Published Date Written by Elizabeth Margolis-PineoEvery so often, I need to run away from home, stake out a piece of beach and collect my thoughts. Here in Portland, a person doesn't have to go far to find a restorative piece of sand and sky. It's right down Route 77 in Cape Elizabeth at Inn by the Sea.
An eco-friendly tone is set by signs announcing that prime parking spots are reserved for fuel efficient cars. I deposit my 12-year-old Jeep at the far end of the parking lot. The inn's emphasis on all things environmental — from recycled to recyclable, hemp to bamboo — has made it one of the first "carbon neutral" hotels in the country. The posh surroundings are a warm blend of comfort and LEED Silver certified correctness. You can feel great about relaxing in all this sustainable green serenity and authentic Maine mojo.
A stroll down a private wooded boardwalk leads to Crescent Beach, peaceful and calm in that pre-season way so familiar to Mainers. My beach walk is breezy, beautiful, and part of the plan. The rhythm of the waves is calming and the sun is warm, against an uncluttered backdrop of sea and sky. The lush five-acre grounds boast an expansive garden that's just beginning to bloom, and a wildlife sanctuary with a Monarch butterfly waystation and a protected cottontail rabbit habitat. Seriously, bunnies and butterflies.
The inn is down the road from Fort Williams Park, Cape Elizabeth's historic shoreline fort. A picturesque destination for running, biking, and picnicking, Fort Williams is also home to one of the oldest and most famous lighthouses in Maine, Portland Head Light (www.portlandheadlight.com). Even in the rain — especially in the rain — ocean views are magical. This gem is open all year, and admission is free.
My own favorite Maine lighthouse is historic Bug Light, a diminutive and elegant lighthouse with surprising Corinthian columns. Built in 1875, this 26-foot lighthouse is certainly Maine's most stylish. In South Portland off Pickett Street, it's absolutely adorable. Don't miss it.
Two Lights State Park is also nearby, with paths, benches and picnic sites lining the rocky shore – many with charcoal grills. There is no better place to watch the crashing surf. It's awe-inspiring, especially after a storm. Stay away from the edge!
I stop at Alewive's Brook Farm lobster and farm stand on my way back to the inn. It's prime fiddlehead season, and I buy enough for the Fort Williams' infantry, a delicious seasonal souvenir.
My restorative plan includes an hour at the inn's eco-posh spa. Their signature facial with sea-based products smells great and feels wonderful. Try the steam or surround-shower. Daily life and obligations will recede like the Maine tide. S'marvelous.
Later, I am in the lounge nursing a Maine blueberry martini. A handsome family blows in fresh from the beach with 7-year-old twins and dog. The bartender appears and remembers what each family member ordered yesterday. The little girl plays with bits of green sea glass and asks a question using the word "indigenous." Double-wow. But as much as I appreciate the concept of an über pet-friendly hotel, the occasional doggie dust-up is inevitable. Dog owners reassure onlookers that the pups "just want to play." Uh-huh.
At the intimate Sea Glass restaurant every table has a view. Sunset glows pink and gold as if on cue. Tonight the restaurant is participating in Dining Out For Life, a benefit for the Frannie Peabody Center, with talented chef Mitchell Kaldrovich combining local fish and garden flavors for a cause. His eco-sourcing extends to the ever-changing day-boat catch; tonight it's pollock, one of several under-fished species featured in the inn's sustainable fish program, Out of the Blue.
His gazpacho is an explosion of tomato flavor topped with crunchy courgettes and garden herbs. His handmade gnocchi with glistening green pesto and whole pine nuts is 'squisito, hinting at an Italian influence. (Modestly, he credits his grandma.) The chef also struts his Argentine roots with a robust spinach salad featuring more-than-enough smoked bacon, plus goat cheese and crispy shallots. Delicious. He recommends a Malbec rosé — unexpected and perfect. Farm-to-table isn't a challenge for chef Mitch, it's a calling.
Okay, offsite you'll find whale-watching, golf, birding, hiking, biking, fishing, and wonderful historic lighthouses. Onsite, there is beach ecology, walks, garden tours, multi-generational yoga classes, and children's nature workshops. The inn's summer Garden Dinners and Taste of Maine receptions are wildly popular, featuring local growers and purveyors, lobstermen and winemakers. Note to self: Make a reservation.
For a restorative retreat at an upscale B&B with impressive eco-style, authentic Maine mojo, and great local cuisine, treat yourself to a staycation at this remarkable inn, close-to-home yet a world apart. I emerge rested and refreshed — mission accomplished.
(Elizabeth Margolis-Pineo is a freelance writer and creator of EpicuriousTravelers.com.)