Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Elsewheres: Wells, Maine

I had a very interesting conversation the other day. On our way back from Maine, my girlfriend and I were chatting about travel and all of the places we would like to visit someday (some days I really hate the word someday). A few minutes passed and a change of CD was in order. We popped in Prospekt’s March by Coldplay, and the first song, “Life in Technicolor ii,” was a rush of travel memory. Dublin, Cork, Athens, New York, and especially London flooded my head to its tinny tune. It’s the soundtrack of landing someplace new – a song that is the first step of an adventure. Hearing it again was like catching up with someone you haven’t seen in a long time (some songs will do that), but it also didn’t fit the moment.

In the best possible way, Wells, Maine, is the exact opposite of an exotic touchdown. Seeing Exit 19 is a homecoming. Second home, third home – however many homes you have – Wells is the next one. You know that phrase on the Maine license plate? “The way life should be.” It’s there for a reason.

consider a kind word or deed
Welcoming you to the town of Wells is arguably Route 1’s finest attraction, Congdon’s Donuts, a shop that has been family-owned since 1945. I’ve been going there for every year of my life. Every year. You’ll see Congdon’s pop up on Route 1 just across from Mile Road, and it represents everything about Wells that makes it a second home. It’s close to the beach, family oriented, busy, and homemade delicious.

An aside: Hand-dipped and freshly made, buttercrunch is undeniably the best doughnut offered. I have not tried a new doughnut at the shop since finding it, at least not without ordering one to go with it. You know, just in case. And in case you are still unconvinced or doubt how strenuously I recommend Congdon’s, you should know that a) I subscribe to their mailing list and b) I was sold on a hotel based on its proximity to the restaurant.


Phew, with the doughnuts done, we can talk about the stay. Just across the street from Congdon’s Donuts is the Garrison, the site of a battle from the French and Indian War and home to the aptly named Garrison Suites. In three words, it is friendly, clean, and affordable. The room was very nice (a mini fridge makes leftovers a possibility) and the service was exceptional.

One of the finer points about the beaches of southern Maine is that they all lie on Route 1, mere miles apart.  Within easy reach of Wells are Kennebunk, Ogunquit, Old Orchard, and more. Ogunquit, in particular, makes for a beautiful day. The beach gets crowded, and parking can be a hassle, but the town offers an awful lot. The beach has full facilities and life guards maintain watch until 5pm, making it a great spot for families. But what’s really great is when 5 o’clock somewhere become 5 o’clock right here.

Ogunquit is a haven of shops, bars, and restaurants. Among the shops you will find anything from the typical Lobster bumper sticker (emblazoned with the unrealistic pronunciation “stickah”) to the selection of distinctive, quirky works by local artisans. Among the bars, you’ll find outdoor pizza places and indoor piano clubs. And when it comes to restaurants, the town has it all. If you can’t find what you’re looking for in Ogunquit proper, stroll down the scenic Marginal Way to Perkins Cove – a photographer’s hot spot with even more restaurants and shops, and a launching pad for fishing, lobstering, and ocean tours.

Oh, I almost forgot. It’s 5 o’clock right here. Head to the new Cornerstone Pizza at Ogunquit’s center K-junction. Put your name on the wait list if you must, but feel free to head straight to the eat-in bar. Pleasingly decorated and pleasantly staffed, the bar has a great selection of drinks (mixed and tap) and offers the full menu. App recommendations for while you wait: gazpacho and Spanish meatballs. If you need to pick only one, get both.

Once your table’s ready, don’t forget that you can do half and half on your pizzas. Which means a half lobster, half pulled pork pizza is do-able. And supremely rewarding. And highly recommended. When you finish your night out, head home to Wells (remember, Wells is the second home you didn’t know you had) and enjoy a hard serve ice cream from the Scoop Deck.


Before you leave your vacation in Wells, make sure you’ve gotten everything out of the beach that you could. Did you walk to the jetty? Did you look for shells and crabs in the rocks? Did you lay out and relax? Did you eat lunch on the beach from Forbe’s Restaurant? Did you fly a kite? Did you actually go into the Atlantic Ocean? Did you get a sun burn from staying out way too long? (This last one is not actually recommended, by the way.)

When you have to leave, it’s absolutely okay to lament every mile that is taking you away. Just remember to make it a tradition and go back next year.

Til next time!

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