Belgrade Lakes, Waterville, + Mount Vernon
Photographs + stories by Maine magazine staff
It’s a girls’ weekend in Belgrade Lakes and we are ready with bathing suits, bottles of wine, and a trunk that’s roomy enough to cart back a good antique find. My friend Megan is driving up from Boston, and our friend Suzanne will join us tomorrow from Falmouth. Heading north, our GPS takes us on what will turn out to be the long way, but we’re rewarded with a rainbow that seems to follow us past farm fields and, as we get closer, water, water everywhere. The region is comprised of seven serene lakes and ponds, which serve as a beautiful backdrop to our trip.
7:00 p.m. @ Loon Ridge Our two-bedroom cabin is perched high on a ridge over what we’re told is a stream, but is arguably a river. A frameless window wraps the corner of the living area and affords an entrancing view right over the water—it feels a little bit like you could fall right in. Megan and I are held hostage by the panorama when we spot a fisherman who’s just gotten a catch. We run down to the stream bank as he reels in his fish, and he tells us that the camp used to be in his family when he was a child. It’s that time of evening when it’s not quite day, but not quite dark. The water is glassy, the air soft, the sky dusky, and there’s such a beauty in that impermanence.
8:00 p.m. @ Wings Hill Inn and Restaurant We tear ourselves away for dinner and pull into Wings Hill just as night falls. We wander through the twinkling garden in full summer bloom and enter the romantic, country-chic lobby. There’s a Dutch door with a counter bell to ring. Shortly thereafter, chef and co-owner Chris Anderson appears, like a much friendlier, bow-tied version of the gatekeeper in the Wizard of Oz. He ushers us down a back hall to our table, which is set with vintage dishes and a floral centerpiece that’s been arranged by a trio of talented, green- thumbed neighbors who use cuttings from their backyard gardens. A flaky baked appetizer welcomes us. We proceed through the inn’s elegant five-course prix fixe dinner, then leave satiated and sleepy.
9:15 a.m. @ Pine Bluff Farms Store We drive through town, and toward the end, we pull into Jeff and Sandi Wiles’s store, which opened earlier in the summer. There’s a small tent out front with a colorful array of local produce from their Mount Vernon farm, including cukes, kohlrabi, and summer squash, but it’s the sweet aroma of baked goods that draws us. We ask for whatever smells so good, and Jeff produces a piping hot, fresh-from- the-fryer donut. The store also sells Maine- made gifts, and despite the sunny summer day, I wind up purchasing a pair of mittens made from a vintage L.L. Bean Norwegian sweater.
9:30 a.m. @ Sunset Grill With a mix of locals and tourists, wood paneling, and heaping portions, this place is a classic roadside joint. Megan and I order huge omelets—I swear there must be a dozen eggs in each of them—and a side of toast, which is made with fresh-baked bread.
10:30 a.m. @ Antique Interiors by Janet We decide to spend the morning wandering the shops of downtown Belgrade, and this place, with large architectural pieces and vintage garden furniture out front, beckons us in. It’s a mix of everything, from crystal chandeliers to rustic farm tables to vintage clothing. I admire a gilt mirror on the wall, which might work for our entryway. I call home and ask my husband to take some measurements. Lucky for me, the shop is open on Sundays, too.
11:00 a.m. @ Day’s Store + Maine Made and More Suzanne grabs a bottle of water at Day’s while Megan and I wander the range of eclectic offerings at this one-stop shop. You can taste fresh fudge, rent a movie, stock up on fishing gear, or order a pizza. Maine Made smells like the holidays, thanks to dozens of balsam-fir- filled pillows in patterns ranging from nautical prints to loons. I’m also tempted by Mike’s Maine Pickled Fiddleheads, which are a tangy, tasty gift for my family.
