Georgia Fan

I’m a Georgia fan! You’ve seen my posts on wild, undeveloped Cumberland Island and the lovely, languorous Savannah

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Cumberland Island

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Savannah

But here are five Georgia gems that may not be on your radar… and should!

Thomasville

Come see the gorgeous houses built by the rich “Yankees” (e.g., Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt, Mrs. B. F. Goodrich, Alexander Graham Bell) when they came down from cities in the Northeast and Midwest in the late 1800’s.

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Col. Oliver Hazard Payne,  an organizer of the American Tobacco trust, who also assisted with the formation of U.S. Steel, and was affiliated with Standard Oil, bought Greenwood Plantation in Thomasville for a shooting plantation. (photo, circa 1899. courtesy of the Pebble Hill Plantation)

“As the terminus for the railroad, Thomasville was accessible from the north and, during the late 1800’s, became known as the ‘Winter Resort of the South.’ In the beginning of this era, Northerners and other visitors came to Thomasville for their health, breathing the pine-scented air as a curative for pulmonary ailments. They were soon joined by friends to enjoy hunting, fishing, and an active social life, including golf, horse racing and bicycling. Thomasville came to represent the best of Southern hospitality with the lavishness of the resort lifestyle…

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random gorgeous house in Thomasville

Once they discovered that it cost less to purchase land than rent hotel rooms, these wealthy families bought property and built grand Victorian mansions and plantation homes. Many of these plantations are still owned by the families who built them and…have been lovingly restored,” according to Thomasville’s website.

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I desperately wanted to buy this pre-Civil War house!

Thomasville is definitely worthy of an overnight. Stay at The Paxton and request the first floor room, as they don’t have an elevator and who wants to lug heavy suitcases upstairs?! The Paxton is in Thomasville proper, so you can walk to restaurants around this small town. Dine at the Sweet Grass Dairy, a cheese shop (123 S. Broad Street) and restaurant with cheese-centric dishes. Shop at Kevin’s Fine Outdoor Gear & Apparel (111 S. Broad Street). In addition to hunting and fishing gear, Kevin’s sells beautiful tableware, splashy coffee table books, and even offers travel services

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(photo courtesy of Kevin’s)

If you would rather experience staying on a plantation, book a cottage at nearby Pebble Hill Plantation…or just visit for an afternoon. “Hard times during the Civil War and afterwards during Reconstruction created rundown, disheveled property all across the South. Pebble Hill was no exception. The beautiful Main House, designed by architect John Wind in 1851, was in desperate need of repair when Mel purchased the property in 1896,” according to the Pebble Hill Plantation’s website. “Mel” was one of the rich “Yankees” who came from the Midwest to escape the snow.

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Pebble Hill Plantation garden in winter

For an excellent list of more things to do in the Thomasville area, click here. BTW, did you know that Joanne Woodward was born in Thomasville? You just know she brought Paul Newman (swoon) home to visit!

Milledgeville

  • is on the Southern Literary Trail, connecting places in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi that influenced great novelists and playwrights of the 20th Century. Writers Flannery O’Connor (“Wise Blood,” etc.) and Alice Walker (“The Color Purple,” etc.) grew up near Milledgeville. Visit peaceful and evocative  Andalusia Farm, where Miz Flannery completed the bulk of her literary work when she lived there from 1951-1964.
  • is a thriving, small college town, thanks to Georgia College & State University, founded in 1889.
  • has a dramatic Governor’s Mansion with an interesting history.
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Governor’s Mansion in Milledgeville

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Alex Hitz

Alex Hitz, who The Wall Street Journal called “the very best host in the world,” grew up in Atlanta. This summer, I have been cooking my way through his beautiful and sophisticated cookbook, “My Beverly Hills Kitchen.” His recipes are classic Southern cooking with a French twist. Three traits make his cookbook a stand-out:

  • The recipes are consistently good.
  • The intro paragraph to each recipe is always interesting.  For example, did you know that Vichyssoise was invented in the U.S.?
  • Most of his recipes include recommendations for accompanying dishes.

You might want to make some of Alex’s pimento cheese for a snack on your road trip around Georgia. When my friend, Mary Ann, took me on a trip to a small town in Georgia, I was offered glorious pimento cheese sandwiches from three different hosts within 24 hours…and that’s what I like about the South!

Plains

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Jimmy Carter’s former presidential campaign HQ in Plains’ old train station

  • President Jimmy and First Lady Rosalynn Carter are from Plains, a small, unpretentious, rural town, where the Carters were prosperous peanut farmers. Jimmy and Rosalynn were high school sweethearts, whose families were good friends. This couple has come a long way, baby!
  • Visit the Old Schoolhouse Museum for the story of President Carter’s life from boyhood to the presidency.
  • I have heard from a reliable source that the Buffalo Café (118 Main Street) is wonderful!
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random street scene in Plains

  • Visit Maranatha Baptist Church where President Carter still teaches Sunday school, attracting people from all over the world. So impressive, especially given that he is 94 years old! Click here to read an article about this in The Washington Post.
  • Check out nearby Andersonville Civil War cemetery, former site of a prisoner of war camp.

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Between Plains and Macon is beautiful Massee Lane Gardens in Marshallville, home of the American Camellia Society. Best in winter for blooms.

