Georgetowners mostly think of Maine as a summer destination — thanks, in part, to those images of the Bush clan in Kennebunkport, boating in Ray-Bans and popped collars.
But the best time to enjoy the state’s natural beauty and quiet sensibility may well be in the winter. Just a stone’s throw from Portland in Cape Neddick, Cliff House Maine is now open year-round after extensive renovations to the 226-room luxury resort. It is easily reached from Boston Logan Airport or Portland Jetport.
Set on Bald Head Cliff, with a 90-foot drop to the Atlantic, the hotel offers panoramic views of the ocean’s sprays and guestroom terraces with camera-ready vistas of Nubble Lighthouse.
On my first trip to Maine last month, I enjoyed a pink sunrise from my room — while wrapped in the warmth of my hotel bathrobe — and the New England hospitality of the staff and the locals from the village of Ogunquit.
“This is the place for the outdoors enthusiast, or for those who want to pretend to be an outdoors enthusiast through glass,” General Manager Nancy White, a Georgetown University adjunct professor, tells me over coffee in the Tiller, the property’s restaurant.
White has been commuting between New England and Washington, where she teaches students in Global Hospitality, a program she developed at Georgetown’s School of Continuing Studies for future embassy and luxury-market professionals as well as hoteliers.
It’s a teaching method she’s put to the test herself, overseeing renovations that included adding a new wing, a movie theater, a hot tub and a pool. Following the completion of the second phase of the resort’s transformation, 2018 will be the first year that Cliff House Maine will be open year-round since its founding in 1872, an exciting milestone for White and her staff.
Although Maine may not be Palm Beach, it still has its charms, even if you have to bundle up for them.
“This ocean, no matter what time of year, is magical and puts everything into perspective,” White explains.
The reduced rates, quietude and romantic ambiance of New England covered in snow offer the perfect escape for frazzled District folk.
I experienced Maine’s wintry magic firsthand when I took a leisurely jaunt around Marginal Way, one of the region’s most iconic coastal walkways, perfect for cuddling on the numerous benches along the path. You will feel very proud of yourself for braving the cold — until you notice the surfers riding breaking waves in the distance.
You can complete your stroll by stopping for breakfast or lunch at the Greenery Cafe, one of the many eateries that ooze Yankee charm and where you get perhaps the best maple syrup French toast I’ve ever had.
Boston; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Portland and Freeport, headquarters of L.L.Bean, are all within a short drive, but with all that the hotel has to offer, you would do just as well to stay put.
Lobster season is year-round in Maine. In addition to the elegant entrees in the Tiller, the resort has Nubb’s Lobster Shack with a more “Down East” pub vibe, ideal for watching the Super Bowl. Take your celebration outside with a s’mores kit for more cold cuddling around the fire pit.
The Spa at Cliff House, a favorite with locals and guests, is also newly open 12 months a year, offering its signature green-tea facials and aromatherapy massages. The spa’s relaxation room has yet another floor-to-ceiling view of the rocky shoreline below your freshly pedicured toes.
End your day with your snow boots propped up in front of Cliff House’s roaring fireplace. You can even do some reading or reflection there. I found it always to be quiet, despite being the central hub of the property.
Through the winter months, rates start as low as $229, with special packages and family activities available for Martin Luther King and Valentine’s Day weekends.