We’re just back from a whirlwind tour to see and photograph some of the beautiful gardens on the Maine Coast – and to eat some of the region’s fabled seafood. To help us plan the itinerary we turned to a fairly new resource, a group of proprietor-owned inns and B&Bs called Inns Along the Coast. These inns, all of which need to meet high standards in order to join, dot the coast from Kennebunkport in the south to Bar Harbor, just outside northern Maine’s Acadia National Park.
Inns Along the Coast does more than assure comfortable, luxurious places to stay. These resident owner/innkeepers are each experts on their hometowns and what’s around them, so who better to help us plan our travels? The website suggests several themes – food, drink, arts, adventure, lobsters & lighthouses or fall foliage – with activities and attractions your innkeepers can arrange for you in each region.
Instead of choosing one theme, we cherry-picked to fit the season, our garden quest and our own diverse interests; in the process we had a chance to sample bits from a number of their itineraries. But that’s the beauty of their website – all the options are listed, so you can choose what interests you.
Our first stop was Brewster House B&B in Freeport, where we arrived just in time to join owners/innkeepers, Kelleigh Dulany and Dave Noel in Brewster House’s signature pretzel baking and craft beer pairing. With other guests we shaped and baked our own pretzels and ate them with samples of the five beers the inn has on tap. That experience is on both the Foodies Along the Coast and the Drink Your Way up the Coast itinerary options, and it was a bang-up beginning for our week in Maine.
The Arts Along the Coast options include galleries, theaters, museums and art walks, and all along the rocky coast were viewpoints for our own painting and photography – scenery that has inspired artists for more than a century. They also include outstanding gardens, and the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay proves that gardening is indeed an art form. The colors, composition and design of the several individual gardens are works of art, and throughout the complex are large outdoor sculptures.
We meandered scenic back roads to Newcastle, where Newcastle Inn overlooks the Damariscotta River. Innkeeper/owner, Julie Bolthuis was a goldmine of information about the area, showing us how to find the fascinating prehistoric shell middens and suggesting her favorite places for lobster rolls. We dipped back into the Drinks and Foodies “menus” with Damariscotta’s famed oysters at dinner and a tasting of vodkas made from Maine-grown ingredients at Split Rock Distilling.
Our home in Camden was a luxurious room overlooking the harbor, in the renovated carriage house of a mansion that’s now Hawthorn Inn. Knowing our interest in gardens, owner Lisa Weiss had arranged for us to tour Schelppinghurst, Ken Cleaves’ Japanese inspired garden.
From Camden we drove north to Bar Harbor, where we could look out at the summit of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park from the window of our room at Aysgarth Station B&B. Owner/innkeeper Jane Holland is an accomplished chef, as we discovered at breakfast the next morning, and she has maintained the traditions of her homeland in the British-style B&B. With her directions we found three nearby gardens; the azaleas were just springing into bloom at the beautiful Asticou Gardens.
There was a lot more to see on Mount Desert Island, so we stayed another night, this time at Saltair Inn Waterfront B&B, one of a double row of summer “cottages” built by wealthy families at the turn of the 20th century. From our room we could watch the rising tide cover the sand bar to Bar Island, which gave the town its name.
Heading back south we stopped in Rockland to stay at LimeRock Inn, where innkeepers/owners PJ Walter and Frank Isganitis gave us enough ideas for things to do in Rockland to have lasted us the entire week. Between galleries and museums, Rockland could easily be the arts capital of Maine. We’d been to the Farnsworth Art Museum recently, so followed their advice to see the newly opened Center for Maine Contemporary Art, the newest kid on Rockland’s art block.
Taking a cue from the Lobsters and Lighthouses itinerary we stopped to photograph Portland Head Light in Portland on our way south to Kennebunkport, where we arrived at the Captain Jefferds Inn just ahead of a shower. So instead of enjoying our complimentary afternoon tea (don’t get me started on their fantastic collection of loose teas!) at a table in the garden that surrounds this captain’s mansion, we joined other guests in the glass-surrounded solarium. Following up on the Lobsters and Lighthouses theme, we tucked into lobster dinners that night at Mabel’s Lobster Claw, just up the street.
There were so many more options suggested on each that we could easily have spent a busy week following any of them. This was just a taste of what Inns Along the Coast could offer, and it was love at first bite.