A New Glamping Destination Brings French Style to Maine’s Woods
A New Glamping Destination Brings French Style to Maine’s Woods
Electricity, private bathrooms, and king-size beds—sure, it’s still camping, but we’ve never stretched out in a tent quite like this.
by Sandy Lang
Photography by Peter Frank Edwards
Issue: March/April 2021
The first time we see them, the couple from Manhattan have glasses of red wine, and they’re leaning in close at a Parisian-style cafe table—in the woods.
Smells of sizzling steak float toward the trail from a grill, and electric lights glow from inside the tent behind them. It’s a cozy, almost chic, little scene. Our own camp-out lodging at Huttopia Southern Maine is another minute’s walk down the trail, and is similarly outfitted with a tent structure on a raised wooden floor that’s decked out with a table, grill, and lounge furniture, with strings of cafe lights crisscrossing overhead.
Beyond the fresh air and nature, being safely near (but not too near) other people in these pandemic times is a notable part of the experience. And it’s a key part of the appeal. Plus, there’s a bit of international flair. Huttopia’s founding company operates dozens of modern camping properties in France, and has expanded to Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Canada. (I’d heard some French-speaking guests in conversation near the foosball tables when we were checking in, and had an aha moment. They pronounced the place’s name with long “u” sound, as in “utopia.”)
This Maine location is one of only three Huttopia properties in North America, along with one in Quebec and another near the White Mountains in New Hampshire. And since we haven’t been able to travel very far this year, I’m excited for the novelty of being, well, anywhere. That’s partly why photographer Peter Frank Edwards and I drove south from the midcoast for a stay at the completely revamped site of a former campground in Sanford.
Adding comfort and luxury to Maine camping isn’t new— think of the Gilded Age travelers to the North Woods and Bar Harbor. But lately it’s a twenty-first-century version of glamorous camping, or “glamping,” that’s caught on, with perks like plush bedding, Wi-Fi, and local craft beers. Several glamp-style destinations have opened in Maine in recent years, including Terramor Outdoor Resort on Mount Desert Island, Sandy Pines Campground in Kennebunkport, and Tentrr on private sites and in several state parks. Huttopia opened in 2019 on the shores of Sand Pond, a few miles west of I-95 and less than a 30-minute drive to the seasonal buzzing of yacht-style society in Kennebunkport. We’ve been looking forward to trying out glamping, and Peter Frank and I have successfully escaped the house and driven off for a two-day getaway.
A heated pool and a large reception house with patios and indoor spaces for gathering and games are among the first structures guests see. A restaurant inside serves pizzas and crepes, and a one-room shop has wine, local craft brews, and ciders for sale (we stock up with a couple cans of Super Dry Cidah from the Urban Farm Fermentory in Portland), along with grocery basics and kits for making campfire s’mores.
Our trip is at the tail end of summer on a couple of quiet weekdays—most of the tents were booked over the weekend. When we follow the trails to explore, we encounter a few couples and young families on the dock and beach who have the lake-sized Sand Pond practically to themselves. A barefoot toddler in a T-shirt runs toward the water repeatedly, giggling and being scooped up by his parents. Loons are known to land here, and rabbits to hop across the grass. The vibe is woodsy, with a sense of style, too—part of Huttopia’s approach is to create camping villages with simple but well-designed structures, modern tent interiors, and deck furnishings that include made-in-France butterfly chairs by Lafuma Mobilier and authentic Fermob cafe tables.
The French furnishings inspire us to open and pour some champagne (actually a California sparkling rosé) at our own cafe table at dinnertime. And we’ve brought some cheese, bread, and cornichons for appetizers. It’s a chilly night, and instead of grabbing one of my usual flannel shirts, this time I packed a cashmere wrap that I pull around my shoulders and keep there until the fire that Peter Frank’s starting in the fire ring begins to flame and crackle.
Typically, we bring our own pup-style tent and gear to a campground, and then spend an hour or two sorting out the chores of campsite setup. Not here. The Huttopia check-in is simple and fast. (I am surprised when they hand us a key—the tents are lockable, with wooden doors.) Next step is to borrow one of the green carts to pull along the car-free foot trails to our campsite—toting just clothes, firewood, food, and drink.
For extra ease, we brought along a frozen pizza to dress up with olive oil and anchovies and cook on the grill, along with some late-summer corn on the cob. It’s amazing how, when the pizza is hot and we slice it while watching the sun fall lower through the trees, the world turns naturally carefree and magical.