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Farmer Brown’s (photo courtesy of my friend from Georgia)

Also en route from Plains to Macon, stop at Farmer Brown’s Produce Market in Montezuma, GA.  Summer or fall for peaches, produce, peach blossom dessert and ice cream, and zinnia picking. Sounds like a little slice of heaven to me!

Macon

Check out its…

  • eye-popping architecture
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Macon’s Cowles-Bond House, circa 1836

  • Southern throwback comfort food at
    • S&S Cafeteria
    • H&H Restaurant located downtown, with the same wonderful food as S&S, but almost a shrine to the Allman Bros. along with other musicians who dined there in the heyday of Capricorn Records, per my Georgia friend, who took this scrumptious photo…IMG_8496.jpg
    • Dovetail – “divine new Southern cuisine downtown,” according to my Georgia friend, Mary Ann, who knows good food!
    • Rookery – “downtown institution with great bar food,” says Mary Ann.
  • Wesleyan College, the first woman’s college in U.S.. Ever heard of the Soong sisters? I bet you’ve heard of Madame Chiang Kai-shek. Well, before she was Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, she was one of the Soong sisters, from far away China. They attended Wesleyan College. Click here, for their intriguing story.
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We stayed at Macon’s 1842 Inn (pictured here), which was okay and in a great neighborhood.

Musical Travelling Companions

Pack your CDs, hop in your car, crank up the volume and get your groove on with Southern rock and soul bands produced by yet another Georgia gem, Capricorn Records!

Otis-Redding

Sing to me, Otis!  (photo courtesy of performingsongwriter.com)

We’re talking the incomparable Otis Redding, the Allman Brothers, the Marshall Tucker Band, Delbert McClinton (that man’s got soul) and many more.

Literary Travelling Companions

Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell, The Color Purple, by Alice Walker, and An Hour Before Daylight, by Jimmy Carter

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peaches from Farmer Brown’s

A hearty thanks to my Georgia friend, Miz Mary Ann, and her wonderful parents, without whom I would not have known about most of these gems. It sure pays to know interesting and interested people!

England’s Gravetye Manor has it All

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This looks like countless country house hotels, at first blush. But it’s far, far better than them all. (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

Gorgeous Gardens created by a Groundbreaking Designer

The gardens were designed by one of THE GREATS in garden design, Mr. William Robinson, who pioneered the English country garden look. Robinson’s home was Gravetye Manor for many years, during which time he transformed the 1,000-acre property. Today, Gravetye Manor employs eight full-time gardeners, lest you be wondering why your garden doesn’t look quite like this.

Long border view

(photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

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Take a stroll through the gardens, cocktail in hand, as the sun is setting before dinner. (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

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(photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

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Garden design revolutionary, Mr. William Robinson, on his 94th birthday surrounded by the 94 white peonies he received as a present. (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

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Gravetye Manor grows much of the fruits and vegetables it serves, as well as a profusion of flowers, which you will see on tables, windowsills, desks, everywhere around the house. (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor) 

Beautiful Restaurant with a Well-Deserved Michelin Star

Gravetye Manor Hotel & Restaurant

That’s the Michelin-starred restaurant in the glass-fronted room looking onto the garden (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

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(photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

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When sitting inside the restaurant after dark, one can see the garden thanks to tasteful up-lighting. (my fab photo)

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Eating at Gravetye Manor’s restaurant is like eating inside of a Monet painting! (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

I usually find food photos intensely boring but had to make an exception here.

ALC Starter (Salad)

When I requested a starter with lots of vegetables, they whipped up this beauty with a perfect egg yolk in its center, despite its not being on the menu that night. (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

ALC Dessert (Souffle)

Rhubarb souffle with ginger ice cream: Swoon! (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

Old, Pretty Manor House in Mint Condition

Built in 1598 Gravetye Manor has had many an owner but its most notable was Mr. William Robinson, who lived here from 1884-1935 AND pioneered the English country garden look. He grew up poor, became a gardener, worked on increasingly fine gardens, wrote about them, and gradually saved enough money to buy the 1,000 acres that make up Gravetye Manor today. Read about him here!

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The wood is polished to a sheen and nary a speck of dust is in sight. (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

Hall

Reception: warm, welcoming, and flower-laden (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

Gravetye Manor has 17 big, handsome bedrooms with beautiful views. Holly and Chestnut are among the best.

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This was our room, called Chestnut. (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

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This is the view from our window! Despite it being early Spring, the garden is still stunning. (photo courtesy of moi)

Flawless Service

Among THE best service I have ever experienced anywhere, including Asia, which is famous for its service. The managing director is a gentleman who is down-to-earth, has a sense of humor and believes it’s important for the staff’s personality to shine through because only that way does the customer receive genuinely warm service. Perfect! Considerate attention to details included:

  • When I merely glanced in the closet, the lovely woman who showed us to our room volunteered to bring more hangers.
  • When I asked for another soap, she brought two.
  • When we arrived back to Gravetye after a hike, they offered to clean our hiking boots, as if they were the finest of shoes.
  • Room service arrived when requested.
  • When we came back to the room after dinner,
    • the TV guide was open on our bed with the controls on top of it,
    • the tea kettle had been filled with water for the next morning,
    • a detailed map of the local area with the sites marked on them was open on the desk,
    • and a bookmark had been placed by each of our books.

