Camden, Rockport + Hope

Photographs + stories by Maine magazine staff:
Steve Kelly, Associate Publisher, Maine magazine


Steve Kelly, Associate Publisher at Maine magazine


Every trip I make to the midcoast feels like a homecoming of sorts. The warmth, community, and beauty of the area always strikes me. My wife Jocelyn and I are looking forward to a weekend in an area we both adore.



6:00 p.m. @ Camden Harbour Inn

The Camden Harbour Inn is perched atop Bayview Street with panoramic views of the harbor, the town, and the mountains.  This recently named Relais and Chateaux property is a beacon of uncompromising hospitality and quality that starts the moment we step out of the car. The inn perfectly merges European design chic and the stateliness of a classic American inn.


7:00 p.m. @ Natalie’s

We unwind for few minutes from the drive and then head downstairs to the inn’s award winning restaurant, Natalie’s. Natalie’s offers an array of prix fixe options in the restaurant and a lighter bar menu in the lounge. The ambience, food, and service at Natalie’s achieves something I have found in few restaurants: flawlessly executed fine dining with comfort and ease.



7:00 a.m @ Meetingbrook

Dogen and Francis Hermitage  We’re up with the sun. Jocelyn heads out for a run and I head inland to the Meetingbrook Dogen and Francis Hermitage. Owners and founders Bill Halpin and Saskia Huising have been providing the area with a sacred space for Zen mediation and contemplative prayer since 1996. A small group of us (plus their two dogs!) gather in a simple wood outbuilding for meditation, chanting, and reading. Our time in silence is followed by conversation, coffee, tea, and toast in their home.


Camden Snow Bowl

11:00 a.m. @ The Camden Snow Bowl

Jocelyn and I meet up at the inn and head over to the Camden Snow Bowl, a community-owned and community-loved mountain. Last weekend, teams from all over Maine took the thrilling ride on the 400-foot toboggan shoot for a chance to win the crown in the twenty-fourth National Toboggan Championships. The slopes are packed today. It’s WinterKids Day, one of the dates when members of the statewide initiative to get kids outside to ski and ride get discounted lift tickets.  Maine Sport Outfitters of Rockport is demonstrating a great selection of skis, and Lucid Skis,  the Maine-made wooden ski company,is showing its handcrafted wares. We ride the varied terrain, scoot in and out of the terrain park, and navigate the to-be-retired 48-year-old T-bar.


2:30 p.m. @ Long Grain

We arrive at Long Grain for a late lunch. We split an order of puffy chive and garlic pan-fried rice cakes over sautéed bean sprouts and the sumptuous broad-noodle pad kee mao, and finish with a dessert I could eat a hundred times over: a coconut flan with a crackle top served over black rice pudding.


3:15 p.m. in downtown Camden

The Camden Opera House is just a few doors down from Long Grain and recently hosted the twenty-seventh Camden Conference, this one on the politics of water and food. The Opera House is home to other wide-ranging and world-class shoulder-season events, including the Camden International Film Festival, Pop Tech, and Juice. I stop into a well-lit gallery off of Main Street. Artist and gallery owner Jack McKenney’s paintings bring bright colors and strong shapes and lines to the forefront, allowing gentle hues to expand their way across the canvas.


3:30 p.m. @ Camden Merchants Showcase

I can’t help but seek out my two favorites when I travel – books and vinyl. Just off of Main Street at the Camden Merchants Showcase, I get my first fix. This co-op has a solid selection of enticing antique finds and a wide selection of vinyl LPs at Byron Greatorex’s Spirit of Sounds. I grab a beautiful jazz LP by Horace Parlan and Archie Shepp. There is a pleasant abundance of new books in the recently revived Owl and Turtle and at Sherman’s Books on Main Street. For a unique view of the town, interesting books, music, and conversation you can walk up a few flights of stairs off Main to Stone Soup, where Paul Joy has been selling books and records for over 30 years. And for a truly tempting display of literary lineage and ephemera, head over to Goose River Exchange on Bayview.


