Mount Desert Island
48 HOURS-August 2013
Photographs + stories by Maine magazine staff:
Katy Kelleher + Guest writer Karen Watterson
On Friday afternoon, I meet one of my oldest friends and we greet each other like the kids we once were, with excited squeals and hugs, blonde hair flying everywhere. Emma is going to be my traveling companion for the weekend, and I’m excited to show her my new state. We drive north on 95, singing along poorly to Fiona Apple and reminiscing about high school. The scenery is breathtaking, even from the highway, and we bicker and speculate about everything from driving directions to the types of trees that grow native along the road. In a weekend full of newness, her presence is comforting, our banter as time-honed as the rocky shoreline.
5:00 p.m. @ The Atlantean Inn
It’s still sunny and beautiful when we pull into the gravel parking lot at the Atlantean Inn. The grounds are gorgeous, with rhododendrons blooming everywhere and flowers growing thickly on a trellis. As soon as we open the door, we both take a deep breath. Something smells incredible, and I hope it will show up in our breakfast.
5:20 p.m. @ The Bar Harbor Tea Company
After talking with inn owners Gary and Heidi, who assure us that yes, the fantastic scent is a harbinger of breakfast feasts to come, we head out for some shopping. Our first stop is the Bar Harbor Tea Company, where we’re drawn in by a rainbow-colored array of teakettles and cups.
5:30 p.m. @ The Rock and Art Shop
I have always wanted a curio cabinet for my home, stocked with oddities and relics, and the owners of the Rock and Art Shop completely understand that slightly macabre desire. Inside the Bar Harbor location, they have gathered an eclectic grouping of objects, from alligator heads to glittering geodes. I purchase a Venus flytrap terrarium, a pair of geometric earrings, and an owl-shaped soap dish. Emma walks away with a shadow box of flutterless butterflies.
6:00 p.m. @ Mache Bistro
We don’t have reservations, but are dying to try Mache Bistro. Fortunately, they are able to squeeze us in for a quick wine and cheese stop. The charcuterie board is pure decadence, with spiced meats and a dish of pear compote that imparts a surprisingly mustardy aftertaste. Every flavor is perfectly composed and designed to play well with others.
7:20 p.m. @ Eden
The meat and cheese at Mache is filling, but after strolling around Bar Harbor for some time, we find ourselves chilled by the ocean air and ready to eat again. Gary and Heidi, both avowed vegans, suggested that we try Eden, their favorite vegetarian restaurant. While I’ve been known to enjoy every species of fish, fowl, cattle, and game that has graced my plate, I am excited to eat some veggies, especially when I see the menu. We order a ramp and mushroom tartlet, Korean fried cauliflower, and a coconut, lemongrass, and pickled chili noodle bowl. Everything is delicious, but the cauliflower makes my year. And I should mention that the cocktails are great as well, particularly the martini, which comes with three pickled garlic-stuffed olives. Who needs meat when you have vodka?
8:00 a.m. on The Shore Path
Despite last night’s drinks, I wake up feeling fresh and light. Emma still sleeps, and I decide to go on a solo run along the Shore Path. Beach roses are blooming everywhere, and the picturesque trail is enhanced by their wild scent. I encounter few pedestrians as I run, enjoying the ocean sounds and the relative solitude.
9:10 a.m. @ The Atlantean Inn
Breakfast at the Atlantean is everything I hoped it would be. First, we’re served plates of shredded coconut, diced mangos, and pineapples. After we polish off the fruit, we get the breakfast entrée: a portion of Gary’s breakfast pie, made from eggs, vegetarian sausage, potatoes, and onions. I eat the entire thing.
10:10 a.m. in Acadia National Park
We want to see more of the island and given our time constraints, there is only one way to do this…So, we drive. We take the Park Loop Road and stop at every scenic overlook for pictures. We head south to the farthest edge of the island, and then north toward Somes Sound. Around every turn in the road is another breathtaking view. Our conversation is composed entirely of exclamations and directives: “Look at that, did you see?” “Oh my god, wait!” There’s too much to take in.
11:30 a.m. @ The Gallery at Somes Sound
As we approach the gallery I remember that they are currently showing an Art Collector Maine exhibition. Perched on the edge of the water, the gallery is awash with natural light, hazy and slightly yellow, and the view from the window is lovely. Even so, I’m more focused on artist Ann Sklar’s dramatic horizons and bright swathes of color.
11:50 a.m. @ Cap’n Nemos
Unfortunately, the Captain’s quirky shack is closed. We’re ready for lunch, and had heard such great things about the vibe at Nemo’s—I guess there is always next time.
12:00 p.m. @ Higgins Antiques
A big yellow truck calls attention to this playground of used and vintage goods. While we don’t buy anything, I love wandering through the various rooms, which are stocked with every kind of retro bric-a-brac one can imagine.
12:30 p.m. @ Downtown Lobster Pound
Coming from Boston, Emma is no stranger to the lobster roll phenomenon. She asks if I’ve grown sick of lobster, an idea so ridiculous it makes me laugh. Lobster rolls for lunch it is!
