Camden + Rockport
Rich with artists, extraordinary dining, and outdoor opportunities ranging from hiking to kayaking to boating, the midcoast towns of Camden and Rockport make for a weekend getaway full of variety.
A warm welcome
My first stop is for dinner in Rockport. 18 Central Oyster Bar and Grill‘s warm and cozy wooden interior feels perfect on a dark Maine night. The open kitchen with a wood-fired oven adds to the warmth and bustle. I meet my friend Megan van der Kieft of Margo Moore Interiors and her friend Bridget Leavitt, a small business consultant. We are at a table in the back next to a window that in daylight would reveal a view of Rockport Harbor. We enjoy the daily special of Jerusalem artichoke soup with local sea scallops, fresh herbs, a drizzle of chile oil, and balsamic reduction topped with sunchoke chips.
It’s raining, and one of the Camden Harbour Inn staff members greets my car with an umbrella, setting the tone for the level of attention I’ll receive all weekend. House-made truffles adorned with red rose petals and a glass of prosecco welcome me in the Royal Dutch Suite. I settle into the chic yet comfortable living room to enjoy the suite’s historic charm and one of its fireplaces. The bathroom also has a gas fireplace, traditional sauna, steam and rain shower, and air bath, which I thoroughly enjoy before slipping into the feather bed to sleep.
Nautical crafters and photography tours
The glass French doors visible from my bed open onto a balcony facing Camden Harbor. The morning sun dazzles and reflects off of the ocean below. Breakfast in the dining room overlooks a porch with rocking chairs. I enjoy the newspaper that was left outside my suite door and the fluffiest scrambled eggs, from Bowden’s Egg Farm, with lightly sautéed spinach and rustic potatoes. The town is still waking up as I take a short walk to the Camden Public Library and to the harbor to take photos of the boats docked at Lyman-Morse Boatbuilding.
It’s a six-minute drive from Camden to Rockport, home of Bohndell Sails, where sail design, production, and repair are all done in-house. Robin Chace Payson and her mom, Sue Chace, show me around the family business that has been making custom sails since 1870.
My next stop is right around the corner at Maine Media Workshops and College, which offers year-round workshops for photographers, filmmakers, and media artists. Having attended summer workshops with their brilliant faculty on the peaceful ten-acre campus in Rockport, I can attest to the magical experience. Brenton Hamilton, an artist and faculty member, shows me the Ernst Haas photography lab, where Hamilton teaches historic processes.
Around the corner in Rockport Village, in the historic red-brick Shepard Block building, I find Maine Media Gallery and Tim Whelan Photographic Books. My friend and fellow photographer Cate Wnek meets me here. We enjoy chatting with Whelen, a photographer with an impressive collection of photography books. We were hoping to connect with Peter Ralston, who owns Ralston Gallery across the street, but run out of time before our lunch reservation.
Dining and shopping downtown
Long Grain, a small restaurant on Camden’s Main Street, has an eclectic mix of chairs and one wall lined with funky wallpaper. It is always packed, and today is no different. Husband-and-wife owners Ravin Nakjaroen and Paula Palakawong are known for combining fresh Maine ingredients with authentic Thai flavors and recipes. We order the Vietnamese salad with nuoc cham dressing, which is bursting with fresh herbs, along with pad seaw, a dish with house-made rice noodles and organic farm greens in a light and sweet soy sauce. After lunch we head to Margo Moore Interiors for a tour of the shop, which is packed with bold, colorful items such as pillows, furniture, and gifts. We stroll through town to Sea Bags, which turns sails into stunning tote bags and accessories. As it happens, I am carrying the custom-made bag that Sea Bags created with Maine magazine for the Kennebunkport Festival. From there we pop in and out of Sherman’s Maine Coast Book Shop and Jo Ellen Designs and make our way to Sea Dog Brewing Company, which features its own craft beers and a great pub menu with plenty of seafood. We chat with manager Robert Labbe as he takes us on a tour and shows us the outdoor decks on the harbor side. Inside, the tables offer views of the harbor as well.
Swans Island Company is housed in a white rounded building on the corner across the street. Sales associate Mary Rabaioli tells us the story of how the yarn is carefully sourced and spun and dyed by hand in the company’s Northport dye house. I purchase a pair of striped Cafe Mitts that are soft and fingerless, which makes them perfect for taking photos in the Maine cold.
White tablecloth service in the midcoast
I’ve heard raves about Natalie’s, Camden Harbour Inn’s restaurant, so I’m looking forward to eating here. Cate joins me, and we decide on the four-course prix fixe menu with the premium wine pairing. Natalie’s uses the Coravin system, which protects wine in open bottles from oxidation, preserving its flavor. Bluefin tuna with ginger wasabi and jicama appears first. It looks like a beautifully composed work of art and is perfectly paired with a blush wine. My favorite course, the Maine lobster risotto, is served with a light citrus sauce and topped with bright green kale. It is the perfect combination of local and exotic flavors. This is some of the most spectacular dining I have experienced—from the service to the perfect wine selections to the beautiful food.
Penobscot Bay vistas
I take advantage of the in-suite sauna and espresso maker before enjoying the harbor views from a chair in the suite. Downstairs I have an apple smoothie and fresh eggs for breakfast.
Camden Hills State Park is a 5,700-acre gem that is less than two miles from the center of town. Hikers can enjoy numerous trails, but those who want to skip right to the views can drive their cars up Mount Battie. I choose the latter today, since a storm is brewing. From the top I enjoy gorgeous, expansive views of Penobscot Bay, Camden Harbor, and the beautiful homes of Camden. After leaving the park, I stop at Zoot Coffee, a local coffee shop in town, to pick up a gluten-free muffin and coffee for the ride home.
On the drive out of town I visit the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport and catch a woodworking community class that is in session. Student Dennis Turney shows me a beautifully crafted chair he has been working on in the class. As I hit the road back to Kennebunk, I am already looking forward to returning this summer to spend a week at the Maine Media Workshops and College and do some more hiking, dining, and exploring in the area.