Rockland, Maine

Photo: 250 Main Hotel

Every year, Maine is forgotten. Beaches are deserted after Labor Day. Seafood shacks are boarded up after that. Ferry schedules are greatly reduced, if not abandoned. So are flights to Portland. Plus there’s no traffic along I-95 and Route 1 to slow you down.

This could be a great time to visit the Mid Coast, the area wedged in between Portland and Acadia National Park. At first, it sounds crazy. It’s cold, strong winds are blowing off the water, and a lot of places are closed. But hotel rates have drastically dropped. You can easily get reservations at your favorite restaurants. Plus there are no crowds. You’ll have pine-lined roads, serene harbors, wind-swept beaches, and quaint towns practically to yourself.

Rockland will actually feel like a whole different destination. Vacationland, as it’s affectionally called, can be overwhelmed with congestion during the summer. The large fishing port is where ferries, bound for the islands in Penobscot Bay, depart. Its downtown is full of colorful buildings, historic inns, and unique shops. It’s an artists’ haven thanks to the Farnsworth Art Museum, the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, and dozens of galleries. The Maine Lighthouse Museum is here, too.

Photo: Primo Rockland

250 Main Hotel is the perfect base to explore the downtown area. The new hotel sits right on Main Street. Its brick building was originally developed to be urban condos with views of the harbor. The project was never completed. So two years ago, it was turned into a boutique hotel with an industrial-chic vibe. Twenty-six rooms are decorated with 1950s tourism posters, landscape photography, and watercolors. There are concierge tablets next to the beds. The bathrooms have heated tile floors and towel racks. Balcony views do indeed extend over the water. An additional rooftop deck is open during the warmer months. While a beer-and-wine social is hosted every evening in the lobby.

After trying a few local New England IPAs at the social, head down the street to Primo Restaurant for dinner. Primo has been on your dining wish list for years. As it should have been. It’s a James Beard favorite and one of the best restaurants in the whole state. It sits on four acres that are filled with greenhouses, chicken coops, pig pens, and beehives. Its Victorian building features a formal Parlor Room downstairs and a barnyard-chic Counter Room & Bar upstairs. It even has a view of the wild Atlantic Ocean.

Most importantly, though, is the food. Chef Melissa Kelly takes Mediterranean dishes and adds Maine accents. Everything is seasonal. Everything is local. Everything is delicious. Start with a “New” Fashioned cocktail made with bourbon, house-made Limoncello, and a splash of Prosecco. Don’t skip the usually unnecessary bread. Theirs is homemade and still warm. For appetizers, share a local apple salad and fried Pemaquid oysters. The salad is topped with Tarentaise (cow’s cheese), while the oysters are served with a chile-lime dressing. Pork chops with a cranberry-mustard glaze and grilled moulard duck breasts are both offered as mains. But it’s hard to pass up seafood, especially local monkfish in a black olive oil, when you’re in Maine. That’s right, you’re in Maine in November.

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