Get the most out of life in Northern New England and beyond with this curated collection of places to go and things to see.
Mural mania in Montreal
By Diane Bair and Pamela Wright
Fabulous food (bagels! poutine!), wonderful museums, stunning architecture, and lively nightlife are several reasons why Montreal rules those “best cities” lists. As for local color, think street art. Canada’s second-largest city claims 1,500 to 2,000 eye-popping murals, including one that’s 17 stories tall and 2 devoted to native-born singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. Top that, NYC!
Artists from around the world will paint the town red (and every other color of the rainbow) at the 11th annual Mural Festival from June 8 to 18. One of North America’s largest mural festivals, this mostly free event attracts more than 50 visual artists (last year’s lineup included Shepard Fairey and Burnt Toast). The heart of the action, Saint-Laurent Boulevard (a.k.a. The Main) transforms into a vibrant, car-free zone of art, music, dining, and pop-up shops. Says Pierre-Alain Benoît, the festival’s general manager, “Murals can be a catalyst for positivity.”
Pedaling with a purpose
You’ll put an especially rewarding spin on a bicycle ride through Maine’s countryside when you join nearly 1,000 other bikers on the Trek Across Maine on Father’s Day weekend, June 16–18. The 3-day, 180-mile ride loops from the Midcoast, up through picturesque inland towns, and back to the coast. It’s divided into 3 approximately 60-mile legs, with 2 overnight stops: Cyclists fuel up on an epic baked-potato bar at Bates College in Lewiston, and can enjoy lawn games, music, and snacks at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish.
Since its inception in 1985, the American Lung Association’s largest annual fundraiser has brought in more than $30 million, and organizers hope to raise another $1 million this year. Requiring more than 600 volunteers, the event has drawn bikers from 28 states and from as far away as Switzerland.
Debbi White of Winthrop, Maine, has completed a dozen Treks. “It’s such an important cause,” she says. “And I love the camaraderie. The volunteers are so supportive, there are people all along the way cheering us on, and the scenery is beautiful.” Visit the American Lung Association's website for details on registration, a virtual option, fundraising requirements, and volunteer opportunities.
A culinary cache
Rabelais has one of the country’s largest collections of rare and out-of-print cookbooks for sale, along with uncommon manuscripts, menus, photos, and other culinary ephemera.
Recommended by Bon Appétit magazine and included in the 2020 Saveur 100, it’s often the go-to spot when institutions like the New York Public Library or Harvard University are looking to beef up their own collections.
But you don’t have to be an academic or a food-obsessed bibliophile to enjoy a visit to this distinctive, independent antiquarian bookstore. Located in the brick North Dam Mill building in downtown Biddeford, the jam-packed store stocks everything from hard-to-find classic cookbooks to volumes on historical farming, wine and spirits, wild foods and foraging, and food history.
Don Lindgren, who founded the store with Samantha Hoyt in 2006, is usually at his desk, searching through materials for the undiscovered or the overlooked. “Finding those books is always a joy,” he says. Happy hunting to you, too. Visit their website to make an appointment.
By Nick Rufca
When you take yourself out to the ball game, consider making a full night of it with a convenient stay at the cozy Hotel Commonwealth, celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2023. North of the Green Monster across the Massachusetts Turnpike, the hotel is only a 5-minute walk from Fenway Park. Its Kenmore Square location is also close to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum; and the Public Garden. Neighborhood dining options just down the street include Tsuro Ton Tan, a multilevel noodle shop, and Blue Ribbon Sushi.
During baseball season, the Family of Fans package ($1,399) features an overnight stay in a 2-bed room whose decor mixes book-lined shelves and Boston-themed art with just the right amount of Red Sox memorabilia. The package also includes 4 Pavilion-level game tickets, hotel parking, and a welcome basket filled with baseball-themed treats. Room rates start at $499.
By Al Bonowitz
Several reviews of books about Boston have appeared in this space. What sets Cameron Sperance’s Moon 52 Things to Do in Boston (Avalon Travel, 2022, $19.99) apart is that most of its chapters are lists, so 52 is somewhat of a misnomer. Chapter 30, “Stroll on the Esplanade,” for example, posits riding along a bike path, visiting a playground, and perusing books at the Boston Public Library or an independent bookseller.
The book is essentially a real-life Choose Your Own Adventure, since each chapter concludes with several nearby options for what to do next. Themes include arts and culture, neighborhoods, dining, and the outdoors.
Some chapters also delve into things to do outside of Boston. Most of those are in other parts of Massachusetts, but places such as Portsmouth and Portland are also included.
By Mimi Bigelow Steadman
Springtime means strawberries, and everyone knows that means strawberry shortcake. But don’t stop there: The season’s most delectable fruit can be transformed into a bevy of other confections, too. Pull up a plate at these Northern New England eateries to enjoy some of the best.
Bentley’s Bakery and Café, Vermont
“It’s hard to keep the strawberry mousse tarts in the case,” says Tarah Fontaine, who owns this busy breakfast-and-lunch café in Danville. The reason for their popularity is clear: Imagine a crushed-Oreo crust that’s lined with ganache and filled with fresh strawberry mousse. It’s then crowned with cut-up strawberries and other fresh fruit, plus a drizzle of chocolate.
Fontaine makes other seasonal strawberry tarts as well, including one with a creamy cheesecake layer beneath a streusel-topped cooked strawberry filling. She adapted the filling from a recipe she often prepared while working at the Biltmore in North Carolina. Many of Fontaine’s current customers cap off their meals with one of her irresistible creations; others leave with a box full of baked goods to enjoy later. Closed Sundays.
Helen’s Restaurant, Maine
The fresh strawberry pie at this Machias spot has been drawing customers for decades. “It’s a happy, feel-good pie,” says owner Julie Barker, describing the flaky bottom crust piled with uncooked strawberries tossed in a little bit of “gel”—a thick simple syrup—and slathered with an inch of extra-heavy whipped cream.
The bakers come in at 4 a.m., make the first 6 pies, and leave behind plenty of unfilled shells. “We’re constantly assembling pies all day long,” Barker says. “Sometimes the hosts and cashier wash up and help, too.” Diners who are avoiding gluten can order a serving minus the crust, “so they can sort of have the experience,” Barker adds. She also sells whole pies to go. Closed Sundays and Mondays.
The Sweet Spot Bakery and Café, New Hampshire
In Weare, owner Jackie Shima-O’Dowd features chocolate doughnuts on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, plus a special flavor that changes often. In warmer months, customers rave about her vanilla cake doughnuts made with sour cream, loaded with fresh strawberry chunks, and dipped in cold-pressed orange oil and caster sugar. The sour cream makes the doughnuts moist and flavorful, she explains, and the caster sugar adds a little sparkle.
“These doughnuts were a happy accident,” she says. “I’m always looking for new flavor pairings. The orange and strawberry just go so well together.” Shima-O’Dowd bakes a variety of other strawberry treats, too, including muffins, coffee cakes, galettes, and scones. “I throw strawberries into all kinds of things,” she says. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
For more places to go and things to see in Northern New England, check out our editor-curated list of the best fairs, festivals, events, and more.
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