For the week of Ben’s 30th birthday, we packed up the car and headed north to Maine to tour the United States’ most eastern state. The Algonquin tribe referred to this region as the “Land of the frozen ground” with warmer temperatures only lasting from June through September. It’s no wonder that most of Maine’s 1.3 million people live in the south along the coastline. But for us, we hit up Maine during the perfect time of year….the end of summer and the beginning of Fall…the leaves were just starting to change colors and the temperatures were not too hot or too cool for our comfort. Overall, Maine exceeded our expectations. I would even say, in my opinion, that Maine offers some of the most beautiful coastline that the U.S. has to offer… up there with Hawaii and Alaska being top contenders!
Our first stop was in Kennebunkport which was about a 4 hour drive from Stamford, CT. Passing through Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire was just another reminder that the New England states are much smaller than say….Texas 🙂 Kennebunkport is a coastal town in the southern part of Maine and is the summer home to the Bush family…yep, THAT Bush family. Despite your political stance, credit should be given for escaping the southern summers to spend it in this beautiful coastal town with ideal temperatures and beautiful landscape. We stayed at the King’s Port Inn in the heart of Kennebunkport just off the main pedestrian thoroughfare. It had the classic New England feel but could use a little updating in the rooms. However, the location couldn’t be beat.
The town of Kennebunkport lends itself to tourism and offers whale watching tours which we opted to do. Our 4 hour tour quickly turned into a 6 hour tour with very little actual whale seeing….lets get something clear here…. Whale watching is just that…watching for whales… and anyone interested in doing a whale watching tour should go into it with the expectation that you may or may not see whales and they will not be doing Shamu tricks while jumping out of the water (in most cases)…and you might get a little wet. We managed to see two whales at the end of our tour that showed the tops of their backs and dorsal fins. The highlight for me was seeing a pod of seals lounging on a distant island. They are curios creatures and were quick to check out what business we had on their turf!
For dinner, we actually drove into Portland to experience a special treat to celebrate Ben’s 30th birthday at a place called Hugo’s. I could possibly write a full blog post on this restaurant as it was so amazing. The chef takes a farm to fork approach with a 5 course tasting menu at a set price. You also have the option to pair your tastings with wine for an additional cost. All courses are creatively prepared with appropriate infusions of flavor. Think of it as an art form of food with flavors exploding in your mouth. It.was.awesome! As someone who takes pictures of food…I’ll let the dishes speak for themselves…. Reservations taken within 30 days of requested seating.
The next day, we headed back up to Portland and stayed the night. Portland is the largest city of Maine inhabited by approximately 65,000 people with the greater area nearing only 250,000 people. It’s considered small enough to feel friendly but with a lively cultural scene (and we agree!). After doing our own research for dinner in Portland, we had landed on a restaurant called Five Fifty-Five. However, after the previous night’s extravagance (and Ben’s love of pizza), we decided to let the locals tell us where to go and ended up at The Flatbread Co. It was bustling with people and is clearly a hot spot. They offer several kinds of flatbreads (aka pizza) and beer and wine. They also take a farm to fork approach so the menu varies based on the vegetation in season. The restaurant is situated on the harbor and offers an outdoor waiting area with outdoor bar serving beer or wine to those who are waiting to be seated.
The blueberry pie in blueberry season is not to be missed! Overall, we would recommend a stop in Portland. The following day, we headed further north and stopped in Camden for lunch at Fresh. It is located just on the harbor and has modern/comfort decor. Upon arriving into town, we were taken back by the fog that was sitting on the town and in the harbor. By the time lunch was over, the fog had completely lifted revealing the landscape and sailboats in the harbor!
We finished our Trek up to Mt. Desert island within Acadia National Park. In this part of Maine, the coastline is ruffled with peninsulas and spotted with islands. There are 3,166 islands off the coast of Maine! It’s like the United States’ less warm version of the Greek isles! How does this state remain such a hidden gem?! Once we arrived at Acadia National Park, we stopped by Hannaford’s grocery store (the Albertsons of Maine) and stocked up on groceries for our camp site. We wanted to experience the natural beauty up-close-and-personal so we opted to stay 3 nights at the Blackwoods Campgrounds in the park.
A friend of mine who I consider a camping enthusiast gave me so many helpful tips and recipes to make our camping experience comfortable and fun! I’m hoping to get her to guest post on her camping musts as her recommendations were considered GOLD! We ended up making Boozie Brie for an appetizer 2 out of 3 nights which consisted of a wheel of Brie with Brandy drizzled on top, wrapped in foil and thrown into the fire to melt. It was so tasty with French bread and crackers! We also made a Hobo Hash with diced potatoes, peppers, onions, carrots, beef and cheese. We forgot our seasoning so there was much to be desired in terms of taste but it filled our bellies and we topped it off with the popular campfire dessert, S ’mores! Other campfire meals that we made consisted of breakfast tacos with eggs, Mexican Tacos for dinner, and campfire banana split which was a banana split down the middle within the skin and stuffed with chocolate and marshmallows and roasted in the fire. YUM!
Acadia National Park
We hiked down to the Otter Cliffs, passing Thunder Hole and ending at Sand Beach. From our campgrounds, this was a good easy hike with a nice payoff along the way. The fog was still sitting low which hindered our view so we came back to these sites later in the afternoon to get the best view.
