Christmas on Casco Bay
With its fishing wharves, ferry terminal, and cobblestone streets on the shore of Casco Bay, Portland's Old Port is one of the toniest shopping destinations in Maine. With art galleries, antiques dealers, and gift stores galore, it's easy to spend a day walking the streets, warming up in a sidewalk café, and enjoying an art exhibit or holiday show. Best of all, it is just fifteen minutes south of Freeport, which means you can toy around town before heading to the popular outlet mecca.
On Portland's working waterfront, Foundry Lane, 215 Commercial Street (207-773-2722), is a contemporary craft store, featuring the work of more than twenty local potters, jewelers, and fabric and glass artists. Pick an iridescent, hand-crocheted, glass-beaded bracelet, $42, for your sweetheart. Or select a stained-glass window ornament fashioned from an antique inkbottle, $86, for a fanciful friend.
Dog lovers of all ages will enjoy browsing in the newly opened Agatha & Louise, 399 Fore Street (207-879-7297). This distinctive store for dog owners offers fine gifts from plush Labs and Scotties to pull toys, hood ornaments, and hand-hooked rugs. To commemorate mom or dad's favorite pooch, personalize a painted wood frame with brass or sterling charms of your favorite breed and have it engraved with a name plate, from $60. (Allow two weeks for completion.)
Mark off a gift for a friend when you let him or her mark off the days on the Sixth Annual Bachelor Lobstermen of Maine calendar, $14.95. Both the men's and women's edition of the official calendar of the Maine Lobsterman's Association are in stock at Something's Fishy, 32 Exchange Street (207-774-7726), a fully-loaded T-shirt shop that sells everything from Maine shot glasses to local sports gadgets and gear.
Treehouse Toys, 47 Exchange Street (207-775-6133), offers a fanciful collection of books, toys, and games. Kids of all ages will enjoy putting together the 1,000-piece Vacationland Puzzle, $10.95, while piecing together their understanding of Maine geography. This fully-reproduced state map includes Maine lakes, rivers, islands, mountains, and roads along with illustrations of moose, deer, and other wildlife. For mom and dad, Jane Petrlik Smolik's In and Out of Portland with Children, 300 Ideas from Kittery to Camden, $14.95, is a gift guaranteed to keep them coming back.
Look forward to spring at Maine's largest pottery cooperative, the Maine Potters Market, 376 Fore Street (207-774-1633), where you'll find a selection of Japanese-inspired garden lanterns, $175 and up, for gardening grandparents. The cut-out moons and stars on these freestanding pagodas allow candlelight to pass through on summer evenings and would warm any room in winter. If it's a dad's heart you want to warm, choose from among a limited supply of miniature stoneware maple syrup jugs, $38, from Morrill Bros. and Cedar Mountain Potters. Each jug comes filled with enough syrup for four servings and is sealed with wax.
Sheepscot River Pottery, 367 Fore Street (207-773-9550), offers a selection of shell-shaped dinnerware for mom, including a three-dimensional, clam-shaped, oven-safe serving dish, $194, with a glazed interior, rough, shell-like exterior, and attached barnacles, seaweed, and a sea star. Or delight dad with a whimsical wooden, lobster-shaped, wine holder, $39.50, which balances the bottle through the neck of a standing, leaning lobster.
D. Cole Jewelers, 10 Exchange Street (207-772-5119), makes buying for dad or granddad easy with its Maine-inspired lighthouse and sailboat tie tacks, from $69, and money clips, from $79. With inlaid lapis, onyx, mother-of-pearl, and other semi-precious stones, the pieces are set in sterling silver. Or, for a sweetheart, design an original bracelet, $19 for silver or up to $598 for 14 karat gold, with charms, $15 and up, from among Pandora's elegant collection of contemporary beads, which thread onto a cable and close with a clasp.
Keep family and friends cozy with a traditional knit wool sweater, $200 and up, from Simply Scandanavian, 75 Market Street and 99 Exchange Street (877-874-6759). Imported from Norway, these wool, cotton, or silk blended sweaters are collector's pieces. New this year are contemporary styles commemorating the 2006 Winter Olympics. For kids, keep hands and heads comfy in colorful knit wool mittens, $50, and ski hats, $60. The shop, which is so large it has two separate storefronts, also stocks a full selection of Scandinavian Christmas gifts, books, foods, cards, and keepsakes.
Part gallery, part upscale gift store, Oyster, 2 Free Street (207-253-8008), makes gift buying easy with its hand-loomed, four-season, cotton throws, $150, and blankets, $210, for mom and dad. These heirloom pieces by Brahms of Hallowell are individually woven on antique shuttle looms. Or keep granny's toes toasty with a pair of needlepointed lobster bedroom slippers, $98.
As you leave Portland's high-rise buildings behind and head up Route 1 toward Freeport, DeLorme, 2 DeLorme Drive, Yarmouth (800-642-0970), offers one of the most unusual sights in Maine: Eartha, the world's largest rotating globe. The thirty-one-foot diameter globe is not for sale, but inside the Map Store at this world-class mapmakers showroom you'll find a collection of travel-oriented gifts from T-shirts and nautical charts to books, prints, and DVDs. The new, completely laminated, Maine Atlas write-on/wipe-off edition, $59, will keep dad driving in the right direction. Or for grandparents, the domed glass Magnabrite light gathering magnifier, $39.95, will make finding the way even easier.
