Lodging in Maine: 12 Places to Stay
Keeper’s House Inn, Isle au Haut
Sadly, lighthouses have been sentenced to live out their days on calendars, placemats, and postcards. Most have been automated, many sold off by the government and relegated to the category of camp icon — something to emblazon on all things touristy. They once meant so much more: a way of life, a sense of both independence and vulnerability. Lighthouse keepers were the cowboys of the ocean — dependent on their own wits and wiles, keepers of their own time.
You can recapture that sensibility at the Keeper’s House, adjacent to a lovely lighthouse, with just one guest room and two cottages. The owners note they have “no television, no fax, no e-mail, no Internet” — a list that falls somewhere between disclaimer and boast. The main house, built in 1907, is decorated mostly with natural light, which seems to bounce in from the ocean at every angle. (Solar and wind power provides the evening light and hot water.) The meals, which are included in the rate, are delicious, simple fare. And the soundtrack, always on, is that of the ocean persistently coaxing the island into sand.
Inn by the Sea, Cape Elizabeth
These 43 spacious suites, cottages, and beach houses all have ocean views (some better than others), kitchens, and porches (some shared), letting you wrap yourself in a blanket of salty air and simply stay put. This inn, unlike most others listed here, isn’t smack on the water — you can’t fish from your window. In some ways, that makes it all the more inviting; you have to stroll a couple hundred yards down a boardwalk to reach a lovely sandy beach. It’s more like Cape Cod than the rocky Maine coast — more sand, more salt in the air, more rustling dune grasses. The rush of the surf filters up to the guest rooms. So the first sound you hear each day is the sea calling you down.
Eighth Maine Guest House, Peaks Island
The sound of water mingles with history at this quirky, old-fashioned coastal guest house. It was established in 1891 as a place where members of the 8th Maine Volunteer Regiment, veterans of the Civil War, could hold reunions. With its rockers and timeworn wood, it clearly predates the era when “summer” became an industry.
Rooms here are furnished — although “furnished” seems a bit fancy. “Accreted” might be more accurate — like Grandmother’s house, if you had the sort of grandmother who never threw anything away. In fact, this guest house is run much the same way many grandmothers still run things: When you check out, “rooms must be cleaned, trash emptied and linens stripped,” according to the house rules.
Some guest rooms sit right along the rocky shore; expect the early sunrise to come glinting into your room before you’re ready. That’s OK, since there’s plenty to do on a long island day. Start with a walk along the road on the back shore; then spend some time reading in the circle of cane-seated rocking chairs in the main hall; then ask for the Civil War museum tour; and then, of course, allow plenty of time for sitting on the porch and tending to the sea. The ocean wouldn’t know what to do without you.
Dockside Guest Quarters, York Harbor
First-time guests inch their way cautiously beyond the marina, down the narrow road through woods to the tip of this private, island-like peninsula. York Harbor appears finally, suddenly, spreading from the front of the inn. Usually there are fishing boats, yachts, and kayakers, always gulls, and the far view, down the outlet to Boon Island Light.
You’d expect to drive hundreds of miles farther along the Maine coast to find this kind of gracious, family-owned inn right on the water. Innkeeper Eric Lusty, a licensed sea captain, offers harbor tours to guests, many of whom also take out the inn’s Boston whaler or explore the tidal York River in kayaks.