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Maine Sebago Lake lakefront lodge outstanding for quiet fall getaway

March 2nd, 2015 · No Comments

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

The master bedroom featured a screened balcony.

The balcony in the master bedroom in Firefly

We arrived at Migis Lodge on Sebago Lake, a property on the shores of Lake Sebago in Maine, a bit stressed following a week of tourist activities and a frustrating longer than necessary drive from Portland. The relaxed atmosphere at reception, the serenity of the wooded setting in the early stages of fall foliage color changes, and our comfortable three bedroom two bathroom suite in a stand alone wood building went a long went toward helping us unwind.

Fall colors were just reaching the shore of the lake.

Fall colors were just reaching the shore of the lake when we visited Migis Lodge (click to enlarge)

It was especially soothing to look out onto the lake from the front porch or living room of our suite without any particular plans, activities or commitments. Knowing all our meals were included in the American Plan allowed us to relax and took the decision making out of our stay. Should the weather worsen, as the forecast indicated, dinner was steps away from our building. If it improved we had the option of exploring the region in search of the brightest and best autumn trails.

Firefly cabin at Migis.

Firefly cabin at Migis

Five days later when we drove away, we were re-energized and ready to discover another part of Maine. Migis struck me as a wonderful place to reconnect with personal priorities, spend time with family and friends, for an artist retreat or a romantic getaway.

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Maine coastal property a stand out for luxury and responsible tourism practices

February 16th, 2015 · No Comments

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

The entrance to the Inn by the Sea

The entrance to the Inn by the Sea

During a fall visit to Maine we spent three nights at the Inn by the Sea, a boutique 61-room beach facing hotel in Cape Elizabeth south of Portland. We liked the inn's location in a quiet residential area close enough to Portland for visits yet distant from city traffic and noise. We loved our well appointed two-bedroom suite with wonderful fall coastal views. We enjoyed the lovingly tended manicured grounds and Spa at Inn by the Sea in particular.

I liked the spa's use of natural marine products like sea salt, algae and seaweed, essential oils and coastal themed treatments. In addition, we appreciated the property's approach to responsible tourism, blending luxury, service and an exceptional guest stay with sustainability, and minimizing the impact of hotel operations with eco friendly initiatives and local sourcing.

The fall colors in all their glory

The fall colors in all their glory (click to enlarge)

One example was the Inn’s landscape designed to be attractive to guests and butterflies. Inn staff focused on local plants to create ever blooming gardens and a habitat for indigenous wildlife, earning the inn a Wildlife Habitat certification from the National Wildlife Federation. Indigenous nectar gardens and milkweed were specifically planted for endangered butterflies. During the growing season, the property offered classes on How to Plant for Wildlife, and as part of the Bug’s Life Garden Tours staff taught children about local ecosystems from an insect’s viewpoint. Monarch Watch, which registers properties that provide food and shelter for the endangered monarch butterflies as they migrate through North America, certified the Inn as a Butterfly Waystation.

Our room featured a fireplace and kitchen

The living room with fireplace and kitchen of our two bedroom suite

Inn staff worked with seven local schools to provide educational programs throughout the year. In December, the Inn bought a school book from a school librarian's list with every reservation.

The spacious grounds viewed from the back of the hotel

The spacious grounds viewed from the back of the hotel (click to enlarge)

At the hotel restaurant, Mitchell Kaldrovich, executive chef, emphasized local produce, meat and poultry from nearby farms and Gulf of Maine fresh underutilized seafood. Working with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI), other Portland area chefs, and a handful of knowledgeable local fishermen, he identified abundant and delectable fish from the Gulf of Maine that were under appreciated and underutilized to offer guests. The program, Out of the Blue, was meant to bring attention to plentiful seafood available in the Gulf of Maine, get better dock prices for fishermen, and help preserve the diversity and health of the Gulf of Maine. The chef was a supporter of the Root to Stock movement. Food waste was composted for later use as landscaping compost for the Inn.

The workout room was downstairs in the spa

The workout room was downstairs in the spa.

The property had a Silver LEED and Maine DEP Environmental Leader Green Lodging certification thanks to the integration of solar panels, recycled sheet rock walls, recycled cork floors, recycled rubber floors in the cardio room, air to air heat exchangers, dual flush toilets, heating with bio fuels, preferred hybrid parking, sheet and towel reuse programs and purchased renewable electricity.

