‘Spring’ into Coastal Maine
By Suzanne Ferrara
As you begin your descent towards Crescent Beach, you are instantly swept away by its breath-taking natural beauty. That’s because before you reach her soft sand and lapping waves, you become spellbound by a natural habitat of native trees, flowers, and then, the seagrass-studded sand dunes of the cape.
It’s an untouched natural phenomenon skirting the coastline of Cape Elizabeth, Maine.
It’s no wonder so many become instantly lost inside this picture of quintessential Maine, and it’s not just the hypnotic sound of the surf or the scent of the fresh sea air. This snapshot of pure serenity also includes cat tails swaying in the breeze and endangered birds, like the Piping Plover, flying overhead and nesting in the dunes. It’s as if you stepped into one of Claude Monet’s famous seascape oil paintings, only this time… it is tranquil reality.
The rolling waves descending on the shoreline of this coastal state park are a bit calmer because of the crescent shape which acts somewhat as a buffer to the pounding waves of the Atlantic. Crescent Beach, which stretches a mile across and connects with the beautiful Kettle Cove, is also where skilled sea glass collectors painstakingly hunt for the natural wonder. While you relax on the beach, you can see uninhabited Richmond Island, a place where Native Americans and then English settlers lived centuries ago.
Amid this warm sea air, there’s nothing like the perfect pairing of scrumptious fresh Maine lobster (taken from the many lobster shacks along the coast) with a beverage whose flavor is characteristic of the area. Simply put, lobster and a refreshing (and local) microbrew, form a delectable team.
Just four miles away from Crescent Beach on the shores of Fort Williams Park, is Portland Head Light, one of the most photographed lighthouses in the country. Here at the entrance of Portland Harbor, you can stand on the phenomenal rocky shoreline and take in the grand ocean view and watch the pounding waves crash onto the rocks. By the way, Portland Head Light was originally commissioned by George Washington and completed in 1791, is the oldest lighthouse in Maine.
The 90-acre Fort Williams Park offers picnic facilities, hiking opportunities, water sports, unlimited ocean views and tours of the historic fort structures. You can paddle a kayak through nature preserves with the help of an Audubon guide or sail on a schooner, or go paddle boarding, whale watching, and play a round of golf. You can even fish and shoot with L.L. Bean Instructors. You are also close to Portland’s Old Port and the historic downtown where you can boutique shop or take a foodie or micro-beer tours. (Fun fact: according to the Brewers Association, Maine ranks 6th in the nation in the number of craft breweries per capita)
After all of this adventure, unforgettable lodging is a must. Complementing the unmatched Crescent Beach experience is the luxurious oceanfront Inn by the Sea which sits on five acres of indigenous seaside gardens along Crescent Beach. It’s no wonder this contemporary beach resort, with its relaxed charm, earned 2015 recommendations by both Conde Naste Traveler and Travel and Leisure’s Best Hotels in the World.
The Inn by the Sea is a perfect spot to take in the natural wonder which surrounds you in every direction. There are 61 elegant guest rooms and suites, many with fireplaces, and the plethora of windows and balconies gives you breath-taking views of the soothing ocean.
Preserving Cape Elizabeth’s unique rural land and environment is of the utmost importance; in fact, Inn by the Sea was named a top ten American green Hotel by MSNBC and Forbes Traveler. The inn, in conjunction with the Department of Conservation, also runs a ‘Rabitat’ habitat restoration project aimed at protecting the endangered New England cottontail bunnies that roam nearby. The hotel’s conservation efforts also include protecting the migration routes for butterflies.
The people of the Inn by the Sea exude hospitality and their dedication to the preservation and beauty of the land and ocean is evident; there are beach eco-tours, gardening tour classes and the not to be missed Bug’s Life Tour, where kids can learn about endangered wildlife including the Monarch Butterfly which is going extinct. All of the above are offered by Derrick Daly, Inn by the Sea’s resident horticulturalist and master gardener.
Ultimate relaxation is paramount at the Inn by the Sea. You can choose to lounge all day in your beach chair or sip your favorite hand-crafted cocktail at the heated pool all from spots that overlook this unspoiled and wild beauty.