4:00 p.m. @ Megunticook Market

We hop in the car and head out towards Hope. En route we stop at Megunticook Market for some snacks. It’s easy to be tempted by their well-prepared sandwiches and pizzas.


4:15 p.m. in Hope

With around 1,500 residents, one could assume that Hope is just another small town near the coast. However, the little town contains a bagpipe maker, retired circus elephants, restored fire engines, a metalwork studio, a vibrant general store, and so much more.


4:20 p.m. @ Hope Orchards + Hope General Store

In the village we stop to look out over the slumbering apple tress of the Hope Orchard. Snowshoeing and cross-country skis are allowed on the grounds in the orchard off-season. Just across the street is the Hope General Store, which is a beacon for this community and a purveyor of all of one needs.


4:45 p.m. @ Firefly Restorations

Andy Swift, owner of this vintage fire engine restoration company, has plenty to say on fire engines, the battles they fought, and restoration process. He’s been meticulously restoring fire engines for over 30 years. He refers to them as “war machines against fire” and continually notes their importance and significance to the communities they served. The shop represents far more than an income or labor of love; it is his life’s work.


7:30 p.m.@ Francine Bistro

Camden has a wealth of exceptional dining options; tonight we’ll enjoy two favorites. Our first stop is the cozy flagship of renowned chef Brian Hill: Francine Bistro. Manager Jim Haines guides us over to a table overlooking their romantically lit porch. We have three lovely side dishes: beet gratin, potato confit with bacon and horseradish cream, and Brussels sprouts with pesto bianco.


9:00 p.m. @ 40 Paper

In addition to opening 3Crow recently in Rockland, chef and owner Josh Hixon has been busy keeping his flagship looking better and better, with a beautifully updated and expanded dining room. We sit at the bar and watch as award-winning bar manager Wind Tracy plies his craft. We have a baby arugula salad and an order of the most delectable pasta, three plump winter squash tortelloni. As we leave, we notice that 40 Paper has a new neighbor, Beauty Mark Spa, which recently moved from their previous space.


Camden Harbour Inn


8:30 a.m. @ Natalie’s at the Camden Harbour Inn

We’re up early for an expertly prepared and beautifully presented breakfast of house-cured salmon, a poached egg, and a bagel and crème fraiche.


10:00 a.m. @ High Mountain Hall

This gorgeous and extensively renovated church has multiple uses: weddings, event rentals, and today, for us, yoga. Instructor Kristi Williamson leads classes that mix her training in vinyasa and kundalini yoga as well as her passion for dance. After class we float back to the inn feeling open, relaxed, and attuned to an attitude of mindfulness.


12:00 p.m. @ Zoots Coffee

After we check out of the Camden Harbour Inn, we head to the coffee shop, Zoots. In addition to a cornucopia of caffeinated concoctions, this hip house offers locally grown and foraged herb teas by Herbal Revolution Farm in Lincolnville.


12:30 p.m. in downtown Camden

On our final walk around town we take in a stunning view of the harbor. Near the waters edge a few schooners float huddled together in the icy harbor, patiently, silently waiting for warmer days.


1:30 p.m. @ Salt Water Farm at Union Hall

Owned by chef and cooking instructor Annemarie Ahearn, the Rockport space features an open kitchen with a bar lining the sides and natural light pouring in. Sunday brunch is a big draw and the restaurant is packed. This former vegetarian feasts on a sloppy joe and Jocelyn has her perfectly prepared eggs with a side of bacon and potatoes.


3:00 p.m. in Rockport Village

After our meal we wander around Rockport village. The village is home to three art anchors: the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, the Maine Media Workshops and College, and Bay Chamber Concerts. All three provide education, unique programing, and a rich engagement with  the arts to the community.


We could always do more, easily fill up a week, or two, or a lifetime, here, but we need to return home. As the light begins to shift on our trek home we bring with us a revitalized sense of place, connection, and community.


