“I knew a woman, lovely in her bones,” wrote poet Theodore Roethke of a lady love, and we often feel the same about certain New England seacoast towns. Now that the throngs of visitors have departed and wealthy summer folk have retreated to warmer climes, Kennebunkport and Newport are lovely indeed in their bones. They have a kind of spare beauty that shines brightly in the winter light, and boast romantic, warm retreats. Here’s how they stack up on some amorous essentials:
Kennebunkport: Summer crowds glom onto the saltwater taffy and the unctuous
fudge at The Candy Man (20 Dock Square, 201-967-5693), but this time of year the shop is perhaps best known for turtles, including dark chocolate with cashews, milk chocolate with pecans, and an unusual coffee turtle. Many of the handmade truffles sound like bar concoctions (Kahlua white Russian, Irish Cream). They come in two sizes — a dainty bite, or a larger one, ideal for sharing.
Advantage: Newport. La Maison de Coco
also serves a killer hot chocolate.
Newport: Caswell-Massey, self-
proclaimed as “America’s original purveyor of luxury personal care products,” was founded in Newport in 1752. Not surprisingly, the Newport Historical Society’s Museum & Shop at Brick Market (127 Thames St., 401-841-8770) carries virtually the entire line, from soap, body dust, and cologne in the Elixir of Love scent (one of the company’s earliest) to Number Six (George Washington’s favorite) and Jockey Club (for those who want to smell like JFK).
Kennebunkport: Soft jazz playing in the background sets the mood at Compliments Gallery (Dock Square, 207-967-2269, www.complimentsgallery.com), which features beautiful things made by artisans from Maine and across the country. There are plenty of choices for men and women alike, from handblown martini glasses and beer steins to felted wool and silk scarves to comic ceramic car sculptures that can be customized with your own likenesses in the passenger’s and driver’s seats.
Advantage: Newport. The shop staff are a font of historic gossip tidbits (be sure to ask about the Quaker love triangle).
Newport: Built for an 18th-century shipping merchant, the Francis Malbone House
(392 Thames St., 800-846-0392 or 401-846-0392,
www.malbone.com) combines authentic history, sumptuous comfort, and perfect downtown location. Many rooms have working fireplaces, as do the elegant parlors.
Kennebunkport: Although not the most lavish of the town’s bed-and-breakfast inns in sea captains’ manses, the Captain Jefferds Inn (5 Pearl St., 800-839-6844 or 207-967-2311, www.captainjefferdsinn.com) has some truly unique rooms. “Assisi,” for example, has a fireplace and a separate indoor garden with flowing fountain, while “Arundel” has a king bed, a three-sided fireplace, and a two-person whirlpool.
Advantage: Newport. The Malbone afternoon tea is a formidable feast of cakes, tarts, and cookies.
Newport: The city’s
island-tip location means that fierce winds sweep its otherwise romantic shoreline in the winter. But there’s romance inland as well. Try popping the question by the ruins of the Old Stone Mill in Touro Park. The Newport Tower, as it’s also known, was probably built in the 17th century for Rhode Island’s first Colonial governor. Romantically minded mystery mongers, however, suggest it was constructed by medieval Vikings or 15th-century Chinese sailors.
Kennebunkport: It’s hard for your beloved to turn down a marriage proposal proffered on the seashore, making any place along Ocean Avenue a good candidate, though the benches overlooking Walker’s Point have the best Winslow Homer views. Sunset can be spectacular.
Advantage: Newport. Romance should come with a little mystery attached.
Newport: Why are the best nightspots often underground? Head down the stairs at the Perry Mill for live rock at the otherwise sports-obsessed
Rhino Bar & Grille (337 Thames St., 401-846-0707, www.therhinobar.com) and its DJ-centric dance room, Tusk. Locally brewed Newport Storm is on tap.
Kennebunkport: The ivories get tickled on Friday and Saturday nights this time of year in the classy piano bar of the Kennebunkport Inn (1 Dock Square, 800-248-2621 or 207-967-2621, www.kennebunkportinn.com). The music may be cool, but many of the top drinks are hot.
