© Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram 2013
Ah, the Nonantum. This traditional resort holds memories for many of us who summered here in the 1960s – an aunt’s wedding, a graduation or summer party. The trademark mini-lighthouse sits on grassy lawn near a graceful wind sculpture twirling lazily against bright blue sky. When you’re relaxed enough, it appears to twirl in reverse.
I like a little green with my getaway, and the Nonantum is just my style. From the bamboo flooring to low-flow shower heads and on-demand hot water, this inn deserves its hard-earned environmental leader certification. They recycle, compost, and send leftover soap and shampoo to third world countries via “Clean the World.” A massive herb garden is a bank of vibrant color that supplies the resort with herbs and flowers all summer long.
Hang a left and it’s a half mile to shops and restaurants of Dock Square. Hang a right and you’re heading up Ocean Avenue past iconic weathered boathouses toward Walker’s Point and some of the prettiest views in Maine. The lovely stretch of avenue from the Colony Hotel to stone St. Anne’s church is known as Parson’s Way. I sit on a sunny bench as four cyclists circle back to throw stones into the crashing waves. Finally one of them hits the “big rock.” Laughing, high-fiving and fist-pumping, they leap on their bikes and pedal away, powered by pure joy.
Kennebunkport’s broad, sandy beaches are exquisite in late spring and early summer. It’s blissfully quiet, parking is plentiful, and it’s not too hot – although after our last Maine winter, “too hot” still seems impossible. Sea breezes, ocean walks and sunshine can restore even the most chapped winter spirit.
Out and About
Check out the Daytrip Society in Dock Square whose nifty collection of gifts, travel gear and bicycles is always a pleasure. Check out their beautifully designed recycled products. Spaces, a sunny shop on Ocean Avenue, has a modern, uncluttered vibe with distinctive textiles, books, and housewares displayed in bright expanse of space. Two storefronts down, you’ll find Dannah, a crowded chaos of jewelry, scarves, handbags and well-chosen accessories. If you liked playing dress-up in Granny’s attic, you’ll love Dannah. If you prefer swanning at MoMA, you’ll like Spaces.
My grandmother was born and raised in Cape Porpoise, and I love to visit “her” lovely pier and harbor. Don’t miss this scenic tidal treasure – hardworking fishermen, pungent smell of bait, and lovely Goat Island Light. For me, it all conjures pleasant childhood memories.
Sip and Savor
In a haze of nostalgia for Bar and Poppy Bush, I stop at Mabel’s for traditional clam chowder and famously overpriced lobster roll. Be warned: you may be shocked to find a lobster roll next door at Port Lobster for exactly half the price. But if you want the full-on, comfy-kitch Kennebunkport experience, do pop into Mabel’s.
For more sophisticated Port fare, try Old Vines. Bartenders Scott and Jeremy are charming, good looking, and better still, really know their wines. The baked feta in olive oil is perfect bar food, as are the olives. Eat like a local at Bandaloop, where organic roasted beets, kale and grilled asparagus rule.
Or unwind “at home” at Nonantum’s 95 Ocean restaurant where signature dishes feature what’s fresh and local. Lobster lasagna is a “wow” tower of lush lobster meat, fresh pasta, local cheeses, and herbs from the sprawling herb garden.
First, I take a scenic detour to Snug Harbor Farm in Kennebunk, a sprawling nursery and greenhouse with extraordinary topiary, amazing succulents, and a profusion of plants in handsome terra-cotta. Check out the apple tree espaliers splayed sideways like candelabra. I fall in love with a slender olive tree with slim, silvery-green leaves – the definition of “from away.” Hope she likes Munjoy Hill.
En route, I stop at the Egg and I for a breakfast of middling eggs Florentine. I don’t know why a someone who prides herself on being a savvy traveler would order anything “Florentine” at a roadside breakfast joint. But I like the small-town, unpretentious atmosphere of the “Egg” and enjoy a sunny hour of free WiFi in good company.
A craggy landmark with soul, sea and sky – what else do you need for a perfect Maine staycation? Rich in history, the Cliff House in Ogunquit is an old-fashioned, stately oasis where guests are still requested to dress for dinner. Cliff House is a real grande dame, and with her breathtaking views, she has every right to be.
With ever-changing skies, craggy cliffs and infinite seascapes, Bald Head Cliff straddles some of the most dramatic vistas in Maine. My room is on an upper floor with a small outdoor terrace. Waves crash and roar below, lulling me into a black-and-white dreams of Wuthering Heights and Hitchcock’s Rebecca. But even the canny Mrs. Danvers couldn’t have imagined the 21st century environmental initiatives underway at Cliff House.
Sustainable and Stunning
Check out the solar panels at Cliff House! One of Maine’s largest solar-thermal projects, the stunning array of 70 collectors supplies hot water for spa, indoor and outdoor pools, hot tubs, and over 100 guest rooms. Other green initiatives include CFL lights, cork flooring, organic fertilizers, and locally sourced ingredients – impressive. With all that 21st-century green technology in-place and their environmental certification secure, the resort continues to modernize their traditionally appointed interiors and add amenities.
I make an early-morning run to Bread and Roses for coffee and blueberry scones for a little breakfast picnic on Ogunquit Beach. I’m surprised by a marauding seagull who tries to steals my scone. My husband grew up here and insists this broad stretch of sand is the standard by which all beaches should be measured. I agree that it is meticulously groomed, but the seagulls could definitely use some manners.
