Road tripping through New England
We’re leaving big-city life behind us and heading on a short northbound road trip. If you take the toll highways you can drive pretty far in just a couple of hours. But we will take the smaller roads so we don’t miss out the beautiful coastline and countryside.
The first stop is Gloucester, an active fishing port on Cape Ann. The importance of the fishing industry in Gloucester’s history is plain to see as we drive along Western Avenue. Looking out across the harbor is a bronze statue of a sailor, erected as a memorial to the many Gloucester seamen who have died at sea. You’ll find many a Scandinavian surnames among those engraved there.
Today, Gloucester is a somewhat sleepy place, but it’s maybe familiar to many from the movie The Perfect Storm, starring George Clooney, which is based on the true story of five Gloucester fishermen and their captain who were lost with their boat the Andrea Gail in 1991. If you want to hear a few salty tall tales and see some photos from the movie set, visit the Crow’s Nest bar – the bartender is sure to pull out the well-thumbed photo album.
Gloucester is also a great base for whale watching and is considered by many to be one of the best places in the world to see humpback and many other species of whale. “I have guests who come here just to go whale watching – and they almost always come back utterly entranced,” says Tony Sapienze, one of the owners of the picturesque Blue Shutters Beachside Inn at Good Harbor Beach, one of Gloucester’s most popular beaches. From the veranda, he has a great view of the whale-watching boats and lobster fishermen as they pass by every day.
A short drive from Gloucester brings us to the picture-postcard town of Rockport. Artists come here for the spectacular light and tourists for the many galleries and stores that line the main street and the long Bearskin Neck pier. It is quite a contrast to Gloucester, but well worth a brief stop. When you’re done shopping, you can fill your belly at one of the many lobster shacks.
The next stop on our journey is Newburyport – a port city rooted in shipbuilding, evidence of which is still visible today. Go for a walk beside the beautiful Victorian houses along the boardwalk by the harbor and stroll around the stores and galleries of the old cultural quarter. For a real taste of history, spend a night at the Clark Currier Inn, built by shipbuilder Thomas March Clark in the early 19th century. If you have the time and you want to explore the surrounding area a little, a visit to Plum Island is highly recommended, either for watching animals and birds at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge or for spending a lazy day on the long, sandy beaches.
From Newburyport, we take Route 1A, which meanders along the coast, passing small one street villages. Motels mix with grand New England-style houses and there are hundreds of signs advertising summer rentals. The beach is just a house-width away from the road and the sand comes up onto the tarmac and the driveways. The only people around on this gray and cloudy day are surfers tackling the waves.
Just north of Portsmouth is Kittery, one of many shopping outlets in Maine. It’s a hot spot for bargain-hunters, with sports brands such as Adidas and Nike and fashion labels such as Ralph Lauren, Levi, and Tommy Hilfiger. The stores are strung out along a long street, so the car comes in handy.
Our journey continues to Ogunquit, a charming seaside resort, which according to legend was named by Abenaki Native Americans. Ogunquit means ‘beautiful place by the sea’ and there’s certainly no arguing with that. The town is dominated by the long sandy beach that stretches along the coast like a long tongue. For the best view of the beach, walk the Marginal Way, a footpath that meanders from downtown out along the coastal cliffs. Then walk back along Shore Road and stop off at one of the many restaurants or take a look around the stores selling clothing and beach gear. There are plenty of hotels and B&Bs here for those wanting to stay a little longer.
Kennebunkport is another popular upscale summer resort that is best known as the Bush family’s summer retreat (you can see their house from Walker’s Point just outside Kennebunkport). You must stop here to try The Clam Shack’s award-winning lobster roll.
After about a half-hour drive, we make a whistle-stop visit to Old Orchard Beach to take a snap of the much-photographed pier. The pier and the town are a bit like a big amusement park full of souvenirs and gambling machines, but the nearby beaches are long and beautiful and there are plenty of motels if you feel like spending a couple of days on the beach.
We’re now approaching the final destination on our road trip. Portland is the largest city in Maine and has a rich cultural and musical offering and a compact city center that you can easily cover in a day. The old harbor district has been redeveloped and it’s still an active port with boats coming and going. Take a stroll through the streets lined with old brick buildings that now house fantastic stores, galleries, restaurants and bars. And try out the local cuisine, which has earned something of a reputation among foodies. When it’s time to leave, take the highway back and you’ll be in Boston in just over two hours.
Text: Anna-Lena Ahlberg
Photos: Robert Jansen
Published: October 25, 2016