Fun Facts

  • Gravetye Manor is 12 miles from England’s Gatwick Airport…though nary a plane will you hear when staying there.
  • While Gravetye Manor is 30 miles from central London, don’t think about taking a day-trip here, as you will be sad to leave after dinner.
  • We went to Gravetye because I had seen this article in Flower magazine about its glories. Check it out!
  • Things to Do: Many historic houses, famous gardens and fun activities abound nearby, including Winston Churchhill’s home, Chartwell, and Hever Castle, the girlhood home of Anne Boleyn, one of Henri VIII’s wives.
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My photo, of which I am VERY proud!

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(photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

When you go the Gravetye Manor, please try to get that Rhubarb Soufflé recipe from the chef and pass it on to me. So good!

Just Heard about a Great Safari…

…in Zambia from a well-traveled friend with terrific taste. Let’s go!

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(photo©KarenHuntt, All Rights Reserved)

My friend went to The Bushcamp Company this past May and loved its walking and driving safaris. Here’s why, in her words:

1. The setting – South Luangwa Park is like the original Eden.
  • The flora and fauna are spectacular and varied: dense jungle, dry sandy areas, lagoons and rivers, flat plains, and hills.
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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

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(photo©KarenHuntt, All Rights Reserved)

dusk patio

(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

2. It’s as yet “undiscovered.” Of course, westerners have been living and touring in and around South Luangwa for decades, but heavy tourism has not yet come to the area. We essentially had the park to ourselves.

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(photo©KarenHuntt, All Rights Reserved)

3. The Bushcamp Company itself –

  • Yes, the lodge and the camps are lovely, interesting, and in spectacular settings,
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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

…but the people are really what make the difference. All are locals, black and white.

  • The owners couldn’t be friendlier and more down-to-earth. A percentage of each guest’s lodging is donated to the South Luangwa Conservancy.
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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

  • The majority of the guides are local, native Zambians. They are incredible. Deeply knowledgeable and passionate about the wildlife and the natural world. Also, couldn’t be nicer.
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(photo©KarenHuntt, All Rights Reserved)

4. The wildlife!

  • There’s so much of it (60 mammal species and 400 bird species), and it’s all so amazing…There is more wildlife per square foot than you’ll see elsewhere in Africa. Elephants, lions, giraffes, baboons, impala, lilac-crested rollers, black mambas – all co-exist and often within the same scene.
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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

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(photo©KarenHuntt, All Rights Reserved)

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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

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(photo©KarenHuntt, All Rights Reserved)

  • And you can get quite close to some of them.
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(photo©KarenHuntt, All Rights Reserved)

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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

Twice a year, when the mangos are in season, the same herd of elephants—for some reason—marches through the lobby of the Bushcamp Company’s lodge. Click on this link to see the amazing and endearing video of their parade.

5. The safaris themselves.
  • Twice daily: very early in the morning, then tea, then back to the lodge for lunch and a siesta, then tea again, then back out for a late evening – with sundowners by the river – and a night drive.
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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

On Safari - Zambia

(photo©KarenHuntt, All Rights Reserved)

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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

  • The night drives are so dramatic. That’s when the leopards come out to hunt, and searching for a leopard in an open Land Rover Defender in the pitch black is very exciting!
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(photo©KarenHuntt, All Rights Reserved)

  • The Bushcamp Company offers walking safaris, too, which we took advantage of.
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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

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(photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company)

6. Food and lodging. All top rate.
  • The food is excellent, and there is enough variety to suit all tastes, including every kind of “ism.” There is no shortage of gin and tonics, for those so inclined.
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(photo©KarenHuntt, All Rights Reserved)

  • The lodge is beautiful, with hippos in a lagoon right outside one’s cottage!
  • The other bush camps are each unique, with their own special character.
    • One we stayed at (Chichendi) was set by a large, spectacular wetland or lagoon, and every variety of wildlife was seen throughout the day. Sunrise and sunset were gorgeous.
    • The other camp we stayed at (Kapamba) was on a shallow river, and a huge tribe of baboons played and ran through the water in the morning as we ate our breakfast.

When to Go: My friend went in May and said, “The air was so clear and fresh and the temps were delightful.”

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(photo©KarenHuntt, All Rights Reserved)

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(photo©KarenHuntt, All Rights Reserved)

Literary Traveling Companions: Scribbling the Cat, by Alexandra Fuller; Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, by Alexandra Fuller; and of course, Out of Africa, by Isek Dinesen

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(photo©KarenHuntt, All Rights Reserved)

 

Panama: Hats Off!

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Sean Connery does the Panama hat

“Panama is an enchanting oasis, where easy island jaunts and mountain retreats are a way of life…

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(photo courtesy of Vogue magazine)

“Until recently, it was known more as Central America’s economic center, but that booming economy is also paving the way for a rise in next generation designers, artists and chefs.” (Vogue 2016)

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(photo courtesy of Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Panama)

Soooo, Panama has an economic center capital city with a charming old section; mountains filled with coffee plantations; and beaches that rival the best of the Caribbean islands…Let’s divide those up and explore the sights, shops, hotels and restaurants of South Carolina-size Panama. Are they worthy of a visit from us??

