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Memorable Hotels in 2009: The Island Inn, Monhegan Island, Maine

 

Monheganpainters

Monhegan Island painters. Photo by Gayle Conran.

The Island Inn, Monhegan Island, Maine

    It had been 10 years since I set foot on Monhegan Island, so on a sunny morning last summer, with my  wife, daughter and niece in tow, we took the ferry from Boothbay Harbor on the 90 minute trip 10 miles out to sea to the island. Monhegan is shaped like a whale, a tidy little island of granite, evergreens and stony beaches with 160 foot cliffs. The handful of inns and guesthouses, shops and homes – just 75 people live here year-round — are clustered on the sheltered side of the island, looking out at the bare Manana Island. There is a fine little shingle-clad library and maybe a dozen well-worn trucks on the entire island, used to haul lobster pots and to transport luggage from the ferry, on the narrow, gravel roads that double as footpaths. In summer, lobstermen and their families fade into the background as Sunday painters and even serious artists arrive, many staying for weeks in those tiny cottages with sea views.

Monhegan cliffs 

The sea cliffs on Monhegan. Photo by Gayle Conran.

It’s a no-brainer. The island is one veritable postcard after another.
There are 400 species of wildflower here, gnarled pine trees and fields
of waving grass, set against the Atlantic. The houses have picket
fences and gardens filled with flowers that have benefited from the
morning fog. Lobster pots are stacked against 19th century homes, the
sea turns colors you can’t imagine, and the light is sharp ocean light
– you are 10 miles out to sea, after all. From the compact hub of
humanity on the island, you can branch out on half a dozen paths that
bring you to the edge of those cliffs, to ledges where seals bask and
make noises, to promontories where you can look for whales. Bring a
stack of books, a sketchpad and your hiking boots. 

Monheganbuoys

Buoys. Photo by Gayle Conran.

Monhegan  holds a special place in American art history, having been
the part-time home of  Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent, George Bellows and
Robert Henri. Jamie Wyeth, the youngest of the celebrated Wyeth clan,
owns a shingle-clad home on the island's southern shore that was
originally Rockwell Kent's.

We did not paint. But we hiked. The girls gathered polished beach glass and rounded stones on the beach. They walked through the darkened Cathedral Woods and found a dozen of the “fairy houses” of twigs and moss that the island is known for. They worked hard on what they dubbed “the ruggedy road,” climbing narrow footpaths that offered views that would eventually end, given superhuman vision, on the coast of Spain. They ate ice cream and they even went swimming in the harbor’s chilly waters, not a sport recommended for anyone over the age of 10.

Islandinnaugust

The Island Inn, Photo by Gayle Conran.

    We stayed at the Island Inn, the largest hotel on the island, which has a rocking chair front porch overlooking the harbor. The public areas are comfortable and redolent of the 19th century. Our room was in the annex, the Pierce Cottage, which had a meadow view. A lobster dinner in the welcoming dining room was the way to go. Sunset on the porch goes on and on. And then some. You feel as if you’ve stepped back 80 or 90 years in time here. Which is one of the better definitions of “vacation” that I can think of in the 21st century.

The Island Inn, Monhegan Island, Maine. Rates in low season start at $170 per night, $130 per night with shared bath. They include a full breakfast.

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