1:15 p.m. @ Atlantic Climbing School
I am terrified of heights. I always have been. Yet when my friend Nathan suggested I try rock climbing on Otter Cliffs, I became fascinated with the idea. And that is how I end up in a harness, stepping backward off a cliff, tethered to land by a thick black salt-stiff rope. The initial descent was terrifying (there’s nothing quite like walking off a ledge to get your blood pumping) but once my heart stopped pounding like a mad drummer, I took a moment to look around and appreciate the view. Dangling over the Atlantic Ocean, I was able to see the island from a completely different perspective. It’s not charming and quaint, like I had thought. It’s wild, sharp, and rugged—a perfect example of nature’s tooth and claw.
5:00 p.m. in the Atlantic Ocean
After scaling the rocks and regaining my footing, I’m too energized to sit still. The fear and excitement has jump-started my body, and I decide to run it out. After a mile, I’m hot and soaked in sweat. Fortunately, the ocean is everywhere. Even frigid and raging with high tide, it feels like a welcome embrace, a way to slow down and quiet my muscles.
6:00 p.m. @ Gringo’s
Another great way to decrease your speed? Margaritas. Gringo’s drinks are cheap, strong, and tasty, making this out-of-the-way burrito joint the ideal pre-dinner stop.
8:00 p.m. @ Fathom
We are burnt out from all the activity, but we still manage to devour a plate of lobster and zucchini gnocchi. Emma orders a prosecco cocktail, flavored with pear syrup. It’s light and fizzy and the perfect accompaniment for Fathom’s rich food.
4:30 a.m. in Bar Harbor
I fell asleep early, which perhaps explains why I manage to wake up just in time for the sunrise. It’s glorious. A rosy pink bloom creeps from behind the distant islands, washing the deserted town with gentle light.
10:30 a.m. @ Wild Iris Farm
After dining on apple pie pancakes and cheddar cheese at the Atlantean, we meet Sandi from Wild Iris Farm for our horse-drawn tour. We feel a bit silly going on such a romantic trip, but that’s quickly forgotten as the massive horses clomp gracefully through town.
11:00 a.m. @ The Bar Harbor Inn and Spa
After such an activity-filled Saturday, we decide to indulge in a little pampering. Emma chatters with the staff as I lie back and enjoy my pedicure. She walks out with blazing red toenails, and I with pink.
12:15 p.m. @ The Jordan Pond House
I’ve heard so much about the popovers at Jordan Pond, and I tell Emma we can’t leave until we have tasted these legendary treats. The restaurant is located inside Acadia National Park, on the edge of a clear pond, surrounded on all sides by greenery and mountains. We devour our airy, flaky popovers in minutes, and spend the rest of our visit sipping coffee and breathing in the view. I soak in the beauty and ready myself for the return to my everyday life, and our long car ride south.
There are loads of visitors to Maine who skip over a great part of the state in their haste to get to Mount Desert Island (remember: it’s pronounced like dessert not desert) and Acadia National Park. I understand their excitement, but as my husband Bob and I head north on Route 1, I am reminded that the journey has charms of its own. We pass a miraculously short line for lobster rolls at Red’s Eats in Wiscasset, drive through the bustle of Camden on a summer Friday, and cross the Penobscot Narrows bridge into Bucksport. With Bob at the wheel, I have plenty of opportunity to enjoy the sights of Maine’s coastline.
5:40 p.m. @ The Harborside Hotel, Spa and Marina
It’s cool and rainy outside, but there’s a welcoming fire burning in the lobby lounge. We’re shown to our spacious room by a friendly staff member. There’s a great view of Frenchman’s Bay and Bar Island from our balcony. We’re told that at low tide you can walk on the sandbar over to Bar Island. Sounds like a plan.
6:00 p.m. @ Frenchman’s Bay
While my driver takes a short nap, I explore the grounds. The hotel pool and its surrounding deck are luxurious and inviting. I can imagine it being a very popular place in warmer weather. Next door to the Harborside is the Bar Harbor Club. As guests of the hotel, we are free to enjoy the pool and tennis courts there as well as the fitness center. I take a peek at the spa and decide I might need to try it out tomorrow.
7:25 p.m. @ Havana
We take the ten-minute walk up Main Street to Havana, where it always feels like summer. The corals and yellows of the interior and the warm spices of the food are just the ticket tonight. I relax with a glass of cava and delicious whole-grain bread served with ramp butter. When we make a comment to the server, she tells us she baked it herself! Bob orders the spring rolls, which turn out to be the star of the dinner. They’re delicately crisp and stuffed with mushrooms, soba noodles, soy glaze, and truffle aioli. Owner Michael Boland says this appetizer is so popular he can’t take it off the menu. Tuna ceviche and a flavorful seafood paella complete our dinner.
9:10 p.m. @ La Bella Vita
Back at the hotel, this bar has the end of the Bruins game on, so we stop in to watch the excitement. A glass of wine and a Boston win is the perfect way to top off the evening.
