More tales of summer warmth for a cold winter, published in June, July & August 2014 © Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.
Maine cottages of all shapes and sizes offer charm and comfort. Some also offer a sense of history. While tooling up and down the coast in search of the quintessential Maine Cottage, I hook a left in Northport just south of Belfast and end up in Bayside, a sleepy little seaside hamlet.
The modest summer “camp meeting” was founded by forward-thinking Methodists in 1849. Families camped in tents on small platforms, and later, erected small, gingerbread-style wooden cottages overlooking beautiful Penobscot Bay. Over 300 cottages were eventually built, and most still stand today.
^ Built in 1869, Pioneer Cottage was the first private dwelling erected in Bayside.
Bayside is characterized by Victorian architecture, wraparound porches and colorful gingerbread trim in blue, green and yellow … and oh, the pinks! A pretty row of cottages along the park recalls the iconic “painted ladies” of San Francisco. Inside, some have been modernized, but many remain camp-style. My charming yellow cottage, Windy Corner, has a flight of narrow stairs to two small bedrooms whose open windows invite sea breezes and sound sleep.
A feeling of a simpler time prevails in Bayside, drawing visitors and summer residents year after year — some for over a century. For anyone with a sense of history, Bayside feels authentic and unfussed-with. There are no stoplights, and only one stop sign. The town center is the tiny library, where bookish Bayside kids can likely read every volume in a rainy summer. Grassy parks and a town dock give children room to play and swim as they did a century ago. A small, shallow semicircular beach is perfect for small children, with its sandy bottom that protects protect little feet.
Walking is great in Bayside. Townies smile and wave — sometimes, even to those of us “from away.” Seaside diversions include beachcombing, kayaking or sailing along the craggy shore. I’ll bet the birding is pretty good, too. On a clear day, you can see Ilseboro in the distance, and sometimes even Mt. Cadillac.
Porch-sitting in Bayside is a time-honored, old-fashioned tradition — the way I remember summer. There is no hustle here: I couldn’t discern much commercial activity unless you count the lady who builds twig trellises or the little real estate office. I head a mile up the road to the iconic Belfast Coop for upscale local groceries like Sullivan Farms smoked salmon and Appleton Creamery chevre, camp essentials. But as much as I adore funky Belfast, I confess I couldn’t wait to get back to my cozy little seaside haven.
Grandeur and Gravitas
I decide to check out historic Bar Harbor, home of Maine’s iconic summer “cottages” by the sea. Although their numbers were diminished by the Great Fire of 1947, many of the surviving cottages now operate as inns and B&Bs. Cleftstone Manor is one such survivor, with 16 guest rooms named for luminaries like Joseph Pulitzer and James G. Blaine. This grand summer cottage also housed the likes of William Howard Taft, whose girth was so vast that he required the installation of a special bathtub.
I learned this quirky fact from Cleftstone owner, Ann Bahr, a former schoolteacher and natural raconteur. This, I find, should be a prerequisite for any innkeeper of an historic inn — or in this case, “Maine Cottage.” Bahr gives me a window into the past with photographs and a memoir by my room’s namesake, Laura Blair, who summered at Cleftstone. I also learn that my room was part of the original ballroom. No wonder I sleep so soundly, dreaming of dancing. I’m steeped in history and lore. Thanks, teach.
Breakfast at the Cleftstone is a yummy, comfortable affair with house specialties like eggs Benedict and crème brulée French toast. Bahr, also a seasoned breakfast chef, turns out bennies and brulees like an old pro. There is plenty of hot coffee, juice, and daily smoothie. Homemade muffins and breads are graciously packed to-go, if you’re unable to eat another delicious bite. I particularly enjoyed Cleftstone’s BYOB “social hour” with homemade hors d’oeuvres. Bahr chats with guests and repeat visitors, and is generous with insider tips, local lore and recommendations. The conviviality is an unexpected plus for solo travelers. Guests are free to enjoy the main rooms of at Cleftstone — living room with fireplace, dining room with massive antique black-oak table, and the spacious, sunny enclosed porch.
This sprawling summer cottage is old-style, not new-wave. The décor is just this side of stodgy, and there are a few too many frou-frou touches. But this distinguished, old-fashioned Maine Cottage has enough provenance to lend it both gravitas and a real sense of history — thoroughly enjoyable.
Twee and Trendy
If I ever run away from home, I will doubtless be found at The Cottages at Cabot Cove in Kennebunkport. Formerly a roadside motel typical of the 1950s and 60s, Cabot Cove is now an open circle of sixteen cottages, each with tiny cupola and soothing exterior palette. Inside, each is a 300-sq-ft jewel designed and appointed by a different interior designer. Experiencing them as an informal series is a gas—the way I see it, I can visit every summer for 14 years and never repeat the experience.
Last year, I enjoyed the funky ambiance of Endless Summer cottage, with its eclectic jungle theme, animal prints and barefoot, beachy elegance. This year I chose romantic High Tide cottage, with whitewashed twig chandelier, white-on-white linens, bentwood rocker and cottage-chic ambiance.
Part of the beauty of a cottage stay is being able to “prepare” (not necessarily cook!) your own meals and picnics if and when you feel like it. Although there is no shortage of restaurants, I enjoy the inspired take-out available at Kennebunk markets H.B. Provisions and Market Day, and from the sunny Cape Porpoise Kitchen next to that bastion of yummy summer breakfast, the Wayfarer.
These take-out standouts offer salads, soups and respectable chowders, Maine crab cakes, meats, and baked goods galore. I appreciate the selection of local wines and international cheese — a cocktail party in a basket. Whether you want a yummy clam or shrimp boat from the Clam Shack, or a do-it-yourself feast, you’ll have a lovely seaside spot to dine and a super compact kitchen to prepare it. Cottages are remarkably well–equipped, starting with my go-to cottage necessities — reliable corkscrew and coffeemaker.
Romance gets a relaxed start each morning with a take-your-time breakfast delivered in a bright canvas tote hanging adorably on a nautical hook outside your door until you’re ready to retrieve it. Our bright green tote contains sturdy breakfast basics like yogurt, fruit, muffins, savory stuffed croissants and O.J. Early risers can sip DIY coffee and nibble last-night’s beach picnic.
This is the upscale, fully “wired” Maine Cottage experience — a comfy-chic, compact and very romantic “Room with a View.”
Commercial and Colorful
Just up the road in Kennebunk is another modern twist on the Maine Cottage, a string of tiny galleries and boutiques in old cottage units called The Galleries at Morning Walk. I visit with artist and proprietor of Fish House Designs, Holly Ross, whose colorful paintings recall carefree summers and sunny seaside days. The Galleries are a novel take on the Maine Cottage, a perfect little cluster of one-room boutiques and workshops. Well done!