ethel’s funeral. The dogs hated the yard in front of Cottage 5 because it was there that we hosed them clean after swims in the bay and rolls in the sand. The dogs loved Cottage 5 because they napped and ate inside after the dreaded baths. Number 3 was where I had my best night’s sleep ever after a year of working without a day off. Cottage 5 was where Boyfriend and I fell in love all over again.
So, you can see that I am partial to everything about Oak Haven, but would I recommend a vacation there to others? Oh, yeah! But you can’t be fussy and want all the furniture to match or housekeeping to be at your beck and call or to have a computer/phone/Wi-Fi cluster. What you get is that rare chance to be off-leash, to have the creature comforts of a cozy little house—which means A/C, basic cable TV, and a kitchen where you can cook up some fresh produce from the farmer’s market or locally sourced seafood. (Note: if your cottage’s kitchen lacks anything, like a large cast-iron skillet or extra wine glasses, Miriam will give you the keys to her vacant units, and you can pick out what you need.) You can dine while relaxing on your porch, or you can carry a picnic to the pier one block away. You wake up to the sound of birds and disconnect from the noise of your otherwise too-busy life.
When Boyfriend is asked, “So, what is there to do there?” he replies, “Nothing.” He finds this slower pace the absolute best thing about going to Fairhope and lodging at Oak Haven. I argue that there is much to do (if you want). I have a most delightful itinerary: wake up and swim in my beloved bay. Nowhere else would I rather swim; it is home for me. The peaceful waters are home to low-flying seagulls and pelicans, skimming the surface and dipping in for a catch of the day. The mullets jump for joy, and if I am really lucky, a small school of dolphins just might pass by. Weather-worn piers and wharfs ease into the bay from its sandy tree-lined shore. After my swim, it’s time for coffee and breakfast and then a stroll into town.
Yep, sometimes you just have to get out of that swimsuit and go to town. Fairhope is the only place I really like to shop. This little town is affluent enough (along with tourism) to support some really quaint gift and antique shops; an amazing book store, Page & Palette; and plenty of places to dine, snack, and forage for that kitchen back at your cottage. There’s a fabulous consignment clothing shop, Hertha’s Second Edition, and a thrift store a short stroll away. My walk to and from this area of commerce takes me through Fairhope’s residential streets, filled with cottages and houses of various designs and historical significance.
Come evening, it’s time to walk down to the American Legion, grab a rocking chair, and partake of a couple of cold beers while looking out on the bay. As the sun sets, I look across the bay to where I was born, Mobile, but that is not where my heart is—my heart is in this town, and it resides as often as possible at Oak Haven Cottages. Thank you, Marinnette, for turning the car around that day and introducing us to our home away from home. And thank you, Boyfriend, for loving it as much as I do.