Late summer is the perfect time to sample New England’s scenic and culinary bounty. Lush landscapes with outdoor activities are within an easy day’s drive and a sumptuous meal can be found in tucked away corners around the region. Will you have the scallops with a fire-roasted poblano sauce or smoky tomato salsa? Here are three destinations that will reward travelers looking to savor nature, art, and modern twists to traditional New England fare.
Bar Harbor, Maine
Located more than halfway up the craggy coast of Maine, Mount Desert Island suits an active lifestyle. Known for its magnificent landscape, Maine’s largest island offers opportunities for kayaking, sailing, hiking, biking, fishing, or simply gazing at the sea.
On the eastern side of the island the lively town of Bar Harbor serves as a commercial and social hub, where you can dine well, shop for souvenirs or crafts made by local artisans, or hop on a whale watching vessel.
For innovative cuisine served in a stylish setting, meander down Main Street to Havana Restaurant. The menu, featuring organic meats, produce, and seafood, puts a Maine spin on its Latin-inspired theme with dishes such as lobster in a savory coconut, saffron, and cilantro broth, and porcini-dusted scallops with a smoky tomato salsa.
Vegetarians and carnivores alike flock to Eden, a café serving elegantly prepared and seasonal vegan dishes made with produce from Mount Desert Island farms. Enjoy organic beer, wine, or cocktails while sampling dishes influenced by flavors from around the world, such as North African chickpea tagine and slow roasted Tuscan tempeh.
The western or quiet side of Mount Desert Island is more than worth the drive to discover XYZ, the best authentic Mexican food (not Tex-Mex) in New England. The name stands for Xalapa, Yucatan, and Zacatecas, three regions where the owners spend their winters gathering recipes. Sip a super-strong margarita — no mixes or frozen ones in the house — while dining on tiger shrimp with garlic guajillo chile or chicken in a Oaxacan peanut sauce.
Mount Desert Island is also home Acadia National Park, a 41,000-acre preserve with more than 120 miles of hiking trails. Stop at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center to pick up maps and get advice from park staff on activities like hiking, biking, swimming, and bird watching. If driving is your sport of choice, the Park Loop Road offers stunning views.
Vermont, with its farmers and producers of artisan breads, cheeses, meats, beer, and wine, is a dynamic culinary tourism destination for adventurers of all ages. And Burlington, on the shores of Lake Champlain, offers many opportunities to enjoy the best the state has to offer.
A commitment to local agriculture is strong at Bluebird Tavern, where chefs purchase directly from community purveyors and cook according to the seasons. The menu is traditional New England tavern fare with a modern twist, and a nod to the cuisines of France and Italy such as mussels with beer and orange marmalade and Atlantic cod with English peas.
Another noteworthy place dedicated to serving high quality seasonal ingredients is Pistou. Dine on contemporary American cuisine made using classic and modern French techniques, such as butter poached halibut with peach-almond gazpacho and potato gnocchi with chicken sausage meatballs. Purchase local jams, mustards, and other products in the specialty food store.
To walk off those calories, head to Shelburne Farms, a 1,400-acre working farm and National Historic Landmark located seven miles from Burlington on the shores of Lake Champlain. Hike more than eight miles of walking trails, observe cheesemaking in the historic barn, tour the property and children’s farmyard. Stay for dinner at the inn, a restored 19th-century country home where the menu features seasonally based, fresh ingredients grown in their gardens and on local Vermont farms, as in sunchoke chowder with fennel and wild leeks, and stinging nettle and ricotta gnocchi.
Wine lovers will enjoy the nearby Shelburne Vineyard, a state-of-the-art winery with tasting bar serving customers daily, year round. Don’t miss the ice wine made from Vidal Blanc grapes.
For breakfast and lunch, there is Mirabelle, a chef-owned bakery and café open since 1990. Owner and Alison Lane and her partner Andrew Silva use local products in their pastries, savory breakfast items, lunchtime soups, and paninis. They make everything in house, even the buttery croissants.
North Adams, Mass.
Tucked in the rolling hills of the northern Berkshires, North Adams adds art and culture to a culinary vacation in the great outdoors.
The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art is the largest center for contemporary visual and performing arts in the country. Housed in the former Sprague Electric Co. plant in North Adams, the 13-acre MASS MoCA “campus” includes enormous galleries with changing exhibitions.
This summer features “Oh, Canada,” the largest survey of contemporary Canadian art ever produced outside Canada. Also on view is “Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective.” MASS MoCA’s performing arts schedule includes music, theater, dance, film and video, dance parties, and cabaret.
The museum has a small café, but for creative American fare that focuses on organic, farm-raised meats and locally grown produce, try Gramercy Bistro, a chef-owned restaurant on MASS MoCA’s campus. The menu offers dishes such as seared sea scallops with fire-roasted poblano sauce and chili-rubbed pork chops with mango-citrus salsa. On Main Street, The Hub is a casual place serving tasty and affordable comfort food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Everything is made in-house, including omelets, soups, salads, quesadillas, burgers, and roasted half-chicken.
Fine arts and crafts can be found in nearby galleries. Hudson’s features a salon-type display of local artist works as well as antiques, jewelry, Persian rugs, and collectibles. On Union Street, the Eclipse Mill is a four-story former textile plant that’s home to potters, painters, musicians, and other artists. Its first-floor gallery is open weekends.
For sports enthusiasts, the nearby Mount Greylock has over 70 miles of designated trails for hiking and mountain biking, including an 11.5-mile section of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The summit, at 3,491 feet, is the highest point in Massachusetts and offers eye-popping views of the Berkshires and beyond.