Tidal Treasure: Rockland

HazyIslands1

Hazy Islands #1, 2009, oil on panel, 24 x 24 inches, by Eric Hopkins.
Private collection. Photo by Ben Magro.

Farnsworth staircase

Interior staircase, Farnsworth Museum

As Louise Nevelson said, “Art is everywhere, except it has to pass through a creative mind.” Well, there are plenty of creative minds in her childhood home of Rockland, Maine. This gritty little tidal treasure on Penobscot Bay has all the vigor and spirit of a working waterfront with the upscale twist of a vibrant museum and gallery scene, fabulous restaurants, eclectic shops, plus enough lobster, lighthouses and schooners for folks “from away.”
Dining Room at Granite InnThe historic Granite Inn, above, is a perfect base to explore Rockland’s hip, arty vibe. Overlooking the Harbor, the inn’s mix of family antiques and mid-century modern furnishings offers contemporary style and old fashioned comfort. The living room with antique woodwork and bright paintings opens onto an airy dining room displaying local art and photography. Many rooms and suites have views of Rockland Harbor; mine had a fireplace and whirlpool tub. Innkeeper Ed’s breakfasts are fresh and local – don’t miss the asparagus crepes or wild blueberry buckle. This environmentally conscious inn is both family- and pet-friendly.

Power of a Creative Economy

Anybody who grew up in Maine in the 1960s can tell you that Rockland was a pretty rough place. Rockland has lately undergone a renaissance that jeweler Tom O’Donovan describes as “the power of art to heal and reinvigorate.” Artist and businessman O’Donovan has watched Rockland’s transformation from a great vantage point: the rooftop sculpture garden he created atop Harbor Square Gallery with stunning 360-degree views of waterfront, downtown, lighthouse, Owls Head, and Vinalhaven.

Book illustration by Rockwell Kent

Book illustration by Rockwell Kent, photo courtesy Farnsworth Museum

Rockland is home to over 20 galleries, including the distinguished Dowling Walsh Gallery where I enjoyed the work of newcomer Greta Van Campen and paintings by Maine icon Connie Hayes. The prolific Eric Hopkins also has a downtown gallery where he distills the islands of Penobscot Bay into extraordinary greens and blues. On the first Friday of every month, studios and galleries open their doors with evening receptions as part of First Friday Art Walk.

Strand Theater downtown Rockland
The city’s picturesque brick downtown also offers sophisticated wares like Fiore’s artisan olive oil and Island Institute’s consortium of high-end craftspeople. The newly expanded Rock City Café & Bookstore functions as unofficial community hub. The Wine Seller whose tagline reads, “If it tastes good…it is,” holds monthly themed wine tastings. I spent a relaxing hour at Rheal Day Spa whose popular cold-weather offerings include a hot shell massage and warm paraffin treatment — both excellent appetite stimulants.

In Good Company kitchenSavor the Flavor
In Good Company restaurant offers an elegant and cozy spot on a blustery night. As the signs along Main Street sway in the wind and rain, diners are bathed in candlelight and wonderful aromas from the kitchen. A hand-painted sign says, “Try the staff favorites!” I tuck into the bartender’s favorite dish, baked peaches with brie and prosciutto – salty, crunchy on the edges, with brie melted to a mere hint. A robust bruschetta with thin ribbons of kale, shaved parmesan, and cranberry beans is messy but loaded with texture and flavor.

As I enjoy the “Nibbles” side of the menu, a fisherman in bright yellow slicker takes the stool next to me. He asks for a glass of Malbec, chats with the bartender, and scans his iPhone. In Rockland, expect the unexpected.

Share the Wonder
Families will delight in the Farnsworth Museum’s “Share the Wonder” holiday festival, Saturdays November 26 through December 10, with holiday music, children’s films, cookie and gingerbread house decorating, carriage rides, old-fashioned train display, and a special wishing tree at the Wyeth Center. The Farnsworth’s current exhibition “Beyond Rugs!” is colorful, warm, and perfect on a chilly day. “The Art of the Book,” opening in January, will feature illustrations by Maxfield Parrish, Rockwell Kent, and N.C. Wyeth.
I enjoyed a quartet of Maine short films at The Strand, a lovingly restored 1920s theater showing independent and world cinema, documentary, classics and film retrospectives. This Maine gem also hosts musical performances, concerts, comedy shows, and special events. There’s always something happening at the Strand.

