Bob McCabe scratches his head and ponders my question: If an ostentatious, orange supercar was a fish, what would it be? The farmer had just screeched to a halt after spotting my unapologetically loud McLaren at a gas station in Maine.
Running a hand along the grand tourer’s svelte bodywork, he finally has an answer. “It’s the blueback trout. That fish only exists in a dozen or so lakes in Maine—the one place you’ll find them in the U.S. The blueback has brilliant orange spawning colors and is darn hard to hook.”
He’s probably right. Any supercar is a rare fish here in northern New England. One painted in McLaren’s trademark orange livery is destined to attract more attention than the most vibrant fisherman’s fly.
The 612-horsepower two-seater is also a difficult catch—not that there’s much chance to put a 4.0-liter V-8 to good use on Maine’s busy routes in August. Passing roadside blueberry stands and lobster shacks, I’m followed everywhere by a shoal of sedans, with cell phones pressed to the windshield.
A $215,000 McLaren affords celebrity status, but where my journey started a few days earlier, in Boston, Bob’s pickup would definitely have been more suitable transport. Squeezing through the cobbled backstreets of landmark Beacon Hill, I find the narrow roads scarred with potholes that likely date back to the Founding Fathers.
It’s a relief to off-load the car with a valet at The Whitney Hotel, parked at one end of trendy Charles Street. The imposing, red-brick building was built in 1909 as part of Massachusetts Eye and Ear and named after local industrialist Henry Melville Whitney.
A chic interior was recently created during an exacting renovation, with some of the plush bedrooms offering views across the Charles River. There’s time for a quick cocktail at the hotel’s light and airy Peregrine restaurant—the bartender mixes a perfect old-fashioned—before heading out on foot to discover a bright, bustling city.
For a hint of how the geography of the coast may have looked to homesick British settlers in 1630, view the shore from a kayak. My guide explains the city’s key locations as we paddle and talk beside a rejuvenated and sun-soaked esplanade area.
Near downtown—a mix of modern skyscrapers and 19th-century beaux arts buildings—is the Boston waterfront. This is the starting point for countless city walking tours and home to the excellent New England Aquarium. As Bob later predicted, not a blueback trout in sight.
After a morning of slow-paced exploration, I visit Boston’s Barking Crab restaurant at the gateway to the old seaport. No reservations here, so I join a cheery lunch crowd waiting to enjoy boiled lobster and fried clams, served with a roll of paper towels as a napkin. It’s gloriously messy, and just a stone’s throw from the Tea Party Ships & Museum.
For evening dining, I recommend two Italian gems. SRV is an award-winning Venetian eatery and wine bar, on a swank section of Columbus Avenue. Vibrant and modern, the restaurant serves small plates of duck, trout crudo and oyster salad with flamboyant panache. For more traditional fare, Mamma Maria, in North Square, is an old townhouse with five intimate dining rooms and mouthwatering, slow-cooked Tuscan rabbit on the menu.
The following day I head north on U.S. Route 1, which passes through dense forests, seaside hot-spots and pretty lakes before it disappears at the Canadian border. The McLaren is barely breaking a sweat as I cross the state line into New Hampshire, stopping for lunch in elegant Portsmouth, at the mouth of the fast-flowing Piscataqua River. Tree-lined streets invite both weekenders from Boston and travelers like me—the latter intent on enjoying a cooling fresh lemon sorbet at Annabelle’s.
The auto’s satnav is now zoomed in on coastal Maine and the upmarket resorts of the Kennebunks. Kennebunkport is one of the oldest settled towns in the U.S., full of prime real estate. The Bush family has been vacationing here for years, with George H.W. Bush once welcoming Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev to his Walker’s Point estate.
Perched on the edge of the Atlantic, the property remains heavily guarded by the Secret Service; I’m told President George W. Bush is in residence today. One of the best ways to edge a little closer is by boat. Rugosa Lobster Tours offers a hugely popular 1.25-hour sail that also allows passengers the chance to get up close with Maine’s tastiest seafood.
My lunchtime boat trip has put me in the mood to visit Via Sophia by the Sea, a modern restaurant in Kennebunk that’s popular with locals and tourists alike—try the frutti di mare platter for a taste of everything. If that’s busy, you can buy a lobster roll almost anywhere.
Perhaps a more relaxing way to take in the sea is from the veranda of a bungalow at the Cape Arundel Inn & Resort, whose luxurious, king-bedded rooms boast splendid vistas. Just the sound of the waves is enough to lull me to sleep, after a dinner of Maine bluefin tuna in the hotel’s Ocean Restaurant.
The following day, my final, four-hour drive north is to Bar Harbor, a salty sea town on the edge of the spectacular Acadia National Park. It’s one of America’s favorite recreation areas, and for good reason—no wonder the streets are packed with onlookers as I edge the McLaren into an especially tight parking space.
I escape the crowds at out-of-town Salt Cottages, with sweet, old-style wooden bungalows. Acadia is right on the doorstep, with plenty of family facilities on-site.
I don’t have time to see the vast, wooded interior that provides a spectacular autumnal show of leaf colors, or the key towns of Portland, Augusta and Bangor. But I do have some friends from Europe who arrived here in Bar Harbor in 2002 and never left.
They tell me Maine’s unofficial motto is “the way life should be.” I’m starting to understand why I haven’t seen them for 20 years.