The Hartwell House Inn & Conference Center – Ogunquit, Maine, USA

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Have you ever wondered what you would consider to be a great romantic inn in southern Maine? Prior to our recent trip to Ogunquit, I did ask myself this question. What I came up with was that it should be fairly small, as we would want privacy, yet not too much privacy. It ought to be reasonably priced offering good value. I'd like restaurants to be close by, with at least one or two top notch establishments where we could savor delicious Maine lobsters.

I'd prefer the pace to be less hurried so that we could meander about checking out art galleries and craft shops. It would be nice if there were an accessible walking path nearby overlooking rugged, granite rocky cliffs, white long sandy pristine beaches and evergreens rising above birch trees. And as for my artist wife Lily, she wouldn't mind having scenes of salt marshes and pine woods to paint. Most of all, the rooms, service, and ambience must be impeccable.

Did we find such an inn? Yes. We discovered The Hartwell House Inn & Conference Center in Ogunquit. It includes all of the above and more. We even felt it was built solely around our own particular tastes and confidentially, we hoped that no one else would find out about it, although I am sure the innkeepers would not appreciate our keeping it a secret. The Hartwell House is a cozy 16-room inn with a little history and a lot of charm. It is located forty-five minutes from Portland, an hour and half from Boston and five hours from New York City.

The owners, Jim and Trisha Hartwell, first met in Ogunquit where Trisha was a student working during her summer holidays. After they were married, they promised each other that their first investment in property would be in Ogunquit. The Hartwells purchased the first of their buildings, now known as Hartwell I, in the early 1970s. This property was originally a private residence built in the 1950s. It has some distinguishing attributes that were incorporated into it by the former owner.

Upon entering the inn you notice the 200-year-old wide pine plank floors and a governor McClintok fireplace mantelpiece located in the cozy living room. In 1980 the property underwent renovation and was expanded from four bedrooms to seven with two studio apartments. Six years later the building diagonally across the street was purchased where the managers of the property would reside. This was followed shortly thereafter with the addition of four more bedrooms and three large suites, all with private bathrooms and air conditioning. This is now known as Hartwell II. Another property directly across the street from Hartwell I, The Thompson House, was purchased in 1989; it was renovated in 1993 for commercial purposes.

The property was previously owned by Mabel Thomson who died in 1980 at the grand old age of 103. The Thompson's had owned much of the land outside Perkins Cove. The family had lived in the Thompson house since the early 1700's. It was in 1994 that the Hartwell's constructed the Plaza building and the entire complex became known as Thomson Green. At the time the complex was designed, provisions were made for the Hartwell House Executive conference room and function facility, incorporating design characteristics found in both Hartwell House I and II. There is also the SW Swan Bistro that presently is under renovation and should be opening within the next few months.

Recently, the Hartwell's engaged the charming husband and wife team of Todd and Maricela Lettman as their new innkeepers and managers. The Lettman's come from Texas and they have brought an abundance of southern hospitality, energy, enthusiasm and fantastic skills. This was quite in evidence when we had the opportunity to meet them during our stay. They definitely provide the impetus to the relaxed ambience that is so prevalent. Todd has worked as an executive chef or sous chef for Omni, Embassy Suites, La Costa Resort and Spa, Ashton and Hyatt. Maricela has extensive experience as a sales and social catering manager having worked for Embassy Suites and the InterContinental.

If Todd's breakfasts and his "wicked" afternoon cookies served during tea time are any indication of what he will be bringing to the SW Swan Bistro when it opens, you can be assured the place will be hopping. The inn presently is in the midst of expanding its wedding destination. In-house catering services will be offered under Todd's expert supervision – something not done in the past. With the mixture of Todd's vast culinary expertise and Maricela's management and catering skills, you have the makings of a first class wedding destination.

The rooms have a cozy, romantic feel that attracts couples of all ages. Simple but elegant, they are roomy and tastefully furnished – evidence of a designer's touch – with their gorgeous American and European antiques. All are named after famous Americans such as John Quincy Adams, James Monroe Honeymoon, Martin Van Buren, Dolly Madison, Winslow Homer and other familiar historic personalities. There are even two large two-room suites with queen sized beds, separate sitting rooms, even a kitchen area with a standard refrigerator, microwave, sink and coffeemaker.

The luxurious bridal suite is on the second floor of Hartwell II. It comprises a two-level sitting area, with skylights gracing the bathroom and bedroom. Most of the rooms have French doors leading to terraces or balconies that overlook beautiful flower gardens where many a wedding has been hosted. As a special bonus and without bothering with parking problems that sometimes can be a challenge, the Hartwell's guests have easy access to two of Ogunquit's prize venues: Perkins Cove and the Marginal Way footpath. Both are a mere five-minute stroll where the views overlooking the ocean are stunning.

The Abenaki tribe were right on the mark when they named Ogunquit, "beautiful place by the sea." Trendy Perkins Cove is known for its wealth of art galleries, quaint shops and restaurants, as well as its unique foot drawbridge overlooking the small harbor where boats can be seen bobbing in the water. It even has some history attached to it. It was once a thriving art colony in the late 1800's when art teacher, Charles Woodbury from Massachusetts first set his eyes on the cove. It is reported that he proclaimed it to be "an artist's paradise".

It was Woodbury who was instrumental in setting up the Ogunquit Art Association. Many prominent artists of the day, including Hamilton Eastern Field, either visited or worked at the cove making it one of America's most important art colonies. Field is credited with attracting two movements of modern art to the Cove: expressionism and abstraction. He built the Ogunquit School of Painting and Sculpture. Even today, artists swarm to this area to capture the gorgeous beauty of the area.

History of the Marginal Way dates back to 1923 when the town of Ogunquit received it as a gift from Josiah Chase of York. The scenic foot pathway is over a mile in length; snakes along a rocky edge of the cliff overlooking the ocean. As we took our exhilarating morning strolls on the path, we couldn't help mentioning how this was beyond a doubt an incredible site of natural beauty with its snarled bayberry and bittersweet bushes, fragrant pink and whit sea roses, fascinating alcoves providing shade, and benches for those who just want to sit and appreciate nature and observe the powerful energy of the ocean.

If you seek culture, there is plenty available. Nearby is well-known Ogunquit Playhouse, which rightfully promotes itself as "Broadway at the Beach". The playhouse in 2007 was enjoying its 75th Diamond Jubilee. What could have been more delightful than attending a performance of The Full Monty starring Sally Struthers of the famous television show All in the Family, and Adrian Zmed, who is one of the most recognizable faces in the entertainment industry. This is first class entertainment with most of the performers coming from Broadway. The season generally runs from June until early October.

Just minutes away on Shore Road is the Ogunquit Museum of American Art. There is even a system of trolley buses that connects the beaches with restaurants and inns. In every aspect, The Hartwell House, with its beautiful grounds, homey guestrooms, outstanding hospitality, and ideal location may well make your quest for a great romantic southern Maine inn end here – where you will no doubt come away relaxed and renewed-ready to face the world with energy and a smile.

Read more about Norm and Lily Goldman here.

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