When summer temps rise to unbearable degrees, we head to Kennebunkport for cool breezes, funky shops, and all the lobster we can eat.
When the highs approach unbearable degrees, our thoughts turn to Kennebunkport, Maine, where cooler temperatures make for an attractive summertime escape. With cozy yet upscale inns, relaxing spa treatments, amazing cuisine (both low end and high), and quirky shopping, Kennebunkport is a quaint and quiet respite from the doldrums of regular life.
The most famous of Kennebunkport’s accommodations is The White Barn Inn and its award-winning restaurant, housed, appropriately enough, in two restored barns dating back to the 1820s. Among the many nice touches are complimentary port and brandy, to be enjoyed after dinner or before bedtime, and complimentary afternoon tea, with cucumber and salmon finger sandwiches, baby scones, cookies, and personal-size teapots filled with Mighty Leaf tea. Your stay also includes a daily breakfast buffet filled with homemade quiche and breads, an assortment of cereals, and a bowl of fresh fruit, served in that rustically chic restaurant. We’re also besotted by the gracious staff who holds your umbrella for you in the rain, prompts you to watch your step, and helps you figure out where to buy your favorite flavor (hard-to-find pear caramel) of Mighty Leaf tea.
Dinner at The White Barn Inn is an event unto itself—the kind where jackets are required but ties are optional. Under the culinary direction of executive chef Jonathan Cartwright, the menu changes weekly. But the fixed-price, four-course meal never disappoints. Expect a celebration of the flavors of New England and coastal Maine, infused with influences from around the globe, such as Kennebunkport lobster bisque with crispy fried lobster wonton; Japanese-style Peekytoe crab salad with pickled cucumbers; pan-seared local cod on English pea risotto with white asparagus, morel mushrooms, and Parmesan foam; and Tahitian vanilla bean crème brûlée with pink grapefruit sorbet and vanilla-poached grapefruit. These aren’t the exact dishes you’ll see when you go, but you catch my drift.
Surprisingly, there’s a spa tucked inside The White Barn, and you don’t want to miss the warming, calming Hammam Ritual With Bath, performed in a room big enough for two, with a built-in bath and fireplace. The ritual goes a little something like this: gentle scrub, rinse with warm towels, mummy-like wrap, head and face massage, soak in fancy rimless tub with jets, massage with light oils and lotion. I was so blissed out when I left the spa that I dropped a sock on the way out. It was delivered to my room, in a bag, and left on my bed—kind of like a present. Except it was a dirty sock.
Speaking of spa, The White Barn has a sister property called The Breakwater Inn & Spa, a more casual but still comfy little hotel overlooking the Kennebunk River. There I indulged in an UltraLuxe Facial—the same peel used on my face was applied to my hands—performed by an extremely knowledgeable aesthetician who did an excellent job of explaining the process as she went. She also told me to keep up the exfoliation two to three times a week to get rid of the buildup of dead skin that was causing blackheads. (Is that TMI?) Post-facial, I literally glowed as we rolled into town for an afternoon of eating and shopping.
In town, parking at the Democratic headquarters is based on the honor system. We wouldn’t dream of gypping the Dems, so we dropped our money in the slot and walked across the street to Old Salt’s Gifts & Goods (207-967-1226), where we met Barbara Belyea. While browsing postcards of the area by local artist J. Colby, souvenir t-shirts and magnets, glass-blown gourds and starfish, and local food products, Barbara chatted us up. When we mentioned we were starving, she told us to see her son John next door at Old Salt’s Pantry (207-967-4966) for a lobster roll. Specials change every day, but you can pretty much get a grilled cheese and lobster roll anytime. (The lobster comes from Port Lobster Company down the road.) The lobster roll was sweet and perfect, dressed with a bit of mayo and lettuce tucked neatly into a “roll” resembling a long piece of crusted toast, folded into a V. Along with a bag of Lay’s salt and vinegar, it surely goes down in history as one of the best lunches ever.
Shopping in Kennebunkport largely consists of junky shops filled with bric-a-brac. But the Daytrip Society is an absolute gem that would sparkle anywhere in the world. Its small-town Maine location makes it even more precious.
Owners and Maine natives Jessica Jenkins and Andy West have created a distinctive destination that celebrates adventure and nature. That means Patagonia backpacks, Orla Kiely abstract floral printed bags, Sea Bags custom totes made from recycled sails, Insect Lab trinkets made with real insects and watch parts, and oodles of books such as The Complete Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook. Bios of the artists are on display, and you could spend hours eyeballing the assortment of letterpress prints and cards. Among our favorite finds: an owl ring, an orange felt kitty cat pin, and a Maine lighthouse cross-stitch kit from Raeburn Ink.
Now, months later, I’m still wearing that owl ring. And I’m almost done with my lighthouse scene.
Where To Stay
The White Barn Inn
37 Beach Ave.
Kennebunk Beach, Maine
Inn & Spa
127 Ocean Ave. Kennebunkport, Maine
How To Get There
American Airlines flies daily nonstop to Boston, Massachusetts, or Portland, Maine. (Portland is closer.) From either you’ll have to rent a car, and The White Barn Inn web site offers driving directions.