By Brian Kevin
October 07, 2014
Credit: Andre Jenny / Alamy

Each of Maine’s 15 year-round island communities is like a little independent republic, with its own distinct character and traditions and—more often than not—a mile-wide hospitable streak beneath a salty crust of old-school, self-reliant New England glower. Vacation planning to spots like artsy and pristine Monhegan Island or the lobstering community of Swan’s Island often requires more advance preparation than on the mainland. Ferries run Spartan schedules to some of Maine’s less-visited islands, and many lack so much as a general store for basic amenities. The payoff, though, is immersion in a tiny, secluded world, where life tends to follow its own rhythms (often under the influence of the tides), where nature seems quite close, and the concerns of the mainland rather far away. Best not to expect big-ticket luxury from these inns—there’s refreshingly little that’s highbrow about Maine’s island villages—just an authentic sense of comfort and refuge.

The Island Inn

The cupola atop the grand, weathered-shingled Island Inn is like a beacon to ferry passengers arriving at this rocky island, 12 miles off the Maine coast. The rooms are simple, with wicker furnishings and white linens, and the view of craggy Manana Island, just across a small channel, are simply stunning.

Keeper's House Inn

Isle Au Haut is one of the great secrets of the National Park System, a trail-covered annex of Acadia National Park to the north that sees a fraction of the visitors, since the only way to reach it is via a spottily scheduled mail boat. The Keeper’s House is the island’s only lodging, a historic (but functioning) lighthouse with four cozy rooms and two small cottages.

Chebeague Island Inn

If there’s a lovelier wraparound porch in all of Maine, I haven’t found it. This restored Greek Revival inn was built in the 1920s on the largest island in Casco Bay, a 15-minute hop from the mainland. The proximity means Chebeague doesn’t have the rustic, isolated ambiance of many Maine islands (there’s a big golf club next door), but the phone- and TV-free rooms still feel romantic and quaint.

Inn on Peaks Island

Peaks lives a weird double-life. It’s a commuter’s island—more than half its year-round residents ride the 15-minute ferry into Portland for work—but it also hosts waves of summer tourists, who come for art galleries, beaches, and wooded trails. From the balcony of one the Inn’s six suites, each with its own Jacuzzi and fireplace, Portland seems farther away than the skyline views would suggest.

Inn at Cuckolds Lighthouse

An on-call launch service takes you out to a tiny mound of windswept granite, a half-mile off of (car-accessible) Southport Island. There, you settle in to one of two ocean-view suites with king beds and marble baths. The beautifully restored Cuckolds Fog Signal and Light Station opened as a non-profit B&B in summer 2014, about as close as you can get to your own private island.