Portland - Rangeley
Begin in Portland, a place that native son Henry Wadsworth Longfellow called his "jewel by the sea." Most people who are familiar with this gem of a city agree that his 19th-century sentiment still rings true today. As one of the Northeast's most sophisticated small cities, Portland pulses with a delightfully vibrant urban atmosphere, yet retains all the warmth and charm of a close-knit community.
Per capita, Portland is said to be home to more places to dine than any other American city, save San Francisco; the caliber of the fare to be found here has been noted in Bon Appétit, Travel & Leisure and Wine Spectator. Portland also maintains a thriving arts tradition, evidenced in its many galleries, theater and dance companies, performance halls and museums.
A walk through the Arts District lining historic Congress Street rewards you with access to many of these arts venues. Prominent in this streetscape is the Portland Museum of Art, a landmark I.M. Pei-designed building, which houses one of the most revered collections of art in the Northeast. The museum hosts exciting exhibitions and programs that showcase the work of artists including Mary Cassatt, Andrew Wyeth, Edgar Degas, Pablo Picasso and Pierrre-Auguste Renoir. Of special note is a body of 19 significant works by Winslow Homer.
The Portland Performing Arts Center's elegant theater seats just 290 people, but has earned a reputation for the wonderful performances it hosts. It is home to the Ram Island Dance Company, a notable modern dance troupe.
New on the Portland Arts scene but already making a huge impact is the Center for Cultural Exchange, which hosts diverse and lively musical performances and events, featuring artists from all over the world. The newly-renovated 1913 Merrill Auditorium has also taken center stage in the recent past; it has hosted entertainers as diverse as Lyle Lovett, Taj Mahal, Itzhak Perlman and STOMP, and a Boston Globe opera critic deemed it "drop-dead gorgeous." Beautifully appointed with vaulted ceilings, balconies, elaborate ornamentation and a massive 5,000 pipe Kotzchmar Organ, the auditorium is well worth a visit - preferably when the resident Portland Symphony Orchestra is giving one of its celebrated performances.
Built on a peninsula, Portland is bounded by island-studded Casco Bay, placid Back Cove and the Fore River; such geographic constraints led to the happy solution of building the city up rather than out. The resulting urban landscape consists of tall and stately brick, granite and brownstone buildings in an array of 19th-century architectural styles. Portland is wonderful city to explore on foot; Greater Portland Landmarks offers walking tour maps of the city's four main historic districts.
The breadth of things to see and do in Portland warrants a stay one of the number of inns and hotels in the city proper. On the Portland "must-do" list is shopping and dining in the brick-and-cobblestone Old Port District; taking a scenic ferry ride to one of the Casco Bay Islands; visiting the highly regarded Portland Museum of Art and the adjacent Children's Museum of Maine; and touring the incredibly ornate, Italianate Victoria Mansion.
From Portland, head south on Route 77 to South Portland, where the Spring Point Light rests on a breakwater adjacent to the Portland Harbor Museum - which features as its centerpiece the bow of America's last clipper ship, the Snow Squall. This 157-foot beauty was left to rot in South America in 1864, but portions of the vessel were recently recovered and are being restored at the museum.
Further south on 77 is Fort Williams Park, offering heart-stopping views of the sea and access to world-famous Portland Headlight. Commissioned by George Washington in 1791, this light enjoys a long and fascinating history, and has spawned its fair share of legends. A local favorite dates to the early 1900s, when the lighthouse-keeper's parrot (who reportedly cursed like a pirate) acted as a barometer, telling the keeper to turn the light on when a storm was approaching. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow also visited the light frequently, and is said to have penned some of his poetry here. Learn more about this landmark beacon at the museum housed in the former lighthouse-keeper's quarters.
A few miles south on Route 77 are two beautiful sandy beaches at Crescent Beach State Park and Scarborough Beach State Park - stop to soak up some sun and frolic in the surf. Continue on 77 to 207, where you can take a side trip to Prouts Neck, home of revered painter, Winslow Homer. An unmarked trail beginning at Winslow Homer Road (ask for directions at the nearby inn) winds along the cliffs where the artist was often inspired.
Head back to Route 77 and continue to Route 9; take 9 to Route 22. From here, take Route 22 east back to Portland. Head north on Route 295 to the shopping mecca of Freeport, home to legendary L.L. Bean and a multitude of other brand-name outlet stores.
Continue north on Route 1 to Brunswick, where you can roam the grounds of Bowdoin College and take in a show at the celebrated Maine State Music Theater. Exploring Maine Street is a great way to spend an afternoon - boutiques, galleries and historic homes line the wide avenue. At the top of the Village Green is the First Parish Church, where it is said that Harriet Beecher Stowe first conceived of Uncle Tom's Cabin.
Also of interest is the home of Joshua L. Chamberlain, a Bowdoin College professor who, with no prior battle experience, went on to become one of the Civil War's most influential generals. After reportedly having several horses shot out from under him in battle, he became the Union hero at the Battle of Little Round Top, and later carried out the ceremonial duty of accepting the Confederate surrender at Appamatox. His home on Maine Street is maintained by the local historical society, and is open for tours.
