August 20, 2012

TRAVELIN' MAINE(RS): Spruce Point Inn in Boothbay Harbor: A weekend here is one you won't forget

George and Linda Smith

Oceanside massages as waves lapped the shore, dinner featuring amazing food and a gorgeous sunset, an amenity-filled suite looking out over the bay — our weekend visit to Spruce Point Inn in Boothbay Harbor was one we will never forget.

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Maine Audubon’s Executive Director Ted Koffman told us that Hardy Boat Cruises in New Harbor offers the shortest boat ride to see puffins, a life’s list must-see for us, so we rounded up our friends and fellow birders Jim Kinney and Dona Seegars on a Thursday afternoon recently and headed for this lovely coastal village near Pemaquid.

For 19 years, Hardy Boat Cruises in New Harbor has entertained tourists and Mainers by taking them out and about the central Maine coast. Two of their most popular trips go to Eastern Egg Rock — just 5 miles out of New Harbor — and to Monhegan.

Owners Al and Stacie Crocetti are hard workers who generously dedicate a portion of the puffin cruise ticket price to Project Puffin, and have contributed more than $103,000 so far!

While there is an Audubon guide on every cruise, we got a rare treat with the presence of Dr. Steve Kress, the founder of the Puffin Project, and the person most responsible for rebuilding the puffin population along the coast. Tilsbury Press in Gardiner has published several of Steve’s books, including “Project Puffin: How We Brought Puffins Back to Egg Rock,” a hot seller on board the boat that night!

The island was down to a single pair of puffins when Steve began his restoration project in 1973. He brought puffins to the rock from Newfoundland as chicks. And today there are 350 puffins on Eastern Egg Rock!

Before we even got out to the island, Steve had identified a host of birds including the Wilson’s Storm Petral (a new bird for Linda) that appears to be walking on the water as it flies along, and Northern Gannetts with their huge 6-foot wing span.

We motored out in pea-soup fog, but got close enough to see many of the 7,000 gulls that reside on this 7-acre treeless island. And yes, we saw puffins and got some great up-close looks at these beautiful birds that average just one pound in weight and 7 inches in height.

A Hardy Boat cruise is a wonderful summer or fall adventure. The company’s website has lots of good information — and you can even watch a video of a puffin cruise and a presentation by Kress. But the video is no substitute for an evening on the water. And when you spot your first puffin, it’ll make your summer!

IF YOU GO . . .

PHONE: 800-278-3346
Reservations required for most trips.
Cruises go through Oct. 8, but if you want to see puffins, go now. They’ll be headed south soon.

We visited Spruce Point Inn in the 1980s and found it to be run-down and in need of serious investment and renovations. Linda doesn’t even remember staying here. Our visit certainly wasn’t memorable.

Until recently, we were unaware that two lifelong friends, Angelo DiGiulian and Joe Paolillo, who originally moved to Maine to work in the construction industry, purchased the inn in 1991 with help from other family members and have been working ever since to make it one of Maine’s top resorts. We were astonished at the transformation.

Angelo generously gave us a lot of his time for a morning tour of the inn’s extensive buildings and grounds, showcasing 19 different room types in the cabins and inn ranging in cost from $170/night to $850 (for the four-bedroom, three-bath cottage), extensive indoor and outdoor activities, conference facilities, one outdoor and two indoor dining rooms, two outdoor pools, boat and shuttle bus rides to town, bikes and kayaks for guests — even a chance on Tuesdays to forage through the inn’s 42 acres of woodlands with my friend Tom Seymour, Maine’s most famous naturalist.

I was most impressed with the way they’ve totally renovated every cabin and building, while keeping the historic nature and look of these wonderful places. “A lot of what we did was uncover original woodwork and other features,” Angelo said.

I also took note of the mackerel that guests were catching right off the inn’s dock! Guests can bring their fish to the chef and have them prepared for dinner.

Memories drive many visits here, with multi-generational families returning year after year. As he was giving us our tour, Angelo noted that a guest who was just checking out, with grandchildren in tow, had been coming to the inn for 35 years.

The average stay is 3.3 days, but many come for 7 to 10 days. There’s enough going on here to keep you busy for a week, that’s for sure.

Spruce Point Inn is a full-service destination resort. And while the busy and interesting town of Boothbay Harbor is nearby, we didn’t get there!

For our Friday night dinner at the inn’s “88” restaurant, we were seated in the far end of the dining room, surrounded by windows offering great views of the ocean and sunset. This is white tablecloth, linen napkins, high-end dining at very reasonable prices.

Our server, Ben — an engineering student at the University of Maine who lives in Boothbay — explained the dishes well, talking me into the Cedar Smoked Atlantic Salmon — for which I will always be grateful. I stopped ordering salmon after many disappointing bland presentations of this fish, but this had an amazing smoky taste, with a wasabi-maple marinade that brought just the right amount of heat to the fish.

My appetizer was a huge portion of Prince Edward Island mussels that were perfectly cooked and very flavorful, with garden herbs, tomatoes and Dijon mustard that really enhanced the dish. Lamentably, with a lot of food ahead, I was only able to eat half of the mussels.

I did manage to eat all of my very large, perfectly prepared Caesar salad along with my salmon, so there was no room for dessert. Ben insisted, however, so we tried something we’ve never had — an orange liquor Sabyon which was  a perfect ending to this elegant meal.

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