See the Light in Maine
Let the lighthouses lead you along the state's rocky coast during this four-day road trip.
The famous lighthouses of the Maine coast punctuate this400-mile driving tour, from the shipbuilding center of Bath to thebeacon at West Quoddy Head, where dawn first touches thecontinental United States. Maine's summer is short and sweet, butdaylight starts early and lingers late. That gives you ample timeto hop from lighthouse to lighthouse, hike broad ledges above theocean, explore fishing villages, and, of course, hunker down at apicnic table with a steamed lobster and an ear of corn. You couldeven add a few days offshore on painterly Monhegan Island or thewild headlands of Isle au Haut, each with its own beacon winkingout to sea. Just keep heading for the lights.
Travel tip: If you're coming from a distance, fly intoPortland, pick up a rental car, and follow I-95 north to 295 northto U.S. Route 1 in Bath, a major ship-repair port.
Food and travel writers Patricia Harris and David Lyon arecoauthors of The Meaning of Food, the companion volume to the PBS series of the same name.
Day One: Coming into Lobster Land
Your first stop is the Maine Maritime Museum (243 Washington St., Bath;207-443-1316, www.mainemaritimemuseum.org),which tells just enough about the art and science of boatbuildingto help you appreciate the variety of vessels in the harbors.You'll see how timbers are transformed into vessels of all typesand learn to distinguish the lines of a humble peapod rowboat, alobster boat, or a sleek racing sloop.
U.S. Route 1 is the main highway for this trip, with detoursalong the way that meander the peninsulas and lead to jumping-offpoints for islands dangling off the coast. For your firstcrustacean, follow U.S. Route 127 south to the wharf at Five Islands Lobster Company (1447 Five Islands Rd., FiveIslands; 207-371-2990). As fishermen unload their catch at thedock, relish your lobster and contemplate Hendricks Head Light on the north end of the harbor. Thenext stop is the iconic white tower of Pemaquid Point Lighthouse, two peninsulas north at the endof U.S. Route 130, where scrambling over the shore boulders willhelp work off lunch.
Rockland calls itself the lobster capital of Maine, and the Maine Lighthouse Museum (One Park Dr., Rockland;207-594-3301), which opens this month, overlooks the harbor wherethe catch comes ashore. The highlight of its collection is a10-foot-high, one-ton Fresnel lens from Petit Manan, which hoststhe tallest of Maine's 65 lighthouses.
The Maine Lobster Festival takes over the waterfront on thefirst full weekend in August, but fabulous food is served Maythrough January 1 at Primo (Two S. Main St., Rockland;207-596-0770, www.primorestaurant.com).Whatever Chef Melissa Kelly doesn't grow in her organic gardensusually comes from local farms or fishermen.
Where to stay: The Limerock Inn (96 Limerock St., Rockland; 800-546-3762, www.limerockinn.com) recallsRockland's 19th-century heyday in coastal shipping. Summer rates of$120 to $215 include breakfast.
Day Two: Marking the Beacons of the Mid-Coast
Some of Maine's most picturesque villages sit on the peninsulasouth of Rockland along U.S. Route 73. Owls Head State Park is home to the knobby, 13-foot Owls Head Light atop a rocky promontory. Climb the woodenstairs for a coastal panorama. Views at diminutive Marshall Point Light in Port Clyde are less sweeping, butthe Marshall Point Lighthouse Museum (207-372-6450, www.marshallpoint.org) inthe keeper's house records local fishermen's hard-won battles withthe sea.
If you have an extra day, hop a ferry (207-372-8848, www.monheganboat.com) fromPort Clyde to overnight on Monhegan, possibly the most paintedMaine island. The artists dutifully laboring in their weatheredstudios or scattered across the island with easels and brushes areoften relieved to be interrupted by visitors. A short, steep hikeleads to Monhegan Light.
Almost two-thirds of the island is a natural preserve,crisscrossed with walking trails. One hike takes you throughCathedral Woods, where, along the trail, tiny jewel box-sized"fairy houses" have been constructed by those who've come to adorethe magic of the place.
Back on U.S. Route 1, the Lobster Pound Restaurant (207-789-5550) on LincolnvilleBeach serves a delicious crabmeat roll. Sun-baked brown sand makesthis the warmest swimming beach on the Maine coast―althougheven here most people find the water too brisk for all but briefexcursions. The drive north features sweeping views of mountainsabove an island-dotted bay. In Belfast, fresh bread and localcheese star at the Tuesday and Friday farmers' market ( www.belfastfarmersmarket.org)on Main Street, near the docks.
The shipbuilding and China Trade past is palpable in Searsport,where several mansions once belonging to sea captains are nowB&Bs. Searsport is the antiquing capital of the Maine coast,and diligent hunting in antiques shops just might yield China Tradetreasures.