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Katy Kelleher, Managing Editor at Maine magazine


Like many of my coworkers, I take any chance I can to drive up to the midcoast. There are few places I’ve found that can boast both an abundance of natural beauty and a truly vibrant cultural scene. There are mountains and miles of coastline and pristine, blue lakes. Just a quick drive away, you’ll find world-class restaurants, elegant boutiques, stunning contemporary art, and some retired circus elephants. Yes, the midcoast really is a special place.



6:30 p.m. @ Norumbega Inn

It’s a dark day in early March, and as we pull up to the Norumbega, a chill goes down my spine. My partner Garrett and I have been anticipating this trip for months. “It really is a castle,” he says quietly as we walk through the grand old doors and into the lobby. I feel like a Jane Austen heroine encountering her first taste of nobility. Or one of Henry James’ governesses, about to meet her new employer. Or one of Edith Wharton’s failed socialites seeking a new home…


7:00 p.m. in the Library Suite

Owners Sue Walser and Phil Crispo stop my literary musings and kindly show us to our room. Fittingly, we’re staying in the library suite, a multi-leveled bedroom complete with shelves and shelves and shelves of leather-bound books. It even smells like old books. I’m in heaven.


8:30 p.m. @ 3Crow

While I could spend all night curled up in front of the fireplace at Norumbega, Garrett points out that we still need to eat. We show up at Rockland’s 3Crow ready devour their southern-style fare. Crispy fried chicken pairs perfectly with Brussels sprouts slaw, and we wash everything down with hot toddies and other whiskey-based cocktails. The night has gone from coastal castles to Southern Gothic, and I couldn’t be happier.


Downtown Camden


8:30 a.m. @ Norumbega Inn

Breakfast turns out to be a multi-course affair, starting with roasted chunks of pineapple and banana served over fresh Greek yogurt dribbled with local honey and ending with the most perfect, savory omelet I’ve ever eaten, perched on top of the crispiest, tastiest potato pancake. “It’s the best breakfast I’ve ever had,” I garble to Garrett, my mouth full of food.


9:45 a.m. @ Hope Elephants

Our friendly innkeeper Sue told us about the Hope Elephants, and we’re dying to see these gracious old creatures. I call and make an appointment for later that morning, and we head over to Hope. This quirky town is home to a number of offbeat attractions, but none quite as impressive as Rosie and Opal, a pair of retired circus elephants. The duo has a terrible roster of health issues, but their owners take great care of them. We watch as they use their long, flexible trunks to whip twigs around, breaking them into bite-sized pieces. I’ve never seen an elephant before, and I stand, rapt, as they maw down on their herbivorous meal.


12:00 p.m. @ Pinchbeck Pipes, Sweet Tree Arts + Stephen Gleasner’s Studio

The sweetness of my time with Rosie and Opal stays with me as I drive around Hope. The town center is tiny, but filled with artisans and craftsmen. Garrett and I stop to visit the Sweet Tree Art Center, but we don’t want to disturb the class, so we watch from the lobby as young poets flex their mental muscles. We wander next door, drawn by a sign reading “Pinchbeck Pipes.” Turns out, this is the studio of Chris Pinchbeck, a master bagpipe maker. Unfortunately, he is out, but artist Stephen Gleasner is happy to show us around. These two woodworkers and craftsmen share a studio space, which has lead to a fascinating collaboration involving plywood, secondhand denim, ivory mouthpieces, leather straps—and everything else that goes into a set of bagpipes. While Garrett walks around checking out the tools, Stephen and I discuss theories of happiness, meditation, and “flow.” I can’t help but feel as though I’ve stumbled into a very good place.


1:00 p.m. @ Boynton McKay

We don’t have much time for lunch, but Garrett and I decide to grab a quick sandwich to-go at Boynton McKay’s. The restaurant is endlessly charming, with patterned tile floors, quirky booths, and an iconic dog statue that welcomes visitors to the casual eatery. Our chicken salad wrap is full of veggies and tender pieces of chicken, and we devour it in minutes.


