If you miss the turning for The White Barn Inn, as we did, you’ll make one of two beautiful discoveries: Beach Avenue and its uninterrupted views of the Atlantic Ocean to the south; or the charming town on Kennebunkport to the north, with its placid dock, iconic colonial weatherboard houses (some on stilts) and lobster restaurants. This is a place that lives up to a tourist’s American dream – visit it in the autumn, when coastal Maine shines with vibrant orange, red and yellow foliage, reflected in tranquil waters.
The White Barn Inn has the same traditional American charm. When we visited in October, there was a mighty display of pumpkins and squashes at the entrance (it took a sculptor nearly four hours to carve a spooky face into one of them), corn husks wrapped around fences and twinkly fairy lights in the trees. It’s split into two buildings, both timber barns painted brilliant blue with white trim – the oldest makes up the reception, restaurant and stately lounge, where guests sip glasses of hot mulled cider in regal armchairs before a log fire.
Rooms are magnificent. Soft whites and greys make for a contemporary country inn feel, with down-topped beds and a separate seating area where you can huddle around your own gas fire – it magically ignites when you flick a secret switch. Bathrooms (made with three different types of marble and granite) are luxurious and come with heated floors, two sinks, a bathtub big enough for four and a separate rain shower. Plus some rooms look out onto a pretty garden scene, with quintessentially New England scenery in the background.
The dining room, where guests also eat breakfast, must be the highlight. Imagine an old, high-ceilinged wooden barn with creaking balcony level, gnarled beams and a shiny oak floor, all dimly lit to exaggerate the romance of an already heady room. There’s plenty to gaze at – grand piano; shimmering gold cocktail bar; a huge American flag that hangs from the rafters; illuminated oil paintings on the walls; and a floor-to-ceiling window at one end that always frames a seasonal display (in our case, mounds of artfully placed squashes, marigolds and pumpkins). Tables are draped in white linen, even at breakfast, and service is hushed and professional.
Food, like everything else at The White Barn Inn, is well crafted and beautiful. Dinner began with an amuse bouche of fresh, clean halibut ceviche on top of a super salty crisp cracker; followed by an intense, creamy lobster bisque with a caramelised aftertaste (attributed by our waiter to the lobster’s natural sweetness). A salad of tiny mozzarella pearls with paper-thin radishes, sweet bran crumbs and a zingy lemon dressing was elegant and uplifting, while a palette cleanser of butternut squash sorbet, served in a glass flower, was stunning – it had such a dense, velvety texture and, in taste, was the very embodiment of that vegetable.
Carrot soup was more complex than the name suggests, with coconutty undertones and a rich, satisfying texture. A main of thick, pearly white hake tasted fresh-off-the-boat and came served with what looked like pillowy popovers (similar to Yorkshire puddings), samphire and homemade pickles. Beef tenderloin cut like butter and came with a side of molten, bubbling rarebit. Dessert, praline opera cake, was almost too pretty to eat – it was accompanied by a shard of tough pumpkin brittle (better licked than chewed), a plump coffee-glazed donut and spicy, milky pumpkin ice cream.
Afterwards, lacking the ability to move, we sat and listened to the pianist with fresh mint teas until midnight. After all, this is the kind of restaurant – and hotel in general – that you really won’t want to leave.
Double rooms from $290 b&b (whitebarninn.com). We flew to Boston with Virgin Atlantic (Virgin Atlantic flies daily from London Heathrow to Boston and is offering return Economy fares from £499 per person including tax. For further information contact virginatlantic.com or call 0844 2092 770). More info: discovernewengland.org