One of the first decisions in planning a trip is deciding where to stay. That can be much easier when you have a reliable source of information, and in Maine we rely on Inns Along the Coast . having stayed at a number of the member inns we know we can count on the quality, yet each has its own individual flavor. Two of their members are in Bar Harbor, Aysgarth Station and Saltair Inn, and we stayed in each of them on a recent trip.
Aysgarth Station is best described as a classic British B&B, its name inspired by a small town where the previous owner spent childhood summers in England’s Yorkshire Dales National Park of England. Settled into a comfortable Victorian house on a side street close to the downtown shops and the harbor, the six rooms of the inn all have either Queen or King sized beds, air conditioning and private bathrooms. Although our room, Tan Hill, was on the third floor, it was comfortable, with a view of Cadillac Mountain out window. A bit small, the room still accommodated a pair of chairs for reading in the gable end, a desk for our computer and, just a few feet down the hall, access to a third-floor balcony sitting area. One of the great advantages of Aysgarth is its proximity to downtown shops and the harbor: a five- to ten-minute walk will get you to the middle of the activity.
The first-floor living room gave us a chance to meet other guests, get suggestions of places to visit and to gain insight on the island’s attractions. This can be one of the most valuable parts of staying in a B&B. Stop in the afternoon for fresh made snacks before heading out for more adventures, or settle in with a good book. The tasty breakfasts at Aysgarth Station are an adventure as well. Ours started off with an opener of a tromp l’oeil Eggs Benedict look-alike: a granola cake topped with watermelon slice in place of Canadian bacon, and vanilla yogurt and mango puree imitating the egg. That was followed by an open-faced egg sandwich on cranberry focaccia with carrot marmalade and bacon, a wonderful way to start the day.
While Aysgarth had room for us for the first part of the trip they couldn’t accommodate us we returned after a short trip to another part of Maine. Relying on Inns along the Coast again we checked in at Saltair Inn – Waterfront B&B. One of the nice things about B&B travel is the difference one finds between inns.
Saltair Inn – Waterfront B&B also dates from the late Victorian period but its story is that of the many wealthy city people who “summered” in Bar harbor. Built by a prosperous Massachusetts family, this “cottage” would be called a mansion by anyone not part of the “400”. The house was designed by Arthur Rotch, a Boston Architect, who designed many buildings in town, including St Savior Episcopal Church (which you will want to see for its architecture and Tiffany stained glass windows).
Large and graciously furnished rooms put guests into the milieu of the families who lived here. The inn sits on the bay with wonderful views out over the water. Step down to the shore at low tide and you can walk straight over to Bar Island across the sand bar that connects it to the mainland. Be sure to know the tide tables, however, because if you don’t pay attention the rising tide could prevent your return for twelve hours! The back deck and lawn are perfect places to catch a bit of sun and the shore here is good for launching a kayak. The rooms at Saltair are really suites, large and nicely arranged with traditional furnishings. Our room had a gas fireplace, great for taking the chill off a fall evening, and even the bathroom had a gas fireplace. The king-sized bed had bedside lights perfect for reading.
Bar Harbor has drawn visitors for more than a century, and is known for its dining scene. Blaze, on Main Street, has signed itself as a pizza place and when it was first recommended we hesitated because we wanted something other than pizza. But we were reassured by a glance at the menu. In addition to pizza, the chef offers a small and changing menu of entrees that make this informal spot a destination. We chose a creamy lobster and scallop risotto that contained the entire tail and claw of a lobster and a pair of large sea scallops. Our other choice was Steak Frites, a beautifully grilled steak cooked to order and served with thin-cut Parmesan and rosemary duck-fat fries. We’ve not tasted any better ones in the whole of France.
Another evening we chose Mckays Public House, also on Main Street and named for a long-ago owner – a town character and bootlegger. The seafood cioppino was huge dish of haddock chunks, mussels, shrimp and sea scallops with tomato, onion and fennel that blended into a wonderful whole, just peppery enough to complement the seafood. I chose seared breast of duck, always a true test of a chef’s skills. At McKays the Moulard duck was cooked perfectly, just the right stage of rare and served with a tart cherry sauce. Dessert was Jack Daniels ice cream from MDI Creamery served with bacon crumble and a “boozy” caramel sauce. Well-spaced tables and cheerful, well informed service created a nice atmosphere for dining and conversation.
Take your next romantic escape up or down Maine’s craggy coast, exploring Bar Harbor, Camden, Rockland, Newcastle, Freeport and Kennebunkport, all ideal locations for exploring Maine. In addition to Saltair Inn and Aysgarth Station in Bar Harbor, Inns along the Coast members include Hawthorn Inn in Camden, Newcastle Inn in Newcastle, Brewster House in Freeport, Captain Jefferds Inn in Kennebunkport, and three in Rockland: LimeRock Inn, Berry Manor Inn and Granite Inn.
See the full story at ELF in the Keene Sentinel.