“Hot Figgin Cidah” features fig-infused cognac and hot Maine apple cider, while the “Thin Mint” adds Irish Cream and peppermint schnapps to hot chocolate.
Advantage: Toss-up. Is your idea of romance a pulsating beat or a sentimental trip down
Newport: Transient slips in the marina drive up summer demand for rooms at the Newport Harbor Hotel and Marina (49 America’s Cup Ave., 800-955-2558 or 401-847-9000, www.newporthotel.com), but this time of year the spacious quarters are a relative bargain. The renovated pool is slated to open on Valentine’s Day.
Kennebunkport: Small and friendly, the Rhumb Line Resort (41 Turbat’s Creek Road, 800-337-4862 or 207-967-5457, www.rhumblineresort.com) is a perfect hideaway in the woods a quarter mile from the ocean. Refurbished king rooms are the best bet and the outdoor hot tub is the perfect place to spend the evening looking at the stars. (Wimps can choose the indoor pool or hot tub.)
Advantage: Kennebunkport. It’s hard to beat warm water, cold air, and the Milky Way.
Newport: Take advantage of the Goat Island location by requesting a bay-view room for treatments at the Stillwater Spa (Hyatt Regency Newport, 1 Goat Island, 401-851-3225, www.newport.hyatt.com). Couple’s massages can be augmented with a bottle of champagne and a plate of chocolate-covered strawberries.
Kennebunkport: It’s hard to take the mumbo-jumbo about chakra points too seriously, but it sure feels good to have warm stones from the Kennebunk River lying on your body while you’re being massaged. The Breakwater Spa (127-133 Ocean Ave., 207-967-5333, www.thebreakwaterinn.com)
offers the treatment as a couple’s massage as well as a signature river stone manicure or pedicure.
Advantage: Kennebunkport. Mainers don’t let anything go to waste.
Newport: Hearty eaters find the gastropub fare of Buskers Irish Pub and Restaurant
(178 Thames St., 401-846-5856, www.buskerspub.com) a godsend. The Irish get a bum rap for their cuisine, especially when you consider how good a lamb stew or a corned beef dinner tastes when accompanied by a true Imperial pint (20 ounces) of Guinness. Although Buskers bustles, three high-backed wooden booths with stained glass offer more intimate dining.
Kennebunkport: It’s best to eat early at The Ramp Bar and Grill (77 Pier Road, Cape Porpoise, 207-967-8500,
www.pier77restaurant.com) so there will be enough light to enjoy the view of Cape Porpoise harbor and avoid the otherwise inevitable wait for a seat in this magnificently funky boaters’ bar with shockingly good food and a broad choice of the beverage known locally as “bee-ah.”
Advantage: Kennebunkport. The seafood stew of clams, mussels, prawns, and fresh fin fish in a saffron tomato broth is worth any wait.
Newport: For a splurge you can start with a half dozen oysters from the raw bar and a couple of glasses of Dom Perignon at The Mooring (Sayer’s Wharf, 401-846-2260, www.mooringrestaurant.com). This harborside restaurant can seem cavernous, but you can request a table in the alcove with a fireplace (though it’s not guaranteed) for an intimate dinner of Georges Bank scallops, Maine lobster, or pan-roasted salmon with ricotta-thyme gnocchi.
Kennebunkport: Some local boats fish all winter, so lobster figures extensively on the menu of hip bistro-trattoria 50 Local (50 Main St., Kennebunk, 207-985-0850, www.localkennebunk.com), located in the inland village a few miles from Kennebunkport. The crustacean is paired with mussels and calamari to grace the tagliatelle, added to a plate of gnocchi, or served as shelled meat poached in butter with lemon risotto on the side. You’d expect the fish to be local, but so are the pork and beef.
Advantage: Kennebunkport, for the taste of place, even in the most challenging season.