The grounds featured plantings of vegetables and decorative plants

There were plantings of vegetables and flowers (click to enlarge).

Interesting plants were visible everywhere

We liked the colorful plants visible along the walkways

The Inn by the Sea was active in habitat restoration. The property worked with the Maine Department of Conservation and Bureau of Parks and Land to restore habitat for the endangered New England cottontail rabbit at Crescent Beach State Park. In an effort to stop the New England cottontail from vanishing in Maine, as it had in the rest of New England, the Inn removed two acres of invasive, non indigenous plant species such as bamboo and bittersweet from state property. The Inn replanted the area with indigenous shrubs such as raspberry, blueberry, dogwood, alder, winterberry and dewberry to create a high quality, safe habitat for New England cottontails. The rabbits were named as candidates for the United States Endangered Species Act in 2006, and were listed as endangered in Maine and New Hampshire.

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At restored Winslow Homer Studio a peek back at artist former home, iconic coastal Maine views

February 2nd, 2015 · No Comments

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

Exterior view of the studio

Exterior view of the studio (click to enlarge)

American painter Winslow Homer (1836-1910) lived and worked on many of his masterpieces from 1883 until his death in Prouts Neck, Maine where he enjoyed dramatic views of the ocean crashing against the rocky coast, which inspired his famous artwork, and some believe transformed marine painting in American art. Last fall, while staying at the Inn by the Sea in nearby Cape Elizabeth, Maine, we had an opportunity to stop by the Winslow Homer Studio (http://www.portlandmuseum.org/homer/visit, +1 207 775-6148), his former home and studio in Prouts Neck, about 12 miles from Portland, now restored and part of the Portland Museum of Art in Portland.  

Worktable with a view

Worktable with a view located in the studio (click to enlarge) 

The building was moved 100 feet away from the “Ark,”  the house next door, and converted from a carriage house to living quarters in 1883 by John Calvin Stevens, an architect, and his brother-in-law Howard Stevens, of the Portland firm Fassett and Stevens. In 1890, Homer had the porch, pergola and a painting room added. Today, the Studio is 2,200 square feet, 44 feet by 53 feet, and two stories high.

The fireplace with a few original touches

The fireplace with a few original touches

Few original items remained at the time of our visit. They were: a bench called an Inglenook, a detail common in architect John Calvin Steven’s homes; his fire bucket (with initials W.H.); moose antlers over the mantle; the sign he made “Snakes, Snakes, and Mice” that he put outside, as he said, “to keep away the rusticators;” his pipe and tobacco, his copper kettle, and his chair. The wooden mantle and the fireplace were painstakingly restored to their original state.

The daybed and wall mounted trophies

The daybed and wall mounted trophies (click to enlarge)

By the main living room north interior wall, there were items belonging to Winslow Homer: daybed, fish trophies, fishing pool, eel spear, and sawfish bill. The museum added reproductions of photographs of the artist and his family and a facsimile of a family album to illustrate the story of Homer's everyday life at Prouts Neck. Museum staff believed that in the painting room west window and south interior wall a Chinese table, and props from paintings hint at the lush interior of Homer's New York apartment, and provided a contrast to the rustic nature of his life at Prouts Neck. Items from his Studio, a bell and an octant, as well as a medal Homer received from the Carnegie Institute, decorated the tabletop dating to 1896.

Weatherbeaten from Portland Museuam of Art

Weatherbeaten from the Portland Museuam of Art (click to enlarge)


The coast, a short distance from the studio, was the inspiration for Weatherbeaten (click to enlarge)

Inspired by the rugged beauty and dramatic weather of Prouts Neck Homer produced works that revolutionized marine painting in American art and created an iconic and enduring image of the New England coast. The Portland Museum of Art’s painting Weatherbeaten from 1894 served as the namesake for the exhibition and a quintessential example of the artist’s late work. Museum staff believed the image of rough waves crashing against a rocky shore embodied Homer’s ability "to capture the specificity of a place, while simultaneously meditating upon the timeless forces of nature."

Information about the area

One of the display areas had information about the area.

