By Amber Parcher
A February trip to a coastal town in Maine sounds less like a vacation and more like a stunt of bravery.
But this year’s warm New England winter opened up the doors for a weekend trip to one of the Pine Tree State’s most famous finger peninsulas and the 250-year-old bed and breakfast at its tip.
The Harpswell Inn is a colonial home steeped in Maine’s nautical history. In the late 1700s it housed shipwrights who hammered and heaved to build schooners for a shipping company in the mild summer days. The bell that was used to call the workers to dinner still sits atop the inn.
Located in southern Maine’s Middle Bay, a quiet harbor about 50 miles north of Portland, the town of Harpswell is still very much a fishing town, surrounded by tall evergreens and rusted lobster boats.
Husband-and-wife duo Dick and Anne Moseley run the 8-bedroom inn and the three nearby suites and two private cottages that fill out the waterfront estate.
In the warmer months, the inn is bustling with weddings, conventions, and families visiting their kids at Bowdoin College, a nearby liberal arts college on the mainland.
But on this February weekend, we had the place to ourselves.
We checked in sometime in the late afternoon, after a lazy sightseeing trip in Portland (where the clam chowder at local joint Gilbert’s Chowder House was so good we stopped by again on our way home).
After showing us the bottomless cookie jar in the kitchen and free drinks in the fridge, Dick urged us to take a spin around the empty house and poke our noses into every nook and cranny.
The original home spans three floors, each room a palette of pastels with cozy quilts draped over elegant wood furniture. Gas fireplaces double as heaters and vintage bathtubs provide a focal point for every bathroom.
Anne said she intentionally veered away from over-stuffed pillows and crisp comforters to create a more relaxed, homey vibe. “We want people to feel like they’re walking into their own room,” she said.
Almost everything in Harpswell is shuttered in the winter. We took advantage of the inn’s winter rates to book a suite with a full kitchen, and stopped at Whole Foods in Portland to grab wine and groceries on the way. When the temperature dipped into the teens, we spent a lovely evening watching the sun set over the bay from the warmth of our floor-to-ceiling windows.
Things get started early in northern New England. Dick fires up his renovated kitchen — the only part of the house that feels truly modern — at 7:00 a.m. When we awoke, we stumbled out of bed to find a spread of coffee, orange juice, and Anne’s homemade coffee cake waiting for us.
Another couple had arrived in the night, reluctant to head back to New Jersey after a family trip in New Hampshire. We made small talk around the dining room table as Dick took our orders for yet more food: an omelet, or French toast made with nutmeg and Texas toast — “It’s thicker,” he explained.
After breakfast, I offered to walk the innkeepers’ ebullient golden retriever, Bailey, around the harbor, and Anne gratefully handed me a leash. The morning temperature was 28 degrees (much warmer than usual in Harpswell). Ice-crusted waves lapped onto the rocky shore. An island that we had climbed during low tide yesterday was now completely underwater, a few spruces the only evidence that it had existed at all.
A lone lobster fisherman unloaded his early-morning catch into a red pick-up truck. He waved.
I hiked back up the hill, sad to leave, and we checked out with plans to follow Dick’s instructions to drive to the edge of the second peninsula. We looked out from Maine’s easternmost point, scanning the horizon for a glance at Europe, or at least the lights of Portland.
In this quiet coastal town, they both felt far away.
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