Peninsula & Provence
For an authentic European experience in small-town South Jersey, there’s no place like the Peninsula Hotel in Cape May Court House. Walk through these doors, and you’ll be transported from the corner of Main and Mechanic streets to the Cote d’Azur, with cuisine that could rival any on the French Riviera.
The former Doctor’s Inn was reborn under current owners Kelly Lavorgna and Andrew Bares. In 2012, the entrepreneurs (from New Jersey and New Zealand, respectively) left their base in New York, headed south on the Garden State Parkway, and established the Cape Collection, a hospitality group with B&Bs and luxury accommodations in and around Cape May.
After buying the Court House property in 2020, they undertook a head-to-toe renovation, sanding back the dark woods and replacing a dusty mauve-and-teal palette with soft neutrals. The effect is one of effortless elegance, with décor and dining inspired by the couple’s trip to Provence.
“The bones of the place were just so fabulous, and there was an amazing gem underneath,” says Lavorgna of the mansion. “The woodwork and all the built-ins are amazing. But the great thing was that it had a relatively large space for a kitchen and restaurant. We had always wanted to do a French restaurant; there was not much like that here in Cape May County.”
Indeed, there was not. The dining area is enchanting, with hand-painted wallpaper from Ananbô in Paris, and columns wrapped in twisted fig vines and pinpoint lights—perfect for a romantic dinner. (Not surprisingly, Provence has been the site of several marriage proposals.)
“It’s magical,” says Bares of the intimate rooms. “You go in and forget where you are. The space reflects the food, and the food reflects the space and the service.”
The prix-fixe menu, which changes monthly, is designed by the owners in collaboration with director of operations Lucas Manteca, a one time James Beard Award nominee. Our meal started with gougères, a savory French cheese puff—meltingly good. We shared everything else: lobster vol au vent with petit pois; an exotic risotto with chanterelle and hiratake mushrooms, aged rice, Grana Padano cheese and shaved truffle; and a flavorful bouillabaisse in saffron broth with cockles, mussels, rouille, and prawn on sourdough bread.
We finished with French press coffee and dueling desserts: goat cheese panna cotta with fig, apricot, hazelnut pralines and honey tuiles (lace cookies); and dark chocolate cake with blackberries and espresso. The wait staff hovered, but discreetly, and only to ensure we were pleased. Yes, we were. Cheers to executive chef Jeremy Palumbo, chef de cuisine Steve Putz, chef Jessica Karoyli and the whole culinary team.
Then we retired to Les Beaux, a second-floor suite with not one but two expansive bedrooms, each with its own gas fireplace. The suite was light-filled and extravagantly appointed, with king-sized comfy beds. One was dressed in a faux-fur throw, soft as chinchilla. The adjoining bath featured an oversized shower; the papaya-scented soaps were blissfully aromatic. It was the very definition of comfort. All the other rooms are named for resort towns in France: Saint Remy, Bonnieux, Marseilles, Toulon, and so on. The two-foot-thick walls ensure you’ll slumber undisturbed.
Adjoining the main house is a multilevel carriage house and event space called Avignon, suitable for weddings, parties, meetings, and retreats. The lower level includes a full kitchen; above are additional living quarters. Avignon overlooks three acres of beautifully tended grounds with a gazebo, a footbridge, and a European-style rectangular blue stone pool. This summer, the pool will be surrounded by draped cabanas: “a nice place to do nothing,” says Lavorgna.
The Peninsula opened as a traditional bed and breakfast, but has since pivoted to a boutique hotel experience with a French twist. The owners now offer a shuttle service that travels between Court House and Cape May. If you prefer to get around on your own, there’s a fleet of complementary beach-cruiser bikes.
Suffice it to say, our time at Peninsula and Provence was memorable for the food, the relaxation, the unstinting service, and the laid-back luxury.
“That was the idea,” says Lavorgna. “Come in, enjoy dinner, have fun, and don’t feel like you’re in a stuffy French restaurant where you have to whisper. We wanted people to feel at home—at home in Provence.”