Rock City
Rockland’s downtown food and cultural scene are impressive — think great cuisine, art, and music served up in historic brick buildings with the friendliest of vibes. Avoid the madding crowds of summer and experience Rockland in the off-season when Rockland really rocks. •

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Midcoast Magic

Elizabeth Margolis-Pineo 2010 © Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Store windowWe sold our home surprisingly quickly and developed a sad case of seller’s remorse.  Friends recommended a getaway to the Inn at Ocean’s Edge in Lincolnville … a secluded 22-acre compound set on beautiful Penobscot Bay about a mile from the Camden border. The luxurious cottage-chic rooms and suites with ocean views, granite-edged infinity pool, woodland setting, and award-winning restaurant would be a perfect antidote to the real-estate blues.

As we pulled up, a soft fog was rolling across the serene Camden Hills. Birds called and cooed.  Curved pathways followed artfully stacked firewood from pool to restaurant to inn to ocean.  A grassy knoll swept to the Bay past contemporary poolside condos and sophisticated landscaping — nice.

We enjoyed a leisurely start on a sunny terrace overlooking the sea. Breakfast was steaming Carrabassett coffee, freshly baked breads and muffins, ripe berries and two perfectly poached eggs – and I do mean perfectThe real world was receding, fast.

Buy Local

In downtown Camden, the heady scent of lavender drew us to Glandarragh Farm shop with its array of dried and fresh lavender bouquets, soaps and lotions. Impressed, we headed for its namesake farm in Appleton where the fragrant lavender is grown and harvested. Watch for their opening festival the first week of July, and don’t miss the lavender shortbread cookies.

Stop at the Hope General Store for specialty sandwiches like the Barnestown or Hatchet Mountain, best when eaten on the banks of the Saint George River.  This authentic but eclectic general store stocks offbeat items like Vegemite and Gentlemen’s Relish. Don’t miss Benjamin Leavitt Metalworks across the road where even a simple hinge is a work of art.

At Windsor Chairmakers in Lincolnville a Shaker stool in robin’s egg blue caught my eye – it was love at first sight. Owners Nance and Jim Brown don’t mind visitors wandering through the open workshop to study the art of crafting fine furniture. Best of all, you’re encouraged to touch the smooth surfaces of tiger maple or wild black cherry. And the blue stool looks even better in our home than it did in the factory.

Swans Island Blanket Company in Northport weaves salt air and the happy sheep of Maine into each blanket, wrap, and throw.  Dyes of organic indigo, cochineal, and madder produce vibrant hues that are simply stunning.  Espresso-brown blankets “woven from rare black sheep” reminded me of my husband, David — also a rare Maine breed.

Another ten minutes up Route 1 and you’re in beautiful Belfast. We loved the quaint, sleepy downtown and waterfront farmers’ market where we tasted  exquisite local artisanal cheeses, breads, and honey, yum, and admired the profusion of flowering plants and vegetables. 


We returned to a crackling fire at the inn’s Tantalus Lounge for an Edge martini and an appetizer of hand-cut English fries. We noticed that almost every other table had a plate of the popular fries.

For fine dining, head in-town to one of Camden’s wonderful restaurants, like Francine, an intimate bistro with twinkly lights and neighborhoody ambiance. “Francine” serves up the freshest dayboat halibut – always succulent, tasting of the sea.  Francine’s steaks are perfectly prepared, and I can’t get enough of the warm mushrooms with shaved Parmesan and truffle salt.  The nearly naked baby greens are a garden-tender knockout.

Sip and Savor

Cellardoor Vineyard in Lincolnville offers tastings, tours, and food pairings to demystify the wine experience. Check out their delicious Viognier for hints of peach and honeysuckle.  If you feel like more than a taste, try Ephemere wine bar in Camden, a relaxing, intimate café known for a generous pour.