Panama City

The capital has 1.3 million people, is home to the fastest growing economy in Latin America, and a stable, democratically run government.

SEE THE SIGHTS

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Casco Viejo (photo courtesy of Casco Viejo Walking Tours)

  • Casco Viejo–“…the seductive, burgeoning arts district of Casco ViejoFilled with a continuous hum of Caribbean music and decorated with the paint-chipped facades of Spanish and French colonial buildings, Casco Viejo—the city’s UNESCO-designated historic district—is Panama City’s vibrant, bohemian hub.” (Vogue 2016) Casco Viejo “is where Panama City was relocated in 1673 after the original Pacific settlement was sacked by the pirate Henry Morgan…The 100-acre peninsula’s legacy of Spanish, French and American colonial, neoclassical and art nouveau architecture is unique.” (from Las Clementinas‘ web site)
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(photo courtesy of Casco Viejo Walking Tours)

  • Panama Canal“The first set of locks is a less than fifteen minutes drive from Casco Viejo. It is perfectly possible to see a vessel pass through the locks and be back at Casco Viejo in less than two hours.For those who are more curious about the Canal’s history and workings, visit the visitors center, called the Museum at Miraflores, or even do a half-day Canal transit.” (per Las Clementinas)
    • Mimi’s Travel File Tip: I just got back from Panama (January 2017). Two Tips: (1) The very best way to experience the PC is to do the half-day transit. (2) Our Panamanian friends said the Museo del Canal Interoceanic de Panama, located in Casco Viejo, is better that the Museum at Miraflores. We visited the Museo del Canal Interoceanic and, while it is a bit disorganized, it is informative and interesting.
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Panama Canal in the Azuleta (photo courtesy of Captain Rick’s Panama Sailing)

  • Biomuseo–Frank Gehry-designed (his wife is Panamanian) museum is a series of rain-forest-like gardens and biosphere galleries developed with the Smithsonian Institute, recommended by Travel+Leisure (2012). “The Amador Causeway is a narrow land-bridge, built with rocks excavated during the construction of the Panama Canal, that connects Panama City with four islands next to the Pacific Ocean entrance to the Panama Canal,” per visitpanama.com. The Biodiversity Museum is located on one of these.
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(photo courtesy of e-architect.com)

  •  Pollera Dancing–Not to be confused with pole dancing, pollera is a folkloric style of dancing in which the women wear elaborate and colorful traditional Panamanian costumes. Ask your hotel to recommend someplace to see a performance. It’s beautiful!
  • Soberanía National Park (near the Panama Canal)–“a pristine tropical rainforest noted for its remarkably diverse species,” per Andrew Harper. “Soberania National Park, one of the city’s largest green areas and home to lush flora and varied fauna (such as caimans, crocodiles and iguanas), as well as the starting point to many outstanding birding trails.” (visitpanama.com)
  • Abutting Soberania National Park is the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center, a 50-acre reserve of untouched forest and famous for its abundance of bird species, on the eastern bank of the Panama Canal. Check out the view of the rain forest from its 40-meter observation tower!
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(photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Panama)

  • Barro Colorado Island–“Barro Colorado Island is home to the world’s most important tropical research station, with over 500 scientists conducting experiments at any given moment. The Smithsonian allows a very limited number of visitors to the island each year for 3/4-day educational hikes. Due to the popularity of these hikes, several months’  advance booking is suggested, though there are occasionally cancellations.” (from Las Clementinas website)
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(photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Panama)

  • Why all this focus on birds, you may be wondering?–“When the North American winter sets in, Panama is flooded with thousands of species of migratory birds–so much so that the Audubon Society routinely sets and resets its records for most species seen in a day in the jungle just on the edge of Panama City.” (per Las Clementinas website)

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  • Punta Pacifica is a skyscraper zone (bars, restaurants, malls, boutiques) in close proximity to the ocean. The much-lauded Trump Ocean Club International Tower & Hotel (one of only two hotels in Panama liked by Andrew Harper) is located here. However, I have read PP described as “soulless.”
  • Panama Viejo is a UNESCO World Heritage site “where you can wander through grassy grounds, exotic trees and the 16th century ruins of the first European settlement on the Pacific Coast of the Americas. The cathedral is the best preserved among the stone remains. Climb up 72 feet in its bell tower for expansive views of Panama in all directions. It once served as a lookout post for pirates.” (Forbes 2015)
  • “Just a short one-hour sail from Panama City is the candy-colored Taboga Island, known locally as the Island of Flowers. You’ll find no cars on this island—this white-sand stretch of coastline is a remote paradise where nature trails and flower-lined walkways comprise the local infrastructure…
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    Azuleta (photo courtesy of Captain Rick’s Panama Sailing)

    “Skip the ferry lines and opt for a day aboard the Azuleta, which includes an entire day of sailing on a wooden sailboat. You’ll spend your day kayaking the clear open waters, diving from the highest rungs of the ship, and wandering the paths of quaint Taboga Island.” (Vogue 2016)

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Taboga Island (photo courtesy of Vogue magazine)

STAY

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American Trade Hotel (photo courtesy of Vogue) in Casco Viejo

  • American Trade Hotel: “Stay to enjoy the relaxed tropical ethos of the rooms, but venture out to explore the open-air environment of the first floor communal spaces, where a mosaic-tiled floor makes every step an Instagram opportunity…” per Vogue 2016; Travel+Leisure, 2015, also approves; small swimming pool; 50 rooms, of which all but 13 have balconies. Be sure to get a room with a balcony!