For mountain biking, we rented bikes in Bar Harbor from Acadia Bike for two days and biked around Eagle Lake, Bubble Pond and Jordan’s Pond using the Carriage roads. In the early 1900’s, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. constructed 57 miles of Carriage Roads for the use of hikers, bikers, horse riders, and horse-drawn carriages on the island. There are no cars allowed on the Carriage roads and they are kept in pristine condition by volunteers in the area. The Carriage roads are very hilly but not considered useable by only experts. We found it to be a great workout though! For the cycle-enthusiast, the most challenging pathway is along the summit road up to Cadillac Mountain. However, this is not considered a Carriage road and bicyclists share the winding roadway with motor vehicles and should be very cautious.
Cadillac Mountain is a special mountain as this is the highest point in Acadia National Park where sunlight first shines on U.S. soil each morning during this time of year. We set our alarm to an early 4:30am to drive up to the summit and catch the sunrise which approximated 6:20am. Because of the low laying fog, the sunlight cast a pinkish-orange glow across the rolling clouds which made for a very beautiful sunrise that we could compare to Santorini’s sunset. We came back in the evening in order to catch the full view of the surrounding islands and it was well worth it for the stunning vistas!
One day for lunch, we landed at The Jordan Pond House in the midst of our mountain biking and it was AMAZING! Ben’s parents introduced us to the restaurant by way of Ben’s birthday gift and we were so happy to have that slice of heaven during our active biking day.
According to the Jordan Pond House website,” the dining traditions of the Jordan Pond House date back to the late 1800’s. During that era tea houses were established to cater to the growing number of sophisticated summer visitors.”
We learned that when the original owners decided to retire, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. purchased the establishment in order to continue the tradition. They are traditionally known for their popovers. What is a popover you ask? WELL, it’s a light, rather hollow roll made from an egg batter that originated from Yorkshire pudding around the 1700’s, typically baked in pans which have straight-walled sides rather than angled. The name popover came from the fact that the dough would “pop over” the tin while baking. Our popover was served with homemade strawberry jam and butter. It was an awesome summer treat!
After turning in our bikes, we found ourselves with a little bit of time and decided to hike up to Bubble Rock. The hike is a very short 0.7 mile each way up to Bubble Rock which had a very high payoff. The famous rock is nestled precariously on the eastern edge of the South Bubble. Its landing spot is a result of glacial sliding many years ago. Scientists think that the rock originated about 40 miles away near Lucerne. This rock leaves your stomach a bit queasy looking at the seemingly unstable resting spot. Despite its significant weight, I wasn’t convinced that leaning on it wouldn’t shove it right over the edge. 🙂
The next morning we booked a 2.5 hour kayaking tour in Bar Harbor through the same company we rented bikes from, Acadia Bike. Our tour guide was a college student spending her summers at Bar Harbor giving tours by kayak. She took us around Bar Island, Sheep Porcupine Island and Burnt Porcupine Island. Upon arrival in Bar Harbor, settlers put various animals on islands so that they didn’t have to build fences or prep the land of Mt. Desert Island (where Acadia National Park sits). The names of the islands remain today! I don’t think I want to know where the name Burnt Porcupine came from. Bar Island receives its name because during low tide, the sand bar links Mt. Desert Island to Bar Island together. For about 2 hours (depending on the season), anyone can walk across and explore the uninhabited island before high tide comes in and separates the two once again. We returned from our Kayaking excursion at low tide when tourists were making the trek across. Pretty interesting to see!
On the final evening of our Maine trip, we settled at Bar Harbor’s Inn & Spa for some rejuvenation before heading home. We enjoyed sitting on the terrace drinking wine and watching lobster fishermen come in with their daily catch. We were also very happy with our couples massage and the morning breakfast was quite ample to satisfy all hunger pangs. We enjoyed our breakfast in the Adirondack chairs on the front porch to watch the fishermen head out to sea.
We also enjoyed the Inn’s restaurant, The Reading Room. The restaurant has panoramic views of the harbor and its sunset. The menu was traditional with no surprises. There was the typical lobster dinner and various fish entrees. We did notice that we were by far the youngest patrons in the restaurant and two of very few people who still had color in their hair…. Point being: if you’re looking for a young hip atmosphere, you’re not going to find it here! But on a positive note, the service was great and views were very attractive.
Blueberry season left us looking for pie stands on the side of the road and tasting blueberry cocktails when offered. Lobster was abundant, fresh, and rather inexpensive compared to the rest of the country. On the way home, we decided to break up our 7 hour drive by visiting a couple of lighthouses. We first stopped at Bass Harbor Lighthouse which was a little disappointing as I wished we had a better vantage point. The final lighthouse that did not disappoint was the Portland Head Lighthouse that perched over some rocky cliffs and offered a peninsula that was perfect for glimpsing the full lighthouse over the water.
I highly recommend a trip to Maine during the summer/fall months. There is tourism in this state but typically from people who have summer homes in the area or live in neighboring New England states. In my opinion, it is still rather untouched by touristic restaurants and cluttered souvenir shops. It is a great place for families, couples, backpackers and motorcyclists to visit as there is something to offer everyone!