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Susan Axelrod

Susan Axelrod's food writing career began in the kitchen; she owned a restaurant and catering business for 15 years before turning to journalism. By day, she is the social media editor for Portland Press Herald. To relax, she bakes, gardens and hikes with her husband and their two dogs, preferably followed by a cocktail or a Maine beer. Susan can be contacted at 791-6310 or On Twitter: @susansaxelrod

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Posted: September 16, 2014

Lighthouses, houseboats & vintage trailers: Unusual places to stay in Maine

Maine has plenty of cool overnight destinations: charming B&B’s, rustic cabins, luxurious resorts, wilderness yurts. But how about spending your next vacation or weekend getaway in a lighthouse, “floating island,” or cozy tent on a farm?

Written by: Susan Axelrod

One of Maine’s newest inns accommodates just six guests, who must take a 20-minute boat ride across often choppy ocean water to get there. But the Inn at Cuckolds Lighthouse off the southern tip of Southport Island is far from rustic. The keepers and their families, who lived on the rocky island in the late 1800s, would recognize the exterior of the painstakingly reconstructed building that once was their home (every shingle and piece of trim is historically accurate), but not the luxuriously appointed spaces inside.

The Inn at Cuckolds, which opened for its first season in June, has two spacious guest suites (East and West), a living room and large kitchen decorated in soft shades of slate blue, taupe, grey and white – a palette Cuckolds Council founder and vice president Janet Reingold explains was intended to reflect the colors of sea, stone and sky just outside, “like a Winslow Homer painting,” she said. (The non-profit Cuckolds Council operates the island and the inn.) The rooms boast stunning millwork and cabinetry, hand-cut marble tiles in the sumptuous bathrooms and high-end Frette sheets on the king-sized beds. The West Suite can sleep two additional people on a queen-sized sofa bed.

Full-time innkeepers Dan and Barbara Aube (both of whom have Merchant Mariner Limited Masters licenses) provide a hearty breakfast, afternoon tea, snacks, and for those who don’t want to leave the island for dinner, lobster bakes.

It’s a posh environment, but may not be for everyone. There’s that boat ride, for one thing, which may be bumpy, and with the tides and the chop, landing at the island’s dock can be tricky. A high-tech ramp is lowered by hand to meet the float; visitors are instructed to move quickly up the ramp and onto the concrete pier. But the heady mix of adventure, natural beauty and luxury is an obvious draw — the inn has been booked since day one, said Reingold.

What is there to do? Guests can roam around the island’s rocky shoreline, (although they are warned on the website about “wandering a little too close to incoming surf. Waves have been known to carry off some pretty good sized people in this part of Maine!”) climb up into the lighthouse, and hang out on the terrace, which is on the leeward side of the house protected from the wind. There are TVs and wi-fi, if you must.

Rates: The rates for this special place are equivalent to a big city luxury hotel: $350 per night Sunday – Thursday; $500 per night Friday and Saturday. There is a two-night minimum. Or, you can rent the entire island: $2,500 for two nights Sunday – Thursday; $3,000 Friday and Saturday. With the “Private Island” experience, you can moor your own boat at one of five moorings, have the Cuckolds launch at your disposal and there will be no other programming or visitors during your stay (there is a small museum in the works and in 2015, the Cuckolds will begin offering tours).
Season: June to the first week of October

Inspired by The Inn at Cuckolds Lighthouse, I set out to find other, out-of-the-ordinary getaways in Maine.

Vintage Maine Vacations

For a throwback camping experience, Patrice Forrey will tow her classic airstream trailers to your favorite Maine camping site within 125 miles of Portland. Forrey’s unique business is based in Cape Elizabeth, but, she wants to be clear that she doesn’t have a place to camp there. Finding a spot is up to her guests, some of whom use the campers for weddings and other events on their own properties.

Forrey has restored the shiny silver trailers, both circa 1963, herself.
“Thumper,” a 16-foot Bambi, has one twin and one pull-out “gaucho style” double bed, a folding table, kitchen with gas range and a small fridge/freezer, and a toilet and shower.
“Lucky” is a 24-foot Tradewind model with a full bed and a gaucho style pull-out, gas range with oven, fridge/freezer, heat, city water hook-up and full bath.

Both trailers have freshwater holding tanks and on-demand hot water. Linens are included in the rental fee.

The trailers clearly have nostalgic appeal and are popular with families — although one was recently rented for a marriage proposal. “People seem to like going back to that simple lifestyle – no TV, no internet,” Forrey said. “It’s not a hotel. It’s a really unique, special experience.”

She changes the campers every couple of years “so that customers that come regularly can have a new and different experience.”