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY

Panama City’s culinary scene is on the rise. Casco Viejo is at the heart of Panama’s culinary revival…here you’ll find Panama’s best chefs and creative minds.” (Vogue 2016)

  • The American Trade Hotel’s Danilo’s Jazz Club–“where notable Panamanian jazz singers fill the hall with soulful tunes until the early morning hours. Before the night ends, cross the street to…
  • Grab a sunset drink at the rooftop bar, Casa Casco, directly across Plaza Herrera from the American Trade Hotel. Such dreamy pretty views of all of Panama City!
  • Las Clementinas –“Panamanian comfort food” (T+L 2012 and NY Times 2013)
  • Caliope –“…enjoy a farm-to-table feast with a menu designed to reflect local ingredients and culture.” (Vogue 2016) A Mimi’s Travel File favorite!
  • “After dinner, opt for a raucous night of dancing at Casa Jaguarin Casco Viejo (Vogue 2016)
  • ” If you still have energy, leave Casco Viejo for a nightcap at the recently opened Hooch Panama in the San Francisco neighborhood. Built in a speakeasy style…” (Vogue 2016)
  • Intimorecommended by the NY Times, 2015
  • Humo-“adapts American barbecue to Panamanian ingredients,” per NY Times 2014.
  • Maito-near Humo, Maito “has an organic garden of more than 1,000 square feet, growing culantro, ají chombo, ñame (a root vegetable) and micro sprouts. The restaurant offers 10-course-tasting menus ($50) reflecting the history of the canal, incorporating the different ethnicities involved in its creation and the plants and animals around it,” per NY Times 2014.
  • “The most eclectic menu can be found at La Trona on the second floor of the former residence of a queen of the traditional folkloric pollera costume, known for her over-the-top style…decorated with coffered ceilings, red curtains, wrought-iron windows and gaudy Renaissance-style oil paintings. In this two-year-old restaurant, the young chef Alfonso de la Espriella’s menu jumps around from the Mediterranean to South America.” (per the New York Times, 2014)
  • Riesenin a small space in El Cangrejo. There are fewer than a dozen plates driven by what he can get that day from local farmers and fishermen…” (per the NY Times, 2014)

SHOP

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Karavan Gallery

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Karavan Gallery: I want these pillows!

  • Papiro y Yo–“Accessories made using recycled papers”  (T+L 2012)

The Mountains of Western Panama: Boquette

“Shrouded beneath a canopy of clouds, Boquete is Panama’s mountainous refuge: Birds chatter symphonically and volcanic peaks yield to a flourishing landscape of bucolic coffee plantations.(Vogue 2016) “Boquete is a delightful small town 4,000 feet above sea level in the cool highlands of Chiriquí Province… Tucked away on the slopes of the dormant 11,000-foot Barú Volcano, Boquete is surrounded by the country’s richest agricultural land…a dense cloud forest that is teeming with plants and birds, including resplendent quetzals and toucans. We reached Boquete from Panama City via a 50-minute flight to the town of David on the Pacific, followed by a one-hour drive.” (per Andrew Harper)

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(photo courtesy of Vogue magazine)

  •  Finca Lerida Coffee Plantation and Boutique HotelHere, every room comes with a hammock on its front porch—the perfect spot to sip the property’s own “Geisha” coffee, which happens to be one of the world’s most exclusive blends. If you can pull yourself out of the hammock, take a hike or a plantation tour.”-Vogue (2016)
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Finca Lerida in Boquette  (photo courtesy of Vogue 2016)

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Panamonte Inn & Spa

  • “The most venerable hotel in the area is the Panamonte Inn & Spa. All of the 25 rooms are set in a lovely garden, whose rolling lawns are punctuated by noble old trees and flowering bushes.The newest accommodations are the most desirable…Activities include birding, coffee plantation tours, whitewater rafting, hiking, horseback riding and golf; hot springs nearby.” (one of only two hotels in Panama recommended by Andrew Harper)

Beaches & Islands of Panama

  • Island-hopping escapades are just a short jaunt away . Located off the northern Caribbean coast of Panama, the 365 islands that make up the San Blas Islands (2.5 hour drive from Panama City) all seem to come standard with white-sand beaches, coconuts for purchase, and leaning palm trees that will make any city-dweller contemplate life off the grid. Explore the region with a tour from Thread Caravan—visit with the indigenous Guna people, learn the complexity of hand-embroidering mola textiles, and spend your days snorkeling and sailing the pristine ocean waters.” (Vogue 2016)
    • Mimi’s Travel File Tried and True Rec: Just back (Jan. 2017) from chartering a captained catamaran through Susan Bruce Travel. She and her staff are good!
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(photo courtesy of Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Panama)

  • Portobelo (on the Caribbean, a 90-minute drive from Panama City)–The hotel here looks GREAT! In addition to being recommended by the Wall Street Journal (2013), InStyle (2012), and Condé Nast Traveler (2013), Mr. and Mrs. Smith love it: “Tucked away across a cerulean Caribbean bay from the historic port town of Portobelo, El Otro Lado hotel is a laid-back, yet luxurious, outpost of traditional Panamanian culture that’s right at home in the jungle-blanketed wild. With original artwork adorning every room, local woodworkers carving sculptures on site, creative Caribbean cuisine and an ambitious list of activities for outdoor enthusiasts, this jungle retreat is the ideal mix of art and adventure.

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El Otro Lado is perfectly positioned for history buffs curious about the lore-loaded colonial town of Portobelo…For a glimpse of life in one of Panama’s native tribes, journey to Charges National Park where you’ll travel up the Charges River by canoe to spend the day in an Embera village. Once there, you’ll listen to music, watch native dances and admire the highly detailed woven baskets and vibrant beaded necklaces created by the Embera.” (see Mr. and Mrs. Smith for more details) –7 rooms

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(photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Panama)

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(photo courtesy of Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Panama)

TIP: December-April is the best time to visit.

 –posted July 2016

Virginia’s Crooked Road Music Trail

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Road trip! Did you know that the first-recorded bluegrass music came out of southwest Virginia? And that June Carter Cash’s roots are there as well? And that June comes from country music royalty?! The Crooked Road Music Trail is a 330-mile driving trail through the mountains of SW Virginia, along which are many live bluegrass venues, from the neighborhood Dairy Queen that hosts jam sessions, to regular Friday night jamborees at the 100-year old Floyd Country Store, to the 100+ seat Carter Family Fold in a beautiful hollow, where the man responsible for the first recording of bluegrass music used to host Saturday night performances of local musicians behind his general store.

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photo courtesy of the Floyd County Tourism Office

Southwestern Virginia is rich in culture. In addition to its wonderful music, you can find beautiful, high-quality woodwork (turned-wood bowls, furniture, etc.), well-executed, artistic pottery, and more. Plus, driving along the country roads in the Blue Ridge Mountains is sooooo relaxingly beautiful.

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FLOYD, VA–a nice, small town in the mountains

SEE THE SIGHTS

  • Floyd Country Store–Friday Night Jamboree, Americana Afternoons, Sunday Music Jam, and the Floyd Radio Show–take your pick! You are guaranteed an authentic experience of traditional Appalachian music and dancing (clogging, anyone?) in this 100-year old country store…a real country store. At the Friday Night Jamboree, to which I have been twice, everyone gets up to dance, from the young to the old to the toothless to the graduate student. It’s fun! No drinkin’ or cussin’ though, as Granny’s Rules apply.

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Here’s a little background from the FCS website: “The Floyd Country Store is renowned as a place to experience authentic Appalachian music, and is home to a group of musicians, flatfoot dancers, and cloggers who are carrying on the tradition of their families, who’d pass the time playing music and dancing together. Everywhere they could, these folks would gather with their friends and families from their front porch to the neighbor’s kitchen. In the 1980’s, folks in Floyd took to coming out to the General Store and began the Friday Night Jamboree tradition that continues today.”

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photo courtesy of the Floyd Country Store

  • After watching the bands at the FCS’ Friday night Jamboree, wander along Floyd’s main street and you will find impromptu jam sessions, small groups of people playing banjos, etc. and gently singing. I have never been to a more musical town, except Vienna, Austria (no exaggeration!).
  •  Blue Ridge Wine Trail–While I haven’t done this so cannot personally vouch for it, click through to the web site to see what you think.
  • Blue Ridge Parkway–lovely drives along gently curling roads with pastoral views of mountains and countryside
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photo courtesy of Hotel Floyd

  • Crooked Road calendar–check it out because my guess is that Floyd and the other little towns along the Crooked Road would be at their most charming to visit when there are no music festivals going on; on the other hand, those music festivals might provide great people watching!

STAY

  • Hotel Floyd (Floyd, VA)–This hotel really hits the spot. Why? Because it is right in downtown Floyd and as such, a two-minute walk to the Floyd Country Store.   It is nice to come “home” to Hotel Floyd’s spacious, comfortable, clean rooms. I stayed here last year and highly recommend it. It is not fancy but neither is Floyd. Rocking chairs outside of many of the rooms, two of which are pet friendly. (40 rooms)
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The Mountain Rose Inn–lovely, isn’t it?!

  • Mountain Rose Inn (Woolwine, VA)–This 100-year-old country house B&B is my second choice only because it is 14 miles from Floyd. I stayed here three years ago and the ride back from Floyd after the Friday night Jamboree along the winding mountain roads seemed a lot longer than 14 miles. The Inn is charmingly decorated and has the softest sheets in the world (Comfy brand). It accurately describes itself as “country elegance in the shadows of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.” Its 100 acres offer hiking as well as hammocks strung along the banks of its creek…very country and relaxing. Lovely front porch! This is a nice place. No dogs allowed inside the Inn/no on-site kennel for overnight pets. (5 rooms)

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY

  •  Chateau Morrisette Winery–While I cannot personally attest to this, the Mountain Rose Inn recommends it and the photo looks nice, doesn’t it?!

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  • Floyd Country Store–it’s cheap, it’s fun, and you’re right in the heart of the action before the bands start performing
  • Pine Tavern Restaurant–This may be a dump or it may be great. I haven’t been here but it looks loaded with potential! Check it out and let me know.

