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Footloose in Maine

Bar Harbor Offers the Best of Two Centuries

February 19, 1989|BEVERLY BEYER and ED RABEY | Beyer and Rabey are Los Angeles travel writers

BAR HARBOR, Me. — This lovely old island town used to be a social enclave the equal of tony summer resorts in which mansions were stately, cars and yachts lengthy and bloodlines even longer.

The majestic Victorian homes and summer cottages are still here, but many are now B&Bs. And most of the 100-footers that tack into the harbor come from abroad or from other domestic ports.

Still, you'll find the only three-masted schooner in Maine anchored here, and working boats keep bay traffic brisk.

Bar Harbor really gives you the best of two centuries: the mannered life style and gracious homes of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and an energetic, outdoor-oriented lineup of activities centered on the water and nearby Acadia National Park.

Acadia was the first national park created east of the Mississippi river, a wonderland of mountains, lakes, valleys carved by glaciers and rock-shored inlets.

To there: Fly United, American or TWA nonstop to Boston. Take USAir, Continental or Northwest with one stop. The Eastern Bar Harbor Express flies from Boston.

How long/how much? Give the town and island two or three days, another if you're a serious fisherman. Lodging prices are moderate, even in summer. Dining the same.

A few fast facts: Average summer temperatures are in the 80s, with cooler nights calling for a sweater or wrap. Mid-June to mid-July is beautiful. It's crowded until September, with foliage reaching its peak in early October. You'll need a rental car, moped, bike or kayak to get the most from the town, island and national park. Summer swimming is enjoyable, but other seasons call for a fur-lined wet suit.

Settling in: The Mira Monte Inn (69 Mt. Desert St.; $65 to $105 B&B double) is one of Bar Harbor's first summer "cottages," dating from 1864. It's a bay-windowed Victorian with wrap-around porch owned by charming and chatty Marian Burns, who makes blueberry muffins and other breads for breakfast.

Mira Monte guests have their choice of twin, double, queen or king-size beds in rooms awash with antiques and period furniture, plus cable TV. In addition to using the facilities of Bar Harbor's swimming and tennis club nearby, visitors can join other guests in the Mira Monte living room each afternoon for refreshments and to quiz native Burns on the Bar Harbor-Acadia scene.

The Inn at Canoe Point (Hulls Cove; $50-$150 B&B double, depending on room size and season) is by the water with its own rocky beach, two miles from Bar Harbor and a quarter of a mile from the entrance to Acadia park. Views of the ocean, Frenchman's Bay and pine forests are spectacular.

Owner-innkeeper Don Johnson has transformed this secluded inn into an exquisite country house: old chests, a field-stone fireplace, four-posters, dining deck and book nooks. Johnson whips up full breakfasts of French toast, quiches and the like.

Wonder View Motor Lodge (Eden St.; $56-$90 double) rises on a wooded hill just above town, on the site of the former estate of mystery writer Mary Roberts Rinehart. Her home was destroyed in a 1947 fire that leveled 200 houses. Hilltop views are the best in town. Rooms have large windows, some with balconies, handsome grounds and gardens.

Regional food and drink: Lobster, shellfish, seafood and lake fish are specialties. Menus also boast of fresh daily clams, scallops, shrimp, trout, haddock, swordfish and salmon.

Lobster and crab rolls are stuffed to brimming, each a lunch in itself. Some places serve early bird dinners of lobster for $7.95.

And Bob, at the lunch counter of the Bar Harbor airport, is happy to serve his specialty anytime, the Mac a la Maine: macaroni and cheese with diced clams and a can of tuna, all stirred together and baked. Bob claims that people come from miles around for a plate, but our plane departure denied us this culinary adventure.

Good dining: The West Street Cafe (across from the wharf) is a family place that draws many locals. It serves early bird lobster for $7.95, a pair for $12.95. It also has a two-for-one special of shrimp, haddock or mussels for $11.95 anytime: Pay for one and get two. The menu is loaded with seafood, plus steaks, chops and chicken.

Fisherman's Landing (on the wharf) takes orders at a stand-up counter. When you get it, you can go to picnic tables on the wharf. This is a good spot for lobster or crab rolls at $5.25 and $3.75. It also ladles out steamed clams and heaping plates of shrimp.

The Rinehart Dining Pavilion, a pretty room at Wonder View Motor Lodge, is a separate building at the crest of the hill with beautiful views of the harbor and town. It's open for all meals, and the emphasis is fresh seafood.

Going first-class: The Bar Harbor Inn (Newport Drive; $130 double, an average for high season) sits on eight acres of wooded land on a promontory overlooking Frenchman Bay. You have three options: the beautiful main inn, very traditional in style; an oceanfront lodge, also traditional, and standard motel units in yet another building. Prices melt down from main inn to motel.

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