The vacation gods must be smiling on us.We have just arrived in Portland, Maine, and I’ve received an e-mail from a friend in the Bay Area who happened to see an article in the New York Times about the Winslow Homer exhibit that opens today at the Portland Museum of Art.
I receive his e-mail via phone, so hooray for instant communications, because without it, we would’ve missed the artist’s 38 “major oils.” The paintings are part of the celebration of the opening of the newly renovated Winslow Homer Studio at Prouts Neck, Maine. Homer (1836-1910) lived and painted there during his final years. We feel incredibly lucky to spend a couple of hours enveloped by the artist’s work, which affords a visual hint of what Mother Nature can do in this corner of the country. Looking at the paintings, we can almost hear the nor’easters blow and feel the spray off the angry ocean.
Fortunately, we’re enjoying Maine during mostly beautiful September weather, even catching some autumn color along the often rocky and dramatic shore. We are staying an effortless 15-minute drive south of Portland. Highway 77 takes us over a drawbridge to the suburban splendor of Cape Elizabeth and the Inn by the Sea.
The 61-room boutique hotel (including 10 luxury suites) reopened this summer after a multimillion-dollar renovation, both inside and out. Because of its attention to environmental concerns, the Inn by the Sea has earned recognition as one of TripAdvisor’s Top Ten Green Hotels and one of Travel & Leisure’s Best 500 Hotels – both worldwide designations.
The inn is working with the Maine Department of Conservation and Bureau of Parks and Lands to restore the habitat of the New England Cottontail, a rabbit that lives in the fields between the hotel and the beach. The hotel has financed the removal of invasive plants and the replanting of native species. Just before sunset, we amble down the boardwalk and through this scenic habitat to the beach. We are surprised to find so many wildflowers still in bloom.
Closer to the hotel is a nectar garden, replete with brightly colored blooms that help sustain endangered butterflies that migrate through.
Later, in the Sea Glass Restaurant, I relish every bite of the lobster risotto — so delicious that I’m considering confession in the morning. This was preceded by the inn’s signature drink: the vodka and fresh blueberry (what else?) mojito. Executive Chef Mitchell Kaldrovich, who came from California, has pledged to maintain a farm-to-fork operation. He uses produce from neighboring farms (one of them next door) and seafood caught just offshore. (We can see lobster boats from our bedroom.)
Kaldrovich also is one of three Portland chefs to work with local fishermen to promote underutilized but delectable seafood from the Gulf of Maine. This week is it whiting, a flaky, delicious fish, but I’m in Maine, so I can’t pass up the lobster.
The next day we take a short drive north on the coast to Fort Williams Park, probably best known for the highly photogenic Portland Head Light. George Washington commissioned it in the late 1700s and it is still operational. We follow the path that curls north for a bit and take in the postcard view. A large cruise ship passes us, heading south, and I’m grateful to be standing on this side of the water.
We spend one afternoon at the Portland waterfront, also a port of call for cruise ships. Passengers are met with a line of street vendors selling souvenirs, jewelry, paintings and other goods that depict the character of this seafront town.
If you go:
Inn By The Sea: Open year round. Rooms have fireplaces and other winter amenities. Visit inbythesea.com or call (207) 799-3134.
Portland, Maine: Population 64,000; metro area 230,000. Visit visitportland.com.
Portland Museum of Art: The exhibit “Weatherbeaten: Winslow Homer and Maine” runs through Dec. 30. Visit portlandmuseum.org or call (207) 775-6148.
E’Louise Ondash is a veteran, award-winning journalist who was an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist for the Times Advocate and the North County Times. She has written travel features for The Coast News since 2003.