Nature’s Call on Kennebunkport, Maine
By: Daedrian McNaughton and Gary Sandelier
Visited: July 2012
Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life. _Rachel Carson
As a child growing up in rural Jamaica, the outdoors was all I had-yes a massive playground with lots to do and plenty ground provisions and tropical fruits to eat. Because we did not have the luxury to travel overseas or to other parts of the island, I can recall the times when I never wanted my summer days to end. My days would be occupied with multiple activities. Any given day we would have at least six exciting things to do before days end.
Although our property was not a farm, we lived a farm-like lifestyle. On the property was a large pond with tadpoles that were often used for our mini science experiments along with other pond settlers like our yard duck, Gertrude. Other farm animals included my pet ewe, Ann, rabbits, guinea pigs, and cows, chicken (in Jamaican terms-yard fowl). Among those we had ground provisions and countless tropical fruit trees like passion fruit, bananas, yams, sugar cane, apples, sour sop, star apple, oranges, ackee, coconuts, jackfruits, mangoes, cashews, cocoa, lime, plums, and guavas, among others. Most of the fruits were used to make preserves, jams, jellies and baked goodies. I can also recall my small vegetable garden with peas, tomatoes, cucumbers that ran along the fencing next to our home.
I was very active and participated in all the sporting activities that were around like rounder’s, cricket, football or soccer (barefooted), fishing by hand in the village river under stones and banks, bird hunting with our homemade slingshots, daring bike rides on bicycles that had no brakes, so we had to use our feet to stop.
The things we took for granted then are the things we now yearn for within our adult years. Often we wish we could go back to our childhood days and relive those moments. Our trip to Kennebunkport, Maine triggered those beautiful memories for both Gary and I. Wishing we could return to those pure and pleasurable moments.
Partially Maine answered our call. The activities in and around Kennebunkport and the Hidden Pond grounds provided for a great camp lifestyle.
*Bonfire nightly; check
*A visit to the classic Maine clam shack; check
*Head out on a working lobster boat; check
*Relaxed in a treetop spa; check
*Cruise or sail by former President Bush’s Compound; check
*Ride the trolley through Dock Square; check
*Ask for forgiveness and be thankful for a super life partner at Saint Ann by the Sea, the bush family church; check
*Ride a beach cruiser bicycle through the historic neighborhoods; check
*Early morning hikes along hidden trails, identifying Maine’s national bird; check
*A visit to The Bush’s Place of Worship: St Anns by the Sea Episcopal Church
*A visit to Dock Square where movie magic happened. Remember Empire Falls on HBO with Paul Newman?
All the aforementioned are fun and exciting things Gary and I did while vacationing in Kennebunkport. These are the little things that have made our trip worthwhile and satisfying.
The cottages at The Hidden Pond are earthy, intimate and a welcoming respite that offer exclusivity without the stuffiness. Our stay at the luxury outpost and exclusive retreat revolved around nature and the outdoors. With elements and themes that evoked natural living, our accommodation was a one bedroom spacious cottage, called Hideaway which was decorated with lots of branches and included all the amenities of home and then some. The refrigerator had a container of fresh milk and orange juice that was replenished every morning to accompany our breakfast bag that was also delivered each morning after 8 am. The bag included boiled eggs, freshly baked goodies, and freshly brewed coffee in a thermos, yogurt, bananas and the New York Times newspaper. Special baskets can be ordered with a selection of your favorite goodies. Attached to our cottage was an outside wooden shower that was perfect for our late night showers under the Maine starlit sky.
Another attractive thing about THP, we were free to pick edible flowers like Pansies and fruits and vegetables from the farm for our cottage table.
Like most of the luxury resorts we have visited in the past, we were presented a play list of activities offered by the hotel. Here at the Pond we were presented with The Hidden Pond Ledger, a daily happenings newsletter compiled by staff member Vicki Markovitz. This single sheet notes a list of the day’s activities, recommendations for area activities, day’s weather, drink of the day, interesting facts about Maine, and information on their sister hotel, The Tides.
As important as trees are to the natural landscape for beautification, shelter and erosion prevention, so are spas to resorts. And at the Hidden Pond, they understand that the body needs protection and rejuvenation as well, with the introduction of their unconventional tree spa. When the resort first opened, they provided spa services in a camp-like setting under tents within the forest. Though the idea was fresh, off-beat and intimate, it backfired. Guests were complaining of bugs, cold and unfavorable weather conditions. They have created a fascinating luxury retreat for private relaxation and an above ground experience tucked between the trees. A trio of mini treatment rooms resembling bird houses is perched 8 feet high on sturdy wooden frames. Each room serves as a treatment room where facials and massages are done and are connected by elevated wooden walkways. These sanctuaries are as quaint and earthy as their surroundings and use 100% organic products from a New England organic spa products producer, Farmaesthetics.
A 1956 Ford Country Sedan Station Wagon, Bessie was the ultimate beach ride with a paddle board, and beach chairs attached. It seats up to 8 passengers and drives like new. She is an antique, therefore is required gentle and special treatment.