Wilbur's of Maine, 32 Independence Drive, Freeport (207-865-4071), makes shopping for your sweetheart even sweeter when you step through the front door of this farmhouse-turned-candy shop. Watch candy being made through the large glass wall while you browse behind the coffee counter. Take home a ribbon wrapped, one-pound chocolate moose, lobster, or lighthouse, $12.95. Or put together a gift basket for grandparents with Maine syrups, maple sugar candies, jellies, and treats, from a dollar and up. Be sure to check out the small café's chocolate fountain, where you can hand-dip your own treats.
Contemporary art lovers with a sense of whimsy will find plenty to choose from at Abacus, 36 Main Street, Freeport (207-865-6620), where kids will get a kick with out-of-this-world nightlights, $48. Choose from among a rocket with an illuminated, red flickering tail, a UFO piloted by shadow-cast aliens, robots with red glowing eyes, and other zany creatures. The well-known gallery showcases the work of contemporary craftspeople from across the country and offers a wide selection of jewelry, pottery, and furnishings — including decoupage glassware and tableware made in Maine.
Lovell Designs, 45 Main Street, Freeport (800-533-9685), is well-known for its selection of pewter Christmas ornaments and jewelry. New for Christmas and a friend is the Mountain Migration oval ornament, $19, with a flock of geese soaring over snow-capped mountains. Or muse over a collection of seventeenth-century compasses, such as the delicate French Rose, $35, for mom.
No trip to Freeport would be complete without paying homage to the store that started it all, L.L. Bean, 95 Main Street (800-341-4341). Begun as a boot factory in 1912, the outdoor outfitter is now recognized around the world for its guns, gear, and clothing. On the flagship store's third floor, you'll also find a huge gift selection with fine foods, kitchenware, linens, furniture, Christmas decorations, books, and a small café. Grandma will thank you when you roll up a Waterhog floor mat, from $39. A store exclusive, these decorative polypropylene mats in traditional colors and weaves are guaranteed to keep the outdoors out of doors. For an additional $39, give grandad a cast-iron black Lab or Maine bear boot brush to go with it.
Sherman's Books & Stationary, 128 Main Street, Freeport (207-869-9000), has been bringing great books to Maine since 1886. One of the latest is The White Barn Inn Cookbook, $35, which features four seasons of photographs and recipes from the famed White Barn Inn in Kennebunkport [see "Where to Eat," page C9]. With recipes by world-acclaimed chef Jonathan Cartwright, this gift will have a friend feasting on pheasant chestnut soup and ravioli in butternut sauce.
One of the best-known names in Maine pottery, Edgecomb Potters, 8 School Street, Freeport (207-865-1705), offers one of the finest selections of crystal-glazed porcelain, fine jewelry, and decorative glass around. Best of all, the Freeport location carries a large selection of seconds. The eight-inch, scalloped shaped shell bowl, $32, with a watery blue, amber, or white glaze makes a great gift for grandparents. Or select a square, wavy-edged candy dish, $22, for a friend. To look at it is so sweet, filling it is optional.
Where to eat
For a quick and delicious breakfast, lunch, or dinner, O'Naturals, 83 Exchange Street, Portland (207-321-2050), offers a wholesome menu of natural and organic baked goods, drinks, sandwiches, soups, salads, and Asian noodles. With full meals starting at around $5, you can eat here at a café table or take it to go.
On the waterfront at Hobson's Wharf, Becky's Diner, 390 Commercial Street, Portland (207-773-7070), is the real deal for fresh seafood, steaming chowder, and home cooking. Open at 4 a.m. so that the fishermen can fill up before they head out, it's also one of the earliest breakfast spots around. Dinners start at $7.95.
Street and Co., 33 Wharf Street, Portland (207-775-0887), is well regarded as an intimate Mediterranean-styled bistro with some of the best seafood in the country, from $14.95. Tucked in a back-alley of the Old Port, the interior is warm and relaxed with brick walls, close-set copper tables, and a delicious dinner menu. Call ahead for reservations.
Where to stay
In the heart of the Old Port, the Portland Harbor Hotel, 468 Fore Street, (888-798-9090), is the newest hotel in the city. Rooms, from $189, offer commanding views of Casco Bay and the surrounding city along with custom furnishings, Jacuzzi suites, full-service dining at Eve's, and a fitness center.
The Nicholson Inn, 25 Main Street, Freeport (207-865-6404), is right on the beaten path and within easy walking distance of everything. This impressive Federal-style house with its black shutters and white picket fence has just three guest rooms, each comfortably appointed with country decorating and antiques. It also serves gourmet breakfasts, from $110.
Also near the center of town, the Harrasseeket Inn, 162 Main Street, (207-865-9377), is one of the area's finest. Started in an 1850 Greek Revival house, this luxurious country inn is just two blocks north of L.L. Bean. It offers eighty-four rooms, some with fireplaces, Jacuzzis, and steam baths. The inn is also well-known for its fine dining and elaborate Sunday brunch. Public rooms include the ballroom, library, and drawing room, where afternoon tea is served near a roaring fireplace. Rates begin at $119.