Take your relaxation a step further and spoil yourself with a spa treatment at the Inn by the Sea’s gorgeous full-service spa. A must indulgence is the spa’s Signature Sea Waves Massage, an experience that brings the ocean setting as close to you as possible. This ultimate, sea-inspired massage uses an undulating motion table which responds to the build and tumbling of the ocean waves; it is as if you are lying on the sand feeling and hearing the crashing surf. You are soothed by the sound of the waves as you receive a synchronized massage with a restorative personalized oil blend, adds to this one-of-a-kind experience.
And yes, the spa’s facial treatments and host of tranquil therapies will certainly transform you as well. Every guest at the Inn by the Sea receives a special escape. Both men and women can melt their cares away and use the soothing steam sauna (Tip: use the spas eucalyptus spray for a fresh steam inspired scent), massaging experience showers and relaxation room with refreshments. You will be greeted with towels, robes and slippers.
The Inn’s unmatched hospitality is also extended to our four-legged friends who receive over-the-top pampering at the inn. Room spa services, doggie massages, yappy hour (complimentary ice-cream), handmade treats at turn down, water bowls and beach towels are just a few of the amenities and services offered to the ‘VIPs’ as they say (Very Important Pets). Inn by the Sea was one of the first luxury hotels to accept pets, and they’ve done so for nearly 20 years.
Don’t be surprised if you find a cute canine lying down behind the check-in desk. The inn has a foster dog program, in which homeless dogs from the Animal Rescue of Greater Portland temporarily reside at the hotel in hopes of finding a new home–with some of the guests. And it’s working: so far, guests at the inn have adopted 30 canines, and it’s the hope of management that more and more guests will love and play with the dogs and then make them part of their families. Kids and adults alike find it hard not to engage with these furry sweethearts in the hotel lobby—and that is exactly what they need.
After working up an appetite, head to the inn’s Sea Glass Restaurant and savor the unique flavors of Maine with the innovative dishes created by Chef Steve Sicinski. The detailed use of local fresh seafood and produce are evident in his creations, all of which you can savor while enjoying spectacular ocean views either al fresco or inside the intimate dining room. Be sure not to miss the Poached Egg Tacos, The 207 (three-egg omelet with lobster tails), and Sweet Dream (blueberry vanilla-stuffed French toast with cinnamon custard) for breakfast.
Just eight-and-half miles from Cape Elizabeth is the bustling city of Portland which offers endless restaurants, museums, and taverns all that serve prided local brews. While downtown, check out the fascinating Portland Science Center (2016 experience exhibits included “A Journey to Our Future” and “The Robot Zoo”); next, head to the Portland Museum of Art where you can spend all day taking in three centuries of fascinating art and architecture.
Be sure to dine at a one of Maine’s most famous restaurants in the heart of Portland’s historic Old Port. DiMillo’s On the Water, a floating restaurant and longtime family establishment, is actually a huge former car ferry that offers spectacular views of Portland Harbor from every table; inside, you feel as if you are on board a ship as the restaurant boasts nautical décor at every turn. DiMillo’s, which has been serving since 1954, prides itself on serving fresh seafood and lobster dinners, and you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu (be sure to try their delectable stuffed baked lobster).
A trip to Cape Elizabeth and Greater Portland would not be complete without a stop in Freeport, a place famous for more than its place in history. Freeport is a shopper’s paradise with designer brand outlets mixed with locally-owned shops all within this patriotic setting. Be sure to visit L.L. Bean’s flagship store which stays open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
One of the coolest and most historic spots in Freeport is Jameson Tavern, which has been serving patrons since 1779. The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) claims Jameson Tavern to be the “Birthplace of Maine”. In addition to several long-time ghosts (which restaurant workers say they’ve encountered), some of America’s most legendary figures, including poets Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and John Greenleaf Whittier, are said to have walked on the tavern’s centuries-old pinewood floors. (Note: it’s said that Franklin Pierce, 14th president of the United States, stopped at Jameson Tavern on his way to Bowdoin College in Brunswick).
And then there’s the food, the wonderful, wonderful food: Jameson Tavern owner Tom Hincks, a Maine restaurant veteran with 32-years in the business, is dedicated to preparing only the freshest seafood available. The New England clam chowder, Seared Scallops, and Allies Trio (which include a lobster roll, fried full-bellied coastal clams and clam chowder) are not to be missed. Be sure to quench your thirst with one of many of tavern’s local craft beers.