For robust refreshment, head to Zoot’s coffeehouse in Camden where the java is rich, smooth, and served in a hand-thrown mug. Try their seasonal smoothies — the Maine blueberry and banana is my favorite.

Heading Home

After another ultra-restful night’s sleep at Ocean’s Edge, we headed for Moody’s Diner where two eggs and toast is still around $2.00.  Fortified, we continued to Rockport’s Farnsworth Museum, a Maine treasure, with distinguished works by Warhol, Nevelson and all the Wyeths, plus watercolors and drawings of the Olsons and their iconic home in Cushing.

Restored

Our luxurious escape to Lincolnville offered enough privacy, comfort and fine dining for anyone going through anything.  A mere two hours from Portland, it’s a world apart from appraisals, escrow, and closing costs.  Seller’s remorse was quickly replaced by salt air, exquisite flavors, and the endless horizon of Penobscot Bay.  Midcoast magic works.  •

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Brunswick – Town & Gown

There is always something special about a college town.

Whether it’s the bookstores and funky cafes, historic buildings and sloping lawns, or simply the lively local scene, college towns can charm the least studious of travelers. Brunswick is no exception.

From Bowdoin’s ivy-covered halls to refurbished antique mills along the Androscoggin, Maine’s oldest college town is a congenial mix of hip and historic. Stately trees, mansions, and “college houses” – former fraternities – recall Brunswick’s past. Diversity and youthful spirit tether it firmly to the future.

Amtrak’s Downeaster will soon be offering passenger train service from Portland to Brunswick. The Inn at Brunswick Station is poised and ready, offering comfortable boutique rooms and spacious suites that still smell “new.” The comfy, contemporary inn overlooks the new train station, and is close to Bowdoin College and Brunswick’s funky little downtown.

Lined with shops, bistros and galleries, Brunswick’s Maine Street has a retro feel, with appliance repair, toyshop, candlepin bowling, vinyl LPs and cigar emporium. The Wild Oats bakery offers tasty muffins and quiche, that popular 70s staple, and Broadway Diner offers free refills of toast. Little Dog and Bohemian coffee shops supply enough joe to keep time-travelers, students, and locals wide awake.

Straddling the riverbank is Fort Andross, a restored cotton mill full of exposed brick and ancient beams. The mill is home to yoga and dance classes, artist’s studios, and the sunny expanse that is Cabot Antiques. Frontier Café’s lofty space functions as an informal community center, with gallery, small cinema, views of the Androscoggin River, and locally sourced fresh fare. I enjoyed the surprise of Pineland Farms feta on a Middle Eastern plate.

John Marin – Weehawken Sequence – Bowdoin College Museum of Art

Take a walk in the park to Bowdoin College Museum of Art, where visitors enter through an intriguing modern glass “box.”  The museum’s permanent collection includes old masters, distinguished Mainers like Winslow Homer and Andrew Wyeth, plus vibrant works by the likes of Mary Cassatt, Robert Rauschenberg and John Marin — no Mainer should pass this gem without stopping.

After a satisfying town-and-gown walk, we head back to the Inn, whose collection historic photographs of Brunswick show how much or how little the downtown has changed in the last 100 years — depending on your perspective. To me, it seems remarkably intact.

The tavern is comfortable and neighborhoody, with locals enjoying conversation and cocktails. We inhale the aroma of coconut-curry mussels, delicious, and can’t resist. They’re sweet, briny, and we are not disappointed. A charcuterie and cheese board features artisanal flavors, both locally sourced and “from away.” Artichoke and crab dip has a potent hit of cholula that elevates it from standard pub fare to hybrid. Yum.

Chef Kevin Cunningham is young enough to work the room like a puppy but seasoned enough to know it’s all about what he puts on the plate. The man can sear a scallop. Bar manager Lise Baratta’s by-the-glass wine list and savvy recommendations make the evening feel like an event. Standouts include an inky Coppola noir that sips like liquid velvet.

