Fly into Portland, rent a car, head northeast and soon, you're headed for some incredibly scenic bays, rugged seacoasts terrain and lush forested landscapes, all of which form an irresistible invitation to explore mid-coast Maine’s flawlessly picturesque seaside villages complete with busy harbors, exquisite, high end shopping and some laid-back, casual restaurants. Couple all that with a historic and proud maritime past in a cool climate and you have the makings of one excellent vacation.
There is also plenty of outdoor activity and wildlife watching, antiques and wine-making. Yes, it is true – Maine has something for everyone. While the mid-coast area is known for dozens of friendly and attractive towns, in July, I visited two: Camden and Belfast. Point Lookout Resort and Conference Center — a luxury retreat overlooking the picturesque Penobscot Bay – was our home for the week. It is centrally located and has enough to offer that you might not want to leave. Guests have 379 acres of natural splendor to enjoy in a looks-rustic-but-is-actually- luxurious resort. Point Lookout has more than 100 inviting guest log cabins which all feature cozy screened porches, kitchenettes, televisions and Wi-Fi. Surrounding you are the thick, green woods of Ducktrap Mountain in Northport, Maine.
The resort was built in 1995 as a private resort by MBNA Bank, but today it is open year-round to guests. There is a covered pavilion which seats up to 600 and can be heated in the winter. Many a lobster-bake has been held in the pavilion and the staff at the resort know how to create a lifetime memory for those lucky enough to sample these scrumptious fetes. There are shuttles on site that may be reserved ahead of time; most guests walk from their cabins to the main building or to Erickson Hall where the view is stunning.
Feeling like getting some exercise? The resort features a 36,000 square-foot luxury sports and fitness complex with full-size basketball, squash, racquetball and tennis courts (equipment provided), a walking track, a virtual golf and Wii room, aerobic and spinning studio, stretching room, comprehensive weight training and cardiovascular conditioning center, personalized training and more. One of the most popular destinations on site is the bowling alley - a 12,800 square-foot, eight-lane facility complete with a snack bar. There are six miles of scenic trails and a private sand beach on the shore of Penobscot Bay. There is a small restaurant open during the spring-summer season, but many guests make use of the kitchenettes in the cabins. The resort offers plenty of fun events like a biergarten a few nights a week, serving Maine-brewed beer, and holiday celebrations that include fireworks. Watch carefully for moose, turkeys and other woods-loving creatures. For more information, visit www.visitpointlookout.com.
Camden is a classic harbor town, filled with charming places to stay like small inns and B&Bs and framed by the impressive Camden Hills. Hike or drive up Mt. Battie and then relax in a harbor-side pub overlooking every sort of sea-going vessel.
Fun: There are numerous boats offering to take on passengers for a short sail. We chose a two-hour trip on the Schooner Olad. Captain Aaron Lincoln guided us out of the harbor and into the bay, pointing out historical sites as we passed them. Lincoln works hard to be eco-friendly and usually lets the breeze push the boat along, rarely using a motor. He can do custom charters, complete with catering upon request.
Dining: Near the water, there are many restaurants offering tasty seafood and great views. Highly recommended is Paolina's Way (www.paolinasway.com), a charming Italian eatery with seating outside and in. Produce is grown locally nearby and all of the dishes are truly memorable. The Bayview Lobster Restaurant sits right on the dock. Definitely stop and enjoy their signature lobster roll sandwich. Amazing.
Shopping: Visitors throng the streets, perusing shop after shop filled with handmade gifts, local food finds and art. For a more complete listing of shops and galleries, visit: www.camdenme.org.
In Belfast, the residents are "cool." At least that is what has been said about them by media outlets like USA Today and Budget Travel. Summer offers an endless supply of things to do – join the bustle of this coastal community where somehow, it feels peaceful and calm. Visitors have islands to explore or fish to catch. There is also birdwatching, hiking and many cruises to enjoy nature. Just hanging out at the beach is the most popular activity. Many visitors to Belfast stroll along the harbor from Heritage Park or enjoy a self-guided walking tour of the Church Street Historic District. For more information, visit www.belfastmaine.org.
