Captivated by Camden

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CAPTIVATED BY CAMDEN
by Debbie Stone

It was a rainy fall day in Camden, but that did little to mar the allure of this charming Maine town. In fact, the weather added to the ambiance of the place, giving it a moody cast, which only served to enhance its beauty. 

Situated on Penobscot Bay, Camden offers scenic views, outdoor adventure, quaint shops, and plenty of great places to eat and stay. It looks and feels like the quintessential coastal Maine village you imagine, with clapboard-and-brick homes, colorfully painted storefronts, white-steepled churches, a picturesque harbor full of schooners, and gently rounded mountaintops. 

Take it all in at Camden Harbor Park and Amphitheatre, two parks that were gifted by a local philanthropist and designed by renowned architects, the Olmstead Brothers and Fletcher Steele. These lovely landscaped green spaces, which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, serve as the ideal backdrop for everything from festivals and concerts, to theater productions and graduations. But they are most commonly used for strolling or sitting and gazing at the peaceful panorama. As I sat in the park, I was mesmerized by the scene. It almost felt as if I were sitting inside of a living painting. 

Strolling the streets and popping into the eclectic stores is a favored pastime for visitors to Camden, as is munching on lobster rolls (or anything lobster), spending time in the park, watching the boat action at the harbor, or actually in the bay on a seasonal schooner sailing excursion. 

Get your exercise with a hike in Camden Hills State Park. This outdoor adventure playground sits on nearly 6,000 acres and encompasses several mountaintops, including well-known Mount Battie and Mount Megunticook. The park has a diverse landscape of high cliffs and granite ledges, as well as lush lowlands and rocky shores.

Its roots date back to the 1930s and Depression-era federal programs. The government bought farmland in order to aid local farmers whose acres were no longer productive, then proceeded to design and develop state park systems around the country. The effort was aimed at creating accessible, affordable outdoor recreation outlets. 

There’s a 25-mile system of trails in the park for hikers, as well as designated trails for mountain bikers and horseback riders. In the winter, people come to snowshoe, cross-country ski, and snowmobile. Hiking up Mount Battie is a popular activity at the park. The reward, on a clear day, is a sweeping, unobstructed vista of Camden Harbor and Penobscot Bay. Climb the iconic stone tower nearby for more of the same. Those who don’t want to make the trek, can drive Mt. Battie Auto Road and enjoy the spectacular panorama without the effort. 

If the weather gets too intense, there are several good inside options. I highly suggest making a reservation to do some wine tasting at Cellardoor Winery in nearby Lincolnville. This boutique, artisan winery is a wonderful spot to while away an hour or two, enjoying pre-poured flights of wine, which you can accompany with a build-your-own snack board or cheese plate. 

The five-and-a-half-acre estate vineyard is planted with over 5,000 vines of hybrids specifically developed to deal with the challenges of Maine’s ever-changing and often harsh climate. Owner Bettina Doulton and her teamwork to create wines that are distinctly Maine-made, offering over twenty different wines, appealing to a range of palettes. Production is about 12,000 cases a year. Estate vintages include Bulles Rose and Blanc de Blancs, plus dessert wines, Vin Doux Naturel Marquette and Late Harvest Frontenac Gris. And there’s also Maine’s first-ever Ice Wine.

Doulton, who bought the winery and 68-acre farm in 2007, left a successful 21-year career at Fidelity Investments to realize her longtime dream of running a small business. She fell in love with Cellardoor on her first visit and a year later, took over the reins, embarking on a new life chapter. Her goal was to produce and share good Maine wine, and in the process, put Maine on the map for notable wine. Her efforts have succeeded in establishing the Maine Wine Guild and its statewide Wine Trail. 

Cellardoor is a mecca for wine lovers. It’s not only the award-winning wines that make the experience memorable, but also the environs of the place. You’ll sample wines in a handsome, refurbished, 1790s timber frame barn that has a rustic-chic ambiance.

During my visit, I tasted a few whites, including a bright and crisp Pinot Noir Blanc 2018 and The Tower 2017, a Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon meld with citrus and nutty notes. I also had a sparkling Blanc de Blancs 2016. For the reds, I tasted the Col Agnel 2015, which was bursting with berry flavors and spice, and the bold, full-bodied Sewell 2015. My session concluded with the C’est de l’Or 2014, a flavorful dessert wine with hints of fig. 

