New England summer travel in Maine
Whether you want to kayak in the ocean, zip down a mountain, or just cozy up in a rocking chair on a country porch, your vacation is waiting at one of these destinations.
WHY GO Instead of bustling Bar Harbor, choose this laid-back village on the west side of Mount Desert Island. It’s a relaxing home base for hiking, biking, and exploring Acadia National Park, with enough diversions and restaurants to fill your evenings and the occasional rainy afternoon.
THE BASICS Stay at the historic Claremont Hotel overlooking the mouth of postcard-perfect Somes Sound (800-244-5036, http://www.theclaremonthotel.com; from $125 for a hotel room and $155 for a cottage before July 1, and from $170 for a hotel room and $200 for a cottage through September 5). There are croquet courts on the lawn and rocking chairs on the wraparound porch for whiling away your non-Acadia days with a book – the way life should be. Grab dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, Xanthus, named after painter Xanthus Smith, whose 1885 depiction of the Claremont hangs in the dining room. Or have a nibble on the water at the Boathouse, open in July and August – the nation’s first family lunched there last summer. In town, Red Sky (207-244-0476, http://www.redskyrestaurant.com) sources its ingredients from local farms, including Deer Meadow and Beech Hill. The lobster risotto is heavenly, and there’s a new dessert on the summer menu: a banana split made with bruleed bananas and Mount Desert Island salt caramel, vanilla, and coffee ice creams. To get your fix of chowder, fried scallops, and blueberry pie, snag a picnic table on the working dock at the Captain’s Galley at Beal’s Lobster Pier (207-244-3202, http://www.bealslobsterpier.net).
DON’T MISS The free wine tastings at Sawyer’s Specialties (207-244-3317, http://www.mdiwine.com), held from 2 to 5 p.m. on the second Saturday of every month, are notable. Browse among the shop’s selection of bottles as well as its wide array of cheeses, picked by owner Scott Worcester. (His favorite? Truffle Tremor from California’s Cypress Grove Chevre.) The Wendell Gilley Museum (207-244-7555, http://www.wendellgilleymuseum.org) houses more than a hundred of the master woodcarver’s birds, and it’s celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Inspired by the carving demos? Pick up a set of tools and a blank in the museum shop and get to work. And don’t be alarmed if you see flocks of pink lawn ornaments landing in town July 15 through 18; it’s the Harbor House’s annual Flamingo Festival. Don Featherstone, inventor of the plastic flamingo, and his wife, Nancy, travel up from Fitchburg to star in the colorful parade.
– Courtney Hollands
WHY GO The woods are filled with wonder, and there’s still a frontier-like feel to the Carrabassett Valley. Long linked to the Sugarloaf ski resort, this western Maine destination is a magnet for those looking to hike, bike, zip-line, fish, golf, go moose spotting, and more. Hikers can try a 4,000-foot-plus big boy like Sugarloaf, Crocker, or Bigelow, and spend some time on the storied Appalachian Trail. The Carrabassett Region chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association is improving and expanding a mountain biking network. The multiuse Narrow Gauge Pathway, on an old railroad bed along the rocky Carrabassett River, is an easy outing for both bikers and hikers. Sugarloaf’s (207-237-2000) zip-line adventure zigzags down a shoulder of the peak and ends with a flight above a stony brook. The Kingfield-based Maine Huts & Trails system (207-265-2400, http://www.mainehuts.org) last year opened Grand Falls, the third of 12 planned lodge-style huts that will be connected by miles of trails. The remote shelter, above the Dead River, is a great base camp for fly-fishing and paddling.
THE BASICS As for where to hang your waders, you can choose modern comfort at the Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel (800-843-5623, http://www.sugarloaf.com; from $150), in the base village with its fitness center steps away. Or you can opt for the old-fashioned Herbert Hotel (207-265-2000, http://www.herbertgrandhotel.com; from $79) in Kingfield, 15 miles south; it’s loaded with history, antiques, and charm. Both are fine launching points for a trip to Hug’s (207-237-2392, always call ahead), a casual, intimate eight-table Italian restaurant. Don’t be fooled by the simple exterior. Inside you’ll find wonderful spinach and ricotta ravioli and a mushroom-sprinkled chicken limone.
