‘I’ve got the hotel info. Do you have the map?’ I say, to Mr Smith, stifling giggles. Our destination, White Barn Inn & Spa, a boutique hotel in coastal Kennebunkport, Maine, was a whopping five-minute drive from our house. This was the true definition of staycation and we were ready… sort of. Escaping work during high season and our four-year-old, well, anytime, is always a challenge – even if just to head down the road.
Just past 10pm, we finally rolled up to the stately white gates of the inn. Sneaking by the valet, we parked our conspicuous red VW with Maine license plates, and hoped nobody would out us as locals. Why didn’t I think to pack fake moustaches?
Understanding our obligation to be good sleuths, we opened with a challenging question for the concierge upon check-in. ‘Do you know any spots for a late-night meal?’ I casually asked. We were told that Allison’s and Federal Jacks, two local pubs, were open, but if we’d prefer room service, they would gladly accommodate us.
I had to pinch myself to make sure I was still in sleepy Kennebunkport. Having lived in New York City for years, we still miss the anything-anytime-anywhere convenience of a big city. In our quaint fishing town, 9pm is when things wind-down, and just the possibility of late(ish) dinner – better yet, brought to us – had me welling up.
Keys in hand, we followed the twinkling pathway to our Deluxe Garden Suite where champagne on ice and a fruit platter greeted us. Thank you, romance patrol. Charmingly classic New England – walnut end tables with porcelain lamps, a handsome sleigh bed, a corner fireplace – the crisp, country club-inspired decor reminded Mr Smith of formal jackets-required events with his grandfather.
No dressing up for us tonight, though. Three wait staff promptly delivered our in-room feast, and bubbly popped, we got right to the wafer-thin crust pizza and juicy cheeseburger. The decadent pot of hot chocolate and gooey cookies for dessert signaled that we should forget dining light this weekend.
Waking early, we opened the minty floral drapes to a deeply wooded expanse – not a car or building in site. A quick trip to the front desk by Mr Smith yielded some forgotten essentials, along with a strong cup of coffee nabbed from the inn’s traditional tearoom, continually stocked with tea, coffee and fresh pastries. Wandering over to the sturdy old barn converted into the hotel’s main dining room, we were met with a generous breakfast of croissants, muffins, quiche, cereals and fresh local berries to jumpstart the day.
In experiencing our town anew, my objective was to log as many hours poolside as possible in this territory undiscovered by most locals. Opening the gate to the pool, surrounded by a flagstone patio and accented with natural plantings and wildflowers, was a Secret Garden moment. Protected by a canopy of towering trees, the chirping birds and babble of water cascading over one side of the stone pool wall set the tranquil tone.
We could have stayed forever, but one of our favorite places for a nature walk, St Anthony’s Franciscan Monastery, happened to be directly across the street. Strolling the peaceful wooded pathways out to the salt marsh with wide-open ocean views always soothes the soul, but we truly relished this rare opportunity in our busy season to steal a moment here.
We arrived back at the hotel just in time for tea (3.30pm, daily) and all the trimmings – trays of finger sandwiches, cookies, scones and assorted goodies. Eating for sport rather than hunger, we went in for buttery croissants and squeezed in one more swim to make room for dinner.
Mr Smith has always loathed dressing up, and jokes that his career choice was based upon the fact that he could wear sneakers and jeans. Dining at the inn’s restaurant, a starred spot with an award-winning chef, requires that men wear jackets (ties are optional). Mr Smith compromised by rocking the jacket with black chinos and leather Converse. We headed off to the dining room hoping we were sophisticated enough to be seated.
Set in the historic barn of this former working farm dating back to the Civil War, the dining room is a mix of raw exposed beams and antique farm tools softened by white tablecloths and candlelight. A vintage sign declaring ‘Welcome Wanderers’, is a reminder of the farm’s history of bringing travelers together – a tradition that continues, as witnessed by diners gathered around the piano bar.
In the true spirit of over-indulgence, we opted for the chef's nine-course tasting menu. Starting with the cheese plate, it was one extravagant hit after the next of veal tartare, salmon carpaccio, pork belly, foie gras and beef tenderloin, but the highlight was the butter-poached smoked lobster. Lobster is found on every Kennebunkport menu from steamed to stuffed, to the traditional lobster roll. Mr Smith and I agreed that this dish – smoked, buttery, and melt-in-your-mouth tender – was by far the best we’ve ever had, which is high praise coming from a couple of Mainers.
The next morning, I felt it was my duty as spy to investigate the spa. I chose a relaxing facial that ended with a parting coat of sunscreen. Prepped for another day committed to a sunlounger, I reclined mere minutes away from home but millions of miles away from reality. And, dark sunglasses and disguises be damned, let them discover we were almost neighbors – we had plans for them to see us around a lot more…