Image by Garrett Swan
Last fall, we were invited up to Kennebunkport, Maine, and fell in love with its low-key New England vibe, and the region’s abundant natural beauty. So much so, in fact, that earlier this year, we booked a cottage in nearby Dolphin’s Cove for a week in early July. In February, we were already daydreaming of yoga sessions on the deck at sunrise, and sipping evening cocktails while watching glorious sunsets over the marsh.
Of course, that was before COVID-19 wiped the floor with our summer travel dreams.
While lockdowns and travel bans surely made good common sense and have, thankfully, helped to at least contain the virus in the noble Northeast, the inability to freely travel has only exacerbated our wanderlust, in the process making those all-too-infrequent trips now even more meaningful (Every precious moment…). However, when we learned that Maine had lifted travel restrictions on visitors from New York, New Jersey, and its New England neighbors, we tossed our masks in our overnight bags and booked a room at its most seriously buzzed about new hotel, for a desperately needed escape from our too familiar four walls.
And frankly, Maine’s stillness and sense of simplicity was really just what we needed to tamp down the stress.
What we got was, literally, “Therapy by the Sea.” The Yachtsman Hotel & Marina Club in Kennebunkport, has partnered up with the quintessential New England boating brand Sperry on a hospitality experience (available through October 31) that includes a two-night stay, a pair of playfully plaid (or other choice of color) summer boat shoes per guest, a two-hour canoe or kayak rental (not exactly a yacht, but much more easily navigable for your average nautical novice urbanistas), a locally made candle, and—thank god—complimentary cocktails.
The hotel’s sparkling clean, elegantly stylized waterside rooms featured indoor-outdoor living, with seaside chic but colorful décor, and lush private patio spaces with sloping lawns that lead to the dock. The pool was a floating oasis docked in the Kennebunk River, and made for a refreshing dip before hitting the Yacht Rock Bar by Sperry for a smartly crafted tippled. We opted for a bit of breezy sophistication with the Authentic Original, essentially a fancy gin and tonic, and the more playful Original Prep, a boozy coconut-strawberry concoction, worthy of any Dartmouth Sigma Delta party girl.
We found it fairly easy to socially distance along miles of Kennebunkport’s exquisitely upmarket beaches. It should be noted that parking can be a drag; but the Yachtsman offers complimentary bikes, so we eagerly took advantage, especially as the two-wheeled ride comes with non-stop scenery. Kennebunk Beach on Ocean Avenue is the largest and most well-known—but we checked out several smaller, hidden gems like Colony Beach, which is tucked into a cove about a half-mile from the Yachtsman; and Goose Rocks Beach, which offers powder-soft sand and an opportunity to explore a remote island during low tide.
But after tense months stuck inside, we also couldn’t resist the serenity and shade of the New England forest. So we headed for Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge’s Carson Trail in Wells, a one-mile loop with a wide path and sweeping salt marsh views. There’s also the Smith Trail, which brings you deeper into the woods for an eight-mile hike (do arm yourself with bug spray, and conduct a tick-check after). The most challenging hike is Bradbury Mountain State Park in Pownal, one of the five original state parks, with breathtaking views from its summit and a network of trails.
While KPT has a wealth of dockside restaurants (and lobster everywhere), an obligatory post-beach stop is the Pilot House, for ice-cold brews, sizzling baskets of fried shrimp and live classic rock. But we ventured out to explore the area’s notable farm-to-table options: Bandaloop (located in Arundel), a bistro-in-a-barn, offered organic Asian-inspired cuisine, innovatively prepared with hyper-local ingredients—we had the crispy fried-tofu and Maine-style Palusumi, a vegan Samoan stew. At Earth at Hidden Pond, much of the produce is grown on-site and artfully prepared, with standouts being the local cod served with bacon, creamed corn, crab, and stuffed squash blossom, as well as the gnocchi with pancetta, mushrooms, pork cheek and crispy shallots.
But, as a reward for diligently sheltering-in all these months, we made sure to save some room for dessert—and Rococo Ice Cream’s crazy good gourmet flavors, including goat cheese blackberry Chambord and coconut Mezcal hibiscus—were well worth the splurge and the wait.