White Water, High Culture It Must Be Blue Hill

Outside the coastal village of Blue Hill, Me., an old stone bridge

divides the Atlantic Ocean from the Bagaduce River. As a teenager, I used to step over the beam spanning the bridge's side, maneuver onto a narrow ledge, and dangle over the water 15 feet below. When I let go, I took a ride that's unforgettable. A roaring tidal rip running under the bridge sent me flying over haystacks--the big swells formed by the rapids--six feet high.

In all, there are five reversing tidal rips where seawater meets rapids near Blue Hill (population: 1,900). Despite its obscurity in the travel literature, Blue Hill is a great escape that doesn't attract the crowds of many of Maine's other resorts. The town doesn't get the recognition of touristy Bar Harbor or George Bush's summer digs, Kennebunkport. But for some, it is the quintessential Maine vacation experience, a combination of recreation, solitude, and high culture.

RIP SURF'S UP. Located on a peninsula just north of Penobscot Bay, Blue Hill lies near Maine's best recreational playground, Acadia National Park. It has access to superb boating, hiking, fishing--and tidal-rip surfing. In summer, the town becomes a cultural center. Chamber orchestras and folk musicians perform regularly, and local artists sell their wares at a dozen galleries.

Once a shipbuilding and mining town, Blue Hill has been transformed in the past 30 years into a popular home for artists and writers. Essayist E.B. White lived nearby, and was inspired to write Charlotte's Web by the annual Blue Hill Fair held in August. Schools of music, crafts, and wooden-boat building attract creative-minded visitors.

For all that, this rural community is not ideal for everyone. Named for a mountain covered with blueberry fields in summer, Blue Hill has only a dozen or so shops and fewer restaurants and inns. You'll be hard-pressed to find a room with a telephone.

Finding your way to Blue Hill is easy, however. It's north of Bucksport, about 15 miles off Route 1, the primary route up the coast, or about 45 miles southeast of Bangor International Airport. Those so inclined can arrive by boat and anchor in Blue Hill harbor. For places to stay, there's the Blue Hill Inn (207 374-2844), located in a historic building and known for its excellent cuisine. The Blue Hill Farm Country Inn (207 374-5126), a bed-and-breakfast on 48 acres, has 14 rooms and a great view of Blue Hill mountain. The John Peters Inn (207 374-2116) overlooks the harbor. Prices range from $75 to $160 a night in season.

For restaurants, don't miss the Left Bank Cafe/Bakery, a landmark with a counterculture atmosphere and performances by folk and jazz musicians. The Firepond is the most romantic, with a rushing stream underneath. Expect to spend $50 for dinner for two.

Information on concerts, art exhibits, and plays is available from innkeepers or stores. Classical music concerts are offered in Kneisel Hall, which also has a summer school for chamber musicians (207 374-2811).

Outdoor activity is strictly for self-starters. The only places to rent equipment or boats are in nearby Ellsworth or Mount Desert Island. The dangerous reversing tidal rips offer thrills for the adventurous canoeist, kayaker, or swimmer. Numerous lakes are excellent for boating and fishing, and several saltwater coves are accessible to small boats. Acadia, about 45 minutes away, has the best hiking in the state.

E.B. White said Maine has a "paradisiacal quality." And Blue Hill is a piece of Maine paradise.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.