According to a museum representative, in the artist's Prouts Neck pictures, he envisioned nature as an arena for the constant clash of forces, water against rock, and humankind against the elements. In Eight Bells, 1886 painting displayed at the  Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, for example, he represented fishermen facing stormy weather at sea with Homer’s characteristic narrative ambiguity that experts believe leaves the viewer wondering about their fate. Homer’s iconic painting Fox Hunt from 1893, which rarely leaves the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, was expected to make its first visit to Maine since its creation. Experts who consider it a masterwork say it "thematizes mortality and evolutionary conceptions about the survival of the fittest that arose in the late 19th century."

Photograph of Homer Winslow

A reproduction of a photograph of Winslow Homer at the Studio

In 1893, Homer first exhibited at the Portland Museum of Art. In 1976, Charles Shipman Payson pledged his collection of 17 paintings and watercolors by Homer and an endowment that led to the construction of the Charles Shipman Payson building, the public face of the Museum. The Museum’s Homer collection also included such notable objects as his first important oil painting, Sharpshooter from 1863; an original watercolor paint box; and a significant collection of 400 wood engravings that represented 90 percent of Homer’s graphic output, and chronicled the artist’s early career as a commercial illustrator.

View from the upper floor

A view from the upper floor (click to enlarge)

Following the purchase and restoration of the building, a National Historic Landmark, in 2006, the museum opened the Studio to the public in 2012. In 2014, the museum, the Prouts Neck Association and the Scarborough Land Trust bought the land, a little more than half an acre, surrounding the Studio with the goal of conserving it in perpetuity as open, undeveloped space. The museum showcased three centuries of fine and decorative arts from the 18th century to the present, including renown artists such as Winslow Homer. Winslow Homer Studio tours, two and a half hours long, were available for up to 10 visitors at a time by reservation only. The tours departed from the Portland Museum of Art in a Mercedes Sprinter van.

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Azure waters, gentle breeze made for relaxing morning sail in Nevis

January 19th, 2015 · No Comments

Article and photos by Elena del Valle

Our view of the Nevis shore as we headed out sailing toward Saint Kitts.

Our view of the Nevis shore as we sailed toward Saint Kitts

During a recent stay in Nevis, part of Saint Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean, I went on a relaxing three-hour morning sailing activity aboard the Caona, a pretty catamaran owned and operated by Leeward Islands Charters (Fort Street, P.O. Box 586, Basseterre, Saint Kitts, +869-465-7474, fax 869-465-7070, www.leewardislandscharters.com, sail@leewardislandscharters.com). The weather had been mixed due to regional storms and I wondered if the outing would be cancelled. Luckily, on the day of the activity, the weather was good and there was a slight breeze.

From the sailboat we saw Mount Nevis and the shoreline.

From the sailboat we saw Mount Nevis and the shoreline - click to enlarge.

From the Montpelier Hotel and Beach, a pretty and secluded hillside hotel on the other side of the island where I was staying, I made my way to the Four Seasons Hotel in time for our 11 a.m. departure. Crossing from the parking lot to the dock I was pleased when I sighted the Caona. The sailboat, made in Saint Kitts in 1985, was 47 feet long by 22 feet wide and had a maximum capacity of 24 passengers on the Nevis Sail & Snorkel activity. A friendly man with an island accent and a clipboard welcomed me, asking right away if I was staying at the Four Seasons Hotel where the boat had docked and everyone else was staying. I assumed he wanted to know what room to charge.

A beautiful day for sailing

A beautiful day for sailing

I shared the boat with three couples, all Four Seasons guests visiting from the United States. Once we boarded the vessel, Lennox Wallace, our friendly captain, introduced himself and Elvis Richardson, his first mate; told us about the boat and its amenities, and what we would be doing. At first we all sat in the shade next to the captain, getting to know each other and gazing curiously at the receding Nevis shore as we made our way slowly toward Saint Kitts. The sun felt warm and pleasant on my skin. Puffy white clouds peppered the cerulean Caribbean sky in a picture perfect moment. A mild breeze and the sound of splashing as we glided gently over the water completed the scene. The boat swayed with the gentle surf as we cut a line across the Caribbean waters in a westerly direction.

Lennox Wallace, our captain, stands at the helm.

Lennox Wallace, our captain, at the helm

After spraying liberal quantities of sunblock, the captain had warned us to sunblock was essential, I carefully made my way forward. I sat down on the deck, bringing one of the many towels available with me in case the surface was hot (it was cool to the touch). Soon the couples also all made their way to the same area of the boat. Elvis brought us cold drinks. The choices were rum punch, beer, soft drinks and water. We chatted amongst us, exchanging pleasantries until the rhythmic lull of the boat soothed us into a companionable silence.

