Winter is the season when Mainers — and savvy visitors — pride themselves on being out and about. There’s a fresh crop of new restaurants throughout the state that bear exploring, as well as a new hotel in a historic building in downtown Portland. For Black Friday shoppers, it comes down to one word: Freeport. This is the month to look ahead and plan a visit around one of the state’s Christmas celebrations or to map out a snowmobile excursion way up north in the coming months. For writers, editors and bloggers looking for short-lead news, there are immediate details under Happening Now. Those in search of longer lead news can scroll down to the Looking Ahead section.
Hot New Maine Restaurants
Inventive chefs are opening new eateries all across the state. Look at Cape Neddick, where Walkers Maine is the name of the new restaurant under Danielle and Justin Walker (manager and executive chef, respectively). Veterans of Arrows in Ogunquit and Earth at Hidden Pond in Kennebunkport, they use produce from their own garden and serve their distinctive take on Maine coastal cuisine. Expect Tuna Poke, Scallops a la Plancha, grass-fed steak and a family-style barbecue brochette. Bitterend in Wells is the new restaurant from Pete and Kate Morency, who also own Pedro’s in Kennebunk. This is a casual restaurant with comfort food such as lobster rolls, a seafood mixed grill and a 9-Hour Bolognese. Buxton Common in the rural town of Buxton is where Chef Max Brody offers smokehouse favorites such as a pulled pork sandwich and smoked St. Louis-style pork spare ribs, along with Southern fare such as cornmeal crusted trout. Finally, Kurafuto, a Japanese pub and brewery with ramen, pho and sushi, has opened in Camden. It’s next to Hoxbill, a neighboring wood-fired grill from the same owners, the Blaze Restaurant Group.
The Francis Hotel in Portland
Portland’s newest boutique hotel is The Francis, located in a historic brick building at 747 Congress Street in the heart of downtown. The hotel is named after architect Francis Fassett, who designed the building as a home for Mellen E. Bolster in 1881. Fassett is credited with helping rebuild much of the city after the Great Fire of 1866, heavily influencing the look and feel of Portland’s historic West End neighborhood. The fifteen-room hotel is designed around the history and culture of Portland. It underwent a two-year restoration project and is now on the National Park Service’s Registry of Historic Places. No two guestrooms are alike but there are wonderful architectural details such as stained glass, bay windows and vaulted ceilings, with local artwork throughout. Room amenities include duvets, Frette robes, Malin + Goetz toiletries and a mini bar. Bolster Snow is the onsite restaurant, bar and lounge, serving “fresh, seasonal and approachable American Northeast cuisine.” At the helm of the kitchen is Executive Chef Nicholas Verdisco, who hails from the Inn at Pound Ridge by Jean Georges. The Spa is located on the second floor and offers a wide range of treatments. The location is walking distance to downtown Portland’s many restaurants, shops and museums. Visit The Francis.
Black Friday in Freeport
For those who love to shop on the biggest shopping day of the year, Freeport is where it’s at. This town is famed as the headquarters of L.L. Bean and home to dozens of outlets, many of them planning to open their doors at 6 a.m. that Friday morning. From Patagonia to Coach, J. Crew Factory, The North Face, Tommy Hilfiger, Nine West and Jones New York, there are plenty of options for shoppers. L.L. Bean is, of course, open 24 hours a day, so early birds can head in at any time. Boston travelers can take advantage of the Freeport packages on the Amtrak Downeaster train. Visit Freeport.
6 Maine Towns with Great Christmas Celebrations
Maine welcomes the holiday season with a variety of traditional and unusual winter festivals. In the Midcoast town of Rockland, locals and visitors gather on November 24 to see Santa Claus arrive by lobster boat and light a lobster trap tree. The remarkable “tree” is some 30-feet tall, built from 152 red and green metal lobster traps and ornamented with buoys decorated by local families. It’s capped with a five-foot-tall illuminated fiberglass lobster. Christmas Prelude in Kennebunkport on November 29 offers tree lighting, fireworks, a candlelight stroll, caroling and the arrival of Santa on a lobster boat. Gardens Aglow is a festival of lights at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay from November 15 through December 31, when more than 150,000 lights will be strung among the 14-acre gardens for the largest light display in Maine. Christmas by the Sea is Camden’s seasonal celebration, held the first weekend of December. In Bar Harbor, The Village Holidays celebration on December 7 welcomes guests to the Village Green for free hot cocoa and cookies, the songs of carolers and the arrival of Santa Claus, capped with the annual Midnight Madness Sale. Bright Night Bath is when this coastal city is lined with luminaria as merchants and restaurants stay open late to welcome shoppers with festive holiday music, refreshments and one-of-a-kind gifts. Go to Visit Maine for more on holiday celebrations.
Getting Ready for Snowmobile Season
Snowmobiling is synonymous with winter in Maine, which offers some of the best wilderness riding terrain in the Eastern United States. The state has the support of the 280 snowmobile clubs who help maintain more than 14,000 miles of marked snowmobile trails. While residents are passionate about the sport, the combination of challenging terrain and deep snow draws thousands of out-of-state riders each year. The Jackman-Moose River area, the Moosehead Lake and the Rangeley Lakes regions, the Millinocket and Katahdin area and the far north of Aroostook County are prime riding areas. For visitors, the state has dozens of outfitters, sporting camps and resorts that offer rentals and guided sled tours. Go to Visit Maine for details.
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