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Katy Kelleher

Katy Kelleher is a writer, teacher and editor who lives in Buxton.

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Posted: February 3, 2016

Great romantic escapes for Valentine’s Day

Written by: Katy Kelleher
The Norumbega Inn in Camden. Photo by Joseph A. Corrado

The Norumbega Inn in Camden. Photo by Joseph A. Corrado

In 1985, an unconventional vandal struck the city of Portland. Known as the Valentine Phantom or the Valentine Bandit, the anonymous figure left red paper hearts all around the city. It’s been 30 years since the bandit first struck and since then, they’ve graduated to papering cities across the country (or more likely, copy-cat vandals have picked up where the creative well-wisher left off).

Unfortunately, if you’re in a relationship, chances are paper hearts won’t quite cut it.

This year, instead of hunkering down on the couch or shelling out for a box of cheap chocolates, treat your lover to a new experience. Be the Valentine Bandit of modern day and (to use the heavy-handed parlance of “The Bachelor”) steal your beloved away for a weekend.

Few things cement a relationship quite like traveling together, and there’s no better time to leave the sludge of urban streets than February. Tell your sweetheart to pack their bags and hightail it outta here for a Valentine’s weekend at one of these seven New England destinations. Whether you’re one half of an outdoorsy couple or a foodie twosome, there will be something on this list to kindle some sparks.

Sunday River, Courtesy photo

A view of Sunday River. Courtesy photo

For the Adventurers: Bethel + Newry

Alpine skiers, ice climbers, Nordic gliders and snowshoers will love this western Maine destination, where mountains dominate the skyline and evergreens crowd the country roads.

For speed freaks, Sunday River has downhill trails aplenty (plus nice lodging options at The Jordan Grand). If you prefer a quieter trek, head to the Bethel Nordic Ski Center or Carter’s X-C Ski Center, where you can rent skis and enjoy the challenges of varied terrain.

After you’ve worked up an appetite, snag a table at Cho Sun for a delicious, authentic Korean meal. Less adventurous eaters will dig Camp at Sunday River, where the vibe is cozy and the menu is homey.

For a truly wild Valentine’s Day, pack your crampons and your carabiners and head to Grafton Notch State Park for a heady day of ice climbing.

Norumbega Inn in Camden

Norumbega Inn in Camden. Joseph A. Corrado photo

For the Art Lovers: Camden + Rockland

From gallery hopping to museum shopping, Camden and Rockport have it all. Start off your day of aesthetic leisure with a trip to the Farnsworth Art Museum, where you can learn about Maine’s history through the exhibit, “Picturing Maine,” which features photography from the museum’s collection.

Next, swing by the Dowling Walsh Gallery, one of Maine’s top art sellers, to see what beauties are drawing buyers.

Drive up to Camden for dinner, where you can take your pick from a slew of great restaurants. My personal favorites are Long Grain, where the skilled chef makes health food taste like heaven, and Francine Bistro, which boasts a twinkly, romantic vibe perfect for the occasion.

Finally, when it comes to accommodations, you can impress your beloved with a room at swanky Camden Harbour Inn. Another fine option is The Norumbega Inn, which is a literal castle and thus perfectly suited for the queen or king of your heart.

Sugarloaf

Sugarloaf Mountain. Press Herald file photo

For the New Couple: Sugarloaf

If you’re still getting to know your significant other (or if they’re an insignificant other) you might want to take the party somewhere that’s guaranteed to be fun. Sugarloaf is exactly that place. With trails to ski, places to shop and plenty of restaurants for all kinds of noshing, you’re bound to find something to enjoy – even if your date is a dud.

If things are going great and you want to see what they’ve got under the snow pants, go for a classy date at 40 North before suggesting a trip to a steamy hotel hot tub. If things are going poorly, then skip the dip and take them to The Rack, where loud music excuses you from mindless chatter. Plus, nothing perks me up after a bad date quite like a heaping plate of nachos, and The Rack’s nachos are top-notch.

