A road trip up to Mount Desert Island (M.D.I.) is an essential part of any summer visit to Maine, as the massive island is home to a range of quintessential must-see’s: Acadia National Park, the only national park in the northeast; the charming town of Bar Harbor; Cadillac Mountain, the tallest seaside mountain on the eastern seaboard north of Rio de Janeiro; Somes Sound, the only fjord on the east coast; as well as all the usual Maine attractions, namely, lobster, ice cream, and whoopie pies. When you’re here, it’s easy to understand why this has been a popular summer destination since the 1870s.
M.D.I.’s appeal is the proximity of history and nature everywhere you turn. But as can often be the case with historic destinations (and even locals would admit this) the hotel scene on M.D.I. has been a bit lacking. Until recently, there was no greater symbol of this than The Claremont. Located on the island’s town of Southwest Harbor, the 137-year-old grand hotel harkened back to the earlier days of Maine tourism, when elite Bostonians and New Yorkers would travel here to take advantage of the fresh air and ocean breezes. The property, known for its bucolic croquet greens, waterfront boathouse bar, and for occupying a prime piece of real estate overlooking Somes Sound, had, by any measure, seen better days.
Thanks to Maine hospitality entrepreneur Tim Harrington, however, The Claremont is getting a fresh start. Having acquired the hotel last August, Harrington worked diligently through the winter to get the property up and running in time for Memorial Day of this year. “We did a year and a half of work in seven months.” says Harrington. “It was intense. Over Memorial Day the paint was still wet and we were still running rugs in.”
The renovated rooms carry the signature colorful character of Harrington’s other hotels (he is a founding partner of the Kennebunk Resort Collection down the Maine coast), with lots of greens, pinks, and colorful print-on-print wallpapers. The building, which was historically painted yellow, is now a brilliant shade of white, which stands out marvelously from the surrounding trees and up against the water views. A number of cottages and freestanding multi-bedroom houses make this a compelling option for larger groups and multigenerational travelers.
Food and beverage is a highlight for the new property. The 70-seat Little Fern offers remixed Maine classics with farm-fresh ingredients — the truffled pasta with raclette cheese, fiddlehead cream and truffle oil is to die for — and Harrington plans to build a garden which will support the kitchen as possible. Down from the hotel on the waterfront sits the new Batson Fish Camp, a welcoming space offering small bites as well as beer and spirits from Batson River Distilling, another of Harrington’s ventures located in Kennebunkport. And for an evening nightcap, all roads lead to Harry’s, an intimate space tucked away from the main lobby filled with vintage paintings, shelves of classic books, and antique decor that Harrington and his team personally sourced from local antiques shops. Claremont 2.0 offers plenty of places to indulge and imbibe. As Harrington puts it, “If you walk more than 12 feet and can’t get a drink, we haven’t done our job.”
The most significant update to the hotel is found outdoors, where the hotel’s two iconic croquet greens have long overlooked the water and been an iconic meeting point for hotel guests and locals alike. Harrington kept one croquet green and installed a swimming pool on top of the other — a fair compromise that even the saltiest Mainers can probably get behind.
“People were very worried that we’d get rid of the croquet,” says Harrington. “Trust me, there will always be croquet — and cocktails — at The Claremont.”