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SoBe North? LESLIE LONG discovers Massachusetts’ most top secret beach!

The morning was misty as we crossed the bridge from the manicured perfection of Newburyport, Mass., to the ramshackle beauty of Plum Island.

Not to be confused with the government’s freaky Dr. Moreau-ish animal disease testing zone off Long Island, Massachusetts’ Plum Island is a four-and-a-half hour drive from midtown — and there’s not a Hamptonesque architectural statement or blocky beachfront rental unit in sight. This funky little 11-mile long barrier island has probably looked the same for the past 75 years.

Most visitors to Plum Island go for the endangered seabirds. The Island’s 4,600 acre Parker River Wildlife Refuge attracts birders from all over the world.

But my husband and I went in search of something even rarer: a hip hotel on the ocean within driving distance of Manhattan (anything with a true sense of style usually means getting on a plane).

It wasn’t an easy task — it took us a while to find anything resembling a hotel as we ambled down little lanes of beach cottages with the screen-door feel of summer. One gas station, one convenience store, a homemade soap shop and Mad Martha’s Beach Café (famous for apple crisp French toast and blueberry granola pancakes) were the only places to drop a buck. Someone recommended the Plum Island Grille where we’d later land for dinner.

After asking a few of the indigenous for directions, we finally found blue The Inn On The Beach, which boldly promises “a touch of South Beach on the Massachusetts coast.”

More like a stylish settlement than a typical hotel, it’s a collection of white clapboard buildings laid out along both sides of the street. Winding walkways of cerulean blue marbles tie it all together.

Our room was actually its own oceanfront house, but many others are more standard. Blue also has a two-story Grand Salon that would be perfect for a few couples or a large family group. Cushy white furniture, a big bed, fully equipped kitchen, luxe bathroom, Bose radio and a sleek flat-screen TV invited relaxation as the waves crashed outside. A fireplace and fenced-in oceanfront yard with a double chaise lounge and silvery gas grill completed the picture.

Every amenity — from the soap to the beach glass key ring to the bottle of wine in the fridge — was blue. The hotel has bikes for exploration and a penthouse living room overlooking the ocean where we booked a couples massage for the next morning.

But enough about our nest. Arriving at the Parker Reservation as the afternoon waned, we watched the seabirds swoop, fish and land. Birdwatchers from California stood in silent reverie, recording each new species. Sandy Point State Reservation at the end of the road is considered one of the best beaches on the whole East Coast.

We then moseyed on over to the Plum Island Grille with its colorful beachy atmosphere and great salt marsh view. Even early on a rainy weekend, the place was buzzing. A large family group was celebrating a birthday. At the bar, couples sipped martinis. The menu had lots of innovative dishes, many with Asian and Middle Eastern influences. My salt-seared ahi tuna over couscous with cashews and spiced apricot coulis was perfection. My husband’s swordfish with kalamata olive tapenade, just as good.

Back out into the mist, we wended our way back to the inn, where we lit a fire and lazed. In the morning, our friendly team of masseuses, Patricia and Pat were waiting in the white-on-white penthouse. They pummeled and plied us to perfection and then it was time to head back to NY.

South Beach style? As much as New England can be, I suppose. But thankfully, there wasn’t a pair of whale pants in sight.