My travels always have a purpose. I go to New Brunswick to kayak in the Bay of Fundy. I go to the White Mountains to ski. I never go someplace just to BE there. It's harder than you think.
And where to do nothing, now there's a challenge. You can't exactly call the tourist office and say you're looking for a place with nothing to do. Going someplace out of season seemed the answer, so when we decided to take a short real vacation, we thought of the Maine coast – what could be quieter than a northern seaside resort in the winter?
Then we remembered the Captain Lord Mansion in Kennebunkport. The Captain Lord is not only a magnificent ship builder's home from the great Yankee sailing and seafaring days, but it has been beautifully restored and decorated by its owners, a couple with impeccable taste.
Antiques blend seamlessly with fine reproduction furniture, and the house's own fine architectural features have been preserved and embellished. Frosted windowpanes with elegant designs are framed in rich draperies. Walls are covered in sumptuous moire stripes and other period papers; the rich faux-graining on doors and woodwork had been retained and restored.
We arrived late in the afternoon of a blustery day to find a blazing fire in the parlor and our friends Tom and Hilary Nangle already occupying two of the wing chairs in front of it. Hilary is THE expert on Maine travel, author of all the Moon Guidebooks to the state, and having just put the latest edition to bed, she was seriously in need of a weekend of doing nothing, too.
Hilary mentioned that there were cheese and crackers in the kitchen, so we asked the innkeepers if we could get a glass of wine. They offered a list of wines for sale by the bottle at the same prices we would have paid at the grocery store. That’s hospitality (as opposed to taking advantage of a captive audience, as many inns do).
We chose to socialize by the fire in the high-ceilinged parlor, but could have as easily entertained in our own room, which had a gas fireplace with comfortable chairs and a sofa in front of it. The elegant, spacious room also accommodated the oversized four-poster bed, a lovely desk and a highboy that was such a good reproduction that we had to remove a drawer and check the underside to be sure it wasn’t a priceless antique.
A nice touch at the Captain Lord Mansion is that the double whirlpool baths are so well insulated that if we had decided to have a midnight bath, the noise of the whirlpool mechanism wouldn't disturb guests in adjacent rooms. The ultimate luxury was the heated marble bathroom floor.
Breakfast was superb, three courses that included a hot entrée each morning. It was served in the cheery kitchen, at long tables where we met other guests. Most of them had stayed here many times, and offered us suggestions of things to do in Kennebunkport. We thanked them politely, never letting on that doing anything was the farthest from our minds.
The Kennebunkport area was a favorite of wealthy Victorian families who moved from the city to enjoy the shore breezes and the summer social scene. Beachfronts are lined with their "cottages" which, while they may not rival Newport's for ostentation, are quite grand. Some of the fine old homes pre-date these, many of them homes of sea captains who made their fortunes in the China trade. All these make walking along the streets an architectural tour.
After a morning curled up by the fire reading, we bestirred ourselves to wander down to Dock Square, where a surprising number of shops and galleries were open. We browsed – shopping was actually doing something – until tea time, when we ambled back to the Captain Lord.
There was hot mulled cider on the big cast-iron stove in the kitchen, and a tray of the most delicious brownies that have ever melted in my mouth. Coffee and tea are available around the clock, along with a plate of cookies. I should mention the tea, delicate silk packets of fine whole-leaf tea, each one packaged in its own little box to keep it fresh. I fell in love with the lavender-scented black tea.
Despite our determination to do nothing, I relented in the charming little shop downstairs, where I found a giraffe pillow for my giraffe-loving six-year-old and a beaded bracelet that matched my favorite sweater. I could have had a massage in the cozy little spa, but I hadn’t done anything all weekend that taxed my muscles more than climbing the grand staircase to our room.
Visit the Captain Lord any time in February for the "February is for Lovers" package: a romantic room with a fireplace, a bottle of Italian Prosecco sparkling wine, chocolate truffles, a chocolate-dipped giant fortune cookie with a surprise offer inside (it might be a spa treeatment or a free stay at the inn), dining coupons and spa discount.
The Captain Lord Mansion, Kennebunkport, Maine; tel. 800-522-3141 or 207-967-3141