Bethel is a country retreat with abundant outdoor activities, artisan shops, and just the right amount of big-city perks
Tucked in the White Mountains of western Maine, Bethel is a pocket of sophistication and culture. Yet for all the outside influences you’ll find here — multi-cultural cuisine, a major ski resort next door, an international piano festival, and a steady influx of retirees and seasonal residents — Bethel is also a postcard-perfect New England town.
The town’s reputation as a cultural crossroads dates to the mid-19th century, when the railroad introduced rusticators and artists to what was then a farm hamlet. A few decades later, it was nicknamed “the resting place of Harvard University” because of the stressed-out professionals checking in to Dr. John George Gehring’s Bethel Inn for a dose of health-restoring mountain air.
Today, Gould Academy draws scholars from all over the world and hosts cultural events like Music Without Borders. Meanwhile, Sunday River resort entices thousands of visitors to the area to ski, golf, and mountain bike. None of which is to suggest that Bethel possesses a hip, urban vibe — or even aspires to. Here, the pace is slow, the nights are quiet, and a vast, rugged wilderness is just a few minutes’ drive away.
No, it’s not an alien, but it is from outer space. See this meteorite and other cool rocks at the Maine Mineral & Gem Museum. 99 Main St. 207-824-3036.
Built in 1913 as a restorative retreat for people struggling with “nervous disorders,” the Bethel Inn Resort remains good medicine today. Minutes from the mountains and home to a golf course, pool, and spa, it’s a respite from workaday stress. 21 Broad St. 800-654-0125.
Phil McCrillis carves critters in wood with moving parts — and no nails, screws, or other sharp fasteners. Find them at Philbrook Place — and ask McCrillis how he acquired his nickname, Uncle Lumpy. 162 Main St. 207-824-0577.
DiCocoa’s breads, pastries, and bagel sandwiches are almost too pretty to eat. Operative word: almost. 119 Main St. 207-824-6386.
See 18th and 19th-century decorative arts, including Rufus Porter wall murals, in the Bethel Historical Society’s Dr. Moses Mason House. 14 Broad St. 207-824-2908.
Photographs by Harold Stiver
One of just nine covered bridges in Maine, the Sunday River Bridge has been painted and photographed so often that it’s nicknamed the Artist’s Covered Bridge. Sunday River Road, Newry.
Potters Garret and Melody Dalessandro Bonnema take their creative cues from the surrounding mountains and valleys. They make tiles, lamps, dinnerware, vases, and other vessels in both stoneware and porcelain. 146 Main St. 207-824-2821.
Ross Timberlake taught himself how to make Shaker-style furniture by taking apart chairs built by Shaker craftsmen, a multi-day task. His designs are available in maple, walnut, and cherry. S.Timberlake, 158 Mayville Rd. 207-824-6545.
Twenty-odd years ago, Manhattanite John Amman went skiing at Sunday River and liked it so much he bought a condo the next day. Now, he oversees 22 Broad Street, a fine Italian restaurant in a beautifully restored 1848 Greek Revival house facing the town common (try the arancini!). 22 Broad St. 207-824-3496.