Summer in Bethel is, in many ways, a mirror image of winter— without the snow. Golf replaces skiing, you still can take a lift up the mountain or hike up, and zip lines provide some of the excitement of snowmobiling or sledding. This year also marks Bethel’s 250th anniversary.
My wife, Ann, and I have a summer home in Lovell, Maine, about 45 minutes from Bethel, so we already know and love the area. We check into the Bethel Inn Resort and are delighted with the big, airy room that awaits us. It comes with a great view of the Village Common in the Broad Street Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The inn has been around since 1913 and has one of the best golf courses in western Maine.
Heading out to explore the town, our first stop is Maine Line Products on North Main Street. The store is chock full of Maine-made items and has a big selection of fudge—how could I refuse a sample? Next, we visit Ruthie’s Boutique, a town favorite for over 43 years, where owner Ruth Grover gives us the grand tour. Ann can’t resist picking up a pair of summer pants. Just down the street is the Philbrook Place, a collaborative of four shops—Toys & Trendz, Community Sports, Elements Art Gallery, and Revival & Little Bits Consignment. There are two levels to wander through and much to see.
We have a 7 p.m. reservation at Brian’s, one of the newer restaurants in Bethel. It has a great outside deck for enjoying the summer breezes while dining. Proprietor Jessica Nichols welcomes us warmly and leads us to our table. Everything here is made from scratch using local ingredients whenever possible. I have seafood vongole—pasta loaded with tiny clams, scallops, and shrimp—while Ann enjoys her teriyaki steak tips with an onion and mushroom compote, and garlic mashed potatoes. For beer lovers there are nine rotating taps featuring many of Maine’s microbrews. After dinner we take a stroll down Main Street back to the Bethel Inn, where we turn in early.
After a tasty continental breakfast at the inn, we head out to the neighboring town of Rumford to visit Premium Specialty Hardwoods. Ann is a woodturner and this store has one of the biggest selections of exotic woods in Maine. On the way back to Bethel, we motor up to the Jordan Hotel at the Sunday River Resort in Newry. Even though it’s May, there are still patches of snow on the higher ski trails, reminding us that winter hangs on in the mountains. Just before entering Bethel, we visit the Sunday River Bridge, a historic covered bridge also known as the Artist’s Bridge because of how many times it has been featured in paintings and photographs. It’s one of the few covered bridges still standing in Maine.
Back in town, our first stop is the preview gallery at the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum. Opening in the fall, the museum will showcase Maine’s geological history and offer interactive displays involving locally mined minerals and gems, as well as extraterrestrial rocks. Next up is Pok Sun Emporium, an amazing store with a huge range of products under one roof. You can get everything from reclaimed wood furniture to jewelry, clothing, and fine art. A hop, skip, and jump away is Nabos, where the owner’s pet Labrador retriever, Martina, is the official greeter. Owner Amanda Moran designs her own jewelry and sells toys, clothing, and gift items in a converted gas station. We really like the hand-painted martini glasses.
Hungry after our busy morning, we head to Crossroads Diner for lunch, where owner Frank Del Duca has just put in a dining porch. We decide that the Summer Salad—lettuce, sliced chicken, craisins, blueberries, strawberries, and peppers— is one of the best salads we’ve ever had in Maine. Down the road are the workshops and showroom of S. Timberlake, makers of Shaker and custom furniture. Managers Ross and Carole Timberlake give us a tour and history of the business, which was owned by the Timberlake family from 1974 until 2015. Carole designs and makes unique cutting boards, each of which is accompanied by
one of her recipes. We buy one of these beautiful boards with a Dilly Potato Salad recipe we can’t wait to try.
With furniture on our minds, we also visit Rustics Log and Country Furniture, a favorite source for owners of ski and lake homes. Kathleen Chiasson owns the store with her husband Paul, who designs and builds all of the distinctive pieces.
For tonight’s dinner, we decide on the Jolly Drayman, a cozy, English-style pub located at the Briar Lea Inn. New owners who purchased the inn two years ago have completely renovated both it and the restaurant, where the decor makes us feel as if we’ve been transported from western Maine to the English countryside. I’m happy with my Guinness-marinated filet of beef with fried onion rings, a baked potato, and fresh broccoli, while Ann goes for the slightly spicy shrimp tikka masala. For dessert, the chocolate mousse topped with fresh whipped cream brings the day to a sweet finish.
While Sunday River Brewing may open at 6 a.m., we are not there to drink beer but to enjoy their great breakfast. There’s an expansive terrace outside, but the morning air was cool so we opted to stay indoors, warming—and waking— up with coffee. Our last stop before heading home is the Good Food Store on the edge of town. The name says it all; the cheerful shop stocks natural and gourmet foods, fine wines, and exotic cheeses. We grab a few pastries and more coffee for the ride and say so long for now to the mountains.