After a blissful night’s sleep, we conclude our tour with a visit to vintage craftsman Michael Perkins and his reclaimed-wood furniture shop. Perkins’ hand-finished tables glow, as smooth and delicious as, well, the gelato across the street.  Not quite ready to let go of the weekend, we stop at Lions Pride pub for beer and Belgian fries. Awed by the sheer number of taps, we choose the Weyerbacher Hops Infusion, Allagash White, and a small glass of Urban Farms Cider – delicious.

Hm.  Maybe college towns are special because they’re smart. From highbrow to low, Brunswick’s got it covered. For a relaxed and surprising daytrip or weekend, explore this convivial Maine Street and beyond — you won’t be disappointed.

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Originally appeared in the Portland Daily Sun newspaper.  Photos, top to bottom: Lions at Bowdoin College Museum of Art; Train Signage; John Marin, Weehawken Sequence, Bowdoin College Museum of Art; Historic Brunswick photo; Belgian Fries at Lion’s Pride; Kelly and beer taps at Lion’s Pride. Photos by David Margolis-Pineo

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Ogunquit – Romantic Retreat by the Sea

By Elizabeth Margolis-Pineo © Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Travel fuels romance, it’s true. But as Maine “recession busters,” we decided to explore the romantic possibilities closer to home this year.

Artists discovered Ogunquit’s rugged cliffs and sandy beaches over a century ago. Now a seaside mecca of fine dining, elegant resorts and Down East charm, this cliffside paradise stretches from the tidal Ogunquit River along three miles of windswept white sand, ending at the granite seascape that is Perkins Cove.

Sunrise

This gorgeous hunk of seashore offers boating, beaches and biking, but plain old walking rules. Our favorite morning stroll starts at fragrant Calluna flowershop, passes the charming 1897 fieldstone library, and concludes with the cliff walk along Marginal Way, a meandering mile of breathtaking ocean views best inhaled from weatherbeaten benches.

If you don’t feel like walking, Hut 166 rents motor scooters, bicycles and surfboards. Although tempted by the “Scooter Date” deal, we chose a pair of sturdy bikes and pedaled to Ogunquit beach, where seagulls circled, families gathered and children played. Waves rose, sparkled and crashed in the early summer sun.

Ocean waves at Perkins Cove

Ocean waves at Perkins Cove

Sunset

One of the Cove’s newest attractions is MC Perkins, the informal cousin of award-winning Arrows Restaurant. Abundantly romantic, MC has the best views in the state. Don’t miss the chef’s five-star take on fish and chips, with three simple sauces and fennel salad — the best we’ve tasted anywhere.

Barhopping along Shore Road takes us to Five-O where the bartender zests lemons into 18-inch twists for martinis. They arrive draped over the glass like contemporary sculpture. Across the street at The Front Porch, the lighthearted summer vibe continues as patrons sing show tunes around the piano — yes, show tunes. We belt out “The Rain In Spain” with the happy crowd, and hum “It Had To Be You” all the way back to our hotel.

We have a great night’s sleep at the Blue Shutters, an old-fashioned B&B with six rooms and several small suites. Although a bit short on amenities, prices are reasonable, with ocean views and breakfast are included. Just seconds from Marginal Way and Perkins Cove, the Blue Shutters is unpretentiously homey, like my Aunt Shirley’s, with friendly creaks, quirks and 1960s ambience.

Hemingway PortraitArt & Soul

The Ogunquit Museum of American Art is my favorite small museum in Maine. Ernest Hemingway’s portrait by founder Henry Strater feels like an old friend. The museum’s landscaped sculpture garden and reflecting pool offer beautiful views of Narrow Cove.

Inspiring Beach Plum Farm is 22 acres of saltwater farm on Route 1. Lush gardens, fields and trails stretch down to the river. Visitors are encouraged to wander and admire. Don’t miss the tiny Roby Littlefield museum — he’s credited with saving Ogunquit Beach from becoming an amusement park…but that’s another story.

Roby Littlefield, 2nd from left

Restore

To relax and recharge, we head to Katie’s Café for garlicky artichoke dip followed by crab cakes with mango salsa. Chef Grant refreshes us with arugula and sorrel salad, woos us with creamy soft-shell crab, and closes the deal with decadent lobster pasta. He has us in a swoon by dessert, a decadent trifecta of chocolate three-ways.

