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Humorist Dave Barry once wryly suggested that Maine's state motto should be "Cold, but damp."
Cute, but true. There's spring, which tends to last a few blustery, rain-soaked days. There's November, in which Arctic winds alternate with gray sheets of rain. And then winter brings a character-building mix of blizzards and ice storms to the fabled coast.
Ah, but then there's summer. Summer in Maine brings ospreys diving for fish off wooded points, gleaming cumulus clouds building over the rounded peaks of Acadia, and the haunting whoop of loons echoing off the dense forest walls bordering the lakes. It brings languorous days when the sun rises before most visitors and it seems like noontime at 8am. Maine summers bring a measure of gracious tranquillity, and a placid stay in the right spot can rejuvenate even the most jangled nerves.
The trick is finding that right spot. Those who arrive here without a clear plan might find themselves cursing their travel decision. Maine's Route 1 along the coast has its moments, but it's mostly charmless-an amalgam of convenience stores, tourist boutiques, and restaurants catering to bus tours. Acadia National Park, for all its vaunted ocean vistas, also has world-class congestion along some of the byways in and around the park. In this it's no different from other national parks of its stature-whether Yosemite orYellowstone. You need strategy to avoid the worst moments.
Fortunately, Maine's size works to the traveler's advantage. Maine is nearly as large as the other five New England states combined. Straighten out the state's convoluted coast and you'll discover you've got more than a continent's worth of exploring-some 5,500 miles of mainland shoreline. Add to that the possibility of exploring even a few of Maine's thousands of coastal islands and numberless coves, peninsulas, and bays, and you'll soon realize that with a little planning, you should easily be able to find your place far from the crowds.
One of the greatest challenges of planning a vacation in coastal Maine is narrowing down the options: Where to start? Here's an entirely biased list of destinations, the places I enjoy returning to time and again. Over years of traveling through the region, I've discovered that these places merit more than just a quick stop when I'm in the area; they're worth a major detour.
1 The Seven Natural Wonders of Coastal Maine
The beaches of southern Maine (southern Maine): The flat, whitesand beaches of southernmost Maine are gorgeous and perfect for Frisbee, walking, tanning, kite-flying, or photography. Just watch your tootsies: that water's cold. See chapter 4.
The Calendar Islands (southern Maine): Locals call 'em the Calendar Islands for a very simple reason: There must be at least 365 of these rocky islands dotting Casco Bay, in every shape and size. Take a mailboat from Portland harbor and see how many you can count. See chapter 5.
Rocky peninsulas (southern, midcoast, and Downeast Maine): Everywhere you go-from the Cape Neddick area to just south of Portland area, from Harpswell to Georgetown to Blue Hill to Boothbay and Schoodic Point-you'll find long fingerlings and headlands carved of sheer bedrock. Once these were mountaintops high above an ancient sea; now they comprise some of the East Coast's most beautiful scenery. Try some backroads wandering to find the best ones.
The Camden Hills (midcoast Maine): They're not huge, but this run of hills comes with a bonus you'll only understand when you get to the top: eye-popping coastal vistas of boats, villages, and more hills like these. See chapter 7.
Acadia National Park (Downeast Maine): New England's only national park is also one of the most popular in the U.S. The fractured, rocky, surf-pounded coastline is the main attraction, but don't overlook the quiet, boreal forests and open summits of low mountains that afford spectacular coastal views. See chapter 8.
The Appalachian Trail and Mount Katahdin (side trip from Downeast Maine): All right, they're not directly on the coast. But Maine's highest peak is well worth a detour. Rising abruptly from a thick blanket of North Woods forest, the nearly mile-high Mount Katahdin has an ineffable spiritual quality to it. It's the centerpiece of equally inspiring Baxter State Park, one of the last, best wildernesses of the eastern states. While here, don't forget to check out the trail, which stretches 2,100 rugged miles from Georgia before winding uphill to the finish line here on Katahdin. The stretches in Maine include some of the most magnificent scenery in northern New England. See chapter 10.
2 The Best Small Towns
York Village (southern Maine): What else can you say? It's Maine's oldest settlement, so it's got history and fine architecture. It's also got a set of beaches and a coastal trail nearby. And people just seem friendlier here. See Chapter 4.
Camden (midcoast Maine): This seaside town has everything-a beautiful harbor, great Federal, Queen Anne, and Greek Revival architecture, even its own tiny mountain range affording great hikes with sweeping ocean views. With lots of elegant bed-and-breakfasts, it's a perfect base for explorations further afield. See chapter 7.
Castine (midcoast Maine): Soaring elm trees, a peaceful harbor-side setting, grand historic homes, and a selection of good inns make this a great spot to soak up some of Maine's coastal ambience off the beaten path. See chapter 7.
Blue Hill (midcoast Maine): A tiny town with fine harbor views, a general store, a green, a lazy, summery feeling, and absolutely no pretense or T-shirt shops (yet). See chapter 7.