The farm, recreational ground and Pete’s Bike Shop provide plenty to do. Butterfly hunting nets, badminton, bikes and other traditional American games are housed in the game shed for all guests to enjoy at their leisure. If you are an early riser, morning yoga is offered on the farm and during the week gardener, Elizabeth Caradine is available for garden talks where picks from the garden are sampled and discussed.
Dinners at Earth were simply appetizing. The restaurant is the newest addition to the resort offering delicious meals, imaginative desserts and small dishes prepared by James Beard winner and Boston chef Ken Oringer and his team in an open, friendly, communal and relaxed glamour atmosphere. The menu incorporates locally sourced ingredients as well as produce grown on the farm and was presented in innovative and traditional ways. Our meals encompassed Kampachi sashimi with Japanese green onions, radishes, hon shimeji mushrooms and kalamansi aioli, Seared foie gras with strawberries, black olive, and long pepper crumble, Toro corn with aioli cotija and Aleppo, Grilled skirt steak with potato gratin, beets, and horseradish, and Fried chicken with potato salad, watermelon, crispy pickle, and spicy ranch.
Other dining option offered was the Dinner Trolley, a complimentary trolley service from the Hidden Pond to Downtown Kennebunkport.
Anyone can enjoy a warm summer evening spent outdoors in good company and the bonfire by the pond with frog melodies from the resort’s resident bull frogs, croaking late night tunes.
One could easily check into this resort and never leave the confines of their cottage and the spa and be easily satisfied. Not us. There were just too many things for us to experience in Kennebunkport. Beyond the gigantic rock at the entrance of the hidden pond we explored the town with paparazzi moments photographing the Bush’s compound.
We arrived early to avoid the long and crowded shack at lunch time at the award winning, Maine Clam Shack for a sample of their lobster roll. The traditional roll was overstuffed with cold chunks of sweet lobster meat dressed in light mayonnaise; simply delicious. We had double orders.
Eighty percent of the nation’s lobster comes from Maine with over 60 million pounds of this delicious crustaceans being harvested each year. With just a taste from the Clam Shack I was curious to find out more about these ocean floor crawlers and their Maine story. So we reserved a private tour with Captain Bob on a working lobster boat, The Rugosa, a classic New England wooden lobster boat.
For an hour and a half, we sailed up the Kennebunk River into the ocean towards Walker’s Point where the Bush’s grandkids sailed by us with the usual wave. When I finally recognized their inflatable, that I had taken a picture of the day before, I almost missed an opportunity to photograph them, barely.
While on the boat we viewed the homes of a few of Kennebunkport’s prominent residents and other historic points. Lobsters were our main purpose of being on the boat, so we watched captain Bob haul lobster traps, lecture us on a brief history of the crustaceans, and allowed us to handle a few. Unfortunately the catch was only for demonstration purposes so no tasting for us.
These Mainers live a good life, where locals eat well with wholesome foods produced in their backyards. Maine has agriculturally rich and diverse communities, and each year during the summer months the local farms invite the public in, hosting open farm days where they can interact with farm animals and purchase fresh produce and a bit of education along the way. On one of those open farm days we visited a working farm with an alpaca herd of 15 or more. These animals were a bit aggressive, one spat at Gary on our initial meeting. This was also a sensible herd which refused to be around us unless we were offering food.
Just down the street from the alpaca farm we drove into a blueberry field at Dragon Fly Meadow. Maine is the largest blueberry producer in the US, producing up to 99% of its blueberry. We thought it was only fitting to have a pick of our own, so we joined a group of berry pickers and filled our basket with 1 quart and half berries. This was the right amount to snack on for our trip back to Miami and for Gary to blend my favorite smoothie.
Blueberries provide a high concentration of antioxidant and were found everywhere in Kennebunkport. There were several plants on the property where we stayed. We also captured the young general manager, Justin, getting his daily dose of antioxidant from one of the trees on the grounds.
It was easy for us to take a moment to enjoy the flavors of summer. And our most favored were our white and blue bicycles we took for leisure rides. This trip, we followed the main street, Goose rocks road to a less trafficked route on stone road down miles of windy road just admiring the beautiful houses and gardens along the way. The locals were very friendly and inviting. It was easy to strike up a conversation and to learn interesting things about their community.
Other standout was our ride on antique trolleys from around the world back in time on a 25 minutes ride through fields and forests at the Seashore Trolley Museum.
In the past, when hotel presented us with their comment cards, we ignored them. However, at THP we had no excuses. And our answer to the prominent question, “Will you visit us again?” A definite yes. Everything was to our satisfaction, from the foie gras at Earth restaurant to lounging by the bonfire at nights before bed and our parting gifts of mixed nuts, M&Ms and water for the long drive back to Boston. (Nice touch)
I feel privileged to have been able to experience life in the simplest form. The atmosphere at The Hidden Pond is easy to love and dissolve in. And on Kennebunkport it’s going back to basics to what really matters the most, living.
View more photos from our trip, here.