Forest and Sea
Taking advantage of southern Maine’s popular beaches and hiking spots before the tourist season is in full swing makes for a relaxing and memorable getaway, without the crowds, long lines and sky-high prices.
The region of southern Maine that includes the Yorks, Ogunquit and Wells is among New England’s most popular summer vacation destinations, and for good reason. The area’s sweeping ocean views and pristine woodlands are rivaled in their beauty only by its broad, sandy beaches. There are few places quite like it.
If you visit this area during the summer, though, you might find yourself unable to book a hotel room, waiting in long lines to get a table for breakfast, and — the worst — paying top dollar to park up to a quarter-mile from the beach. Visiting southern Maine’s seacoast during May and June, before the tourism season is in full swing, is a much more relaxing (and less expensive) way to take advantage of the area’s myriad charms.
My husband, Rob, and I recently stayed at The Beachmere Inn in Ogunquit, a tasteful resort that consists of six buildings, most of which overlook the ocean and the town’s famed Marginal Way, a mile-long paved walking path that connects Ogunquit’s downtown with the quaint seaside village of Perkins Cove.
We stayed in The Victorian building, which was built in 1897 and was once a private home. With 28 guest rooms, this stylish structure retains many original details and is just a short walk from the resort’s lobby, bar and restaurant. Staying here truly gives you the feeling of being set apart from Ogunquit’s often-bustling vibe. The Victorian is visible from the beach and is one of the town’s most iconic landmarks.
At the Beachmere, you can sit on the porch and sip an evening cocktail by the fire pit, or lounge in the sun (or under an umbrella) while enjoying the view of the sea from the resort’s inviting lawn. Lunch and dinner are served daily in the Beachmere’s Blue Bistro, and guests receive a complimentary continental breakfast each morning. The hotel’s fitness center and sauna are also available to guests at no charge.
The Marginal Way is accessible via a gate at the rear of the Beachmere’s property, so taking an early-morning stroll or evening jog is virtually hassle-free.
All rooms at the Beachmere include a kitchenette with a refrigerator, sink and electric hot plate, so you can stock up on your favorite drinks and snacks to enjoy at the beach or while you’re relaxing in your room.
Hiking is one of our favorite things to do, so when we were ready to do something other than hang out at the beach, we headed to the nearby town of Wells and the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. Established in 1966 to help protect the Maine coast’s fragile ecosystem, the refuge was named for biologist and author Rachel Carson, whose 1962 book, “Silent Spring,” is credited with launching the modern environmental movement. The refuge encompasses 50 miles of coastline and more than 14,000 acres. The part you can actually visit, however, is much smaller.
The public entrance to the refuge is located on Route 9. The walking trail there is wide, flat and well groomed, and would be ideal for people with small children or who have mobility issues. The trail offers a number of scenic vistas where, if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to spot any number of the rare birds that make the refuge their home. Over the years that we’ve been visiting, we’ve seen sandhill cranes, snowy egrets, wood ducks, great blue herons, night herons and a variety of hawks.
If you’re up for more of a challenge, Mount Agamenticus in York, known to locals as “Mount A,” offers miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking, with some trails even allowing all-terrain vehicles. Although it’s small as mountains go — Mount A’s summit is just under 700 feet above sea level — the trails can be quite steep and are fun to climb. Once you make it to the top, you’ll be treated to a great view of the ocean and surrounding landscape.
Legend has it that St. Aspinquid, a Mi’kmaq Indians chief and Roman Catholic saint who was converted to Catholicism by a French Canadian missionary priest, is buried at the top of Mount A. Aspinquid is thought to have been killed in the late 17th century during King William’s War. Some historians maintain that St. Aspinquid never actually existed, while others say he’s not actually buried on Mount A’s summit, but someplace else on the mountain. Either way, it’s an interesting tale that makes visiting Mount Agamenticus that much more fun.
A visit to the southern coast of Maine wouldn’t be complete without a good meal. Fresh seafood can be found at just about every restaurant in the region, but one of our favorites, especially if we are visiting during the off-season, is Angelina’s Ristorante, an Italian bistro and wine bar located on Route 1 in Ogunquit. The restaurant serves delicious Tuscan-style dishes and offers a casual yet elegant atmosphere (there are no televisions in the dining room) that’s well suited to long, relaxed meals accented by good wine and conversation.
The Beachmere Inn
Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge