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Parsons Beach in Kennebunk, ME
Parsons Beach in Kennebunk, ME (Globe staff photo / Fred J. Field)
If you go: The Beach House
Checking In

Luxury meets leisure overnight in Kennebunk Beach

Email|Print| Text size + By Ellen Albanese
Globe Staff / January 4, 2004

Editor's note: ''Checking In," a new feature in the N.E. Travel section, will review a New England inn every week.

KENNEBUNK BEACH, Maine -- This is the moneyed part of Maine. Big, old houses in pastel clapboards or weathered shingles line one side of wide, curving Beach Avenue as it follows the contour of ocean, a mile outside the bustling tourist town of Kennebunkport.

Tucked discreetly between two private homes is The Beach House, one of five area inns owned by Laurence Bongiorno of White Barn Inn fame. With its custard-color clapboards and wraparound porch, it could be another grand vacation home, save for the small gold-lettered sign out front.

The interior of the inn, which dates from 1891, exudes understated elegance and good taste. It seems that the decorator recognized the futility of trying to compete with the natural scenery of the Atlantic Ocean and chose instead to complement it: The decor is clean, spare, soothing. Everything is in neutrals of brown, beige, and white. In the common room, large, comfortable sofas and chairs face tall windows looking out to the water. In one corner of the off-white wall, a pair of binoculars is painted in a trompe-l'oeil, challenging you to try to grab it for a better view of the sea. In the breakfast room, small, round marble tables, each with a single rosebud, are arranged to take similar advantage of the view.

The bedrooms contain beautifully finished oak pieces -- tables, armoires, and night stands. Coat racks and benches in the same wood decorate the hallways, adding texture and warmth to simple spaces.

When we opened the door to our room late on a Friday evening, the lights were on, classical music was playing softly, and the ice bucket was full. We felt welcome.

Our ''ocean view" room, while charming, was not quite as panoramic as we had expected. It was on the side of the building, not the front, and to get a good view of the ocean, you had to kneel on the bed and peer over the headboard. The sound of the ocean, however, was a treat as we drifted off to sleep with windows open in late September.

An attractive and functional feature was the attached sitting room, which offered a better, though still limited, view of the sea. It was furnished with two comfortable barrel chairs and a large hassock, a television with DVD player, a stereo, and an oak armoire. The best part was a multipaned French door between the sitting room and the bedroom, which allowed one person to watch television while the other read or dozed in the queen-size bed.

Our bath was smallish but well designed and stocked, with plush terry robes and toiletries from Molton Brown of London. The bath and shower gel, appropriately enough, was called ''Seamoss" and contained seaweed extract.

Service is polished, with a distinctly European flavor. We were shown to our room by a young woman who spoke with a Scottish lilt. The inn's assistant manager, Ines Knospe, was born in Germany and did her hospitality apprenticeship there. She not only remembered our names but also recalled which restaurant we had chosen for dinner.

Included in the room rate is an excellent continental breakfast of croissants, muffins, cereal, granola, juice, fresh fruit, and quiche, along with rich, almost espresso-like coffee and teas. In midafternoon an assortment of cookies and cakes is set out.

Bongiorno also owns three area restaurants: the White Barn Inn, Stripers Fish Shack at Schooners Inn, and Grissini Italian Bistro in Kennebunk. Not surprisingly the innkeeper offers to make dinner reservations for you at one of them. We dined at Grissini on Saturday evening, a midpriced restaurant with satisfying Tuscan fare and the same professional service we experienced at the inn.

The Beach House is remarkably quiet. Though Knospe said the inn was nearly full, we never heard a sound from our neighbors -- not a raised voice, or a toilet flushing, or a television. We saw no one in the hallways or on the elevator. For the most part, people in the living room read The New York Times or House Beautiful in silence; even at breakfast diners spoke in hushed tones.

The guests we met were primarily couples in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. A couple from New York was celebrating their 25th anniversary. A middle-aged woman from Maine told us she had run away from her family for the weekend. From November to March, most guests come from Massachusetts, Knospe said, but September and October draw a lot of Europeans who come for the foliage.

The ocean is the primary source of recreation. Walkers, joggers, in-line skaters, and cyclists ply the paved pathway along Beach Avenue, listening to the rhythmic surf and tasting the salt air. There's a small sandy beach within walking distance of the Beach House, and the inn provides guests with day parking permits for wide, sandy Gooch's Beach, a half-mile away. Kennebunkport is full of tourist attractions from museums to boat tours to shops, though many close for the winter.

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