It took me a moment to get my bearings when I woke up on my first morning on the Maine coast.
Instead of the sound of New York City garbage trucks compacting the morning’s recyclables, I could hear waves crashing against the rocks and cliffs below. A salty sea breeze was blowing through the window, and the view from my room was deep-blue ocean to my left and bright green forest to my right.
Thank God, I thought.
I had come up to coastal Maine looking for a little R&R, and the Cliff House Resort and Spa – perched on a rocky bluff right at the ocean’s edge, about two miles south of the quaint town of Ogunquit – felt just right.
There are a few particulars that set the Cliff House apart.
First, the setting. Spread out atop Bald Head Cliff, a magnificent outcropping 100 feet above the ocean and with a gentle slope down to the rocks below, the Cliff House is close enough to the ocean for you to see it, smell it and hear it. And, if you take a staircase down to the edge of the rocks and then clamber across the boulders, you can touch it and taste it, too. The ocean here overwhelms your senses.
On the backside, the hotel’s sprawling estate gives way to the Maine woods, a nearby golf course and a windy country road punctuated with picturesque homes. All the resort’s rooms feature ocean views.
Then, there are the details. You’ll enjoy a decadent breakfast in an elegant dining room with views of the ocean on three sides. At night, floodlights illuminate the waves crashing into the rocks below. Though a resort, the Cliff House’s facilities and service have a distinctly New England-flavor. The hotel’s soaps and shampoos are even infused with a unique Maine blueberry blend.
The amenities are outstanding. Aside from an acclaimed spa and restaurant, the resort has an outdoor infinity pool that blurs the line between the blues of the pool, ocean and sky; an outdoor hot tub and indoor pool for chilly Maine mornings; a tennis court; a game room with ping-pong, puzzles and books; a 150-seat ampitheater, and live music at night.
Finally, the Cliff House is remarkable for its accessibility and access. At Maine’s southern tip, it’s less than five hours from New York by car, just 20 minutes north of the outlets at Kittery and five minutes from Ogunquit, a touristy town filled with B&Bs, restaurants, a decent playhouse, and a 3-mile-long sandy beach.
There are plenty of reasons to come to this part of New England.
One of southern Maine’s primary draws are the lobsters. In Ogunquit, they’re devoured at restaurants like Barnacle Billy’s – a favorite of ex-president George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara, who live in nearby Kennebunkport – featured on T-shirts and bumper-stickers in kitschy shops along the shore, and caught by fisherman who sail out from the docks here. For $15, you can take an hour-long boat ride with a lobster fisherman and watch him haul in lobster and explain his trade.
For those more land-inclined, there’s also kayaking, hiking and biking in the area. Mount Agamenticus, a 692-foot peak nearby, offers sweeping views of the entire region, including the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The Nubble Lighthouse at Cape Neddick, a tiny island with a lone lighthouse, home and white picket fence, is a top draw for photographers and artists. And for those looking to save a few dollars – or spend a few, perhaps – there are the 120 outlets stores of Kittery, ranging from Crate and Barrel to Rockport to Banana Republic.
While beautiful in every season, summer is the time to visit Maine. For one thing, it’s not cold. You can wear shorts, swim in area lakes and expect plenty of sunny days (just don’t count on being able to stay in the ocean water for very long – it’s bone-chilling even in August, though intrepid Mainers don’t seem think so). Summer is when Maine comes alive. The leaves and flowers are in bloom, there are weekends full of festivals, and the restaurants and bars are hopping.
Above all, Maine is a place to recharge your batteries -- with fabulous scenery, wonderful inns, plenty of outdoor activities and quaint coastal towns.
For more information on visiting Maine, go to VisitMaine.com. For information about the Cliff House Resort & Spa, go to CliffHouseMaine.com or call 207 361-1000. The author was a guest of the Cliff House.