12:30 p.m. @ Blueberry Hill Dozens of readers told us we had to visit this vista when we asked for recommendations on Facebook, so we drive out to Rome. On our way, we pass the regal Maine Chance Spa, the estate and spa formerly owned by Elizabeth Arden, which operated from 1934 to 1970. The view of the Kennebec Valley region is stunning, and we imagine it must be even prettier in fall.
1:15 p.m. @ Belgrade Lakes Golf Club We hop out of the car and a caddy immediately appears, offering us a lift on the back of his golf cart. We slowly wind up to the hilltop restaurant, where we order lobster rolls, BLTs, Arnold Palmers, and spicy Bloody Marys.
3:00 p.m. @ Loon Ridge We head back to our cabin and run into owners Sherwood and Laurie Booker. When we tell them that we’re contemplating taking the paddleboat out, they offer to give us a tour on their pontoon boat.
3:30 p.m. @ Belgrade Stream Sherwood drives, pointing out wildlife as Laurie gives us tastes of wine they make themselves, then proceeds to tell us the remarkable history of Loon Ridge. In the 1800s, the camp served as a stagecoach stop and was part of the Underground Railroad. In the early-and mid-1900s it was a busy summer destination— Laurie has photos from a child’s birthday party where the outdoor tables are set with fine silver and candelabras—but more recently the cabins had fallen into disrepair. Since the Bookers took over, they’ve rebuilt each cabin, one by one. Ten cabins are now completely renovated with modern kitchens and baths and decorated with charming rustic decor that Laurie and her daughters tracked down at estate sales and auctions. When we’re back on land, she gives us a tour of the main house they’re currently updating, and we talk about their future plans for the property. We all admire their hard work and dedication and thank them for the lovely afternoon on the water before heading off to get ready for dinner.
6:30 p.m. in downtown Waterville Before I left for the weekend, I chatted with Jen Olsen, the executive director of Waterville Main Street. She names several restaurants, including Buen Apetito for delicious Mexican and The Last Unicorn for its ambitious menu. When I tell her that we’d love to browse some vintage furniture shops, she suggests Modern Underground, which sells 1950s pieces, and she also tells me that the owner of Madlyn’s New and Used Consignment Shop has a fantastic eye. I’m also told that the Colby College Museum of Art is a destination in and of itself. My husband loves modern art, and I’m dying to see the Sol LeWitt installation in their new glass pavilion, as well as the Alex Katz exhibition, so he and I have already agreed we’ll go back to tour the museum together.
6:45 p.m. @ 18 Below This downstairs space has a modern bistro feel with exposed brick. We start with the fresh colossal shrimp—which are perfectly crisp and indeed, colossal—and then order a Caesar salad for the table, followed by delicious entrees.
8:45 p.m. @ Mainely Brews Restaurant and Brewhouse Suzanne’s husband went to Colby College and told us we had to stop in here for a cold one. We grab a spot at the bar and try to decide on one of the 23 beers on tap, including six house brews. We raise whimsical polka-dotted glasses to our weekend getaway.
10:00 a.m. @ The Olde Post Office Cafe We drive to Mount Vernon, park, and then stroll over a small bridge and some picturesque falls right outside this inviting cafe. As we’re enjoying lattes and veggie scrambles at a communal table in the front window, a few dozen runners in the Mount Vernon 10K pass by and we wave encouragements and hellos.
11:30 a.m. @ Antique Interiors by Janet Before we hit the road, we make a last stop back at the antique shop. We check the measurements again—the mirror will be a perfect fit. A few minutes later, it’s safely wrapped and in the trunk for the trip back to Portland.
12:30 p.m. @ Loon Ridge We throw our bags in the car and Suzanne pulls out onto Augusta Road to drive home. “Don’t you have the feeling that we just visited family friends?” she asks. We all agree. So many tourist destinations and hotels try to manufacture that affection— not always successfully. But at Loon Ridge, and throughout our trip in Belgrade Lakes and Waterville, there was a sense of welcome and hospitality that felt both authentic and genuine—qualities, I’ve learned, that seem to define Maine.