That old Maine magic

Far from the madding summer crowd, Hidden Pond is a sophisticated resort with luxurious accommodations and a superb restaurant.

“How many lions can you put in an empty cage?” went the old schoolkids teaser. “Just one, of course, because, after that, the cage isn’t empty.” I think of this wonderful piece of logic whenever I hear the expression “best-kept secret,” which in the travel trade is a term used so much it has lost all meaning. After all, once a secret is divulged, especially in print or online, it is by definition a secret no more – always supposing it was one worth discovering in the first place.

Five miles away from the hordes of downtown Kennebunkport, Maine, sitting on 60 acres of pristine birch forest, Hidden Pond cannot claim to be a secret, but it is certainly a gem — and the pond remains stubbornly out of view. (Read on.) Opened in 2008 and expanded a few years later, the accommodations comprise two-bedroom cottages and one-bedroom bungalows, as well as 10 new treetop lodges — one of them created by the Boston-based designer, Todd Snyder — which were launched last summer. With each lodge containing a studio and a one-bedroom suite, guests have the option of booking one or both rooms, making them ideal for both couples and families, or even a luxurious retreat for one. Budding novelists requiring peace and quiet, take note.

Hidden Pond is not so much a riff on a traditional Maine camp as a modern reworking of it. One thing Maine is not short of is pine and birch forest, and Hidden Pond has certainly gone to town in the timber department. While essentially an outdoorsy enterprise, the design of the lodges — where branches and twigs play a tremendous part in the overall look — brings the outdoors right in, and the resort celebrates nature while at the same time being cozy and supremely comfortable inside. 

Comfort takes many forms. In the sumptuous treetop lodges, there are screened porches with daybeds; superbly comfortable beds; Frette linens; rich woolen throws and indoor and outdoor showers. And after comfort, come other amenities and bonuses, like floor to ceiling stone fireplaces; brand new, state-of-of-the-art drawer fridges; coffee-makers and tea kettles; and Malin + Goetz bath products. And let’s not forget the homemade whoopie pies the size of flying saucers, which are offered as welcome treats. Even the mild, smoky scent of the accommodations, the natural scent of wood, adds authenticity and reinforces the unmistakable sense of place.

The resort boasts two pools. The family pool at the Main Lodge isn’t huge, but it is well-situated in the center of the resort right next to the main lodge, and it is fun. Little kids can splash around here all day, while their doting parents look on and strike up new friendships. Like everywhere at Hidden Pond, the mood is laidback and family-orientated. Behind the family pool, in the large garden, there’s Ping-Pong along with other games, which keep older kids amused. Everyone seems to be permanently in a good mood.

One of the great pleasures of Hidden Pond, though, is the adults-only Serenity Pool, situated between the resort restaurant, Earth, and the Treetop Spa. Tranquil both by name and nature, this is an absolutely dreamy spot, more redolent of some exclusive and eye-wateringly expensive boutique hotel in Provence than cool, coastal Maine. It is a quiet and private area. Vast amphoras of sweet-smelling petunias between the socially-distanced chaises longues fill the air with a glorious scent, while luxurious beach towels (each one individually-wrapped) are in plentiful supply. With the water a perfect 79 degrees, it is hard to imagine a more relaxed or cosseting setting. A great add-on is the small outdoor bar, which was shuttered last year during Covid but is set to reopen at the start of the upcoming season. Make mine a strawberry daiquiri, will you?

A third swimming option — indeed, the very reason lots of folks head to Maine in the first place — is the beach. Just two miles from Hidden Pond, 3-mile-long Goose Rocks Beach, with is gracious curve and gentle surf, is arguably the loveliest beach in Kennebunkport. The hotel will shuttle you there pretty much on demand, or provide you with a coveted parking permit if you make your own way with your own car. No permit needed if you walk or run, though, or head over on one of the resort’s beach cruiser bikes, which are loaned to guests individually on request for the duration of their stay. 

Then again, you may care for neither the beach nor the pool, nor happen to be remotely outdoorsy, in which case Hidden Pond works just fine, too. Each unit houses a veritable treasure trove of books, so you could happily while away a week or two in your clubby leather armchair in front of the fire, absorbing the classics perhaps or getting stuck into some of the more idiosyncratic tomes (“A Review of Coal Mining in South Wales During World War II” proved a surprisingly riveting read.) If you’re an artist, budding or established, you will find an artists’ hut at your disposal, complete with materials, adjoining the organic farm and kitchen garden, while keen or novice gardeners can “Meet the Gardener” and take an eye-opening hypertufa (potted limestone rock) workshop in Hidden Pond’s utterly charming potting shed.

Covid protocols were already well-established when I was a guest at Hidden Pond last summer, but they have been updated for the new season. While at this point masks still need to be worn around the property and full housekeeping service remains suspended (clean linens and other requisites can be left outside each unit on request,) this year it will be business as usual, barring any unforeseen developments. Regular check-in will resume, the Main Lodge will be open and bar life — in my view so essential a part of any vacay — will return.

Last but not least, the deeply romantic restaurant Earth is open for dinner every evening. I absolutely love this restaurant, with its tables dotted around the pool, near the firepit, in open-sided cabanas and on the terraces overlooking the eponymous — whisper this — hidden pond, the entire area lit by candles at night. Earth is a much more sophisticated proposition than the crab shacks and casual fish houses by the water in downtown Kennebunkport, but be warned: Like Hidden Pond itself, it fills up very quickly. Make reservations well in advance to feast on dishes like Chef Joseph Schafer’s wood-fired carrots or his smoky, deep-flavored leg of lamb.

I promise you this: Whether you stay for a night or a month, or whether you simply come to Hidden Pond for dinner at Earth, That old Maine magic will have you under its spell.

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