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A Couples Getaway in Portland, Maine

by Barbara Rogers

Jun 4, 2019

Stillman Rogers

Age Specific

A happy mix of gritty working port and sophisticated dining and arts scene, Portland is an appealing getaway destination only a short train ride from Boston. It’s so close, in fact, Boston foodies think nothing of going there just to sample the latest restaurants in a city becoming known as one of the best dining cities on the East Coast.

 

That’s what took us there. We wanted to be among the first to sample the cuisine of newly arrived Chef Gil Plaster at the BlueFin Restaurant on Fore Street. With his kitchen only a few steps from the docks where day boats unload their catch, Chef Plaster has his choice of the freshest seafood available, and he’s unapologetic about filling most of his menu with fish and shellfish.

 

Portland Harbor Hotel, restaurant, Blue Fin, Portland, Maine.

Portland Harbor Hotel, restaurant, Blue Fin, Portland, Maine. Photo: Stillman Rogers

 

We sampled it in several versions: panko-crusted calamari “fries,” a delicate whole branzino garnished in artichoke salsa, halibut with mushroom ragout, lobster “scargot” baked in garlic and butter. We broke our rule of sampling different places on any trip and returned there the next day for the seafood stew laden with scallops, fish and succulent mussels.

 

Much as we’d like to, we can’t spend a whole weekend eating, so we headed for the Portland Museum of Art to immerse ourselves in works by impressionists that include Renoir, Degas, Monet and Cassatt, and paintings from Maine’s own Wyeths, Rockwell Kent and Winslow Homer. We joined an afternoon tour from the museum to visit Winslow Homer’s studio in Prouts Neck, overlooking the rocky shore and surf he captured so beautifully in his paintings.

 

Portland is a compact city, perfect for exploring on foot. We strolled down streets lined with beautiful Victorian homes and stopped to tour one of the finest examples in New England, Victoria Mansion. The interior has been preserved as it was originally designed and furnished in the early 1860s, and gives a clear picture of the opulent lifestyles of the wealthy Victorians.

 

Above the fishing harbor, where we watched as fishermen hosed down their decks after the day’s haul was unloaded, streets rise up the low hillside in block after block of 19th-century mercantile buildings. Many of these have beautiful architectural details, such as ornate cornices, windows arches and mansard roofs. Today, these are filled with small shops, boutiques and galleries, as well as cafés, pubs and restaurants. Window displays of smart sportswear, silverwork, bright pottery, antiques and candy drew us in, especially Maine Potters Market, with its shelves of dishes and decorative works made by local potters.

 

Shops in Portland, Maine. Photo: Stillman Rogers

Shops in Portland, Maine. Photo: Stillman Rogers

 

Right in the midst of Fore Street’s shops and dining is the Portland Harbor Hotel, a perfect base for enjoying Portland. Our smartly decorated room looked across rooftops to masts in the harbor, and down into a brick courtyard that adjoins the glass-walled restaurant.  In the evening, a bonfire glowed below in the fire pit. The room had a comfortable sitting area with a sofa and cherry-red arm chairs, and was filled with thoughtful touches — padded hangers, fragrant bags of lavender flowers in the closet, charging ports on each bedside table, a double tub and premium amenities.

 

In the morning we sat down to breakfast at a cozy table for two in front of the fireplace in the dining room. The breakfast menu is longer and more varied than many restaurants offer at dinner. Along with traditional egg entrees, several omelets and three different takes on eggs Benedict, the five specialty dishes included Peruvian scrambles with blue corn cakes and croissant French toast stuffed with Nutella and banana. The yogurt parfait with fresh berries and granola was a work of art.

 

Shops in Portland. Photo: Stillman Rogers

Shops in Portland. Photo: Stillman Rogers

 

Depending on the season, Portland has plenty more to entertain couples on a weekend getaway. Lucky Catch Lobster Cruises takes passengers into Casco Bay, where they don rubber aprons and gloves and help haul lobster traps. On their return, Portland Lobster Company on Commercial Street will cook them to eat overlooking the wharves.

 

The Eastern Promenade Trail begins at the Portland Wharf and runs along the waterfront to Fort Allen Park and through the park, along the shore of Casco Bay. Portland has 70 miles of walking trails. Perhaps the most offbeat place to go in Portland is the Cryptozoology Museum, which explores the science, history, mythology and popular culture of creatures like Bigfoot and Nessy, whose existence has been the stuff of popular belief, but have never been scientifically verified. That will give you something to speculate about on the way home!

#WhereverFamily

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