Maine Travel Feature — Destination: Freeport

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Another editor's note: A revised version of this story appeared in the November/December issue of maine. magazine. To view the article as it ran, you can purchase the magazine, which is available on newsstands now, or click here to view the online version.

In the early eighteenth century, thousands of Londoners read The Spectator, a daily newspaper of sorts with a fictional cast of characters that exemplified the city’s emerging middle class. Among those characters was Sir Andrew Freeport, “a merchant of great eminence in the City of London. A person of indefatigable industry, strong reason and great experience. His notions of trade are noble and generous.”

As legend has it, that’s where Freeport, Maine, got its name — not bad for a town that earned its reputation and livelihood first from the sea and later, shopping. Freeport seceded from North Yarmouth in 1789 and established itself as a seaport and shipbuilding center. Industry gave way to leisure — a grand hotel and amusement park, neither of which exist today, were built near Casco Bay at the turn of the century. Around the time Leon Leonwood Bean started sewing leather and rubber boots in 1912, leisure gave way to retail.

Today, leisure and retail coexist beautifully — the town is a haven for bargain-seekers from around the world. And while I understand the allure of Coach, Brooks Brothers, Banana Republic and Gap, there’s so much more to Freeport than that. Like galleries, two places to have high tea, a phenomenal wine and cheese shop, great restaurants and an organic community farm overlooking the ocean.

It’s Maine's perfect holiday shopping destination. And it's enough to make Sir Andrew Freeport proud.

Skip out of work early — or skip work entirely — and when you arrive in town, head straight to Jacqueline’s Tea Room. You’ll feel like you’re in a dollhouse as you eat a leisurely four-course lunch prepared by Jacqueline Soley. Choose from 72 varieties of loose-leaf tea, served with scones and Devon cream, finger sandwiches and decadent desserts. Be sure to call ahead to reserve a table.

This is the perfect opportunity to explore the blocks north of L.L. Bean, which get a little less foot traffic than the heart of the village. Discover elegant furniture at Thos. Moser, take in a bit of fine art at The Wonderful Gallery — a new kid in town — and peruse unique, artisan-made jewelry at Earrings and Co., a local favorite.

Where to stay? Depends on what you’re looking for. As Freeport has grown in popularity as a more-than-shopping destination, so have the lodging options. The town is home to charming bed and breakfasts, hotel chains and traditional motor inns. At the gracious Harraseeket Inn, you can stay in style — and get cozy with an in-room fireplace — within walking distance of town. Though it's elegant year-round, the Harraseeket really sparkles during the holidays. Dog lovers and those who prefer Pottery Barn to potpourri and Ralph Lauren linens to antique doilies should check into the pet-friendly Applewood Inn. Across the street is the family-friendly — and cute — James Place Inn.

For dinner, head to Azure Café, where chef Christopher Bassett uses Maine’s best ingredients to prepare flavorful, creative Italian cuisine. Try the Mussels Al Fresco, which taste like summer, or a rich risotto special. The cocktails here are to die for, but Azure Café also has received Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence for four straight years. So sip away — no matter how late you stay, L.L. Bean will still be open, and it's truly a special place in the wee hours.


Regardless of where you stay in Freeport, chances are, breakfast is included, so eat up, because shopping requires serious energy. If you didn’t hit L.L. Bean last night, it’s a must — even more so when Alex Carleton’s signature line debuts in spring 2010 — and so is Bean’s Home Store, which opened in September. Freeport Village Station, an open-air outlet mall, opened in the spring, and it’s home to the L.L. Bean outlet and The Maine Dog, a veterinarian-owned shop that caters to the canine set.

Wander down to Mexicali Blues, a funky import shop, for chunky silver and gemstone jewelry. Looking for something made a little closer to home? Don’t miss the new Sea Bags boutique, home to Maine-made totes crafted from recycled sails. Check out the raincoat canvas bags and slickers at Maine’s own Accessories Unlimited. Browse textiles, jewelry and rocks — yes rocks — at Maine Artisans & Minerals.

For one-of-a-kind gifts, you can't miss at Abacus Gallery or, if you're feeling crafty, stock up on jewelry supplies at Beadin' Path, arguably Maine's best bead store. Head next door for drastically discounted boutique and designer clothing for women — half-price Anthropologie, anyone? — at Co/Op. Designer labels abound at Suite 9B, a tiny shop that specializes in high-end denim, T-shirts and hoodies.

