Escape to: Kennebunkport
By the Editors of Farewell Travels
Photo by Robert Dennis
In Kennebunkport, you find all the simple pleasures of the Maine coast (which is all about the water-- being on it, in it or looking at it), but also sophisticated restaurants, historic New England houses, a rich arts scene and a variety of fabulous places to stay. Late summer into fall is a great time to visit, as the summer crowds start to head home and the weather tends to be beautiful.
Here's what you need to know.
Walking Point. While many guidebooks recommend Ocean Avenue as a scenic drive, we say do it on foot or by bike...and bring your camera.
From Dock Square in town, it's a 4.8 mile walk (though you can park closer and cut down on the distance). Be sure to visit St. Anne's Church which is beautiful inside and out. Outside--it's all about the ocean views. Inside, don't miss the stained glass windows on the north transept wall. The anchor, crown and lilies, and cross subjects feature shells and glass ‘jewels’ in the design.
From there, it's about three quarters of a mile walk to Walker's Point (pictured here), the Bush Family summer compound. While you can't get close because of security, you can see the house from the road which sits on a promontory of its own, surrounded by the ocean. While our 41st President was in office, this was the Summer White House where several world leaders were hosted including Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev.
Here's the beach! "I have to get my annual fix," a tanned and blonde 40-something man told us as he pedaled off on a bike barefoot and wearing a bathing suit. We met Lance in the Goose Rocks Beach General Store where the owners clearly knew him. He has been coming to this little corner of the world since he was a kid and now returns every year with his wife and young kids. Lance pretty much sums up Kennebunkport's only beach. It has an unofficial fan club of families, gay couples, and solo travelers who are drawn back to it year after year.
On your way in, pick up a daily parking pass at the general store ($12) or better yet, stay nearby. A romantic choice is The Tides Beach Club right across the street from the beach. A classic Victorian building, the hotel is not a new presence on Goose Rocks Beach (in fact, it’s been around since 1899), but it was recently purchased by the Kennebunkport Resort Collection and renovated top to bottom. There are just 21 rooms, all done in soothing pastels, with a very contemporary feel. Very chic.
Its sister hotel, Hidden Pond, is also a great choice if you want to be within easy reach of the beach. A short bike ride away, it's ideal for families, couples and friends traveling together with exquisitely designed cottages you'll never want to leave.
Eat here. Locals and tourists alike wait as long as they have to for a meal
at The Ramp Bar and Grill in Cape Porpoise, which is a couple of miles northeast of Dock Square. There's simply no changing plans once the urge to have their
lobster roll or onion strings hits. The lobster roll is piled high with meat and comes with homemade chips. The onion strings are crispy and seriously addicting. And dessert? Warm blueberry crumble served with a light vanilla gelato. Oh yes!
Tucked away downstairs from the more polished Pier
77, The Ramp is a super casual spot crammed with sports memorabilia right near the docks
where the lobster boats come in.
On the water. Not getting out on the water in the summer in these parts of the world is practically a crime. You can go offshore on a narrated lobster boat tour and learn all about Maine's lobster industry or simply paddle around the Kennebunk River in kayaks or canoes. Another option is to stay smack dab on the water. The White Barn Inn has some waterfront cottages where you're so close to the water, you think you're on a boat. The Cottages at Cabot Cove are individually designed luxury waterfront cottages.
Spa time out. Make time for a spa treatment when you're in Kennebunkport. Right on the Kennebunk River, at The Breakwater Inn and Spa, you can take your pick of massages from one that uses warm river stones from the river to Thai on the Table which combines gentle stretching and passive yoga with acupressure.
Or choose to have your treatment in the trees--literally. The new Tree Spa at Hidden Pond has three treetop spa rooms, 8 feet above the ground and connected by a catwalk woven through the trees. You can choose from a selection of massages, facials and body treatments.
History lives on. In its thriving shipbuilding era, Kennebunkport was one of the wealthiest towns in New England. All over town, you can see evidence of its wealth in its handsome sea captain's homes. Don't miss Nott House, a Greek Revival house at 8 Maine Street where you can take a guided tour in July and August (Thursday, Fridays, and Saturdays; at quarter past the hour beginning at 11:15 a.m. and ending at 2:15 p.m.). You can also get in on one of the Kennebunkport Historical Society's Guided Village Tours in July-August on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 11 a.m. Tours begin at the Nott House and last approximately 1 hour.
Perhaps best of all though is to stay someplace that is historical. The Federal-style Captain Fairfield Inn is a nine-room bed and breakfast that's listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Kennebunkport Inn is a tea merchant's mansion dating back to 1899. The Captain Lord Mansion (pictured right)
is a three-story Federal-style building that dates back to 1812. It has all the hallmarks of a ship carpenter's craft, including a suspended elliptical staircase, blown-glass windows and mahogany doors with brass locks.
View and a half. Head to Cape Porpoise Harbor which is about a ten minute drive northeast of Dock Square. Follow Pier Road out to the end of the peninsula where the lobster and fishing boats come and go. This is the Maine coast just as you pictured it with fishing boats gently undulating with the tide, seagulls soaring above, and a “salty” feeling all around. Time it so you're here for the sunset--which completely engulfs the whole scene.
Photo Credits: Most of the images on this page are by Robert Dennis at Port Images.