We snorkeled in clean turquoise water in Shitten Bay, Saint Kitts.

We snorkeled in clean turquoise water in Shitten Bay, Saint Kitts - click to enlarge

Before long we reached Shitten Bay, a calm cove in Saint Kitts where the crew anchored with ease. Although there had been a boat when we arrived, it departed within moments, leaving us in the privacy of our temporary shelter. We sighted a turtle before we had even settled in our new spot. While Elvis sorted out snorkeling gear for each of us the captain instructed us on the snorkeling site and safety procedures. Like the boat itself the snorkeling equipment was clean and smell free. I was delighted to discover they had fins and a mask that fit me.

Our catamaran was 47 feet long and 22 feet wide and could accommodate up to 24 passengers.

Our catamaran was 47 feet long and 22 feet wide and could accommodate up to 24 passengers.

Within minutes of arriving we were all scattered in the warm water admiring the sea life below the surface. Colorful tropical fish swam up to twenty feet below in a bed of rocks peppered with a few young coral. Slowly we each came back, climbed the ladder and dried off the salt water. After we all returned to the boat and settled down we headed back to our island. A short sail later we arrived back in Nevis, smiling. At the dock we all said our good-byes and headed back to our respective plans for the day. I sighed contentedly. The morning of pleasant sailing shared with a handful of equally pleasant people, and snorkeling in turquoise warm waters had left me with an irie feeling. That carefree sense was why I had gone to Nevis.

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Paris chocolate, candy maker opened new Left Bank shop

January 5th, 2015 · 2 Comments

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

Exterior of the left bank shop.

The exterior of the Left Bank shop

About two years ago we visited the Jacques Genin, fondeur en chocolat factory and shop in the Right Bank of Paris, France (Passionate chocolate, candy maker draw to Paris Marais shop) where we met the enthusiastic chocolate and candy maker and tasted some of his creations. Recently, we visited his new 80 square meter Left Bank corner shop (27 rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris, France,+33 1 53 71 72 21, www.jacquesgenin.fr) and carried home goodies to taste. We liked that they were made fresh at the Jacques Genin factory in Paris from all natural ingredients.

Flowers and large windows made the shop bright and cheerful.

Flowers and large windows made the shop bright and cheerful - click to enlarge

The brightly lit spacious shop was a treasure trove of candy, displayed behind elegant glass topped cases. It occupied a prominent corner in the well heeled seventh arrondissement.

Milk chocolate versions of the candies.

A box of milk chocolates - click to enlarge

Distinctive markings form elegant designs and identify the various flavors.

Distinctive markings formed designs that identified the various flavors - click to enlarge.

Fruit and vegetable flavored candies add a touch of color.

Fruit and vegetable candies added a touch of color - click to enlarge.

Once again we were delighted with the fragrant and delicate flavors in his bite size chocolates which had to be consumed within a week. A distinctive pattern or design on each chocolate was useful in identifying the filling by referring to a card the staff provided with our two boxes of nine chocolates each. Three types of chocolate were described in French on the card as well as candy like the caramels and pates de fruit flavors. There were three main categories of chocolate: dark, milk and praline. The praline was available in dark and milk chocolate flavors. Among the flavors we sampled was dark chocolate chestnut honey, dark chocolate mint and almond, dark chocolate praline, dark chocolate almond praline and milk chocolate hazelnut praline. We were unable to identify all of the flavors.

The chocolate and pate de fruit came in the distinctive square metallic boxes we recognized from our previous visits to the chocolate shops. We tasted some of the products from his new line of pates de fruits vegetable candy made from seasonal produce such as turnip, beetroot, carrot, celery, fennel, sweet pepper, and cucumber. While we appreciate their special nature they were not favorites. The next time we visit one of his shops, we'll revert back to the fruit candy we have enjoyed in the past.

The box of chocolates and praline that we tried.

The box of chocolates and praline we tried - click to enlarge

A box of chocolates we tried.

The box of chocolates we tried - click to enlarge

Pate de fruit in vegetable flavors.

The box of the new vegetable Pate de fruit we tried

Caramels in a variety of flavors on display.

Caramels in a variety of flavors were on display in the Left Bank shop.

We also tried several caramels including the popular passion fruit as well as blackcurrant, raspberry, honey, almond, and salt butter. They were outstanding.

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