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SHOP

  • 16 Hands–Recommended by a close friend with very sophisticated taste in pottery, as well as by several travel articles, 16 Hands is an artisans’ collective, featuring potters and woodworkers from the Blue Ridge region.

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  • Farmers MarketSaturdays 9-1, May to November-lovely, low-key with good products

ABINGDON, VA–charming small town (pop. 8,000+), with some lovely old houses

SEE THE SIGHTS

  • Carter Family Fold–Now THIS is a memorable-in-the-very-best-way experience! The CFF is in tiny Hiltons, Virginia, a beautiful 45-minute drive through rural “hollers” (i.e., valleys) dotted with farms and cows. You can hear live bluegrass and “old-time” bands every Saturday night and watch the locals dance, uninhibited, clogging the night away, alone or with a partner. It is so much fun! We also ate here at the little carry-out: $11 for two.
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photo courtesy of the Carter Family Fold

Per Wikipedia: “The Carter Family Fold is dedicated to the preservation and performance of old time country and bluegrass music. It is named in honor of the original Carter Family (A.P., Sara, and Maybelle), who were among the earliest recording artists in country music, with their first records on RCA Victor being released in 1927. The Fold was founded by Janette Carter, daughter of A.P. and Sara Carter, in 1979. Most of the participating performers at the Fold are not famous outside the communities of bluegrass and old-time country music. However, Johnny Cash performed at the Fold many times, and played his last concert there on July 5, 2003, a few months before his death. Cash’s wife, June Carter Cash, was a daughter of Maybelle Carter.

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Maybelle Carter and her daughters, including June Carter Cash doing a jig (photo courtesy of The Winding Stream)

The concert venue, the “Fold,” is the centerpiece of the Carter Family Memorial Music Center, Inc., a non-profit organization. This includes the 1880’s cabin where A. P. Carter was born.” Bonus: The CFF also has a wonderful museum of Carter family memorabilia.

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A.P.’s boyhood cabin

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close-up of A.P.’s front porch

  •  Heartwood –A 10-minute drive from Abingdon, Heartwood has good gift shop showing off the crafts of SW VA, including rocking chairs, turned-wood bowls, pottery, and lots of good CD’s and DVD’s on bluegrass music; we saw an excellent and fun band here, despite the somewhat antiseptic environment
  • Abingdon–lovely, small town (incorp. in 1778), with charming old houses and the mildly interesting Barter Theater
  • beautiful biking trails

STAY

  • The Martha Washington Inn–Located in Abingdon, this hotel is red brick with white wood trim, long, deep porch with rocking chairs along the front of the building, like a cross between a low-key version of The Homestead and a really nice girls college of old–which “The Martha” actually was for over 50 years; no pets allowed though the MWI can recommend a local kennel & told me that the Holiday Inn Express (charmless) accepts pets for an additional fee; this is a very comfortable, nice place but the restaurant is uninspiring, so ask the front desk for restaurant recommendations in Abingdon (63 rooms)
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photo courtesy of The Martha Washington Inn

DVD Traveling Companion: “The Winding Stream” contains much info about the Carter family, including the establishment of the Carter Family Fold. There are interviews with Rita (A.P. Carter’s granddaughter), who now runs the Fold and emcees performances. “The Winding Stream” shows how huge the Carter Family’s place in music has been ever since the 1930’s or so (country, folk, blues, rock ‘n’ roll).

Literary Traveling Companion: “Gray Mountain,” by John Grishom

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photo courtesy of Hotel Floyd

posted June 2016

 

 

 

 

Maine’s Coastal Charmers

If this is what comes to mind when someone says, “Maine,” you will not be disappointed because it really is this beautiful!

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(photo courtesy of the Pentagoet Inn)

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Hiking near Blue Hill, Maine—lots of blueberries! (photo courtesy of the Pentagoet Inn)

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You will see lots of classic old sailboats in Maine (photo courtesy of the Pentagoet Inn)

Based on articles in my file, my husband’s multiple sailing trips along Maine’s coast, and our trip a couple of years ago, following are Maine’s most charming coastal towns:

Castine

MOST perfect! Historic, not touristy, peaceful small town, with beautiful houses, situated on the tip of a peninsula overlooking Penobscot Bay. The best introduction to the village of Castine is to read the history and then to follow the self-guided walking tour in the “Welcome to Castine” brochure, which describes historic sites and homes, and anecdotes about early citizens. It’s fun, easy and relaxing…oh, and a bit educational to boot!

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Castine’s history is amazing!

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Having lunch in Castine (photo courtesy of The Castine Inn)

STAY in Castine

  • Castine Inn–What could be more welcoming than the Castine Inn’s front porch, below?! Built in 1898, one block from the harbor, wraparound porch, gardens,  and its own pub. 19 rooms with private baths
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The Castine Inn (photo courtesy of The Castine Inn)

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room at Castine Inn

Blue Hill

Lovely, lovely!

STAY in Blue Hill

  • Blue Hill Inn–Such a classically pretty inn! The bedrooms look every bit as nice, so check out BHI’s website for photos. Located on an acre of land in the center of the village of Blue Hill and a block from the head of Blue Hill Bay, the inn, built in 1835, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
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Blue Hill Inn—oh, those rhododendrons!

