Not as well known in the UK as Key West or Palm Springs, Provincetown on the Massachusetts coast is actually America's premier gay resort, and has more than 60 gay-owned inns and B&Bs and many others with a strong "family" following. You can easily get there from the UK by flying into Boston and then it's a short hop by Cape Air to P-town.

Despite this, it can be tough to score a room in high season (anytime during July and August, plus weekends in May, June, and September), and because of the huge selection, it can be difficult choosing the perfect room. While quite a few places look similar from their brochures and Websites, and even from their exteriors, they differ considerably in style, clientele, and personality.

In recent years, numerous upmarket properties have opened, many of them exceptionally attractive and well-run, but Provincetown still abounds with affordable gay resorts that retain the feel of the old boarding houses that dominated the town's art colony days of the early 20th century. Many rooms in P-town share baths; most places do not have air conditioning (although that's rarely needed), private phones, extensive off-street parking, or substantial cupboard space; and quite a few are without TVs and radios. Only a smattering have pools, though several have hot tubs. Many places require four- to seven-night minimums in summer, especially around holidays.

What follows are detailed recommendations of some exceptional Provincetown lodgings, but keep in mind that this list is a cross-section of properties representing different prices, styles, and locations. There are many more outstanding guest houses and resorts to consider, and the Provincetown Business Guild Website and the new May 2001 edition of Fodor's Gay Guide to the USA has the details on dozens of others.

Bar-hopper's Delight - The Crown and Anchor (mixed gay/straight). Completely rebuilt after a fire leveled this historic hotel and entertainment compound in 1998, the Crown and Anchor is much improved in its present incarnation. Rooms come in both standard (with pleasant, modern hotel decor) and luxury (with whirlpool baths, fireplaces, and private decks). Of course, a big advantage is staying in the heart of the Commercial Street action, with several rollicking bars on-site.

Cheap and Cheerful - Heritage House (mostly mixed gay male/lesbian). Lynn and Sarah - who operate this top-notch, affordable accommodation - strive to create the sort of friendly atmosphere in which both sexes can mingle and have fun. There's lots of common space - the living room is large and bright, with a VCR, sofas, and antiques; a second-floor veranda has Adirondack chairs and wicker. One drawback: though rooms are simply but smartly decorated, 13 of them share only four baths.

Classic Elegance - The Brass Key (mixed gay male/lesbian). While several outstanding new or refurbished inns now compare favourably with the Brass Key, this splendid resort still sets the standard for top-notch service and amenities in Provincetown. Rooms are in a few Victorian and newer buildings set around a central pool as well as inside the original 1828 inn: every conceivable detail has been considered; furnishings are subtle and attractive New England-style, and the craftsmanship in the bedrooms and bathrooms is stunning. All units have VCRs, goose-down pillows, 250-thread-count linens, and many have whirlpool tubs and fireplaces. The pool, hot tub, and redbrick patio are among the prettiest in town.
Lazing by the Pool - Benchmark Inn and Central (mostly gay male). This fine, beautifully restored property comprises two buildings. The 1840s Greek Revival has rooms with fireplaces, separate entrances, refrigerators, AC, and VCRs; some have whirlpool tubs, and many have bay views. Rooms next door in the Benchmark Central (the inn's former annexe that was completely and dramatically rebuilt in 2000) are ultra-plush with the same amenities as in the inn but with an airier and more contemporary feel. Over here you'll find the pool (and spa and sauna), one of the few at any gay resort in P-town. The whole complex is lovely, with great furnishings and sun-filled rooms.

Let Passion Prevail - Romeo's Holiday ( gay male) is a true Victorian era gem nestled in the very centre of P-Town with five major clubs within a 1/2 block. There's a secluded private deck which is clothing optional festooned with flowers and a very sociable hot tub. You're not far from antique shops, clothing stores, galleries, ocean beaches and P-Town's historical points of interest. All rooms have cable TV and VCRs, air-conditioning and most have small refrigerators. The owners describe it as a Provincetown favourite and their mission is "Let Passion Prevail".

New in Town - The Crowne Point (mixed gay male/lesbian). The 33-room Crowne Point is one of the top new accommodations in Provincetown, comprising three historic buildings (including the former Dusty Miller inn, previously a women's establishment) that have been magnificently renovated top-to-bottom. Everything from period wallpaper and colors to original moldings now graces this upscale establishment, whose guest rooms all have period antiques, elegant pine floors, TVs with VCRs, refrigerators, AC, and fine bath amenities. The staff is highly courteous and professional - this place is a true showstopper.