2:00 p.m. @ the Camden Snow Bowl

The parking lot is packed. As we pull in, I point to a family unloading a massive, apple-green cardboard dragon from their trunk. Kids run around willy-nilly as parents stand watch and laugh at their antics. It’s the annual Cardboard Box Race, and it seems like the whole town has come out to watch. Garrett and I make our way through the crowd to get a good view of the action. We watch as boxes painted like cars, decorated with golden glittery flames, and even disguised as elephants speed, slide, and stall on the slope. It’s silly, but it’s also a great reminder of what makes this part of Maine so remarkable: the tight-knit, year-round community.


3:00 p.m. @ the Farnsworth Art Museum

We head down to Rockland for a little shopping and to pay a visit to the Farnsworth Art Museum. After perusing the racks of gorgeous clothes at Black Parrot, I join Garrett at the Farnsworth to see their current exhibit on the Wizard of Oz, complete with Dorothy’s ruby slippers.


5:00 p.m. @ Shepherd’s Pie

We have dinner reservations later, but I can’t visit the midcoast without stopping in at Shepherd’s Pie. Located right on Rockport Harbor in a beautiful old brick building, this restaurant perfectly merges comfort food with innovative modern cuisine. Duck PB&J sliders sit on the menu next to a hummus plate and an order of pickled eggs. We opt for all three, and wash it down with glasses of Oxbow’s Loretta.


7:00 p.m. @ Comida Latin Kitchen

Even after our mini-meal, I still have room for Comida’s fresh, flavorful Latin American cuisine. From my first bite of the enchilada verde to the last sip of my spicy margarita, everything is top-notch.


8:00 p.m. @ Norumbega Inn

In high school, I was often called the “bottomless pit” because of my never-ending hunger. The Norumbega puts this to the test; as soon as I enter the lobby, I’m swept into the kitchen, where chef Phil is whipping up a fantastic dessert. I chat with his current intern, a bright young student from the Culinary Institute of America in New York, as she makes her first professional dessert. Phil tells me to take it up to my room to share with Garrett, and I’m only too happy to oblige. Dessert in bed following a day of exploring—I couldn’t ask for anything more.


Hiking through Camden


10:00 a.m. @ Marriner’s Restaurant

In the heart of Camden lies this cute diner, where you can gaze out at the ocean while devouring blueberry pancakes, lobster rolls, and other Maine favorites. We order a late breakfast and a couple of sodas, and watch the fog roll over the cold water below.


11:00 a.m. in downtown Camden

Garrett heads to Zoot Coffee to do a little work, so I spend an hour exploring the shops. I buy some beautifully carved wooden boxes at Once A Tree, stop in to see the rustic goods at Goose River Exchange, and find myself completely enamored with the Ducktrap Bay Trading Co.’s eclectic wares. French and Brawn’s Marketplace is well worth the visit, and I come away with a few cookies for later. I pick up some lavender soap at Glendarragh Farm’s herbal emporium before popping into Josephine’s, an upscale clothing boutique. Nearly every item calls out to me, but I manage to leave without spending my entire paycheck—a feat in itself.


12:30 p.m. @ Beauchamp Point

Although it’s cold, I don’t want to leave without getting my fill of the ocean. My colleague Steve Kelly recommended walking down to Beauchamp Point in Rockport, and it turns out to be a perfect Sunday stroll: calming, scenic, and easy.


2:00 p.m. @ Rock City Coffee and Hello, Hello Books

I had arranged to meet Dan Bookham at Rock City to pick his brain for an upcoming story. After we’re done sipping dark coffee and talking shop, I spend a few minutes browsing the books at Hello, Hello. Independent bookshops always feel special, but this one is particularly charming. From the welcoming name to the colorful hand-lettered signs, every element feels accessible and friendly, like your hometown library.


3:00 p.m. @ the Georges River Land Trust

I didn’t want to leave without visiting a few other places in Hope, but unfortunately the Hatchett Mountain Publick House (the town’s only sit-down restaurant) is closed for the day. Instead, Garrett and I spend the final hours of the day hiking in the Georges River Land Trust in Rockland. Soon enough, the sky begins to darken, and I realize it’s time to drive south. I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface of this dynamic, vibrant area, but instead of saddening me, this thought makes me smile. There’s just that much more to see next time.

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