The Gentle Elegance of Inn by the Sea: Maine

Inn by the Sea - GlobalLiving

The Gentle Elegance of Inn by the Sea | Maine

By Sherry Amatenstein

Global Living – Issue 8 | September/October 2013

The luxury at this oceanfront, five-acre resort in Cape Elizabeth, Maine – also known as the heart of lobster country – is understated. There are no Vegas-style lights or baroque statues oozing streams of water into a fountain.

Rather, perched in a rocking chair on Inn by the Sea’s wrap-around deck during my early summer visit, I lazily sipped a Blueberry Martini, and gazed at a rolling lawn dotted with dogs sauntering with their owners, an iridescent, solar-panel-heated pool, Adirondack chairs surrounding a fire pit (ideal for marshmallow-roasting), and a spacious landscape. The latter includes indigenous local plants like nectar, raspberry and dogwood to provide welcoming habitats for endangered species. Hello, Monarch butterflies and New England cottontail bunnies.

Located a cottontail bunny’s throw from Portland, this hotel (www.innbythesea.com), voted among the world’s best hotels in 2011 and 2012 by Travel + Leisure magazine, combines state-of-the-art pleasures with down-home cozy.

Built in 1985, a multi-million-dollar renovation in 2008 made the Inn not only eco-friendly but also a haven for enough pampering touches to attract guests from as far afield as California and Germany.

The Inn’s ‘green’ credits are solid; in addition to the ‘habitat’ projects, the renovation involved sustainable building materials such as recycled sheet rock walls, recycled cork floors, and heating with bio fuel. Guests even use recyclable key cards.

Those key cards lead to magical places. Spa suites, for instance, are two-level and feature a lofted bedroom, full-service kitchen, maple furniture, paintings by local artists, and a bathroom the size of my New York City apartment. Other choice accommodations among the 61 offered are beach suites replete with walk-in showers and soaking tubs. Several of the two-bedroom, condo-style cottages are classified as ‘pet friendly’, as are certain areas of the state-of-the art organic and LEED-certified spa where I succumbed to the joys of a sea-waves massage. A few treatment rooms down, some VIPS (Very Important Pets) were being treated to doggie massages and treats, including K-9 ice cream topped with crumbled dog bones.  In my next life I want to be an Inn by the Sea dog.

In this life, however it felt just fine to be an Inn by the Sea guest – whether hanging out on the porch or, in inclement weather, chilling by the fireplace in the club-style lounge off the lobby.

I finally roused myself from the Zen evoked by the Inn’s environment and wound my way via a private boardwalk to the rugged (it is Maine, after all!) three-mile-long Crescent Beach, replete with rock ledges and saltwater coves.

Eventually, scrambling back toward the garden, I made a pilgrimage to visit an adjacent small cemetery housing the well-marked headstone of the Inn’s congenial ghost, Lydia Carver. Lydia, daughter of a wealthy Freeport merchant, and her 14 bridesmaids perished in a shipwreck on July 2, 1807, after buying their finery for the upcoming wedding.

Lydia is sighted at the Inn on a weekly basis (although she didn’t visit during my 2-day stay), an apparition clothed in the wedding gown that cost her so dearly. At Halloween, the Inn hosts haunted dinner tours, which include a nighttime trek to Lydia’s grave.

My dinners at the Inn were fortunately less eventful, but gastronomically near perfection. The fare served in the Sea Glass restaurant is taste-bud-tantalizing enough to – apologies to Lydia – wake the dead. Crab cake avocado Benedict and gaucho steak are specialties of Executive Chef Mitchell Kaldrovich, a native of East Orange, New Jersey, who was raised in Argentina. The chef has partnered with local fishermen, other Portland area chefs and The Gulf of Maine Research Institute in a sustainable seafood program that serves under-utilized fish such as cod and haddock.

There is a 5-course lobster tasting menu that includes amazing dishes such as lobster gnocchi and lobster risotto and one anomaly: lobster ice cream.

There is, however, no lobster ice cream served aboard The Lucky Catch (www.luckycatch.com), a working 37-ft. lobster boat that sails the Casco Bay. From April through November, passengers can don orange gloves and aprons to bait lobster traps with herring, and to measure the catch and learn the difference between ‘hardshells’, ‘culls’ and ‘keepers’ – all this, while in the distance foghorns peal mournfully and seagulls swoop so close overhead that those aboard feel like Tippi Hedren in The Birds.

Passengers carry their catch ashore (with the claws rubber-banded) – straight to the Portland Lobster Company where the lobsters are boiled and served with corn and potatoes.

Of course Portland, with 300-plus restaurants, is renowned for much more than lobster. Indeed, it’s been tabbed the ‘Foodiest small town in America’. The Portland Foodie Tour (www.mainefoodietours.com) offers tastes and conversations with merchants at not-to-miss gems like Vervacious (www.vervacious.com) – which specializes in award-winning gourmet condiments like Chocolate Balsamic – and the Public Market House on Monument Square (www.publicmarkethouse.com).

The latter’s mission is to showcase local food vendors like K. Horton Specialty Foods (their artisanal cheese equals perfection!) and provide a community gathering place. On Monument Square Wednesday and Saturday mornings the hungry descend on the farmer’s market, running continuously since 1768.

A more recent foodie tradition is Harvest on the Harbor, a six-year-old annual celebration of food and wine, this year set for October 23 to 26 (www.harvestontheharbor.com).

The hip yet homespun Portland scene today is a far cry from the 1970s when the city was renowned for its seedy aura, some of which can be recaptured by a visit to the bordello-turned-alehouse: Three Dollar Deweys (www.threedollardeweys.com).

Nowadays the streets are awash with coffee houses, upscale shops, dogs whose manicured nails clickety-clack on the cobblestones and a citizenry who regularly turn out for First Friday Art Walk  (www.liveworkportland.org/arts/first-friday-art-walk/participate), a monthly celebration hosted by local galleries and museums.

You can’t fully appreciate the current Portland art scene, however, without looking at its roots via The Winslow Homer Studio in Prouts Neck. The small, green-shingled house, jutting toward the sea, is where the reclusive artist lived much of the last 25 years of his life and painted classics like ‘High Cliff, Coast of Maine’ and the stormy ‘Northeaster’.  The house and adjacent jagged Cliff Walk are not easily accessible; guided tours are available through the Portland Museum of Art (www.portlandmuseum.org).

Don’t worry if this visit evokes emotional turbulence. Zen can be reclaimed by rocking on the wrap-around porch or sitting in the lobby of Inn by the Sea.

INN BY THE SEA | 207-799-3134; 800-888-4287 outside Maine; info@innbythesea.com

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