Comfort is the word at the posh 1889 Nellie Littlefield House, an elegant Victorian grand dame in the center of town. Our room has the round porch on the front. We share a bottle of bubbly under the purple night sky. Heaven. “Breakfast” at Nellie’s is a relaxed, upscale brunch —outstanding.

Nellie Littlefield Inn

Looking for a romantic vacation, day trip, or 24-hour retreat? With art and antiques, salt breezes and sunsets, sumptuous dining and intimate B&Bs, Ogunquit has it all. •

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Camden Harbour Inn

Fine food and gracious hosts complement stunning views.

The gracious and elegant Camden Harbour Inn

by Elizabeth Margolis-Pineo © Maine Sunday Telegram/Portland Press Herald

At the end of a messy Maine winter on the threshold of mud season, my husband and I were in need of a relaxing trip within a few hours drive. When we heard that the Camden Harbour Inn was offering spring specials, we leapt at the chance.

Innkeepers Oscar Verest and Raymond Brunyanszky have transformed this charming and historic inn by the sea into a cosmopolitan boutique hotel, winner of the prestigious AAA four diamonds award.

Originally from the Netherlands, Oscar and Raymond insist that their goal is to be ”a tranquil oasis of comfort and perfection, with personalized service and something for everybody.” Their welcome is as warm and genuine as their commitment to the comfort of their guests. Each distinctive room has stunning views from its many wraparound porches and windows — it’s all blue ocean, craggy islands and deep green firs.

On our first afternoon, we decided to tour Cellardoor Vineyard in Lincolnville. Their free wine tastings, vineyard and garden tours are a great way to spend an hour, an afternoon or a whole day. Upcoming events include cheese tastings, chocolate tasting, a cheese and wine pairing, and more. Try local wine favorite Queen Anne’s Lace, or our personal favorites, Vino Divine and Perfect Stranger. Owner Bettina Doulton said she works really hard, ”to beat our guests’ expectations every day.” If our experience was any indication, they succeeded.

Cellardoor Winery's Bettina Doulton and Christina Peet

We returned to the inn just as darkness was falling. Guests were settling by the glowing fire in the library for cocktails. We slipped away for some private time to our comfy New Amsterdam suite and sank into the curved arms of a lilac velvet sofa. We shared a split of champagne in front of our own fireplace. It was lovely, tranquil and private.

Above the fire was a very large flat screen TV. I could not resist the British romance collection. Eventually, my husband tired of Hugh Grant and moved into the bedroom for college basketball playoffs. As Oscar and Raymond say, there is something for everyone.

This little break set us up for our five-course dinner at the Inn’s award-winning restaurant, Natalie’s. We met chef Klang, whose talents have earned him the 2008 Maine Lobster Chef People’s Choice award as well as accolades from the James Beard Foundation. His sumptuous dinner was the highlight of our stay, featuring both Maine ingredients and Maine wines — some from Cellardoor.

In this setting among twinkling lights and red glass votives, we began with an elegant ”shooter” of eggplant soup with artichoke-asparagus garnish.

Our next course was a delicate column of chopped local smoked salmon topped with a quail egg — amazing, mildly sweet and minimally sauced to let the flavors sing. Followed by a country pate of duck, porcini mushrooms and foie gras, accompanied by a surprising minerally Riesling. Next, he paired sweetbreads with lardons, whose slightly smoky flavor were balanced perfectly with a Spanish sherry.

In the evening, Edward noticed I had on a black dress and asked if I would prefer a black dinner napkin to the red on the table. We were served a crisp lemon sorbet before we realized we needed it. The service at both inn and restaurant goes beyond impeccable to almost clairvoyant.

Served with a fresh and lively French Mirambeau, our fifth course of delicately herbed sole alongside spinach-mushroom roulades looked and tasted like spring. We wolfed it down as if we hadn’t eaten in days.

Over dessert of chocolate mousse and a sweet Italian vin santo, we chatted with hosts Oscar and Raymond, who describe their life at the inn as easy and relaxed, ”the way the Netherlands was 20 years ago.” I’d say the Netherlands’ loss is our gain.