Yet here we are, I keep realizing, some 20 miles west of the beaches of the Kennebunks, in one of more than 60 furnished canvas tents. These tents, along with 18 petite, mod cabins, are tucked into a pine woods and along a 30-acre freshwater pond. Since many aren’t booked on this late-summer weekday, we end up peeking inside several while exploring.
Huttopia Southern Maine offers some larger tents with a kitchen area and bunk beds, and judging by guest reviews, those are a hit for families with kids. The one we booked is couple-sized, a Trappeur Duo with a king-size bed, bedside tables and lamps, a lofty white comforter, and soaps and towels in a bathroom that’s built out with wood planking on the floors and walls. That’s right— there are in-tent facilities. Turn on the faucet, and hot water flows, and next to the bathroom sink is a modern shower stall. In a separate section at the rear of the tent, there’s even a sleek, wall-mounted flush toilet. And I’m happy to see a clothing rack with wooden hangers for our clothes inside the tent, too. These may sound like small luxuries, but when you’re camping, they’re all major perks.
Campsite to Kennebunks
On the other side of the canvas, the owls are hooting. We tuck ourselves into the big bed, and the hoot-hoot is so near and clear-sounding, at first I wonder if it’s real or some kind of ambient recording being piped in. Truly, it’s owls. Through the chilly night, as wind starts to rustle in the pine trees, bringing with it mid-30s temperatures and an end-of-summer feeling, I hear them again and again. Perhaps they are calling out the change of seasons. The neighboring campers we meet while walking the trails in the morning report they listened to the overnight owl concert, too.
By midmorning we decide to use Huttopia as a jumping-off point for some nearby adventures. One of the staff tells us McDougal Orchards has been a landmark for fresh produce since she was a child growing up nearby, and it’s just a few miles away on a hilltop road. We make the orchard our first destination, parking next to an ancient black walnut tree and making our way to a tall, white-painted barn. Inside is a marketplace for cider doughnuts (we buy a small bagful, of course) along with trays and tables loaded with fresh raspberries, plums, Empire apples, pears, crabapples, flowers, and squash. Next, we head eastward, making the scenic drive along Route 99 toward the coast through the grasslands of Kennebunk Plains, which is managed by the Nature Conservancy and is a habitat for rare birds, insects, and plants, including the purple-flowering blooms of the northern blazing star, which occurs nowhere else in Maine. The plants aren’t showy at this time, but I make a note to return when they are.
In Kennebunk we keep up the “à la française” theme and stop for croissants and coffee at Mornings in Paris. I size up the other diners on the patio, and don’t imagine many of them are tent camping. This is a region of historically well-heeled travelers and residents, from rusticators and sea captains to the Walker-Bush presidential clan, who have a family compound two miles up the coast at Walker’s Point in Kennebunkport. We’ll drive that direction next, and on to Cape Porpoise, where we will stop for more natural wonders, including watching men and women reeling in stripers (striped bass) from the jetty at the Kennebunk River. And we’ll park for a few minutes and step closer to the shoreline to watch the repeating wallop of water and geyser splashes—a natural effect of the waves’ action at Spouting Rock along Ocean Avenue.
Eventually, it’s time to round out the day-tripping and return to our own comforts at Huttopia. Plus, the friendly couple we noticed enjoying the steak dinner have invited us to stop by their firepit. Later, we see the flames, we join them, and we all fall into happy conversation in the firelight. It turns out Xavier and Cadie both work in the magazine publishing industry in Manhattan. They drove up for a couple of nights at Huttopia based a colleague’s recommendation. “We looked at going to the White Mountains, but this was closer, just five hours,” Xavier explains. “Plus, here, there’s an elegant aesthetic already figured out.”
To that, we all toast. And fittingly, I think, I pull my mod French chair a little closer to the fire.
Tent-Based Exploring from Huttopia:
Wake up in a tent or modern tiny cabin at Huttopia of Southern Maine, with the Kennebunks only 20 miles away. A classic U-pick orchard is even closer. Make the most of your trip with these area destinations:
Kennebunk Plains | Route 99 + Maguire Road, Kennebunk | nature.org
McDougal Orchards | 201 Hanson Ridge Rd., Springvale | mcdougalorchards.com
Mornings in Paris | 21 Western Ave., Kennebunk | morningsinparis.com
Spouting Rock | Ocean Ave., Kennebunkport (between Central Ave. + Spouting Rock Ave.)