There’s no denying the appeal of a classic beach town in mid-summer – long stretches of sand, saltwater taffy, clam shacks – and when the town has a well-known summer theater, a long established art colony and a James Beard Awarded restaurant, a summer weekend doesn’t get much better.
For our get-away-by-the-sea we chose Ogunquit, Maine, a beach town with a history as an art colony. And to stay in tune with Ogunquit’s casual, but smart atmosphere and its 19th-century origins, we chose the historic Colonial Inn, its corner tower identifying it as a mid-Victorian seaside retreat. But the minute we stepped inside, we knew we were in the 21st century. The wide, bright lobby was deliciously air-conditioned, and decorated in up-to-date casual furnishings that seemed to flow right onto the wrap-around porch overlooking the tree-shaded lawns on the ocean side.
The porch, furnished in white wicker chairs, tables and settees, made a pleasant and breezy perch for parents with children in the pool below, or to settle in with a good book when the afternoon sun (or high tide) made a retreat from the beach advisable.
Our room had its own balcony, shaded by a big tree that kept it pleasant even during the heat wave we were trying to escape. We were in the annex building, instead of the main inn, whose rooms are fresh from a complete renovation and redecorating in seaside colors redolent of sand, sunshine and ocean. Some of these have sea views, but none has a balcony.
Rooms in the second building are generous, large enough for two queen-sized beds, two upholstered chairs and a small table in addition to a bureau. We also had a small refrigerator, microwave and coffee maker, along with a large flat-screen tv. But the weather was bright and the beach beckoned, so we spent very little time in our room.
The beach is only a five-minute walk, and in the other direction we could walk along the Marginal Way, a paved path that follows the shore around the rocky point to Perkins Cove. All along the way are little sandy coves, which we chose for swimming and sunning, instead of the long sandy beach around which the resorts and hotels gather.
This was one of the things we liked about the Colonial Inn – its location squarely between the beach, Marginal Way and the smart little downtown shops and restaurants. A five minute walk took us to any of these, and Ogunquit for all its arty past, is the kind of town where you can walk to and from the beach in your bathing suit and towel.
We enjoyed this easy blend of classy and casual – especially when it came time to pick a place to eat. Although the hotel served a buffet breakfast, we couldn’t resist the temptations of Bread and Roses Bakery one morning. Its window on Main Street had attracted our attention as we browsed in shops the previous afternoon, so we returned to make the hard choices of a vacation: do we have a fresh-baked palmier, muffin, croissant or one of the scones that temped us with flavors like raspberry-almond and blueberry-lemon. We finally chose the latter, taking them along with our tea and coffee to the benches on a little terrace alongside the bakery.
Ogunquit’s claim to culinary fame, however, is Arrows, no secret, especially after chef/owners Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier were chosen by the James Beard Foundation as the “Best Chefs in the Northeast” in 2012. After an evening there we couldn’t agree more. We began with a stroll in their gardens, where all the restaurant’s vegetables and herbs are grown. Later we recognized the tender baby carrots, delicate beet shoots and fresh-picked greens in our salad, and found their house-made vegetable pickles in our assortment of appetizers.
Ogunquit – and the Colonial Inn – have much more to offer. Just enjoying the ocean view from the porch and a few lazy games of shuffleboard made us feel like the Victorians who summered here when the hotel was new. Except that I wasn’t enveloped in yards of Victorian clothing – except for dinner at Arrows, which is a jacket-and-tie experience, shorts were the most common fashion statement in Ogunquit.
Along with the beach, Marginal Way and browsing in shops, we spent time at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art , whose collections include a number of noted artists who worked or visited this area, Edward Hopper, George Bellows, Alexander Calder and Rockwell Kent among them. Outside, the gardens overlook the sea and provide an outdoor gallery for sculptures and three-dimensional works. And for art of a different and delicious kind, we admired the showcases of hand-made chocolates at Harbor Candy Shop and watched through a big window as they dipped chocolates and made fudge.
Back at the inn we were always welcomed by a staff member, who invariably asked how we were enjoying our stay, and was there anything they could do for us. This cordiality and warmth seemed to permeate the entire staff, and it’s that sense of hospitality that most characterized Ogunquit’s Colonial Inn.