DON’T MISS “You’re either in play or in trouble,” says Sugarloaf golf pro Steve Niezgoda. The challenging par-72, 18-hole Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed course (greens fees range from $39 to $97) features the breathtaking “String of Pearls” on the back nine, a collection of engaging holes that includes humbling, terraced number 11, aptly called “The Precipice.” Budget money for more golf balls.
– Marty Basch
Blue Hill Peninsula
WHY GO This peninsula halfway between Camden and Bar Harbor encapsulates everything good about the Maine coast. At its northwest corner, the town of Castine is steeped in history, with its austere white-painted Colonial and Federal homes, the remains of three forts, and roadside markers detailing territorial struggles between France, England, and the fledgling United States. From stubby Dyces Head Lighthouse, built in 1828, a narrow path leads down steep stairs to splintered slate ledges below a rocky promontory. In Brooklin, a tiny village that’s home to the WoodenBoat School (207-359-4651, http://www.thewoodenboatschool.com), visitors can get a feel for this legendary center of boat building. Continue around the shore, sandwiched between Caterpillar Mountain and the deep azure of Blue Hill Bay, and you’ll wind up at the village of Blue Hill, known for its rustic hipster feel, arts and crafts galleries, and the Blue Hill Co-op Community Market & Cafe (207-374-2165, http://www.bluehill.coop), where Manhattan summer folk mingle with regular rusticators.
THE BASICS The Castine Inn (207-326-4365, http://www.castineinn.com; from $110), built in 1898, holds down a prime spot on Main Street. Its open porch is perfect for sitting and people watching. Farther down the peninsula, every room but one at The Lookout (207-359-2188, http://www.thelookoutinn.biz; from $95 early and late season, from $119 late June through mid-September) has a view across sloping meadows to Blue Hill Bay. This inn on Flye Point has been run by the same family since the 1880s.
DON’T MISS Castine Kayak Adventures (207-866-3506, http://www.castinekayak.com) offers Full Moon and Bioluminescent Night Paddles on Fridays and Saturdays for $55 per person. Castine sits at the confluence of the Bagaduce River and the Penobscot River in Penobscot Bay, creating nearly ideal conditions for the growth of marine phytoplankton that emit flashes of white to blue-green light when stirred up by paddlers. Stars and planets twinkle overhead while the plankton wink like a million fireflies in the water.
– Patricia Harris and David Lyon
WHY GO Only a 20-minute ferry ride from Portland, 2-mile-long, 1-mile-wide Peaks Island gets you away from the mainland but not too far from civilization. One of four islands in Casco Bay with a year-round population, Peaks is a part of the city of Portland (though rumblings to secede come and go). You’ll find vast ocean views to the east, city lights to the west, and the slow-down vibe endemic to island communities. Yet there are enough services – art walks, library, grocery store, health center – to make you feel at ease. And you can always take the ferry to Portland for dinner.
THE BASICS Visit for a day, overnight, or the weekend – or a week, if you really want to settle in. The ferry runs nearly every hour (http://www.cascobaylines.com for schedule). The Inn on Peaks Island has six charming and airy suites with fireplaces (207-766-5100, http://www.innonpeaks.com; from $199) and a restaurant with seafood, salads, pub fare, and a kids’ menu. Homes and apartments are available for vacation rental. (See the classifieds on http://www.peaksisland.com or go to ashmorerealty.com or http://www.portisland.com.) History buffs may want to stay hostel-style in the Eighth Maine Regiment Memorial Museum and Lodge (http://www.eighthmaine.com; from $99). In case the quiet gets old, the Inn on Peaks Island features Shipyard brews and is host to live music, the occasional comedy night, and a gourmet brunch on Sundays. Jones Landing, an event hall adjacent to the ferry, rocks on Reggae Sundays, 1 to 5 p.m., in the summer.
DON’T MISS Circumnavigate the island via Seashore Avenue on foot, rented bike, or golf cart. It’s a 4-mile-long loop with wide-open water views and forested sections. Swim or search for sea glass at Sandy Beach. Paddle a kayak to a quiet cove (Casco Bay Kayak, 207-766-2650; Maine Island Kayak, 207-766-2373). Take a ferry to Long Island or Cliff Island, also in Casco Bay, for a walk and a picnic. Check out the Fifth Maine Regiment Museum (207-766-3330, http://www.fifthmainemuseum.org), a Civil War and local history museum, or the quirky Umbrella Cover Museum, open by chance or by appointment, mid-June to Labor Day (207-939-0301, http://www.umbrellacovermuseum.org).
– Nancy Heiser
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