127461_105227-StrawberyBanke3-1

Strawbery Banke, Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Courtesy photo

For the History Buffs: Portsmouth

Just an hour drive south is Portsmouth, Portland’s little sister city that’s filled with great restaurants, romantic walks and historic hangouts. Hardcore history lovers will adore this city, with its cobblestone streets and landmark homes. Head for the Strawbery Banke Museum for the first part of your date, where you can learn how early Americans survived these wet New England winters. After you’ve browsed the exhibits, head outside to the skating rink, where you can participate in the time-honored tradition of the couples’ skate.

Next, take a quick trip out to see the Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse (built in 1878) before heading back to your hotel to get ready for dinner. Top off your day with a classic dinner-and-a-show date; book a table at Moxy, a cool tapas joint that serves dishes inspired by early New England fare, followed by a trip to The Music Hall, a theater built in 1878. On Feb. 13, there’s a modern dance production on the main stage and a showing of Oscar-nominated short films in their black box theater, the Music Hall Loft.

Bandaloop in Kennebunkport. Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Bandaloop in Kennebunkport. Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

For the Foodies: Kennebunkport

I’ve been told that Kennebunkport is a summer town, but clearly the ‘Bunks haven’t heard this rumor. The twin towns of Kennebunk and Kennebunkport are teaming up for the annual Paint the Town Red, which features multiple events, discounts and deals.

Restaurants around town, including One Dock and Ocean, are offering Valentine’s specials. This seaside escape is brimming with great places to eat, and forward-thinking foodies will love the unexpected pairings at Bandaloop. After a leisurely breakfast at Mornings in Paris, a cute coffee shop with wonderful sugary treats, stroll the charming streets with your beloved to work up an appetite. Home cooks will enjoy the offerings at Table, a new cooking school offering classes in cocktail making and other culinary skills. For optimal taste bud stimulation, plan a double dinner, with appetizers at 50 Local (where they have happy hour specials on tap for Paint the Town Red) followed by a visit to David’s KPT, where you can feast on Maine ingredients while checking out the sculpted ice bar.

Once the food coma has set in, head to your (prebooked) room at the Captain Lord Mansion, which is offering discounted rates for Valentine’s revelers.

For the Whole Family: Rangeley

Did you know that this year, the Great Maine Outdoor Weekend just happens to fall on Feb. 12-14? While there are events happening all over the state, Rangeley is giving other towns a run for their money with the annual Winterpalooza. Couples with kids will be happily surprised at the plethora of activities, including ice golf and a snowman contest. The nearby Rangeley Lake Resort is open year-round and boasts a heated indoor pool, a jetted hot tub and a cedar sauna (ideal for loosening up after a day of wrangling the kids). Book a log cabin – preferably one with two bedrooms – so you can enjoy a little one-on-one time after tucking in the little ones.

Salem Witch Museum, Salem, Massachusetts. Courtesy photo

Salem Witch Museum, Salem, Massachusetts. Courtesy photo

For the Addams Family: Salem, Massachusetts

If you secretly wish every holiday were more like Halloween, you’ll love a Valentine’s Day weekend in New England’s spookiest, campiest town. Drive down to Salem for a gothic romance, complete with witches, haunted hotels and a “nightmare gallery.”

For the ultimate dark date, hit the Witch History Museum, the Witch Dungeon Museum and the Salem Wax Museum – all part of the Salem Witch Village (get the “hysteria pass” to save on multiple admissions fees).

At this point, you’ll have worked up an appetite from all the excited shrieking, so swing by the Howling Wolf Taqueria for cheap, scary-good tacos. Get ready for the frights to continue at the Hawthorne Hotel, which is rumored to be haunted by a phantom child who won’t stop crying. If that doesn’t put you in the mood for a little Valentine’s Day lovin’, I don’t know what will.

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