Northeast Harbor (Downeast Maine): A waterside setting, a gentle mixture of seafaring locals and art-loving summer folks, and a century-ago aura pervade the single, sleepy main street of one of Mount Desert Island's best little towns. See chapter 8.
Eastport (Downeast Maine): Sure, it's the saltiest town on my list, but Eastport is making a slow transition from working-class sea town to tourist (and life) destination. See chapter 9.
3 The Best Places to See Fall Foliage
The Camden Hills (midcoast Maine): The surrounding countryside is full of blazing color, with whitewashed homes and sailboats to offset it. Perfect. See chapter 7.
Acadia National Park (Downeast Maine): This national park possesses some of the finest foliage views I've ever seen, all the more so when placed beside the dramatic, rocky coastline. See chapter 8.
Blueberry barrens (Downeast Maine): Maine's wild blueberry barrens turn a brilliant cranberry-red in fall, setting the fields ablaze with color. Wander the dirt roads northeast of Cherryfield through the upland barrens, or drive Route 1 between Harrington and Machias past the experimental farm atop, of course, Blueberry Hill. See chapter 9.
4 The Best Coastal Views
Hike Monhegan Island: The village of Monhegan is clustered around the harbor of this island far off the Maine coast. The rest of this 700-acre island is comprised of picturesque wildlands, with miles of trails crossing open meadows and tracing rocky bluffs. See chapter 6.
Cruising Maine on a windjammer: See Maine as many saw it for centuries-from the ocean, looking inland. Sailing ships depart from various harbors along the coast, particularly Rockland and Camden. Spend between a night and a week exploring the dramatic shoreline. See chapter 7.
Merchant's Row by sea kayak: The islands between Stonington and Isle au Haut, rimmed with pink granite and capped with the stark spires of spruce trees, are among the most spectacular anywhere. Inaccessible by motorboat, a wonderful way to explore them is by sea kayak. Outfitters offer overnight camping trips on the islands. See chapter 7.
Drive the Park Loop Road at Acadia National Park: This is the region's premier ocean drive. Start along a ridge with views of Frenchman Bay and the Porcupine Islands, then dip down along the rocky shores to watch the surf crash against the dark rocks. Plan to do this 20-mile loop at least twice to get the most out of it. See chapter 8.
Sit in a rocking chair: Views are never better than when you're caught unaware-such as looking up from an engrossing book on the front porch of an ocean-side inn. This book includes many hotels and inns on the water. Some of the better ones for so-called rusticating: Beachmere Inn (Ogunquit), Black Point Inn (Scarborough), Grey Havens (Georgetown Island), East Wind Inn (Tenant's Harbor), Samoset Resort (Rockport), Inn on the Harbor (Stonington), The Tides Inn (Bar Harbor), and the Claremont (Southwest Harbor).
Bicycle Route 1A, Hampton Beach to Portsmouth (New Hampshire): With a sampling of all sorts of coastal scenery on New Hampshire's minuscule coastline, you begin with sandy beaches, then pass rocky headlands and handsome mansions before coasting into Portsmouth, New Hampshire's scenic seaside city. See chapter 10.
5 The Best Active Vacations
Mountain biking at Acadia: John D. Rockefeller, Jr., built the carriage roads of Mount Desert Island so that the gentry could enjoy rambles in the woods with their horses-away from pesky cars. Today, this extensive network offers some of the most enjoyable, aesthetically pleasing mountain biking anywhere. See chapter 8.
Kayaking the coast: With its massive and serpentine coastline and thousands of islands, most uninhabited, Maine is a worldclass destination for those who like to snoop around by kayak. The Stonington area is considered the best spot for kayaking in Maine, but it's hard to go wrong anywhere north and east of Portland. Beware of dangers in the form of tides and weather-kayak with a guide if you're a novice.
Canoeing the North Woods: Maine has thousands of miles of flowing rivers and streams, and hundreds of miles of shoreline along remote ponds and lakes. Bring your tent, sleeping bag, and cooking gear, and come prepared to spend a night under the stars listening to the sounds of the loons. See chapter 10.
6 The Best Destinations for Families
York Beach (southern Maine): This beach town is actually a set of three towns; head for Short Sands with the kids, where they can watch a taffy-pulling machine, play video games in an arcade, ogle seashells in a trinket shop, or scarf cotton candy at a small amusement park. The Long Sands section is ideal for Frisbee and kite-flying, and nearby Nubble Light is close to a kid-friendly ice cream shop, Brown's (to get there, keep going uphill past the lighthouse). See chapter 4.
Old Orchard Beach (southern Maine): This place has a carny atmosphere-there are French fries and hotdogs and fried-dough galore. Though it might be a bit much for you, the kids will probably love it. See chapter 5.
Monhegan Island (southern Maine): Kids from 8 to 12 years old especially enjoy overnight excursions to Monhegan Island. The mail boat from Port Clyde is rustic and intriguing, the hotels are an adventure, and the 700-acre island's scale is perfect for kids to explore. See chapter 6.
