Built on a peninsula that juts into the waters of Casco Bay, the city of Portland, Maine, has long been one of the largest fishing and trade centers on the East Coast. After a period of financial and cultural decline in the 1970s and ’80s, today’s Portland boasts fine restaurants, coffeehouses and artsy, one-of-a-kind boutiques on almost every corner. And let’s not forget the beer. In addition to more conventional attractions such as the Portland Museum of Art (renowned for its collection of Winslow Homer paintings) and the Portland Sea Dogs baseball team (Red Sox AA affiliate), Portland is home to eight microbreweries, according to Frommer’s Travel Guides. When you consider that the city is just a 90-minute drive from most points in the Merrimack Valley, Portland becomes an ideal weekend destination.
Located within walking distance of almost everything — in the historic Old Port district — is the Portland Harbor Hotel. Reminiscent of small hotels found in Europe, this 101-room gem is the city’s only AAA Four Diamond property. From the moment you drop off your car with the valet in the underground garage, you’ll feel like you’re on vacation.
The team at the Portland Harbor Hotel includes some of the friendliest and most accommodating people in the business — at least that I’ve encountered — from the front desk staff to the valets, who, when they packed our luggage into the car (yes, you read that right), thoughtfully placed our bakery box full of cupcakes
behind the driver’s seat so it wouldn’t get crushed. (If you go, tip these guys well.)
The hotel’s guest rooms feature snug beds covered with 250 thread-count sheets and warm, down-filled duvets. The bathrooms have large soaking tubs and roomy, glass-stall showers. If you can, try to score a garden-view room overlooking the hotel’s lush courtyard. The garden is gorgeous, and the rooms are much quieter than those facing the street.
If you visit the hotel during the week, treat yourself to $5 craft martinis and specially priced happy hour appetizers in the elegant, wood-paneled bar from 4 to 7 p.m. And if you’re looking to sample the offerings at a few of Portland’s breweries, there’s no need for a designated driver. You can get a free ride to and from the downtown watering hole of your choice in one of the hotel’s stylish town cars.
The hotel’s restaurant, Eve’s at the Garden, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. (The lobster and spinach omelet is delicious.) You can enjoy your meal in the garden on a nice day, or sit by the fireplace if it’s chilly. The menus at Eve’s change seasonally and feature locally sourced produce, seafood, meats and cheeses.
According to hotel General Manager Gerard Kiladjian, Eve’s will be bringing a new executive chef on board in June. He’s expected to add Mediterranean and Middle Eastern touches to the menu, with the goal of setting Eve’s cuisine apart from the city’s many other excellent restaurants. (Diners who aren’t staying at the hotel can leave their cars with the valet free of charge.)
Other amenities include free bicycle rentals for guests, a fitness center and in-house spa treatments offered by professionals from the nearby Nine Stones spa. The hotel is pet-friendly, and the guest rooms were renovated recently. Luxury honeymoon and executive suites featuring ultramodern décor, fireplaces, whirlpool tubs and wet bars are available, too.
The hotel frequently sells out on weekends, so be sure to plan ahead.
Portland Travel Planner:
Portland Harbor Hotel:
468 Fore St.
Portland Museum of Art:
7 Congress Square
Portland Sea Dogs:
271 Park Ave.
Shipyard Brewing Co.
86 Newbury St.