In the morning, guests are served another surprise ”shooter,” a tiny fruit smoothie. The European-style breakfast buffet is lush, with cheeses, yogurt, croissants and fruit. The menu has eggs any style, meats and waffles. Exotic fare includes green curry scrambled eggs, smoked salmon with Swedish potato ”rosti,” and a silky and decadent must-have: lobster eggs benedict.

We attempted to walk off breakfast through downtown Camden. We split a cappucino at Zoots, cruised Planet Toys for a purple feather boa for our niece, Tillie, and browsed colorful tablecloths at Surroundings. Shopped out, we knocked back a few beers at Gilberts Pub with the locals.

Bayview Street is ideal for walks. A left took us toward the Village past the Camden Harbor Yacht Club. A right along Atlantic Avenue brought us to Harbor Park, with boatyards, marinas and lovely water views. A turn onto Sea Street brought us to the public boat launch, an ideal spot for a sunny, breezy picnic.

On our final afternoon we were treated to a half-hour massage before our final relaxing evening at the Camden Harbour Inn’s bar, Victoria’s.

Roses are a theme, from an opulent urn at the bar to a small bouquet in our room to a tiny bud on each dining table. Their signature cocktail, the ”Victoria’s Secret,” also contains rose petals. I’d give you the recipe, but ”shh, it’s a secret.” We sampled the eclectic bar menu of fresh oysters, sushi, grilled lamb kebabs, and an outrageous lobster mac and cheese with shaved truffles. Wow!

The two Dutch gentlemen possess a winning combination: a great sense of design, color and style, and a reverence for romance. Our stay at Camden Harbour Inn was flawless, absolutely perfect. This beautiful spot is the ultimate in R&R, highly recommended — and the seasonal “specials” make it more accessible to Mainers.  •

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Phippsburg/Brunswick: Town & Country

Longfellow said, “The country is lyric, and the town dramatic.”

For a romantic Maine weekend not too far from home, Phippsburg and Brunswick provided the best of both.

Sebasco Harbor Lighthouse Lodge

Phippsburg: The Country

I arrive at Sebasco Harbor Resort a jangled wreck after a flat tire and several small professional crises.

The legendary mid-coast resort occupies 550 acres of gorgeous Phippsburg peninsula. Family-friendly and with impeccable service, Sebasco offers a range of comfortable rooms, cottages and suites — some in a unique octagonal lighthouse. Our was nestled in a quiet inlet under tall pines.

My first stop was the Fairwinds Spa, where I surrendered to an exceptional hot stone massage and began to relax. Ocean breezes continued to lift my spirits with a walk around the exquisite grounds. A patch of unusual white ladyslippers was nearly “gone by” but still stood magical in the Sebasco woods.

The immersion continued at Pilot House restaurant’s corner window. As lobsterboats bobbed in the harbor, two men in chef’s whites ran down to the dock for the catch of the day. Yes, it’s that fresh. We sampled the chef’s outstanding salmon & scallop tartare with a glass of crisp “Evolution” wine. Don’t miss his signature creamy lobster risotto or wild asparagus.

Next morning we drove winding sun-dappled roads to Popham Beach and out to Fort Popham. The sea was deep blue and the silver-green beachgrass was dotted with purple flowers. A boy in a red shirt stood fishing as seagulls wheeled overhead. At Percy’s General Store we ordered Maine’s breakfast of champions: fried clams. Best eaten at a weathered picnic table in the sun.

Breakfast of champions at Popham

Brunswick: The Town

Brunswick Inn on Park Row is a handsomely restored Greek revival. Proprietor Eileen Horner’s décor is frou-frou free, with sophisticated lighting and blooming orchids. Spectacular paintings are on-loan and for sale from Bayview Gallery, a nifty reciprocity between art and hospitality. Eileen’s breakfast was a feast, appealing to eye and palate. Don’t deny yourself the blueberry cake.

Brunswick Inn on Park Row

Lined with shops, bistros and galleries, Maine Street in Brunswick has an unabashedly retro feel. When was the last time you saw a small appliance repair across from candlepin bowling? I pondered the action from hip and congenial Little Dog Coffee shop, and decided a main street this healthy and vibrant is definitely worth a visit.