It’s a short hop down Shore Road from Cliff House to the The Ogunquit Museum of American Art, my favorite small museum.
Sixty years ago this year, painter Henry Strater chose this gorgeous promontory to house his distinguished collection of American art. Stroll the grassy sculpture garden where you will find three newly restored works, Lion, Bear, and Horse in Field, by Maine treasure Bernard Langlais.
The cocktail scene in Ogunquit is always a gas. We’ll definitely be back in the high season for a sing-along with Kim Kuzma at the Front Porch bar in the center of town.
For now, I’ll stick with sea air and wild blue of this wonderful cliffside colossus. •
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Eco-Style by the Sea
Every so often, I need to run away from home, stake out a piece of beach and collect my thoughts. Here in Portland, a person doesn’t have to go far to find a restorative piece of sand and sky. It’s right down Route 77 in Cape Elizabeth at Inn by the Sea.
An eco-friendly tone is set by signs announcing that prime parking spots are reserved for fuel-efficient cars. I deposit my 12-year-old Jeep at the far end of the parking lot. The inn’s emphasis on all things environmental – from recycled to recyclable, hemp to bamboo – has made it one of the first “carbon neutral” hotels in the country. Wallcoverings, lights, and furnishings are a warm blend of comfort and LEED Silver certified correctness. You can feel great about relaxing in all this sustainable green serenity and authentic Maine mojo.
Every room is as luxurious as it is green, with fireplaces, terraces, and expansive views of the ocean. Towels are recycled bamboo. Robes are made with hemp fibers. To discourage the use of plastic bottles, glass urns of drinking water with lemon and “real” glasses can be found throughout the inn and spa.
A stroll down a private wooded boardwalk leads to Crescent Beach, peaceful and calm in that preseason way so familiar to Mainers. My beach walk is breezy and beautiful, part of the plan. The rhythm of the waves is calming and the sun is warm, with an uncluttered backdrop of sea and sky. The lush five-acre grounds boast an expansive garden that’s just beginning to bloom, and a wildlife sanctuary with a Monarch butterfly way-station and a protected cottontail rabbit habitat. Seriously, bunnies and butterflies.
My restorative plan also includes a stop at the spa, a great place to rejuvenate in eco-posh surroundings. The inn’s signature facial with sea-based products smells great and feels wonderful. Indulge in both the steam and surround-shower — I tried both. Daily life and obligations recede, like the Maine tide. S’marvelous.
The lounge — five tables, a bar and a fireplace — is a cozy place to sit and savor. Try a Sea Glass margarita, signature Maine blueberry martini, or the ever-popular S’more ‘tini – upscale chocolate for grownups. A handsome family blows in with 7-year-old twins and dog, fresh from a windy beach-walk. The bartender appears and remembers what each family member ordered yesterday. The little girl plays with bits of green sea glass and asks a question using the word “indigenous.” I try not to stare.
Note: As much as I appreciate the concept of an über pet-friendly hotel, the occasional doggie dust-up occurs. Dog owners reassure onlookers that their pups “just want to play.” Uh-huh.
At the intimate Sea Glass restaurant every table has a view. Sunset glows pink and gold as if on cue. Tonight the restaurant is participating in Dining Out For Life, a benefit for the Frannie Peabody Center, with talented chef Mitchell Kaldrovich magically combining local fish and garden flavors for a cause. His eco-sourcing extends to the ever-changing day-boat catch; tonight it’s pollock, one of several under-fished species featured in the inn’s sustainable fish program, Out of the Blue.
The chef’s gazpacho is an explosion of tomato flavor topped with crunchy courgettes and garden herbs. His silky handmade gnocchi with glistening green pesto and whole pine nuts is ‘squisito, and hints at an Italian influence. (Modestly, he credits his grandma.) The chef also struts his Argentine roots with a robust spinach salad featuring more-than-enough smoked bacon, plus goat cheese and crispy shallots. Delicious. He recommends a Malbec rosé — unexpected and perfect. I conclude that farm-to-table is not a challenge for Chef Mitch, it’s a calling.
Okay, offsite there is whale-watching, golf, birding, hiking, biking, fishing, farmer’s markets, and historic lighthouses … but why leave? The inn offers beach ecology, walks, garden tours, multi-generational yoga classes, and adorable Bug’s Life workshops for kids. The inn’s summer Garden Dinners and Taste of Maine receptions are wildly popular, featuring local growers and purveyors, lobstermen and winemakers. Note to self: Make a reservation.
The day starts with strong coffee from Portland’s own Coffee By Design. Pampering breakfast choices range from hearty to healthy, heavy to light. I go straight for rich, with a decadent crab cake Benedict crowned by two perfect poached eggs bathed in Hollandaise. Underneath is velvety avocado puree, like buried treasure. The morning view of grey, foggy ocean is soft and cocooning. Encouraged by the gentle spring rain, I think maybe I’ll grab one last nap before heading home.
For a restorative retreat at an upscale B&B with impressive eco-style, authentic Maine mojo, and great local cuisine, treat yourself to a staycation at this remarkable inn, close-to-home yet a world apart. I emerge rested and refreshed — mission accomplished. •