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Blue Hill Inn’s parlor

EAT in Blue Hill:

  • Wonderful Restaurant: Arborvine
  • Excellent Carry-out: Blue Hill Co-op
  • Kitsch-at-its-best diner: Fish Net (no web site, of course!)
  • The Boatyard Grill: It’s a fun one! (no web site for this one, either)
  • Blue Hill Country Club: The house we rented came with use of this private club, whose upscale casualness charmed us, so you might want to see if your club has reciprocity with the BHCC, which has golf, tennis, etc.
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photo courtesy of the Wooden Boat School

Stonington

Perfectly charming! Stonington is one of the few working fishing villages left in Maine and boasts one of New England’s largest fishing fleets (lobstering, fishing, urchining, scalloping, clamming and musseling). Stonington sits on the southernmost tip of Deer Isle, with lovely panoramic views of fir-dense islands. What to do in Stonington and Deer Isle: hiking, kayaking, tennis, golf, bird watching, jogging, biking, and fishing.

STAY in Stonington

  • Inn on the Harbor-This is not a fancy place BUT it is perched right on the edge of lovely Stonington Harbor, has a great view of the Penobscot Bay islands, and was built in the 1880’s. It is a bed and breakfast, with 13 simply furnished rooms, 10 of which face the sea, and a spacious flower-covered deck extending out into the harbor. Several rooms have wood burning fireplaces and/or private decks; all with private baths.
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Inn on the Harbor

SEE THE SIGHTS in Stonington

  • The Inn on the Harbor’s innkeepers will introduce you to Captain Walt Reed, who takes 1 to 4 passengers aboard his 21′ vessel to explore around the islands, see lighthouses, seals, and water birds. He will let you create your own tour, including the timing thereof. Stonington harbor is the departure point for daily cruises (by the Isle au Haut Boat Company) around the islands and to Isle au Haut, part of Acadia National Park, which offers hiking trails, rugged beaches and gorgeous sea vistas.

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EAT in Stonington

  • Aragosta–Breaking news: My cousins just visited Stonington and highly recommend this farm-to-table dining overlooking Stonington’s beautiful harbor.
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photo courtesy of Aragosta

SEE THE SIGHTS

In nearby small, sweet Brooklin, Maine (setting of E.B.White’s  “Charlotte’s Web”):

  • Brooklin Inn:  has a good restaurant
  • Brooklin Boat Yard, where E.B. White’s grandson builds beautiful, classic boats
  • Wooden Boat School: great gift shop (selling boat models and books) & gorgeous location on a 64-acre campus on the water where you can learn to make your own wooden boat
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photo courtesy of the Wooden Boat School

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regatta as seen from the shores of the Wooden Boat School

SEE THE SIGHTS

A little farther afield:

Miscellaneous well-rated hotels in Maine:

  • Whitehall (Camden)–My cousins-with-good-taste recently returned from Camden and, while they agree with my sailor husband’s description of the town (“not bad, a little touristy”), they loved this hotel. And you will see why when you go to its website. Here are some photos to whet your appetite:
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Whitehall (photo courtesy of Lark Hotels)

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Whitehall (photo courtesy of Lark Hotels)

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Whitehall (photo courtesy of Lark Hotels)

  •  Camden Harbour Inn–This is a Relais & Chateaux but as we all know, the hotels in that group are only guaranteed to be great in France. Outside of France, sometimes they’re great, sometimes not. The CHI’s website looked okay, with only a few hints of tackiness.
  • The White Barn Inn (Kennebunkport)–This is the only hotel in Maine recommended by Mr. and Mrs. Smith, who have good taste. Here’s what they say, “Set on a prime plot of Atlantic coastline, The White Barn Inn hotel in Kennebunkport, Maine, captures the region’s nautical spirit without resorting to sailor stripes and ship-inspired design. The airy riverfront cabins and 19th-century guesthouse often include dual-sided fireplaces, marble bathrooms and antique furniture. As for the namesake barn, it’s home to a local-centric restaurant, which serves some of the best food in all of New England.” Based on a few articles I have read, I worry that Kennebunkport might be touristy, though I haven’t been there.

From  Andrew Harper‘s always-helpful website (April 2016):

“Contrary to popular belief, not all of the Maine shoreline is rocky. Many of the beaches in the southern part of the state offer sandy shores.’Goose Rocks Beach is one of the best beaches in Maine, and quite possibly in all of New England,’ says Justin Grimes of Hidden Pond. ‘It’s protected by two small islands that shelter the bay and make it especially great for swimming.’ In case you think it’s too cold, Al Black of The White Barn Inn says water temperatures are typically pleasant from late June through early September. Plus, you get two-for-one in Kennebunkport: From the coast, drive a mere mile inland and you’re in the thick of the forest.”

AVOID BECAUSE PACKED WITH TOURISTS: Bar Harbor

AVOID BECAUSE STRIP-SHOPPING CENTER CENTRAL: Freeport

Reading companions to get into the Maine spirit: any E.B. White books, but especially E.B. White’s “One Man’s Meat” (witty essays on daily life at his Maine farm on Allen Cove, between Blue Hill and Brooklin) and, should you want to re-live your childhood, “Charlotte’s Web,” part of which is set in Brooklin

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photo courtesy of the Wooden Boat School

-posted June 2016