The Bowdoin College Art Museum is a jewel. Collections include old masters, Maine classics, a Winslow Homer gallery, plus distinguished American works by the likes of Andrew Wyeth, Mary Cassatt and Robert Rauschenberg. At Bayview Gallery, a downtown anchor, we enjoyed work by Maine artists Barbara Applegate, Robert Colburn and Suzanne Harden. After our informal art walk we sampled a few of the handmade artisanal flavors at Gelato Fiasco — the espresso chip was dense and rich, the strawberry tart, sweet and refreshing.

Cassatt's "Barefoot Child" at Bowdoin Art Museum

Fort Andross is a restored mill with exposed brick and ancient beams. A colorful farmer’s market runs all winter and a flea market all summer. Cabot Mill Antiques is chock full of fascinating antiques and ephemera basking the fort’s abundant sunshine – no must or dust anywhere. The mill’s signage can be confusing, but don’t give up — The Frontier Café in back is a wonderful lofty space with fresh menu, gallery and small cinema — with free wi-fi and wonderful views the Androscoggin River.

We savored a relaxed candlelit supper with old friends at Henry and Marty’s restaurant, where “food is love.” The calamari with shallots and roasted mussels with basil got raves. So did the pear Martini. The exterior signage doesn’t do the place justice; this unpretentiously creative spot deserves fanfare.

For a relaxed, convivial, creative, adventurous, tasty, occasionally posh, and very Maine weekend full of romance and surprises, try this town-country split. You won’t be disappointed.

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Romantic Rockland

Great destination for museums, scenery, fabulous inns, entertainment, great food and drink

Elizabeth Margolis-Pineo © Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram 2007

Captain Jack and his grandfather

Tired of long lines, overbooked flights and lost luggage, we wanted a short vacation that was close to home. With something to celebrate, the trip had to be special and it had to be romantic.

Our first glimpse of beautiful Rockland is from an expansive and sunny deck at the visitor’s center overlooking the harbor. It’s all blue sky, boats and buoys. We take a deep breath of salt air and begin to relax.

Rockland has craggy islands, picturesque lighthouses and a working waterfront. Photogenic local wildlife includes puffins, seals and seagulls.

Home of the famous Lobster Festival, Rockland now hosts a variety of diverse fledgling festivals like Pies on Parade in January and the Chocolate March in, well, March.

A century ago, Rockland’s proximity to the water and natural resources such as limestone made it ideal place to live and to do business. More than 14 homes are listed in the National Registry of Historic Places. We stay at the LimeRock Inn, one of Rockland’s premier historic inns, in their elegant Turret Room. Our graceful claw-foot tub has a candleholder and a place for a wineglass.

Clawfoot tub with wineglass holder

This luxurious and welcoming bed and breakfast boasts amenities like wireless internet along with sumptuous private baths, fine linens and delicious breakfast prepared by co-owner, Frank Isganitis.

There are several historic B&Bs in the area, among them the impeccably restored, award-winning Berry Manor Inn, and the Captain Lindsay House, with European flair and old-world ambience.

Whether you’re a business traveler looking for a homey atmosphere or a tourist looking for elegance and comfort, these inns beat a hotel chain hands down. Several of these historic inns allow touring and are definitely worth a visit.

Berry Manor Inn

Don’t miss the Maine Lighthouse Museum. Collected by the late Kenneth Black, this 2-year-old museum is the proud home of the largest collection of Fresnel lenses, lighthouse artifacts and Coast Guard memorabilia in the country.

Our engaging guide worked the Vinalhaven lighthouse for 25 years. His lively anecdotes range from bells, buoys, horns, gongs, foghorns and whistles to quiet tales of tedious days polishing brass and painting. Lighthouse life, he says with a smile, “was a good life.”

TASTING NOTES

The Amalfi Restaurant is a blend of Spanish, French, Greek, Moroccan and, of course, Italian influences. The wait staff is pleasant and knowledgeable, fielding questions graciously despite a very full house. Customers are greeted with a small container of hummus, a shallow bowl of lovely green olive oil and chewy focaccia, and the marriage of Mediterranean of Middle Eastern flavors is established.

