Even in an area famed for beautiful landscapes and water views, White Barn Inn & Spa in Kennebunkport trumps its neighbours. Part of the Auberge Resorts Collection, this sprawling estate set on the Kennebunk River includes a landmark main house, a garden inn and several breezy waterfront cottages that all combine homey New England charm with sleek European touches, like dual-side fireplaces and marble bathrooms. In the evenings, the restaurant – set in the Inn’s namesake barn – is a regional destination for its four-course meals that present the best local ingredients in fanciful, globally inspired preparations.
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 4pm.
Double rooms from £499.56 ($609), including tax at 9 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional resort fee of $43.60 per room per night on check-out.
Rates include afternoon tea (served in the living room from 3pm to 4.30pm) and Continental breakfast (served in Bistro from 8am to 10am).
The hotel closes for a few weeks each January.
At the hotel
Spa, DVD library and free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, iPod dock, free bottled water and Molton Brown bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Though they’re a bit of a walk from the main Inn, the cottages near the marina are the most open, contemporary spaces with prime views of the Kennebunk River. Of these, Friendship Cottage has a wood-burning fireplace, a king-size bed and a picture window. Closer to all the action, The Queen Deluxes on the second floor of the main building are ideal for their double-sided gas fireplaces and classic design.
The stone-inset fresh-water pool is surrounded by lush greenery that makes the space feel like a pond in the woods.
The Inn has one of the best spas in the region, with treatments that include facials, hydrating wraps and a massage using Kennebunk River stones. Each of the four treatment suites has its own soaking tub, rainfall shower and fireplace; for al fresco relaxation, the spa has two treatment tents outside near the pool.
Bring your outdoor gear – Kennebunkport is ideal for hikers, swimmers, fishermen and, of course, winter explorers.
You won’t need your car once you arrive: the hotel has a stash of bikes and snow shoes to help exploration-ready guests take in the sights.
Welcome; only over-12s are allowed in the Main House bedrooms, so if you're travelling with young kids book into one of the cottages.
White Barn Inn & Spa is quite green: the restaurant uses local ingredients wherever possible, the cleaning products are eco-friendly and the hotel keeps bicycles on hand to reduce the hotel’s carbon footprint.
The most sought-after seats are those by the enormous picture windows. On summer nights, these tables have excellent views of the flower-filled gardens.
Both ladies and gentlemen should dress date night snazzy.
Set in two renovated barns that date back to the 1820s, the restaurant serves ultra-seasonal, local food, helmed by Derek Bissonnette. The four-course prix fixe menu changes weekly, but dishes often use French techniques and ingredients to showcase coastal Maine's bounty of seafood, meat and produce. There is, of course, always lobster, which could be served steamed in a cognac-coral butter sauce over house-made fettuccine or in a starter of spring rolls with carrot, daikon and snow peas in a sweet-spicy Thai sauce. Request wine pairings from the deep list that showcases French and American bottles. Though the food is some of the best in the region, the large, loft-like space perfectly captures Maine’s relaxed charm with farm tools as decorations, alongside crisp white-linen tablecloths, and an American flag hanging from the rafters. It's essential to book in advance for a table in this renowned eatery. For more casual à la carte dining, the White Barn Bistro serves high-end comfort fare, including New England clam chowder, lobster-topped pizza and braised short ribs.
Set in the entry to the Restaurant, the well-stocked bar may be small, but it’s packed with glittering bottles of top-tier spirits. The house aperitif is an American 75 – a take on the champagne-based French 75 – which gets its effervescence from California sparkling wine.
Breakfast is served from 8am to 10am. In both the restaurant and bistro, dinner is served from 6pm to 9pm, Monday to Thursday; and from 5.30pm to 9pm, Friday to Sunday.
The full restaurant menu and a casual lunch menu are available for delivery from 8am to 9pm.
White Barn Inn & Spa is set in Kennebunkport on Maine’s southern coast, a short walk from the Kennebunk River.
Portland International Jetport is the nearest hub, a 40-minute drive from the hotel. A 90-minute drive from Kennebunk, Boston’s Logan International Airport offers flights to major cities around the world, including London and Los Angeles.
Amtrak’s Downeaster line runs between Boston and Portland. The hotel can arrange a transfer from the train depot.
Tiny Kennebunkport is easily explored on foot or by bicycle, but those looking to explore more of Maine should hire a car. There are plenty of rental kiosks at both the Portland and Boston airports; Kennebunkport is set just off I-95, the main East Coast interstate highway. The hotel has free valet and self parking.
The hotel has more than 200 feet of marina space available for those who arrive by boat. The hotel needs advance notice to reserve a berth for docking mariners.
Worth getting out of bed for
As a reward for its wicked winter, Maine welcomes a spectacularly warm and bright spring and summer, and locals and visitors alike take advantage by spending plenty of time outside. The hotel can arrange paddleboarding lessons, whale watching expeditions (via First Chance Whale Watch), lobstertrapping, deep-sea fishing and horseback riding, or simply set you up with cocktails on shaded sunloungers by the pool.
There are also bicycles on hand for those who want to set off alone to explore the tiny town. A five-minute ride from the hotel, Dock Square is Kennebunkport’s main hub, with coffee shops, art galleries, antique shops and plenty of spots to pick up locally made souvenirs.
Kennebunkport has some of Maine’s best beaches, and the staff will happily pack beach chairs, water, snacks and towels for guests; the hotel has a stash of permits for the more popular nearby beaches. The hotel’s sister property, The Yachtsman Lodge, has canoes and paddleboards available for rental.