Rates: Forrey charges a day rate with a three-day minimum: “Thumper” rents for $65/day and “Lucky” for $80/day. There is a $175 fee for towing and cleaning. She takes reservations beginning in January for that calendar year.
Season: May 15 to Oct. 15.

Riggs Cove Rentals

Get away from it all (but not too far) on your own “floating island” in Robinhood Cove, off Georgetown Island, a 15-minute drive from Bath. The stationary houseboats each have their own dinghy to get to and from Robinhood Marina, where the Osprey Restaurant offers on-shore dining. But the houseboats, which were built at the marina, are fully equipped for cooking on board, with kitchens and rail-mounted propane grills. They also come with kayaks for exploring the rocky shoreline of the Sheepscot River and the many nearby coves.

The Tessie Ann has a double bed and a dining table that converts to a bed, to sleep a total of four. The slightly larger Charles Andrew sleeps five. The largest of the three, The Nancy Lou, sleeps five and has a sun deck up top.

No boating experience is required to rent the houseboats, but marina staff will provide training in using the dinghies. They will also ferry you to and from your “floating island.”

Rates: Tessie Ann: Peak season $250/night Sunday – Thursday; $275/night Friday and Saturday; Shoulder season $200/night. Charles Andres: Peak season $275/night Sunday – Thursday; $300/night Friday and Saturday; Shoulder season $225/night. Nancy Lou: Peak season $314/night Sunday – Thursday; $340/night Friday and Saturday; Shoulder season $265/night. Note: Three-night minimum.
Season: May 9 to Oct. 31; peak season is June 27 to Sept. 8

Pagett Farm Tent B&B

The tent at Pagett Farm in Palermo reminds me of the ones I used to sleep in many years ago at Girl Scout camp. But it’s much nicer. Pamela Page, a holistic veterinarian, and her husband Donald Barrett built the 12-by-14-foot raised platform tent for themselves, but found they were too busy to use it much, so they decided to rent it out, along with a yurt they also built on their 63-acre organic farm.

The tent, which overlooks a pond, has a cedar log frame and heavy canvas sides, a vintage wrought-iron bed with a handmade quilt, rag rugs to cozy the floors, a small table and chairs, and on the covered porch, four rocking chairs. It has its own bathroom with a composting toilet and foot-operated pump for running water. “We’re very proud of our bathrooms; they’re very posh,” says Page.

There is no electricity in either the tent or bathroom; battery- and solar-powered lamps provide light. There is also a propane fireplace in the tent, which takes the chill off and adds to the romantic mood. “You can see the flame and it casts a wonderful flickering,” said Page.

A hearty organic breakfast is served in the farmhouse family kitchen. Guests can also help with farm chores — the family keeps chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese, pigs and goats — take a tour, or simply relax in the tent listening to the pond’s many frogs. “The farm is active year-round,” said Page. “We have maple sugaring season — a great time for people to participate.”

Rates: Tent: $149/night for 1-2 guests; Yurt: $164/night for 1-2 guests. Includes breakfast. Additional charges for extra guests.
Season: Tent: April 15 to Oct. 15, weather permitting; Yurt available year-round.

Goose Rocks Lighthouse

The Goose Rocks Lighthouse is a Victorian-era “sparkplug”-style lighthouse rising 60 feet out of the water in the Fox Islands Thorofare off the island of North Haven. Like the Cuckolds, it has been purchased and preserved by a private group and offers overnight stays to support its restoration and upkeep.

The Goose Rocks Lighthouse “Keeper Experience,” is for up to six guests, who must first take the ferry to North Haven. A lighthouse representative meets guests at the ferry landing and drives them around North Haven Village to pick up food and any other necessary supplies for their stay, then transports them by boat to the lighthouse, where guests climb a ladder to reach the lighthouse deck and everything else has to be hauled up with a rope. This is a do-it-yourself place — cooking, tidying up and hauling the trash back out are up to guests.

There are six levels of living space. The main catwalk/deck has Adirondack chairs, dining table and chairs, and a Weber grill. The cozy, brick-walled main living area inside is furnished with a large, semi-circular sofa and antiques, including a Victrola. On the next level up, there are two bedrooms with queen-sized beds. A ladder leads to the “crowsnest” bunkroom, one floor up, with twin bunks and its own deck. On the top level is the lighthouse beacon and a deck offering 360-degree views of some of the most spectacular scenery in the state. If you have trouble with heights, however, this may not be the place for you.

Goose Rocks has a composting toilet and hot and cold running water for cooking and showers. Guests bring bottled water for drinking.

Rates: $600 per night, Monday – Thursday; $750 per night Friday – Sunday. $1,000 per night on holiday weekends. Rates are for 4 people; additional guests are $100 per person per night.
Season: May through October

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