After visiting Brunswick, take 196 west to Lewiston. Once an industrial center, the city has experienced a dramatic resurgence, having recently been named one of the 100 Best Small Arts Towns in America. Enjoy the Bates Dance Festival (mid-July through mid-August), celebrating some of the world's foremost performers in music and dance. The Great Falls Balloon Festival (August 16-18), one of New England's largest balloon festivals, is also not to be missed. While in Lewiston, take a tour of the Bates College Museum of Art, where a body of work by revered artist and Lewiston native Marsden Hartley is at the centerpiece of its collection.
Cross the bridge to Auburn, and continue north on Route 4 to Livermore and the amazing Norlands Living History Center. Located on the grounds of a 19th-century farm, this 455-acre complex is made up of a one-room schoolhouse, granite library, church , barn and an impressive Italianate-style mansion. Visit for a few hours or a few days to experience rural life as it was in the Victorian age - members of the Center's staff dress, talk and live as a 19th-century farming family, and invite visitors to do the same.
Continue north on 4 to Wilton, then pick up Route 27 north to Farmington. This lovely town's historic district is made up of over 100 fine buildings dating from the 1700s to the mid-20th century, and is worth exploring. Among Farmington's renowned is Chester Greenwood, who, in 1872, earned dubious fame by inventing the earmuff. Farmington is also the birthplace of celebrated 19th-century opera diva Lillan Nordica. The Nordica Homestead houses artifacts from her days touring the stages of the world, including original costumes and gifts from admirers like the Empress of China and Diamond Jim Brady.
Route 27 north continues to the quaint mountainside village of Kingfield, where you can enjoy a fabulous meal and a wonderful antique-filled room at the old-fashioned hotel in the town center. Make sure to visit the Stanley Museum, which honors the ingenuity of the Kingfield-born Stanley family (inventors of the Stanley Steam Car and the airbrush).
Head north on 27 to Carabassett Valley and the Sugarloaf/USA resort. This destination is perhaps best known for being one of the finest ski areas in the East, but also offers a wealth of things to do in summer. While staying at the resort's hotel or one of its condominiums, play a round of golf at Sugarloaf's 18-hole championship golf course, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. and rated one of America's 10 most scenic courses. Or, catch a glimpse of a moose on one of the resort's "Moose Safaris." Sugarloaf also offers summer adventure opportunities for hikers and bikers.
From Carabassett Valley, travel north on 27 to Stratton and hike the Bigelow Mountain Range Trail to scenic Cranberry Peak. Head to Eustis north on 27 along the Arnold Trail, taking note of the historical markers along the way describing the route of Benedict Arnold's army as it traveled through the region in 1775. In Eustis, enjoy sweeping views of Flagstaff Lake and the Chain of Ponds from the Eustis Ridge picnic area. Return to Stratton, keeping an eye out for the majestic Cathedral Pines lining the route 3 miles north of town.
Head west on Route 16 to Rangeley, where the area's 112 lakes and ponds create a 450-square-mile swimming, fishing and boating paradise. Its unique landscape has made it a popular destination for over a century; a stay in one of the area's cottages, inns, motels, B&B's, grand old lodges, or sporting camps will be rewarded with a generations-old brand of hospitality. Be prepared for hearty meals and unsurpassed views of the region from your room. While in Rangeley, enjoy one of the area's excellent hikes, or visit the Rangeley Lakes Historical Society to learn more about its proud heritage.
From Rangeley, head west on Route 4/16 to Oquossoc, then south on Route 17, stopping at the scenic "Height O'Land" just north of Rumford. You'll know it when you see it - the view of the area's lakes and mountains from the rise is unmistakably beautiful. Also, keep an eye out for the excellent antique shops that line the road.
From Rumford, take 108 east/south to Canton, then take 140 to Buckfield. Take 117 east to Route 124; take 124 south to West Minot and Mechanic Falls. Head on 11 south to Poland, where the famous Poland Springs once drew people from all over the world to enjoy their "healing powers."
Today, the springs' waters are bottled for drinking, but you can reminisce about the area's days as a major resort by visiting the State of Maine Building on the grounds of the once-grand Poland Springs Hotel. Originally built for the 1893 World's Fair, this charming stone building was then dismantled, shipped to Maine, and re-constructed as the Hotel's library. The Hotel, sadly, burned in the 1970s, but the library's collection of artifacts and photographs chronicles the old Hotel's colorful history.
Continue south on Route 26 to New Gloucester, where the nation's last surviving Shaker community sits amidst a beautiful pastoral landscape. Settled in 1793, the village consists of several handsome buildings, and can be explored via tours that are offered every day except Sunday.
Head south on Route 26 to Gray, then continue on 26/100 through Cumberland and West Falmouth back to Portland.