By now, you've worked up an appetite, and while I generally shy away from buffets, the luncheon spread at Harraseeket Inn's Broad Arrow Tavern is an exception. The selection of salads, seafood, meats, cheeses and nibbles changes daily, but one thing is constant: the food, much of which is grown or raised on local farms, is fantastic.

After lunch, hop in your car and follow Route 1 south for another delicious adventure. In town, check out the artisan loaves at When Pigs Fly Bakery, a York-based chain that is truly the upper crust, and Wicked Whoopies, run by Gardiner-based Isamax Snacks. Wilbur's of Maine Chocolate Confections is a sweet tooth’s paradise. Not only can you buy a chocolate L.L. Bean Boot here, you can watch it — or some other sweet treat — being made in the adjacent factory. Simply Divine Brownies recently opened an emporium inside Wilbur’s, and if you try a sample, you’ll go home with a bag full. Across the parking lot from Wilbur’s, you’ll find the small but well-stocked Freeport Cheese & Wine. It’s clear from the selection that owner Eric Fullagar is passionate about what he does, and you’ll be able to stock up on gifts for the foodies on your list.

Keep heading south, just a hair past the turnoff for I-95, and you’ll find Freeport Wine Outlet, which sells closeout wines at discount prices. It’s like a little slice of New Hampshire in Maine. To truly get into the holiday spirit, or spirits, as the case may be, take a tour of Cold River Vodka's distillery, where the award-winning potato vodka is made. That — and a tasting — are just what you need to keep shopping, and there's plenty of that on the south side of Freeport.

Bookworms will love the Freeport Book Shoppe, where you can flip through a leather-bound collection of the complete works of the Bronte sisters, every Stephen King title and many local histories, along with contemporary paperbacks and popular fiction. Annie's Book Stop is another favorite for new and used books. The friendly, knowledgeable staff at Grace Robinson & Co. will have you in stitches — this luxurious little yarn shop is a haven for knitters and needlepointers. And speaking of luxury, the Cuddledown of Maine factory store is stuffed full of it. Well, that and eiderdown. Super-posh bed linens, pajamas and down comforters are all available for far less than retail.

After all this shopping, you and your wallet are probably wiped out. Recharge with a full-bodied shiraz, crab cakes or a martini at Conundrum Wine Bistro. You can't miss it — it's right next to the giant Native American statue that is one of Freeport's most recognizable landmarks. Here, owner Vincent Migliaccio has paired a creative, internationally inspired menu with a mind-boggling selection of wines. Or, if you're craving dinner Southern-style, fill up on ribs, pulled pork, slaw and great cornbread at Buck's Naked BBQ.

If you wake up and your feet are killing you, you need better shoes. If you wake up and your feet aren't killing you, you still need better shoes. And after all this shopping, why not not treat yourself to a new pair of driving mocs at Cole Haan's newly renovated shoetique. The company does call Maine home, and the California Modernist design is as stunning as the footwear. If you didn't manage to cross everyone off your list, there's still time to shop. But at lunchtime, take a break with a goat cheese panini and a glass of sangria at Petrillo's, a tiny bistro run by chef-owner Domenic Petrillo. He trained in France, but his roots are Italian, and you may find a tongue and gorganzola panini on the special board along with pizzas and salads.

Afterward, head down Bow Street toward Wolfe's Neck Farm, a 632-acre community farm that is open every day of the year. Nuzzle a kid goat, feed the sheep, and feel free to take home any free-range eggs you happen to find. The chickens here go where they please and the whole experience is enough to make you go all "Green Acres." Though it's officially closed this time of year, Wolfe's Neck Woods State Park is nearby, and it's a quiet, out-of-the way place for a stroll or an easy snowshoe where Casco Bay meets the Harraseeket River.

It's only a five-minute drive, but it feels worlds away. By the time you're finished wandering around Wolfe's Neck, you'll may just forget all that shopping. Until the credit card bill arrives.

Holiday events in Freeport
visit for a full list of events
Girlfriends getaway, Nov. 13-15, lodging specials, a fashion show, outdoor recreation and classes tailored to women.
Moonlight Madness, starting at midnight Nov. 27, shopping discounts and a celebration.
Sparkle Weekend, Dec. 4-6, parade, lighting contest, art exhibits and sales.


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