9:00 a.m. @ Cafe This Way
As forecasted, it’s raining pretty hard. We think that might be to our advantage when trying to snag a table at Cafe This Way, one of Bar Harbor’s most popular breakfast spots. And lucky us—we’re seated immediately and served good hot coffee. Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon follow. We’re not too anxious to head back outside, so we linger over more coffee for a little while.
10:05 a.m. @ Abbe Museum
Literally around the corner is Bar Harbor’s Abbe Museum, dedicated to Maine’s rich Native American heritage, and recently named Maine’s first Smithsonian affiliate. We learn about the four Maine tribes, collectively called the Wabanaki. There’s fascinating info and artifacts from archaeological projects, as well as stories of Native communities and traditions. My favorite room was all about Wabanaki guides, long noted for their tracking, paddling, and cooking skills. They’ve been sought after for generations by visitors to Maine and to this day, “guiding continues to be an important economic tool for individual tribe members and Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribal governments.” Their canoes are sturdy works of art and we loved the collection of photographs.
11:20 a.m. @ Park Loop Road
Is it still raining? Yes, it is, but we are ready to explore some of the park. We drive out of town, taking the scenic Park Loop Road, with its rocky cliffs and lush greenery. Soon we arrive at Thunder Hole. Several people are waiting for the waves to rush into the narrow granite channel where air can become trapped and make a loud, distinctive roar. On a day like today, the ocean is plenty noisy. A word of caution: slippery when wet!
12:00 p.m. @ Asticou Terraces and Thuya Garden
We almost miss the tiny sign that announces the Terrace Trail on the right just before the Asticou Inn in Northeast Harbor. We pull into the parking lot across the street and climb the red granite steps, passing through the woods up to the Thuya Lodge and Garden. It’s a little bit of a hike and we dodge puddles along the way, but we are hugely rewarded at the top. The garden is lush with greenery and on the verge of bursting into full bloom with peonies, lilies, hydrangea, and more. Walking back on the road, we have excellent views of boats and homes in Northeast Harbor.
12:50 p.m. @ Northeast Harbor
There’s a small but inviting strip of stores in Northeast Harbor and we pull over to take a look. I’m drawn into the Kimball Shop and its colorful selection of striped pullovers and cashmere sweaters. I’m tempted by many of them, but limit my purchase to just one. The saleswoman suggests lunch at a place down the street.
1:30 p.m. @ Watermark
From the outside, this restaurant doesn’t look like much, but it’s definitely worth seeking out. Born and bred islander Emily Damon cooks up an irresistible lunch. The crisp, salty herb fries with garlic aioli are worth every calorie and both our salads are overflowing with fresh lobster and Maine shrimp. The outdoor patio overlooking the harbor is very inviting for a summer supper.
2:35 p.m. @ Bar Harbor
The sun is trying really hard to break through as we head back to Bar Harbor. We enjoy strolling Main Street and although my husband isn’t much of a shopper, even he can’t resist Spruce and Gussy. We have a good laugh over their collection of snarky greeting cards and pick out a few to send to our kids. Windowpanes has an enormous selection of pillows, linens, and kitchenware and the Bar Harbor Tea Co. sells a colorful array of teapots, mugs, and their own tea blends.
3:45 p.m. @ The Spa at Bar Harbor Club
Wrapped in a comfy robe, I settle into a chaise lounge with a cup of tea to await my facial appointment. When I leave the spa an hour later, my skin is glowing and I feel completely relaxed, thanks to Casey the skilled and friendly aesthetician.
5:15 p.m. @ Bar Island
Bob and I take advantage of the break in the weather and low tide to trek over the sandbar to Bar Island. This feels like the essence of Maine, with the rocky shoreline, broad ocean horizons, and a bird’s-eye view of the bay. On the path around the island we spot fields of wild lupine and a few deer.
7:30 p.m. @ Red Sky
I’ve heard so many wonderful things about this restaurant in Southwest Harbor and I’m happy to report they are all true. Delightful service and delicious food make this cozy spot a must-visit. The scallops were exceptional!
9:00 p.m. @ Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream
We gave up dessert at Red Sky so we could visit the President’s favorite Maine ice cream spot. So many choices…Ovaltine Malt Ball with homemade hot fudge was definitely the right one for me.
7:45 a.m. @ Acadia National Park
We’re up early to take a bike ride on the Park’s famous carriage roads. There are 45 miles of these traffic-free roads in the Park, perfect for biking, walking, and horseback riding. Our loop around Echo Lake takes us on some gently rolling hills with peaceful vistas. Not too strenuous, but a nice morning workout.
9:00 a.m. @ 2 Cats
Hungry from our ride, we sit on the porch of 2 Cats and order breakfast. Hearty French toast, spicy hash browns with eggs, and a homemade biscuit with strawberry butter taste extra delicious. 2 Cats’s own hot sauce is so good we have to buy a bottle to take home.
11:10 a.m. @ Acadia Outdoors
We check out of the Harborside and take one last walk downtown. We stop in at Acadia Outdoors to buy our son a T-shirt with “Stud Puffin” across the front—good Maine humor. I notice they have lots of rain gear as well as packs, shoes, and great-looking outdoor wear. Everything you might need for a couple of days on MDI, rain or shine.