Shopping: Check out the funky, the artful and the eclectic with an hour or two of shopping the streets of Belfast. Each shop is cuter than the one before. Boutiques, art galleries and specialty shops beckon guests. Flea markets also thrive in this area.
Dining: We loved the Weathervane Seafood Restaurant overlooking Belfast Bay, where fresh seafood is served outside on the deck or inside. Family owned since 1969, the Weathervane serves up tasty chowder, lobster, steamed mussels and Lazy Man's Lobster (they shell it in the kitchen). Definitely stop for beer tasting and a tour at Marshall Wharf Brewing Company¯with 17 draft lines dedicated to their brews, Beermaker David Carlson leads a talented team of brewers and features unusual, homemade recipes like “Illegal Ale-Ien,” “Old No 58” and “Pemaquid Oyster Stout,” which is brewed with 10-dozen oysters. Upstairs in his restaurant, Three Tides, small appetizer plates of fresh, locally grown food is served most nights. For more information, visit www.marshallwharf.com.
Fun: Visit the Belfast Co-Op— Maine’s largest and oldest food co-op that began as a neighborhood buying club in 1976. Today, there are more than 3,000 members who cherish the commitment to Maine products. More than 17,000 items line the shelves in this laid-back store where hippies stand next to matrons, each waiting to pay for their find of some luxurious produce from a nearby Maine farm. For more information, visit www.belfast.coop.
Things to do in mid-coast Maine: Windsor Chair Makers in Lincolnville — A showroom and workshop with 14 rooms of custom-made furniture, including Windsor chairs, dining tables and beds. For more information, visit ww.windsorchair.com. BlueJacket Shipcrafters in Searsport— See more than 75 ship models from brilliant one-of-a-kind museum quality finished pieces to impressive ready-built decorator models and unique sea-themed craft kits. For more information, visit www.bluejacketinc.com.
Winterport Winery and Penobscot Bay Brewery—Friendly, family owned winery producing handcrafted fruit wines and beers including wheat beer, Scottish Ale, blonde Ale and stout. For more information, visit www.winterportwinery.com
Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport—Maine’s oldest maritime museum features eight buildings listed on the National Register, exhibits For more information, visit www.penobscotmarinemuseum.org.
Penobscot Narrows Bridge & Observatory—The tallest public bridge-observatory in the world. For more information, visit www.maine.gov/doc/parks/parksinfo/observatory.
Fort Knox State Historic Site – Maine’s first and largest granite fort, named after General Henry Knox, America’s first Secretary of War and Commander of Artillery during the American Revolution. For more information, visit www.fortknox.maineguide.com.
Maine has a rich and storied maritime history with approximately 3,500 miles of coastline and more than 60 lighthouses, more than any other state, each with its own history.
The Maine Lighthouse Museum in Rockland is home to the largest collection of lighthouse artifacts and mementos in the United States. The docents are wonderful storytellers and offer personal stories from their childhoods to complement the wonder of lighthouse lore. See the actual Fresnel lenses and lanterns that lit the Maine shores, hear stories of keepers and their families and learn about the role of lady light keepers, the U.S. Coast Guard and America’s tall ship, Eagle. They have a great gift shop. For more information, visit www.mainelighthousemuseum.org
Walk to the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse—Located at the end of a mile-long breakwater is the historic 25-foot tower made of wood and brick and set atop a fog signal. Walk the breakwater and watch as sea birds and seals dance alongside you and lobstermen haul their traps. The lighthouse was built in 1902 and the original fourth-order Fresnel lens was replaced in 1965. For more information, visit www.rocklandlighthouse.com.
For complete information in planning a trip to Maine, visit www.visitmaine.com For information on Point Lookout Resort, visit www.visitpointlookout.com.