Blue Hill, Brooklin + Brooksville
The Blue Hill Peninsula, just west of Mount Desert Island, has a long heritage of boatbuilding, fishing, and farming, and although the towns are popular summer destinations, they also offer year-round community and culture.
We arrive at Blue Hill Inn, and innkeeper Duncan Hamilton shows us to our elegant yet comfortable room with a tall four-poster king bed and wood- burning fireplace. The room features original pine flooring and is perfectly appointed. Once we settle in, we go for a walk about town before our dinner reservation at the inn.
Throughout the winter, Hamilton and chef La Mason offer a Friday night menu at the inn’s Petit Bistro, featuring a different cuisine from around the world. This week is one of my favorites: Vietnamese. We start with goi chay, a cabbage and carrot salad with tofu, bean sprouts, herbs, toasted peanuts, and nuoc mam dressing. We then share ginger and scallion beef meatballs with a chile and mango salad with lettuce wraps and herbs. Starting to feel satiated, we share ca tim xao tom, a delicious dish of shrimp and eggplant with soy garlic sauce and served with steamed rice. The dining room still buzzing with locals and guests, we linger in conversation over a glass of port.
We walk down to the heart of the village and have a quick breakfast at the Harbor House. After the daily eggs specials, local Bucklyn Coffee, and baked goods, we are then off to meet Lori Sitzabee from the Blue Hill Chamber of Commerce and Chrissy Allen from the Blue Hill Heritage Trust for travel advice from a local perspective.
Next we stop by the Winter Farmers’ Market, held inside the greenhouse at Mainescape from October through May. Fiber artist Susan Barrett Merrill tells me about her handmade woolen masks, and I buy a pair of earrings from her. We grab cups of freshly brewed coffee from David Dillon, owner of Bucklyn Coffee. Knowing we have a full day of exploring Brooklin and Brooksville, we grab a variety of items from bakery Tinder Hearth: the savory croissants filled with spinach and feta and a delectable blueberry tart seem like a perfect combination.
Our first stop in Brooklin, which is known for its boatbuilding, is at the Brooklin Boatyard. We gaze off the yard’s dock at several small islands in Eggemoggin Reach. Next we visit the WoodenBoat School, with a campus that spans 64 acres. While exploring the facilities we meet school director Rich Hilsinger, who first arrived at the school as a student in 1983 and is working to get ready for the summer session of classes.
We set off for Brooksville, driving past acres of blueberry barrens on Route 175. The difference between person-harvested and machine-harvested farms is clear by the large boulders that either scatter the fields or sit in large piles. We arrive at the Bucks Harbor Yacht Club and breathe in the salty air and spy an eagle with a giant wingspan flying through the air.
Wanting to try something new, we schedule a mini myofascial- release therapy session with Suzie Milkowich at Life INhancing Pathways. We leave feeling relaxed and ready to take on some shopping.
Our afternoon lineup includes books, wine, and chocolate, with a few surprises. First stop is to Fairwinds Florist. Serving the local communities for 60 years, Fairwinds offers vibrant springtime bouquets, rustic garden boxes, homemade candles, and a cigarette machine converted into an “Art Box” where you can purchase a small work for $10. Cullen Schneider is the fifth owner of this treasured Blue Hill business. Sharing the space at 5 Main Street is Black Dinah Chocolatiers, offering handmade truffles, sea salt caramels, exquisitely molded chocolates, and homemade ice cream. With chocolates and a small piece of work by artist Axel Stohlberg, we head to our next stop.
Filled with anticipation, we enter a gorgeous Maine farmhouse that is home to one of the best wine stores in the state, the Blue Hill Wine Shop. Owner Max Treitler offers us helpful advice with our selection of a Macon Solutre- Pouilly.
Excited to head back to the inn to share our bottle of wine, we make one more stop at the legendary Blue Hill Books. We notice the list of best sellers on a chalkboard on the porch as we meet new owner Samantha Haskell. Haskell, a longtime employee at the store, bought the business earlier this year. She’s enthusiastic as she helps us find a book, The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel, for my avid-book-reader daughter.
Innkeeper Duncan Hamilton made reservations for us at Arborvine, a short walk from the Blue Hill Inn. The owners of the fine dining restaurant operate a solar-powered brewpub, Deep Water Brewing Co., in a renovated barn at the back of the property, but we opt for dinner in the 1823 double-chimney Cape. For appetizers we order pate maison with pistachio and pear and a warm salad of Four Season Farm spinach and arugula with applewood-smoked bacon, house- roasted tomato, cipollinis, and sunflower seeds. Our entrees are also delicious—grilled wild jumbo shrimp scampi with house-made pappardelle and a roasted rack of lamb coated with a basil and pine nut crust.
Although we could have lingered for hours, we jet to the much-anticipated New Surry Theatre production of Fiddler on the Roof. To mark the retirement of its longtime director, Bill Raiten, the theater is closing its season with this musical, which was the first show Raiten and the theater produced in 1972.
After breakfast at the inn, we meet Chrissy Allen from the Blue Hill Heritage Trust a second time to walk the land trust’s Peter’s Brook Trail. Winding through the grounds of an old sawmill, we arrive at a waterfall that is rushing with the springtime thaw.
We then head to the Blue Hill Coop to get provisions for our hike up Blue Hill Mountain. As the clouds disperse, expansive vistas of Acadia National Park and Blue Hill Harbor are breathtaking.
No trip to Blue Hill is complete for me without a trip to the Blue Hill Fairgrounds, the setting of my favorite children’s book, Charlotte’s Web. I traverse the stalls, hoping I will feel a sense of Wilbur and Charlotte, and then I realize that so much of our visit to Blue Hill could be summarized by some of Charlotte’s own musings: “Terrific,” “Humble,” “Radiant,” and most important, “You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing.”