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The Maine thing

Bethel offers visitors history, genteel charm, and the great outdoors


(Geoff Forester for the Boston Globe)
November 8, 2006
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Bethel combines small town history and charm with big outdoor scenery and activities. Straddling the Androscoggin River and surrounded by mountains, the town was settled in 1774. Originally called Sudbury Canada after the Sudbury, Mass., grantors who fought against Canada, the name was later changed to Bethel. A genteel feel pervades the hilltop historic village with its Federal-style architecture, trim Gould Academy campus, inns, and shops. But in winter, Bethel transforms into a far-reaching ski town dominated by Newry's Sunday River , complete with groomed corduroy slopes, local après-ski finds, and quiet fireplaces aflame.

Do

The ski town is anchored by Sunday River next door in Newry (Sunday River Road, 207-824-3000, sundayriver.com, lift tickets adult $59-$67, young adult $54-$59, junior and senior $41-$47) . Maine's eight-peak behemoth turns on the guns for early season snow, with a projected opening Friday.

Under the radar is small, family-oriented Mount Abram (308 Howe Hill Road, 207-875-5000, skimtabram.com, lift tickets adult $42, junior and senior $32, under 6 free) in neighboring Locke Mills. Open Thursday to Sunday, daily during holiday weeks, there's night skiing and tubing. It looks to open Dec. 16.

The area's got miles of riverside and mountaintop cross-country skiing and snowshoeing terrain with a trio of Nordic touring centers in the village-based Bethel Inn (On the Common, 207-824-2175 , bethelinn.com), Newry's woodsy Sunday River Inn (23 Skiway Road, 207-824-2410, sundayriverinn.com ), and rustic Carter's Farm (Intervale Road, 207-824-3880, carter s xcski.com) and its Mahoosuc mountain views.

Rest

The town's grand showpiece, the yellow Bethel Inn Resort (On the Common, 207-824-2175, 800-654-0125, bethelinn.com, from $99 for two through Dec. 22) lines the charming village common. The full-service resort's lodging options range from Colonial-style rooms to modern townhouses. Gentlemen wear jackets in the fine dining room.

The Sudbury Inn (151 Main St., 800-395-7837, thesudburyinn.com, $89-$275 through Dec. 21) is a classic white clapboard 1873 inn. The first floor features the casual dining room.

In what was once a farmhouse, now antiques are part of the decor at the charming Briar Lea Inn (150 Mayville Road, 207-824-4717, 877-311-1299, briarleainn.com, $79-$149), with its brass and four-poster beds and the Jolly Drayman Pub .

Fuel

From inn dining to pub grub, Bethel has it. 22 Broad Street at the Gideon Hastings House (22 Broad St., 207-824-3496, gideonhastingshouse.com , entrees $13.50-$21.50) is a touch of Italy along the common.

The Mouse and Bean Internet Cafe (63 Main St., 207-824-2366, mousenbean.com , sandwiches $5.95) is the place for wireless, java, and sandwiches set against bright orange and lime green walls.

Vegetarians have the orange facade funk of the Cafe DiCocoa Market (125 Main St., 207-824-5282 , cafedicocoa.com), with its baked goods, boxed lunches to go, espresso bar, and grocery.

Locals and visitors mix at the Sudbury Inn at Sud s Pub (151 Main St., 207-824-6558, thesudburyinn.com , entrees $6.95-$17.95). Brick, exposed pipes, and a low wooden bar combine for the lively and entertaining atmosphere. Offerings include pizzas, burgers, ribs, and such.

Play

The younger set need venture only from Sunday River's slopes to the White Cap Base Lodge and its White Cap Fun Center. There they can choose from a real-time play station, snow tubing on a couple of banked runs, and a skating rink. A lighted jib park -- that's rails and jumps -- keeps nocturnal skiers and riders flying. Watch the fireworks on select nights. Inside is an arcade and a couple of nightspots for parents.

An eerie fog settles over the barrels, fences, and ramps as lights flash and music plays during a stealth game of laser tag at Big Adventure Center (12 North Road, 207-824-0929, bigadventure.com, $7 per game) . Automatic scoring keeps the candlepin bowlers honest, and there's an indoor rock-climbing gym for hanging out.

Get out on the nearly mile-long multiuse Bethel Recreational Path. Always in season, the family-friendly path from Davis Park (Route 26) goes along the Androscoggin River and past a skateboard park, playground, covered picnic tables, and over a miniature covered bridge.

Spend

Do it on a Main Street stroll. Bonnema Potters (146 Main St., 207-824-2821) is a working studio housed in a barn. Garret and Melody Dalessandro Bonnema make stoneware and porcelain creations like lamps, birdbaths, and mugs. The wine goblets ($24) are waiting for a hearty red in the earthy and airy gallery and showroom.

Western Maine's cache of gems is found in the collectibles and jewelry at Mt. Mann Jewelers (57 Main St., 207-824-3030, mtmann.com). Jim Mann and Joni Fox-Campbell make the handcrafted rings, necklaces, and earrings, using tourmaline, amethyst, aquamarine, and other gemstones.

Whimsy seems to be the theme at Pok Sun Emporium (130 Main St., 207-824-7449). Maine wines, costume jewelry, Asian kitchenware, novelty items, clothing, and more are on the ground floor, while upstairs contains furniture and antiques.

Party

Before heading out, consider the complimentary Mountain Explorer Shuttle (weekend operation Thanksgiving through Christmas, then daily until spring), which runs between Bethel and Newry. Riders can easily find hot spots along Bethel's Main Street, Mayville Road (US Route 2), and Sunday River Road in Newry.

Steps from the slopes in the South Ridge base area at Sunday River is the Foggy Goggle (207-824-3000). The wraparound copper-top bar is new, along with a handful of flat-screen TVs and later hours.

Every New England ski town has its quintessential ski bar rocking with local bands and loaded with memorabilia on the walls. In Newry, that's the Matterhorn (Sunday River Road, 207-824-6271, matterhornskibar.com). Be like a local and show up for $5 Tuesday pizzas.

Sunday River Brew Pub (US Route 2, 207-824-4253 , stonecoast.com) features tasty locally crafted creations by brewer Stoo Mason .

It doesn't get more local than shooting pool at the Funky Red Barn (19 Summer St., 207-824-3003).

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