Where to stay: Captain John P. Nichols built the grand Homeport Inn (U.S. Route 1, Searsport; 800-742-5814, www.homeportbnb.com) around1861, with lawns and gardens extending to the sea. The 10 rooms are$75 to $125, including breakfast.
Day Three: Rambling the Peninsulas
U.S. Route 1 crosses the Penobscot River on the Waldo-HancockBridge, where Down East Maine officially begins, and sailors speedup the coast with the aid of prevailing winds. The second turn ontoU.S. Route 15 leads to Blue Hill, an idyllic community filled withartisans, writers, and musicians. At family-owned Rackliffe Pottery (132 Ellsworth Rd., Blue Hill;888-631-3321, www.rackliffepottery.com),three generations hand-throw and glaze handsome dinnerware andserving pieces. Artists, fishermen, and visitors alike stop forhealthy soups and sandwiches at the Blue Hill Co-op Café (Greene's Hill Place;207-374-2165).
There's no prettier coastal drive than U.S. Route 175 as itfollows Blue Hill Bay south and loops west along the shore of theEggemoggin Reach. At Sargentville, rejoin U.S. Route 15 south tocross the Deer Isle Bridge, and continue south to Stonington, thesheltered harbor where a mail boat ferry (207-367-6516, www.isleauhaut.com) makesfrequent trips to Isle au Haut. Hiking trails, a good bicycling road, andgranite bluffs and ledges are the main attractions of thisleast-traveled slice of Acadia National Park. As the boat entersthe harbor, you'll see a classic small lighthouse on Robinson Point. The adjoining home is the Keeper's HouseInn.
If you don't overnight on the island, plan on dinner at the Castine Inn (33 Main St., Castine; 207-326-4365), wherecelebrated Chef Tom Gutow gives new meaning to "local food" bybuying most of the ingredients for his seven-course fixed-pricemenu within a 50-mile radius.
Where to stay: The Castine Inn (33 Main St., Castine; 207-326-4365, www.castineinn.com) is a homeyVictorian in a Federal town. Front-porch rockers spy on MainStreet's foot traffic, but the restaurant is the biggest draw. The19 rooms range from $90 to $245, including breakfast.
Day Four: Down East All the Way
Get an early start east on U.S. Route 1 and south on U.S. Route3 to Mt. Desert Island's Park Loop Road, where you can sample theheart of Acadia National Park with an easy four-mile, round-tripwalk along the Ocean Trail. The path edges along Otter Cliffs abovethe sea and rocky shore around Sand Beach, where heads bobbing inthe icy water are likely to be seals. The booms at Thunder Hole,caused by the sea rushing into a fissure between ledges, are mostdramatic on an incoming tide with rough seas. Catch a quick lunchof Maine crab cakes on the porch of the Jordan Pond House (Park Loop Road; 207-276-3316), best knownfor afternoon tea and popovers on the lawn.
You'll have to drive Down East on U.S. Route 1 through rollingblueberry barrens for dessert: fresh-baked pie at Wild Blueberry Land (U.S. Route 1, Columbia Falls;207-483-2583). The berry-shaped building marks the turn from U.S.Route 1 to the west end of the U.S. Route 187 loop throughJonesport, which returns to U.S. Route 1 at Jonesboro. The World'sFastest Lobster Boat Race takes place here on the Fourth of July. Norton of Jonesport (118 Main St., Jonesport; 207-497-5933, www.machiassealisland.com)runs ecotours to the puffin colony on Machias Seal Island, one ofthe rookeries where the seabirds have come back from nearextinction.
Back on U.S. Route 1, follow the signs for U.S. Route 189 toLubec and Quoddy Head State Park, where the barber pole striped West Quoddy Head Light marks the east end of the continentalUnited States. Views over the water reveal Canada just offshore.For dinner, head to the Home Port Inn (45 Main St., Lubec; 207-733-2077), where thelocals' favorite is fresh wild Atlantic salmon baked with dill,lemon, capers, and shallots. Plan to make it an early night so youcan be at the lighthouse to see morning arrive in America.
Where to stay: The 1880s country Home Port Inn (45 Main St., Lubec; 800-457-2077, www.homeportinn.com) looksout on Cobscook Bay. Its cozy seven rooms, all with private baths,are $90 to $105, including breakfast.
Optional Island Overnights
The Island Inn (Monhegan Island; 207-596-0371, www.islandinnmonhegan.com)juts out like a broad chin from the hill above the ferry landing.Built mostly in 1907, its 32 rooms and suites have a mix of sharedand private baths. In-season rates start at $125, includingbreakfast.
The Keeper's House Inn (Isle au Haut; 207-460-0257, www.keepershouse.com) offersa rare opportunity to experience the remote life at an offshorelighthouse. There's no phone or electricity (beyond battery power),but candlelight, gaslights, and kerosene lamps give evenings aperiod ambience. Rates of $300 to $375 per day include allmeals.
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