Another popular attraction is the Farnsworth Museum in neighboring Rockland. This nationally recognized museum of works by some of America’s most notable artists is a treasure. Included is a sizeable collection of pieces by sculptor Louise Nevelson, along with works by Winslow Homer, George Bellows, Marsden Hartley, Rockwell Kent, Edward Hopper, John Marin, Georgia O’Keeffe, and more. 

There’s also an entire gallery devoted to paintings, watercolors, and drawings by the Wyeth family – Andrew, his father Newell Convers (N.C.) Wyeth and Andrew’s son, Jamie Wyeth. On display are works depicting subjects from the area around their homes and studios in Chadds Ford, PA and in Mid-coast Maine, where the family summered. 

Currently on display through March 6th, 2022, is a special exhibit entitled “Women of Vision.” Thirteen remarkable women who have made important contributions to Maine are celebrated. This tribute honors philanthropists, photographers, poets, sculptors, civic leaders, champions of the arts and education, and others. Only a few of the individuals were born in Maine, but each made a meaningful impact on the state.

Further afield, about forty minutes from Camden is the Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory. At 420 feet high (taller than the Statue of Liberty), this is the tallest public bridge observatory in the world and as such, is one of the top sights along the coast of Maine. This engineering marvel has won awards for its innovative design.

 

To access the observation tower, you’ll take an elevator 42 stories above the bridge to a glass tower with 360-degree views. At this point, you’ll be directly above the 2,100-foot span, over a steep gorge, where you can see more than 100 miles in any direction, provided Mother Nature cooperates. The views range from Mount Desert Island, home of Acadia National Park, to Mount Katahdin, the state’s tallest peak. The experience is truly breathtaking. 

Nearby is Fort Knox, a well-preserved military fortification named for George Washington’s first Secretary of War. The fort, which is now a historic site, was established in 1844 to protect the area against a possible future British naval attack. Interestingly, it was neither finished nor ever used in battle. The vistas from this spot are also sublime.  

After a day of exploring the sights, you’ll want to relax at your digs in Camden. Though you have choices galore when it comes to accommodations, I highly recommend The Inn at Ocean’s Edge. This luxe property makes the perfect home-away-from-home during your visit. Perched on the shores of the Penobscot Bay, minutes from town, the inn has all the amenities you’d expect and then some. Plus, a friendly and hospitable staff, who gladly attends to all your needs. 

My second-floor lodge room had a comfy king-size bed, gas fireplace, lounging area with lovely views of Penobscot Bay, spacious bathroom with spa therapy products, a soaking tub, and a pair of cozy bathrobes. Hard to leave this cushy abode.

The Poolhouse Spa is perhaps the piece de resistance of the inn, with its wood-burning sauna, outdoor fireplace, hot tub, and outdoor infinity-edge pool – the latter which appears to vanish magically into the bay. Relax and soak up the serene and tranquil setting. Add a massage with one of the inn’s expert practitioners for the full rejuvenating experience. 

 

In the morning, fuel up on a gourmet breakfast in the dining room. You’ll feast on homemade pastries and breads, fresh fruits, local smoked salmon, eggs cooked to order, and pancakes with local maple syrup. All this and a memorable view, too!

If you go:

Inn at Ocean’s Edge: www.innatoceansedge.com  

Farnsworth Museum: www.farnsworthmuseum.org  

Cellardoor Winery: www.mainewine.com  

Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory: www.maine.gov/mdot/pnbo/  

Debbie Stone is an established travel writer and columnist, and regular contributor for Big Blend Radio and Big Blend Magazines, who crosses the globe in search of unique destinations and experiences to share with her readers and listeners. She’s an avid explorer who welcomes new opportunities to increase awareness and enthusiasm for places, culture, food, history, nature, outdoor adventure, wellness, and more. Her travels have taken her to nearly 100 countries and all seven continents.

One Hour Walk

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About the Author:

Debbie Stone is an established travel writer and columnist, and regular contributor for Big Blend Radio and Big Blend Magazines.

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