At Maine’s Chebeague Island, Solitude and Calm Reign06.12.2012
Warm weather approaches, and we all have the same thought in mind: where to go for that next getaway. While the vibrant nightlife and hot white sands of other, more popular destinations can be tempting, there are times when only a more secluded, contemplative few days away will do.
Off the coast of Portland, Maine, a 3-mile by 5-mile dot of land is home to historic Chebeague Island Inn, originally built in the late 19th century and recently restored. Accessible by water via ferry from the mainland–or your own boat, to be moored at the inn’s private dock–the Inn provides a welcome respite from the daily hustle and bustle (the island has approximately 360 full-time residents) as it overlooks Casco Bay to the west. It’s not a destination that most would readily think of, with more popular places such as Kennebunkport to the southwest and Portland directly to the west, but Chebeague (known as Great Chebeague by some, with Little Chebeague accessible by walking across a low-tide sandbar) beguiles with its plethora of quiet beaches, fishing spots, sailboats, and classic New England summer style.
Getting to the Island isn’t as difficult as one might imagine: a 2-hour drive from Boston will get you to a ferry, which, depending on the one you take, arrives at Chebeague in 15 or 45 minutes–use the travel time to disconnect from the rest of the world. Upon arrival at the island, the Inn’s van picks up visitors from the dock (simply call ahead to pre-arrange), depositing them softly upon the big, yellow, wood-sided building, its wide-set stance and pillars subtly echoing the architecture of Mount Vernon. Once there, freshly baked cookies and cocktails on the porch await, as does the Inn’s resident yellow Lab. Should the weather be less than ideal, the afternoon can be whiled away on plush, oversized chairs in the Great Room, close by its big stone fireplace and, for those who must be connected, the Inn’s wi-fi.
Of course, with a place as secluded as this, there aren’t many restaurants: thankfully, the Inn’s own restaurant, with Chef Justin Rowe (formerly of famous White Barn Inn in Kennebunkport) at the helm, beautifully turns out seasonal, locally sourced dishes with an easy elegance that seems to be the island’s signature. Menu items like Maine Island Lobster Stew, Wild Mussels, and, of course, Maine Poached Lobster entice, and other nearby-sourced dishes such as Long Island Duck are beloved for dinner, and at lunch, only a lobster roll or lobster corn dog will do, though of course, more seemingly pedestrian goodies await, too: hanger steaks and angus burgers abound. Should you not be in the mood for a large meal, the restaurant’s Sunset Landing menu serves up small shared plates, from charcuterie to, well, more seafood (lobster has come a long way from its humble beginnings on this island as field fertilizer) Tip: reserve a table early, and ask the hostess to be seated outside, on the porch, for a stunning bayside view.
Upstairs, the Inn’s 21 rooms are individually furnished with artisan beds and chairs and decorated with local artists’ creations. The look isn’t your typical stuffy decor: instead, the Inn’s new owners (the Prentice family) chose to use an easy palate, with plenty of whites and a sparing touch with color schemes, using unfussy pieces that create a classic, relaxed, yet polished appeal. Certain old-world traits live on, too: the Inn has no air-conditioning (a 200-year old structure has its limitations, after all), but mild New England nights and reliable antique fans will keep your cool just fine. Two-room suites allow for family stays, while the best picks of the exemplary bunch–rooms with private baths and ocean views, can be had for half the cost of a similarly luxurious stay at other, more tourist-laden locales in New England.
After beginning the day with a gourmet–not continental–breakfast complementary with your stay, a set of chilled-out activities are available: play the Inn’s 9-hole golf course (who would want to play a full 18 with all the other things you could be doing?), rent a kayak, boat, or sailboat, go fishing, or pick up one of the Inn’s complementary bicycles for an exploratory ride around the small island…you may even find some wild blueberries, ripe for the picking. Check out any of Chebeague’s many small beaches (Indian Point is apparently a local favorite, with its super-secluded allure), or, should you find yourself at low tide, walk across the sandbar to Little Chebeague, where more contemplative seaside calm awaits. Walkable from the Inn (or bike-able, if you prefer) is Calder’s Clam Shack, which is precisely as it’s described–a shack that serves up treats such as crab rolls, fried halibut, scallops, and shrimp, all served on delicately toasted potato bread.
Seasonally run, the Inn is open from May to October and reserves specific weekends for weddings. Reservations are currently available and can be made on the Inn’s website.
Chebeague Island Inn is on 61 South Road in Cumberland County, Maine. Staff are available at email@example.com or by calling 207-846-5155.
Photos courtesy of Chebeague Island Inn’s website.
When planning the itinerary for this year’s escape, here’s a little something for everyone.
Be prepared to leave your selfie-sticks on the side and truly enjoy your getaway to nature.
Traveling these days is about experiencing a new place like the locals do.