On a recent visit to Bethel, we went digging in the mine dumps, in search of a sparkly nugget of rare watermelon tourmaline. Alas, we came up gem-less, but we soon discovered that Bethel itself is a treasure. Winter doesn’t officially begin for a couple of months, but when the mercury starts heading south (wintry weather arrives early in Maine’s western mountains; Sunday River opens before Halloween most years), there’s every cold weather activity imaginable. Even without snow on the ground, visitors will find plenty to do here — indoors and out. As for that tourmaline, we haven’t given up — they’re opening a mineral and gem museum next summer on Main Street, featuring mine tours. We’ll be packing a shovel.
The sprawling yellow Bethel Inn & Resort (21 Broad St., 207-824-2175; www.bethelinn.com; room rates $90-$145) is the classic place to stay in town, homey and warm with wood-burning fireplaces and an old New England appeal. They won our hearts years ago, when they delivered the baby’s warm bottle (in the middle of the night) accompanied by a rosebud. The resort serves up outdoor fun at its doorstep; there’s a Nordic ski center and an ice rink on property. The circa 1873 Sudbury Inn B&B (151 Main St., 207-824-2174; www.thesudburyinn.com; room rates $119-$159) is another good choice, with the added enticement of the Suds Pub on site, a local hangout with tasty pub grub (Thursday is Hoot Night, a.k.a. open mike night). There’s a more upscale dining room upstairs.
Chef-owned Roosters Roadhouse
(159 Mayville Road, 207-824-0309; www.roostersroadhouse.com; entrees $7.95-$24.95), a local favorite, is casual and affordable. Clam chowder and pizza are popular choices here. If you really want to treat yourself, head to 22 Broad Street, at the Gideon Hastings House (22 Broad St., 207-824-3497; www.22broad
street.com, most entrees $14-$30), a snug Italian restaurant and martini bar (22 varieties of martinis!) located across from the town common. Snag a table by the fire and tuck into homemade pasta dishes, fish, veal, and steaks. The Studio Bistro and Bar at the Mill Hill Inn (24 Mill Hill Road, 207-824-3241; www.millhill
inn.com, small plates $4.75-$14) is a fun spot for après-ski noshing, thanks to its menu of tapas. Shareable options include the black bean and sweet potato quesadilla, and fresh asparagus wrapped in prosciutto with lemon-caper sauce (each $8). And if you’re in grab-and-go mode, you’ll appreciate the Good Food Store (Route 2, 800-879-8926; www.goodfoodbethel
.com), a gourmet grocer that offers everything from Italian subs with hot relish to fabulous soups. Also check out the orange Smokin’ Good BBQ trailer, parked next door.
DURING THE DAY
With or without snow, options abound. For starters, take a self-guided tour of Bethel’s historic buildings. Download a guide (in PDF form) from the Bethel Historical Society (www.bethel
historical.org) and check out 39 sites, spanning a period from 1774 to the 1920s. Points of interest include the circa 1896 Gehring Clinic House, once a nationally known center for the treatment of nervous disorders. If your slogan is “I’d rather be fishing,” head to the Upper Androscoggin River and try your luck with the trout (catch-and-release only from mid-August through November); for a license and access points, visit Bethel Outdoor Adventure (121 Mayville Road,
adventure.com). When the snow does fall, Sunday River Resort (15 South Ridge Road, Newry, 800-543-2754; www.sundayriver.com) offers 132 ski trails spread over eight mountain peaks, plus five terrain parks. And non-skiers take note: The zip-lining craze has hit Sunday River: Race against a friend on the 750-foot twin zip, or take a three-hour tour of six zip-lines, flying through the woods at speeds up to 25 mph. The Bethel Nordic Center (21 Broad St., 207-824-6276; www.caribourecreation.com) at the Bethel Inn offers over 20 miles of cross-country ski trails, plus 5 miles of snowshoe trails — and, you can bring your dog. The Bethel Inn will also hook you up with New England Dogsledding (207-826-2703; www.newenglanddogsledding.com) for a ride through the snowy countryside, led by a team of Alaskan huskies. Shopping-wise, there’s Maine Line Products (297 Main St., Greenwood, 207-875-2522; www.mainelineproducts
.com), featuring must-haves like the Woodsman’s Weather Stick and chocolate moose pops. And don’t miss Mt. Mann Jewelers (57 Main St., 207-824-3030; www.mtmann.com), where every piece was mined, cut, designed, and set by the owner. There’s also a tiny gem museum, so you can sneak a peek at those pink-and-green “watermelon” tourmalines.
Funky Red Barn Restaurant & Nightclub (19 Summer St., 207-824-3003; www.funkyredbarn.com) claims to “put the FUN in FUNKY,” thanks to a parquet dance floor (dancing Friday and Saturday nights with a DJ or live band), laser lights, pool tables, and a big screen TV. At Sunday River Resort, the Matterhorn offers live music in a roadhouse atmosphere. The Foggy Goggle, at the resort’s South Ridge base lodge, is the setting for the Bud Light Music Series every weekend. Sunday River Brewing Co. (29 Sunday River Road, 207-824-4253; www.
sundayriverbrewpub.com) is another favorite, featuring its own microbrews. Is it just us or does the Black Bear porter — “opaque, black, full-bodied, malty, hoppy, with thick roasted-coffee overtones” — sound like a dandy November beverage?