Starter standouts include a dense crab cake served with remoulade and edible pea vines — delicate, redolent of the garden. The Kefta meatballs have Middle Eastern flavor and Down East soul, delicious! Artful salads included spinach and beets with goat cheese, or romaine and avocado with Parmesan crisp. The beets’ sweetness was matched by their deep red and tangerine color.

Garden at Limerock Inn

The wine list is substantial and multi-faceted. We tried we tried several Italian wines from Sicily, Orvieto and Friulli — and sampled a lovely Prosecco with dessert. My husband’s Spanish Ambar beer was a perfect complement to the more robust flavors on the menu. Standouts included duck over risotto with basil and spring vegetables. The skin was crispy and the meat succulent, “the way duck should be.” The chef also offers a wonderful hanger steak and delicious pan seared scallops.

Desserts at Amalfi also invite a “tasting” approach. We tried the apricot sorbet, a cinnamon gelato, a sticky sweet baklava and fresh raspberries. Just the thing with a Prosecco or a wonderful strong coffee.

Other highly recommended restaurants include Primo, a favorite of foodies and farm-fresh enthusiasts, and Café Miranda with its eclectic Italian-inspired menu and wood-fired oven.  Locals recommend you sit at the counter at Miranda “so you don’t miss the show.”

While shopping Main Street or on-the-go, try the Atlantic Baking Company, a great place to stop for coffee and pastry. Sage Market on Main Street specializes in artisanal cheeses and meats, and a great wine selection under $10.

On Willow Street is Toast of the Town Catering, a gourmet take- away with incredible almond chicken tarragon wraps.

We picked up a 9-inch lobster tableau in dark and milk chocolate from Safe Harbor Confections, a sweet souvenir from the “Lobster Capital of the Universe!”

NIGHT LIFE

The Strand

The historic Strand Theatre has been operating since the 1920s and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The theater underwent an extensive interior and exterior a few years ago. The brick facade was considered innovative when it was built in the twenties. The Strand offers classic and contemporary film, live musical performances and concerts, comedy, and other special events.

Other after-hours options are In Good Company on Main Street, a popular wine bar with a varied and affordable selection of wine and beer; Waterworks Pub, which features live music and beers brewed by local Rocky Bay Brewery; and the Black Bull Pub on Main Street where we enjoyed a few sets by a local folksinger.

OUT AND ABOUT

A morning cruise on Captain Jack’s lobster boat is an adventure.

Captain Jack is a 7-year-old boy in a red striped shirt and green frog boots. Steve Hale, his grandfather and our tour guide, is asked if he’s been a lobsterman all his life. He replies with a sly smile, “not yet.” His old but sturdy fiberglass boat smells wonderful, briny and fishy, and it is a splendid day to be out on the bay.

Hale has been lobstering for 40 years and delights in the area’s history and lore. We learn that the Atlantic Ocean was once called “Herring Pond,” we learn how lobsters shed their shells, we learn how to tell a male from female and how lobsters have sex. Fascinating. And fun.

We hook a ride on the charming “All Aboard” wooden trolley from the waterfront back to the LimeRock Inn, where we enjoy a quiet moment in the garden before venturing out for more ocean adventures.

Captain Bob Pratt, rugged marine biologist and Maine guide, offers everything from two-hour sails to lobster dinners, sunset cruises, or overnights — with a full breakfast — on his beautiful 55-foot schooner, “Morning In Maine.” In a natural, easy manner, he points out the natural and historic features unique to Penobscot Bay.

Pratt has done office parties, corporate retreats, weddings, family reunions and more — and delights in tailoring each trip to the customer.

“We see Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse and Owls Head Lighthouse, as well as Maine’s historic schooners,” he says, “or we can moor in a quiet cove to fish, count the stars, or just relax.”

Heaven.  •

Another option for a delightful evening is a Monhegan Boat Lines sunset cruise. We enjoyed a delicious lobster dinner “to-go” from the Dip Net Restaurant, conveniently located at the boat launch.

Sunset cruise, Rockland

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