The Not-so-wild West - Ampersand Guesthouse (mixed gay male/lesbian). A stately white Greek Revival house on a pretty side street in what is actually P-town's least wild neighbourhood, the enchanting and historic West End. This is an ideal locale if you want to be within easy walking distance of the beach (and yet still quite close to town). Rooms are warmly decorated, especially considering the fair rates; each room contains a mix of tasteful antiques and newer pieces. The sundeck affords nice views of the bay and this historic neighbourhood.

Old-world Ambience - Carpe Diem (mostly gay male). A couple of charming German guys, Rainer and Jurgen, run this sophisticated yet social guest house where rooms are named for famous poets and writers - Rilke, Proust, Cocteau, Dorothy Parker, and so on. All have a mix of European antiques, down eiderdowns, and such modern touches as VCRs, phones with voice mail, and use of a laptop with high-speed Internet service. The Thoreau garden cottage is a favorite, with a fireplace, stereo, and two-person whirlpool tub. An authentic German breakfast is included.

On the Waterfront - BayShore and Chandler House (mixed gay/straight). This attractive women-owned and pet-friendly complex is one of the best deals in town for long-term visitors - (during high season, only weekly rates are offered). Each unit has a fully (and impressively) equipped kitchen, tasteful furnishings, and plenty of space; most have decks or patios, and many have direct bay views. Best of all, guests have use of a private beach and pretty lawn that extend down to the bay. A few doors away is the fully renovated Chandler House, with its own waterfront sundeck and several more attractively furnished full apartments.

Revellers' Retreat - The Ranch (mostly gay male). One of the most social houses in town, the Ranch draws a frisky bunch of younger guys seeking basic but very clean rooms and bathrooms and plenty of camaraderie. It's down the street from the Gifford House, which draws a similar bunch. It's very well run, and it offers some of the lowest rates around.

Victorian Splendour - Tucker Inn (mixed gay male/lesbian). This delightfully restored former sea captain's home in the Second Empire style is slightly east of the center of town. The light and spacious rooms are warmly furnished with elegant antiques, and the handsome bathrooms have tile floors. Run by congenial host Howard Burchman, this alluring yet reasonably priced guest house is less publicized than some and a real find.

Where the Girls Are - Gabriel's (mostly lesbian). Chiefly a women's guest house for many years, Gabriel's increasingly welcomes a mixed crowd. However, the 20 rooms and apartments (which have full kitchens) are still named and themed after famous women: the Georgia O'Keeffe Room has Southwestern furnishings; the Diane Fosse Room has a loft filled with stuffed gorillas; and many units have fireplaces. For general use, there's a large sundeck, two whirlpools, a gym and sauna, and a women's lending library and workshop center. All in all, an excellent, professionally run guest house.

Year-round Romance - Beaconlight (mixed gay male/lesbian). One of the few inns in P-town that keeps the light burning year-round (and Provincetown can be unbelievably enchanting during the brooding, windy winter months), the Beaconlight has long ranked among the region's most sumptuous properties. The building, part of which dates to the 1850s, is surrounded by lushly landscaped grounds; inside, a piano is often heard from the living room, and an octagonal roof deck affords panoramic views. The thoroughly plush guest rooms are beautifully furnished and have refrigerators and private baths - several have fireplaces. The same guys run the smaller and similarly dapper Oxford Guesthouse, nearby.

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Ampersand Guesthouse (6 Cottage St., 508-487-0959 or 800-574-9645, Website).
BayShore and Chandler House (493 Commercial St., 508-487-9133, Website).
Beaconlight (12 Winthrop St., 508-487-9603 or 800-696-9603, Website).
Benchmark Inn and Central (8 Dyer St., 508-487-7440 or 888-487-7440, Website).
Brass Key (67 Bradford St., 508-487-9005 or 800-842-9858, Website).
Carpe Diem (12 Johnson St., 508-487-4242 or 800-487-0132, Website).
The Crown and Anchor (247 Commercial St., 508-487-1430, Website).
The Crowne Point (82 Bradford St., 508-487-6767, Website).
Gabriel's (104 Bradford St., 508-487-3232 or 800-9MY-ANGEL, Website).
Heritage House (7 Center St., 508-487-3692, Website).
Provincetown Business Guild (gay/lesbian business and tourism association; 508-487-2313 or 800-637-8696, Website).
Provincetown Chamber of Commerce (508-487-3424, Website).
Romeo's Holiday (97 Bradford St., 877-MY-ROMEO or 508-487-6636, Website).
The Ranch (198 Commercial St., 508-487-1542 or 800-942-1542, Website).
Tucker Inn (12 Center St., 508-487-0381 or 800-477-1867, Website).

Andrew Collins authored Fodor's Gay Guide to the USA, the Connecticut Handbook, and six regional gay guides for Fodor's. He can be reached here at OutUK or direct at GayFodors@aol.com.

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