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Maine's Southernmost Coast

The White Barn Inn's owners recently opened a restaurant nearby: Grissini (27 Western Ave., Kennebunkport; 207/967-2211; dinner for two $45), a Tuscan trattoria with a chic, SoHo-style interior (exposed air-conditioning ducts, parchment table coverings). The airy, loftlike space is colorful and brightly lit, decorated with breadbaskets, vases filled with lilies, and stylish Italian posters. Wood-oven pizzas are very good, as are the handmade pastas, the simpler the better (try the gnocchi in Parmesan-and-sage sauce). There's also a flagstone patio for dining alfresco.

While not in Maine (it's just across the border in New Hampshire), Dunfey's Aboard the John Wanamaker (1 Harbor Place, Portsmouth; 603/433-3111; dinner for two $50) is such a promising idea—an old tugboat moored in Portsmouth harbor turned into a bar and restaurant—that I have to include it. Surprisingly, the food delivers. The menu changes seasonally; last summer's included tuna with ginger, wasabi, and miso, and Long Island duck in a dried-cranberry glaze. Somehow, the ship manages not to feel cramped.

The sublime setting at Arrows (Berwick Rd., Ogunquit; 207/361-1100; dinner for two $100) would be enough—a 1765 farmhouse with delightfully crooked doorways, narrow halls, and mismatched antique furnishings, not to mention a spotlighted garden just outside the window. But the service (assured, yet friendly) and the ambitious New American menu make a meal here unforgettable. I had subtly smoked partridge with a mustard-raspberry glaze, potato-and-yam gratin, and grilled leeks; also superb was the grilled tenderloin of beef in a spicy garlic and Chinese black-bean sauce, served on a pillow of light noodles and wilted lettuce. The wine list is equally impressive.

It used to be that Arrows was the only event dinner around Ogunquit; now there's 98 Provence (98 Shore Rd., Ogunquit; 207/646-9898; dinner for two $80), an elegant yet homey French restaurant in a brightly colored cottage surrounded by flower gardens. The changing, traditional menu is highlighted by roast duck breast (served with a pear, thyme, and honey-lavender sauce) and a marvelous loin of venison in Calvados-juniper sauce.

since you asked . . . great lobster
best setting Barnacle Billy's Perkins Cove, Ogunquit; 207/646-5575. That deck—oh, that deck. You're right there, over the water. Gulls circle above; ducks paddle below. You can almost touch the sailboats as they drift by. And, of course, the lobster rolls ($9.45), still the best in town, are plump and luscious, served with Aunt Nellie's Famous Sauce.

best stuffed lobster Mabel's Lobster Claw 124 Ocean Ave., Kennebunkport; 207/967-2562. The lobster Savannah ($30) always sounded over the top to me, until I tried it: stuffed with shrimp and scallops, served with a Newburg sauce, it's ideal after a chilly day at sea. Mabel's small dining room is as grandmotherly as they come.

best plain-and-simple lobster Chauncey Creek Lobster Pier Chauncey Creek Rd., Kittery Point; 207/439-1030. At this engagingly casual deck on the banks of a saltwater creek, you pick out a lobster and they'll either boil it or broil it (price is per pound, based on market rates). They sell a few sides, but you're better off bringing your own salad, wine, and bread; you sit at indoor or outdoor picnic tables. Chauncey Creek Lobster Pier is a real local secret, far enough off the tourist path to make it seem like a private party.

best lobster pie Maine Diner Rte. 1, Wells; 207/646-4441. The food is delicious at this old-fashioned diner right on the highway, and locals love it. I'm not normally one for lobster pie, but this perfectly baked casserole ($14.95), with large and tender chunks of meat, has entirely converted me. The chowder is terrific, too.

take a hike

Known as the highest peak on the Atlantic coast between Florida and York, Mount Agamenticus (673 feet) isn't exactly soaring, but it's a fine place to watch for migrating hawks. (You may find yourself spinning around trying to decide between the vistas of the sea and the White Mountains.) The summit can be reached in an easy hike; follow Mount Agamenticus Road from Route 1 between York and Ogunquit.

Not long enough to be a true hike, but more dramatic than a stroll, Ogunquit's Marginal Way is a 1 1/2-mile oceanfront trail that's especially exciting after—or during—a storm. The path runs from the village center to Perkins Cove, between the rugged, rocky bluffs and the manicured lawns of resident blue bloods. If you're lucky, you'll grab one of the benches looking out on the marvelous seascape. Older children will love scrambling across the boulders to the water; the tide pools here are filled with life.

Off Route 9 between Wells and Kennebunkport, nearly 5,000 acres of white pine forest and salt marsh in the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge (207/646-9226; open sunrise to sunset) are easily explored by a mile-long nature trail. Bird-watchers have spotted green-backed herons, snowy egrets, Cooper's hawks, ring-necked pheasants, and many endangered species.

Finally, the patrician façades and immaculate lanes of Kennebunkport make for a terrific outing. Tourist-heavy Dock Square has the expected candy "shoppes" and stores selling ceramic figurines and maritime art. But the buildings themselves speak of long-ago days: the 200-year-old rum warehouse (now the Kennebunk Book Port), the slightly run-down sailors' inns near the river. Beyond the crowds, Maine Street is lined with Federal-era mansions and white-fenced lawns; there's a lovely old library and several stately churches as well. South along the river, down Ocean Avenue, rusty-hulled lobster boats rub up against gleaming yachts. (Well, they don't actually rub, but . . . ) Best of all are weekday mornings, just after dawn, when the mists and salty air are yet undisturbed by tourists, and the fishermen are hauling in their catch.


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