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By NANCYE TUTTLE Sun Staff

CAMDEN, MAINE
The coastline of Maine is legendary for its scenic views, charming towns, idyllic inns and myriad vacation  options. And Camden, located on pristine Penobscot Bay in the thriving Midcoast region is a perfect getaway, especially this year with the sluggish economy and tenuous world situation making it more appealing to vacation close to home. Camden is located half-way between York and the Kennebunks in southern Maine and Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, two hours to the north. Getting there is a pleasant 3-hour ride from the Greater Lowell area, making the trip neither too tiring nor too long. Once you arrive, youıll find choices a-plenty for rest, relaxation, dining, sightseeing, gallery hopping and souvenir shopping.

Our trip to Camden began at the elegant, historic Hawthorn Inn, one of a dozen or so charming bed and breakfasts that occupy  well-traveled High Street creeping up a small hill beyond the tidy commercial village. The Queen Anne style Victorian inn, painted a warm butter yellow, was built in 1894 by Mr. Ritterbush, a prominent builder, for his daughter Emma Knight.

Lowell native Maryanne Shanahan now owns and operates the 10-room Hawthorn, arriving here in November, 2001 after abandoning New Yorkıs corporate jungle to buy the inn and fulfill a life-long dream. Shanahan makes it look easy, handling her innkeeper and business owner duties with aplomb. Dressed in a checkered apron, she bustles from her modern kitchen to the innıs bright, sun-lit dining room, adjacent to the book-filled library and antique-laden living room. Classical music plays gently in the background. Shanahan greets guests seated at linen-draped tables, topped with a single white rose in a glass bowl, with a cheery "good morning." And then itıs time for the piece de resistance. An excellent cook who loves serving healthy, delicious, meatless  meals, Shanahan shares the menu for that dayıs delectable repast:   cran-orange juice or plain orange, if you like, a fruit parfait of melon balls coated with creamsicle yogurt, her creation that blends vanilla yogurt with cointreau and orange juice, then dusted with her homemade granola and blueberries in the oven and sprinkles with powdered sugar. "Yum," her guests proclaim, anticipating the morning feast.

The next dayıs menu is different, but no less delicious, a fresh fruit parfait and a soufflé of mushrooms, onions, artichoke hearts and sun dried tomatoes. If you have an allergy or dietary restriction, let Shanahan know and she will suggest something different, but equally tasty.

Later in the day, tea, coffee, fruit and homemade cookies await you on the buffet in the dining room. From late spring to early fall, guests enjoy breakfast on the expansive back deck, with views of Camden Harbor in the distance and her carefully tended backyard gardens nearby. The Hawthornıs rooms, whether in the Main House or Carriage House, are decorated distinctly from sophisticated to whimsical decors. Some have gas log fireplaces. All have private baths, some with double whirlpool tubs. Most have queen-sized beds, TVs, VCRs. There is cozy nook in the circular turret.  All have fluffy comforters, good mattresses and other amenities to make you feel pampered and cared for.

After your fabulous breakfast, youıre ready to explore Camden and its surrounding environs or just sit awhile on the porch and or Japanese garden in the broad backyard watching the world go by. A drive up the Mt. Battie Auto Road, a short way from the inn, is a 1-mile incline to the top, where an historic World War I stone monument stands in memory of the men and women of Camden who served from 1914-1918. Looking out from atop the monument, youıll have a birds-eye view of the harbor and the bay beyond. There are hiking trails through the Camden Hills, too, many of which can be accessed across the street from the inn. If a village stroll is more to your liking, the trek is less than five minutes from the inn. The delightful harbor is full of activity at this time of year, with its famed fleet of windjammers and schooners arriving and departing. Here, youıll find kayaks to rent and boats offering two-hour sails out into the bay.

The village has a bevy of shops, art galleries, and restaurants, too. And donıt miss the impressive in-town waterfall at Harbor Park. A short drive away is Rockland, a funky, artsy, town with galleries, coffee houses, and the renowned Farnsworth Museum. Here, youıll find an impressive array of works by well-known 18th and 19th-century American artists, including Gilbert Stuart, Frank Benson and Fitz Hugh Lane. The museum also houses the nationıs second largest collection of work by 20th century sculptor Louise Nevelson. And its new Wyeth Center is a repository of works by Andrew, N.C. and Jamie Wyeth, three generations of great American artists, all in one family, who summered in the region.

Heading back through Camden to Lincolnville, we took a short detour to Youngtown Road and the Cellardoor Winery, a delightful spot with vistas reminiscent of the Italian Tuscany region. The vineyards are planted with 20 varieties of grapes, and three sides of its 68-acres are surrounded by Camden Hills State Park. Proprietors John and Stephanie Clapp welcome visitors for vineyard tours and wine tastings every weekend May-October. Our daysı explorations stirred our appetites. And we found sustenance at a couple of noteworthy restaurants, in addition to the rustic lobster in the rough places and clam shacks throughout the Camden-Rockland region.

For fine dining in gracious surroundings, we headed to the Youngtown Inn in Lincolnville. Chef/owner Manuel Mercier draws on his French heritage and European training, serving an array of wonderful dishes like melt-in-your mouth rack of lamb and superb lobster ravioli. But our lucky entree into Primo the next night is an entire story unto itself. The acclaimed Rockland restaurant, located in a restored Victorian home, is owned and operated by Melissa Kelley, one of Americaıs hottest young chefs and her fiancé, baker/pastry chef Price Kushner. We stood in line for a half hour to get in that Saturday night. And get in we did without a reservation, although reservations are recommended and hard to come by unless theyıre made weeks in advance. We ended up in the second floor bistro area, and savored every morsel of Kelleyıs incredible food and gutsy cooking style, with its heavy emphasis on local, farm-fresh products and supporting organic and sustainable agriculture. It was an evening to remember.

Back at the inn, with a fire in the fireplace and a bottle of wine for a nightcap, our Camden and midcoast Maine adventure was nearly over. But, staring off the patio towards Camden harbor and beyond, we vowed to return to this delightful Downeast region again and again.

Nancye Tuttleıs e-mail is ntuttle@lowellsun.com
By NANCYE TUTTLE Sun Staff