Maine is often regarded as a summer destination, but many of the state’s best-kept secrets only come to light in the tranquil splendor of winter. And now that Cliff House is open for the season for the first time in 144 years, your possibilities for a wintry getaway to Maine are endless.
From festivals and local traditions to winter sports in the nearby mountains, here are 10 reasons you should visit Maine this season.
Photo: Maine Restaurant Week
Discover the local flavors of Maine during Maine Restaurant Week, an annual celebration of food in which participating restaurants across the state offer three-course dinners at a fixed price between $25 and $55. From Portland and Kennebunk to eateries up and down the coast, foodies can indulge in elegant wine dinners, seafood boils, and everything in between. The culinary festival, running from March 1 – 12, also features events like Spirit Quest, a self-guided walking tour to some of the best cocktails and small bites in Old Port and the Arts District.
When it comes to winter sports, Maine may be best known for its network of interconnected snowmobiling trails, which span 14,000 miles throughout the state. About 30 minutes from Cliff House near Sanford, you can hop on a snowmobile and head north as far as you like, passing over mountains and through forests and quintessential New England villages. The recreation team at Cliff House can connect you with an instructor or a rental–just remember to give the wildlife the right of way during your excursion.
Snowshoeing is a favorite pastime in many winter destinations, but in coastal Maine, snow actually falls on the beach–a stunning sight when contrasted with the majestic gray-blue waters of the Atlantic. Guests can snowshoe up and down the shoreline and, when ready for a more challenging pursuit, climb Mount Agamenticus just 15 minutes from Cliff House.
Winterkids Welcome to Winter Festival; Photo: sdp photography
During winter in New England, seasonal festivals and celebrations abound. One of the most anticipated is Winterfest Portland, a festive outdoor gathering on January 27 – 28 with ice sculpture demos, a children’s fishing derby, ice skating, horse-drawn carriage rides, food trucks, and fireworks. (For more children’s events, there is also the Winterkids Welcome to Winter Festival in Portland on January 21.) And in Kennebunk, Kennebunk Winterfest on February 4 features figure skating performances alongside fire jugglers and seasonal culinary competitions.
Even as winter arrives in New England, the region’s iconic lobstering boats do not slow down. Guests can enjoy fresh lobster tails and claws at any time of year along with hearty winter fare such as New England clam chowder and lobster mac and cheese. At Cliff House, The Tiller Restaurant’s Executive Chef Rick Shell has been busy crafting seasonal menus featuring butternut squash bisque, cranberry chutney, and other innovative dishes inspired by local ingredients and traditions.
Standing on sweeping coastal bluffs overlooking the Atlantic, Cliff House offers some of the most beautiful scenery in New England—and it only gets better during the winter. Photographers can find stunning Maine landscapes not only at the resort but at the top of the nearby Mount Agamenticus, where the peak has been deforested for 360-degree views of the surrounding country, and along Marginal Way.
Camden Snow Bowl; Photo: Karen Brace
Maine’s beautiful mountain ranges are home to many world-class ski resorts, including Camden Snow Bowl with the only view of the ocean from the summit of a ski mountain in the East. There are also a number of Nordic ski areas that make it possible to explore New England’s backcountry through cross country skiing. The family-friendly Lost Valley, just an hour and a half north of Cliff House, is great for both with 15 downhill trails, a terrain park, and Nordic ski trails.
Photo: Best Brew Tours
The coastal region has a lot to offer when it comes to craft beer, especially during the winter when porters and stouts are in high demand. Experience some of the top local breweries from Portland to Portsmouth with Best Brew Tours, a guided excursion departing from Cliff House. The bus takes guests to a selection of award-winning breweries–and often a distillery too–for tours and generous tastings at each establishment.
Those who wish to explore the region while experiencing a local custom will enjoy the thrill of dog sledding. The recreation team at Cliff House can arrange a guided trip of any length to depart 45 minutes to 1 hour from the resort. And for a fun crossover sport, look no further than skijoring, a new trend that combines dog sledding and cross country skiing with an experienced skier harnessed to one dog.
Sometimes the best way to enjoy the winter ambiance is indoors by a crackling fire. At Cliff House, floor-to-ceiling windows overlook expansive lawns and the Atlantic, while fireside s’mores and seasonal beverages keep guests warm. You can stay cozy in the cheerful ambiance of The Tiller Restaurant, where all winter long you can enjoy a special Chef’s Taste menu for $35+ on weeknights, including three chef-selected courses and a glass of wine from the excellently curated wine list. The resort spa, too, offers panoramic views of the ocean, so you can relax and pamper yourself while taking in the beautiful spectacle of winter in Maine.