On a warm evening, grab a seat on an Adirondack chair on the sloping lawn of Stripers Waterside Restaurant (+1 207 967 2321), which has prime views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Kennebunk River. In typical Maine fashion, the local-focused seafood restaurant has an entire section of its menu devoted to lobster, serving the shellfish in tacos and spring rolls, as sausages, over pasta and simply poached or grilled. A few miles north of White Barn Inn, Earth at Hidden Pond (+1 207 967 6550) serves self-proclaimed ‘farm to fork’ dishes, with many ingredients coming from the two onsite organic gardens, and the pastas, and charcuterie all made in house. The setting is nearly as exceptional as the food: the restaurant’s walls were built from the trees cleared to create the site, and a preserved, lit apple tree hangs from the ceiling as a chandelier. Before heading inside to feast on homemade pizzas or local seafood paella, hang out for a drink by the outdoor bonfire.
'We catch 'em, we cook 'em, we crack 'em, you eat 'em,’ say the staff atNunan’s Lobster Hut(+1 207 967 4362), a tiny, 60-year-old institution near the water. Open from May through October, the Hut serves lobster in four different preparations, along with a few sandwiches and top-notch blueberry pie, preferably with a scoop of ice cream.
‘I’ve got the hotel info. Do you have the map?’ I say, to Mr Smith, stifling giggles. Our destination, White Barn Inn & Spa, a boutique hotel in coastal Kennebunkport, Maine, was a whopping five-minute drive from our house. This was the true definition of staycation and we were ready... sort of. Escaping work during high season and our four-year-old, well, anytime, is always a challenge – even if just to head down the road.
Just past 10pm, we finally rolled up to the stately white gates of the inn. Sneaking by the valet, we parked our conspicuous red VW with Maine license plates, and hoped nobody would out us as locals. Why didn’t I think to pack fake moustaches?
Understanding our obligation to be good sleuths, we opened with a challenging question for the concierge upon check-in. ‘Do you know any spots for a late-night meal?’ I casually asked. We were told that Allison’s and Federal Jacks, two local pubs, were open, but if we’d prefer room service, they would gladly accommodate us.
I had to pinch myself to make sure I was still in sleepy Kennebunkport. Having lived in New York City for years, we still miss the anything-anytime-anywhere convenience of a big city. In our quaint fishing town, 9pm is when things wind-down, and just the possibility of late(ish) dinner – better yet, brought to us – had me welling up.
Keys in hand, we followed the twinkling pathway to our Deluxe Garden Suite where champagne on ice and a fruit platter greeted us. Thank you, romance patrol. Charmingly classic New England – walnut end tables with porcelain lamps, a handsome sleigh bed, a corner fireplace – the crisp, country club-inspired decor reminded Mr Smith of formal jackets-required events with his grandfather.
No dressing up for us tonight, though. Three wait staff promptly delivered our in-room feast, and bubbly popped, we got right to the wafer-thin crust pizza and juicy cheeseburger. The decadent pot of hot chocolate and gooey cookies for dessert signaled that we should forget dining light this weekend.
Waking early, we opened the minty floral drapes to a deeply wooded expanse – not a car or building in site. A quick trip to the front desk by Mr Smith yielded some forgotten essentials, along with a strong cup of coffee nabbed from the inn’s traditional tearoom, continually stocked with tea, coffee and fresh pastries. Wandering over to the sturdy old barn converted into the hotel’s main dining room, we were met with a generous breakfast of croissants, muffins, quiche, cereals and fresh local berries to jumpstart the day.
In experiencing our town anew, my objective was to log as many hours poolside as possible in this territory undiscovered by most locals. Opening the gate to the pool, surrounded by a flagstone patio and accented with natural plantings and wildflowers, was a Secret Garden moment. Protected by a canopy of towering trees, the chirping birds and babble of water cascading over one side of the stone pool wall set the tranquil tone.
We could have stayed forever, but one of our favorite places for a nature walk, St Anthony’s Franciscan Monastery, happened to be directly across the street. Strolling the peaceful wooded pathways out to the salt marsh with wide-open ocean views always soothes the soul, but we truly relished this rare opportunity in our busy season to steal a moment here.
We arrived back at the hotel just in time for tea (3.30pm, daily) and all the trimmings – trays of finger sandwiches, cookies, scones and assorted goodies. Eating for sport rather than hunger, we went in for buttery croissants and squeezed in one more swim to make room for dinner.
Mr Smith has always loathed dressing up, and jokes that his career choice was based upon the fact that he could wear sneakers and jeans. Dining at the inn’s restaurant, a starred spot with an award-winning chef, requires that men wear jackets (ties are optional). Mr Smith compromised by rocking the jacket with black chinos and leather Converse. We headed off to the dining room hoping we were sophisticated enough to be seated.
Set in the historic barn of this former working farm dating back to the Civil War, the dining room is a mix of raw exposed beams and antique farm tools softened by white tablecloths and candlelight. A vintage sign declaring ‘Welcome Wanderers’, is a reminder of the farm’s history of bringing travelers together – a tradition that continues, as witnessed by diners gathered around the piano bar.
In the true spirit of over-indulgence, we opted for the chef's nine-course tasting menu. Starting with the cheese plate, it was one extravagant hit after the next of veal tartare, salmon carpaccio, pork belly, foie gras and beef tenderloin, but the highlight was the butter-poached smoked lobster. Lobster is found on every Kennebunkport menu from steamed to stuffed, to the traditional lobster roll. Mr Smith and I agreed that this dish – smoked, buttery, and melt-in-your-mouth tender – was by far the best we’ve ever had, which is high praise coming from a couple of Mainers.
The next morning, I felt it was my duty as spy to investigate the spa. I chose a relaxing facial that ended with a parting coat of sunscreen. Prepped for another day committed to a sunlounger, I reclined mere minutes away from home but millions of miles away from reality. And, dark sunglasses and disguises be damned, let them discover we were almost neighbors – we had plans for them to see us around a lot more…