Imagine a town straight out of a beach romance novel. Make it a tableau of coastal Maine—shingled cottages and cheery shops; placid boats; friendly restaurants; the handsome weathered look of things. Now stop imagining and pack a bag. The storybook town of Kennebunkport, Maine, is perfectly real—and really perfect.
New Englanders who savor regional riches have loved this place forever. Those in-the-know types also know this: when at leisure in Kennebunkport, have the real experience—stay in nearby Kennebunk. It’s got comfort, elegance, and privacy.
More undiscovered than its neighbor—and only four scenic miles away— the little town of Kennebunk is off the beaten path just enough to contain a rare gem like The White Barn Inn. One of three historic hotels in New England belonging to the Grace Hotels portfolio, White Barn Inn is also a member of the Relais & Châteaux hotel alliance, whose standards are the highest in the world. Add in their Forbes Stars and AAA Diamonds, and The White Barn Inn has earned a reputation for excellence.
Guestrooms and Property
Not surprisingly, everything is perfect as you take the country drive past Rachel Carlson National Wildlife Refuge and pull into White Barn Inn’s tempting space. It’s rustic chic at its best, which owes a great deal to innkeeper Daniel Braun.
The White Barn Inn takes guest experience seriously. As you enter the lobby, live piano gives it a magical lilt. You’d never know it here, but that “magic” doesn’t just happen; it takes a lot of committed professionals who believe in what they do. The White Barn Inn has a long-standing reputation for consummate service.
Lobby life is important. Common areas should reflect local culture and be welcoming. The cozy Living Room salon at White Barn Inn has a fireplace at the heart—which never, ever fails—and comfy colonial decor.
The Junior Suite with down king bed has tasteful walls in floral motifs in a room centered around a fireplace and two cozy chairs. The bathroom is immaculate; a heated granite and marble relaxation chamber with a deep Jacuzzi tub and dual-headed glass shower enclosure. The Main House across the way—over 100 years old and lovingly restored—also has elegant rooms. There are two types of cottages available, overlooking either the woods or the river. They are in constant demand.
The Spa is a modest space with a stellar status, and a cute boutique selling superior products like Airelle skincare and the Moroccan Oil line. The pool area is flawless. A fieldstone patio in a forested setting dotted with cabanas is a clever New England take on poolside indulgence that Miami Beach fans will understand.
The White Barn Inn also has a marina, so if you decide to cruise up the Kennebunk River and set off from there, the staff will happily oblige.
Say the name Derek Bissonnette and whole dinner parties light up. He’s one of the finest young culinary talents in the region, with an assured style that respects tradition. His dining room—two restored barns—is a rustic fantasy. Having recreated the hayloft above and filled it with objet d’farm, guests dine underneath. This cleverness could have been too much, but it’s just right. The tastefully fun décor, astute service, and Bissonnette’s creations combine into virtuosity.
Dark wood walls, nuanced lighting, and a massive window wall decorated seasonally create a charmed ambiance. You’ll want to linger long after dessert.
On a recent evening, Bissonnette, and terrific Sous Chef Gabrielle Cote, began a three-course meal with a signature Lobster Spring Roll with Daikon Radish and Snow Pea in a Thai sauce. That was paired with a very nice Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling. Next came his transcendent Kennebunk Lobster and Fettucine with Cognac Butter Sauce. With the first taste, I literally forgot my own name for a few seconds. Then I sipped the Mont Redon Chateauneuf-du-Pape paired with the dish, and decided names are overrated. Dessert was a delicate mixed berries soufflé with a refreshing Mareuil-sur-Ay champagne. This was a meal to remember.
Lighter fare is served at the The Bistro, which is clubby and fun. The lobster bisque is frothy and rich. The lobster Mac & Cheese topped with absurdly delicious breadcrumbs is a wonderful crunchy fusion. Ideal before a country walk in Maine.
You Can’t Fake Authenticity
Visually, Kennebunk has much in common with seaside towns like Newport, Mystic, and even Nantucket. There’s pretty much everything you want in a coastal New England Village: architectural charm, funky shops, world-class dining, great antiquing—all without too much of a “scene” to ruin the authenticity.
Maine’s rugged shores are a bit wilder then the rest of the region. Surfers here take on the prodigious waves at Gooch’s Beach right in Kennebunk. This whole section of costal Maine, especially nearby towns like Ogunquit, are a holiday maker’s paradise where leisure is the local industry. But you’re more likely to find an Aroma Joe’s coffee shack then a Starbucks. It’s individualistic. All New Englanders have a piece of that DNA (does “Live Free or Die” ring a bell?). In this corner of coastal Maine, you mostly get the “live free” part. The White Barn Inn has taken that idea, and made art.