S'more than the ordinary at Hidden Pond
KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine - It takes a certain skill to perfectly toast a marshmallow, which must be impaled exactly in the center with a long stick. You need to position the marshmallow just right over a bank of coals and rotate the stick constantly so the marshmallow turns toasty brown on all sides. When it’s evenly cooked and soft in the middle, you must transfer it swiftly to the graham crackers and chocolate square, squeezing to make a perfect s’more.
That’s one of the simple pleasures of summer that we rediscovered at Hidden Pond, a designer take on the classic Maine woods getaway, located on a country road a mile and half inland from Kennebunkport’s Goose Rocks Beach. Cheerful young staff members build a bonfire every night, keep a supply of sharp sticks and s’more fixings on hand, and act as upbeat camp counselors assuring guests that everyone drops oozing marshmallows onto the stones lining the fire pit. Sated with marshmallow and chocolate - and with the sticky fingers to prove it - we called it a night and headed down the tree-lined dirt road to our bungalow.
Hidden Pond opened in 2008 with 14 two-bedroom cottages, combining the pleasures (and privacy) of a cottage community with the amenities of a good hotel and a small resort. With ample staff to sweat the details, guests need concentrate only on relaxing. Indeed, a sign at the entrance reminded us to drive slowly and breathe deeply. This spring, Hidden Pond expanded on its 60-acre site by adding 20 bungalow (i.e., studio) cottages without kitchens, along with spa facilities on stilts in the treetops, and a locavore restaurant, Earth, created by Boston superchef and restaurant mogul Ken Oringer.
It was early June when we stayed in one of those bungalows. Clad in gray-painted shingles with white shutters and a flower box on the front-facing window, the build ing evokes the New England cabin aesthetic, though it felt a little like a subdivision to us because left-handed and right-handed versions of the same structure alternate along the cul-de-sac.
But our bungalow offered a whole lot more than a typical resort hotel room. Not only was it spacious (a sensation amplified by the cathedral ceiling in the main room), it was all ours and the neighbors were invisible. One end of the living area featured a wet bar and a large soft couch facing the massive stone fireplace with gas logs. (We could not complain that the weather was too sultry to light the fire.) The other half of the room was devoted to a king-size bed with wall-mounted padded headboard and a flat-screen TV on a swinging arm. The bathroom was open and bright, featuring a gray-streaked white marble counter and a white-glazed farmhouse sink.
Decor in general trended toward a range of sophisticated designer neutral tones. A bouquet of flowers that we picked from the garden patch (called The Farm) and plopped into a drinking glass provided a burst of color and a summer casual air. In fact, guests are encouraged to pick flowers and to harvest herbs and vegetables from the beds, which also supply the kitchen.
The bungalows get the simple things right: an outdoor shower where only the sun or the moon peeks over the wooden enclosure, and a large screened-in porch perfect for lounging under a slowly spinning ceiling fan. A chaise longue for two, a good reading lamp (a rarity in lodgings anywhere these days), and a padded armchair make the porch a fine evening hangout, while a small table and two chairs are perfect to enjoy the continental breakfast delivered each morning in a canvas tote bag.
Breakfast consists of juice, bread and jam, some pastries, and a vacuum carafe of coffee. (Guests can request tea instead or in addition, but the kitchen only remembered one morning out of two.) The meal was delivered promptly at 8 a.m., so we would have had plenty of time for a leisurely repast even if we had wanted to join the 9 o’clock daily yoga session. There is afternoon tea daily at 3 p.m. in the main lodge and an artist in residence offers occasional classes.
But to a great extent, guests set their own pace. Many choose to lounge by the two lovely pools - one behind the main lodge, one between the restaurant and the new spa treehouses. We had been curious about the hiking paths mentioned on the website. They did not seem clearly marked, and when we asked about them, staff seemed genuinely puzzled that anyone would want to venture into the buggy woods when the beach is so near. So the beach it was.
In fact, proximity to Goose Rocks Beach is one of the big perks of staying at Hidden Pond. Beach parking is limited to Kennebunk sticker holders, making it pretty much off-limits to everyone else. But the resort gives guests a ride to the beach, either in its red-and-white vintage Ford Country Sedan or a former sightseeing trolley that can hold more beachgoers and their gear. We chose shiny coaster-brake bikes to pedal there and back. One afternoon we returned just before a thunderstorm struck, and sat out the drenching rain in the comfort of our screened porch as lightning flashed and thunder boomed all around us.
Since the bungalows don’t have the kitchen facilities of the cottages, we felt no obligation to cook meals and gladly sampled Earth in its maiden week. Oringer was on hand to examine every dish before it went to the table and we experienced no first-nights glitches. The room is casual and the menu affordable.
We ate on the back porch overlooking another garden patch and pond. We shared a small pizza with amazingly fragrant basil from the garden, an interesting and inexpensive bottle of Austrian wine, and enjoyed separate main courses. Even early in the growing season Oringer was making good use of the garden and the produce of a nearby farm, employing spring vegetables in both the cavatelli pasta dish and the roasted local sea bass served on red quinoa. Everything was so good and the portions so generous that we skipped dessert.
Besides, there were marshmallows with our names on them back at the bonfire.
Patricia Harris and David Lyon can be reached email@example.com.