The view from the Island Inn on Monhegan towards Manana Island.
It had been 10 years since I last 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 quintessential Maine 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 battered trucks on the island, used to haul lobster pots and to transport the luggage of “rusticators” like ourselves from the ferry, on the narrow, gravel roads that double as footpaths.
Monhegan painters at work. Photo by Gayle Conran.
In summer, lobstermen and their families tend to fade into the background as flocks of Sunday painters and a few serious artists arrive, many staying for weeks at a time in those tiny cottages with sea views.
The sea cliffs on Monhegan. Photo by Gayle Conran.
And why not? The island is one of the most beautiful places on the Eastern Seaboard, offering postcard views everywhere you turn. And it’s colorful — those lobster buoys, the 400 species of wildflower, set against gnarled white pine trees and fields of waving grass, with a backdrop of rolling 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. The Monhegan packing list is short: bring a stack of books, a sketchpad, a fleece and your hiking boots.
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 to keep up 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.
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 “summer vacation” that I can think of in the 21st century.
The Island Inn, Monhegan Island, Maine. Rates in summer start at $220 per room, per night, based on double occupancy. Rates from $165 per night with shared bath. All rates include a full breakfast.