Five Favorite New England Inns
The Claremont Hotel, Mount Desert’s oldest inn, possesses the grace but not the size or formality of a grand hotel — and the Maine island’s best view.
Walking into the comfortably sized lobby, you pour a glass of ice water, ease into a wing chair by the fire or a rocker on the porch, and feel at home. Upstairs the original 35 second- and third-floor guestrooms have been reduced to 24, all with closets and baths, furnished with refinished original pieces and graceful reproductions. Rooms overlooking the tennis court cost less that those with views across the water to Acadia’s rounded mountains.
This is the view that mesmerizes guests rocking on the long veranda. It’s what you see from every table in the glass-faced dining room, and from acres of the sloping lawns on which a few people are usually dressed in white, clutching croquet mallets and pondering their next move on one of three velvety courts.
“It’s like chess on grass,” observes hotel manager John Madeira, explaining that the first week in August marks the annual Claremont Croquet Tournament but that serious competitors are almost always on hand. So too is Till Harkins, senior local croquet enthusiast, who’ll teach the game to anyone who wants to learn. His usual takers are children, who are very much at home here. Families book one of the 14 housekeeping cottages or one of six rooms in Phillips House, an annex with its own living room. Light meals are served at The Boathouse.
A number of guests arrive under sail, and although there are always newcomers, there are also always more repeat visitors, who expect traditions to be honored, such as the inn’s Thursday-night lectures on serious topics and its Saturday-night concerts, ranging from chamber music to jazz.
To underscore the residency of Daniel Sweimler, one of the area’s best-known chefs, the dining room has been named “Xanthus,” a seemingly cryptic choice — but no mystery to Claremont regulars. Xanthus Smith was a landscape artist who probably bartered his portrait of the hotel in exchange for a room back in 1885. Hanging prominently in the dining room, the painting glows with that captivating spirit that still persists.
North Woods Luxury
Blair Hill Inn
351 Lily Bay Road
In inland Maine, the most exquisite place to stay is Blair Hill Inn at Moosehead Lake. Little more than a decade ago, Dan and Ruth McLaughlin were still working for the Chicago software company where they’d met. On business trips they’d stay at B&Bs and critique them. “We were innkeepers in waiting,” Ruth likes to say. What they wanted was to create an inn from scratch.
The ad for the Lyman Blair house appeared in Preservation magazine, and Dan flew East to check it out. A few months later, the McLaughlins moved into the outsized clapboard house atop Blair Hill, with their children, Jack and Lily, and two truckloads of furniture, acquired at flea markets and auctions over a dozen years. The wonder is how perfectly the furnishings fit into this 1890s mansion, built by a man from Chicago — and how quickly the family fit into Greenville, a lumbering outpost (population 1,800).
Dan worked with local carpenter Larry Lewis to create eight luxurious guestrooms, one wall at a time. The children made friends in school, and Dan was soon coaching basketball. The couple joined local choirs. Then in a Maine Public Television fundraiser, they won a performance by a string quartet and invited the entire town. That marked the beginning of a summer concert series.