7 The Most Intriguing Historic Homes
Victoria Mansion (Portland): Donald Trump has nothing on the Victorians when it comes to material excess. You'll see Victorian decorative arts at their zenith in this elaborate Italianate mansion, built during the Civil War. It's open to the public for tours throughout the summer. See chapter 5
Parson Fisher House (Blue Hill): Parson Jonathan Fisher, who served as minister to the quiet town of Blue Hill in the late 18th century, was a man of extraordinary talents, from designing his own house to building his own clocks to preaching sermons in five languages (including Aramaic). As if that wasn't enough, his primitive landscapes of the region are widely regarded as among the best to come from the area. See chapter 7.
8 The Best Places to Rediscover America's Past
Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community (New Gloucester): This is the last of the active Shaker communities in the nation and the only one that voted to accept new converts rather than die out. The 1,900-acre farm about 45 minutes outside of Portland has a number of exceptional buildings, including some dating from the 18th century. Visitors can view examples of Shaker craftsmanship and buy locally grown Shaker herbs to bring home. See chapter 5.
Mount Desert Island & Bar Harbor: In the mid-1800s, America launched a love affair with nature and never looked back. See where it started, amid surf-wracked rocks, and where some of the nation's most affluent families ventured to erect vacation "cottages," with bedrooms by the dozen. The area still offers lessons on how to design with nature as accomplice, rather than adversary. See chapter 8.
Portsmouth (New Hampshire): Portsmouth is a salty coastal city that just happens to have some of the most impressive historic homes in New England. Start at Strawbery Banke, a 10-acre compound of 42 historic buildings. Then visit the many other grand homes in nearby neighborhoods, including the house John Paul Jones lived in while building his warship during the Revolution. See chapter 10.
9 The Best Resorts
The Colony Hotel (Kennebunkport; 800/552-2363 or 207/967-3331): This rambling and gleaming white resort dates from 1914 and has been upgraded over the years without losing any of its charm. You can play shuffleboard, putt on the green, or lounge in the ocean-view pool. More vigorous souls cross the street to brave the cold Atlantic waters. See p. 93.
Black Point Inn (Scarborough; 800/258-0003 or 207/883-2500): This compound of shingled buildings near two beaches dates from 1878 but has been impeccably maintained ever since. New owners have brought back the luster without obscuring the old-fashioned charm. See p. 102.
White Barn Inn (Kennebunkport; 207/967-2321): Much of the White Barn staff hails from Europe, and they treat guests graciously. The rooms are a delight, and the meals (served in a gloriously restored barn) may be the best in Maine. See p. 92.
10 The Best Bed & Breakfasts
The Captain Lord Mansion (Kennebunkport; 800/522-3141 or 207/967-3141): You'll transcend the "wannaB&Bs" at this genuine article, with grandfather clocks, Chippendale highboys, and other wonderful antiques. This uncommonly handsome mansion is right in the village of Kennebunkport, perfectly situated for relaxing strolls. See p. 92.
Pomegranate Inn (Portland; 800/356-0408 or 207/772-1006): Whimsy and history combine with good effect at this fine B&B in one of Portland's most stately neighborhoods. The Italianate mansion is stern on the outside yet alive on the inside with creative paintings and an eclectic collection of unique antiques. See p. 104.
Grey Havens (Georgetown Island; 800/431-2316 or 207/371-2616): This graceful, 1904-shingled home with prominent turrets sits on a high, rocky bluff overlooking the sea. Inside, it's all richly mellowed pine paneling, with a spacious common room where you can relax in cozy chairs in front of the cobblestone fireplace while listening to classical music. See p. 134.
Lindenwood Inn (Southwest Harbor; 800/307-5335 or 207/ 244-5335): It's hard to argue with a jovial owner, outstanding rooms, a refreshingly laid-back feel, and proximity to one of Mount Desert Island's key lobster piers. This place delivers in every sense of the word. See p. 235.
The Claremont (Southwest Harbor; 800/244-5036 or 207/ 244-5036): The 1884 Claremont is a Maine classic. This waterside lodge has everything a Victorian resort should, including sparely decorated rooms, creaky floorboards in the halls, great views of water and mountains, and a croquet pitch. The dining room is only so-so, but Southwest Harbor has other dining options. See p. 234.
Excerpted from Frommer's Maine Coast by Paul Karr Excerpted by permission.
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List of Maps.
1 THE BEST OF THE MAINE COAST.
2 THE MAINE COAST IN DEPTH.
3 PLANNING YOUR TRIP TO THE MAINE COAST.
4 SUGGESTED MAINE COAST ITINERARIES.
5 SOUTHERN MAINE.
7 FREEPORT TO MONHEGAN ISLAND.
8 MIDCOAST MAINE.
9 MOUNT DESERT ISLAND.
10 THE DOWNEAST COAST.
11 SIDE TRIPS FROM THE MAINE COAST.
12 FAST FACTS & WEBSITES.
Posted May 29, 2011
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Posted August 2, 2011
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Posted July 31, 2011
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