The Maine event

Cadillac Mountain summit, the first spot in the eastern United States from which you can see the sunrise (between October and March), is a popular morning destination. But the 360-degree views are stunning at any time. We arrive in the afternoon, after another decadent lunch provided by our guides, Amanda and Mariah. Most visitors drive the steep 5.6km road, climbing over 450 metres, but we do it the hard way, standing over our pedals, fighting to turn the cranks, and wishing we had skipped that second – or third – cookie, that was too good to resist. 

Every day of our Backroads Maine cycling trip we choose from two or three different routes. It’s Day 2, and seven out of the 20 cyclists on our tour, have opted for the challenge of the week’s biggest climb. Panting a collective sigh of relief, we dismount at the top to admire the view. Far below sits the too-charming-to-believe village of Bar Harbor, and the rocky islands and blue waters that have made the rugged Maine coast one of the country’s most popular summer destinations for more than a century. 

Amanda is waiting back at the base of the mountain with the Backroads van, a four-wheeled friend we see again and again, prowling the roads in case a rider has a flat tyre, appearing like a white knight whenever water bottles get low. She offers snacks, directions for finishing the day’s ride (74km) into Bar Harbor, and expert dinner suggestions. Most meals are included – at top-notch eateries – but tonight is open, and she recommends local favourite, the Side Street Cafe, for ultra-rich lobster macaroni and cheese.

Backroads leads trips in nearly 50 countries, from Cuba to Bhutan, but the main secret to its success is its guides’ local knowledge. Amanda was raised on Mount Desert Island, this gorgeous chunk of earth that is home to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, the oldest east of the Mississippi.

There are so many reasons to visit Maine, but Mount Desert Island, or MDI to the locals, is one of three standouts. Acadia has an extensive, century-old, 80km network of carriage trail, built by philanthropist John D Rockefeller Jr. These are a cyclist’s delight, car-free, edged in granite and featuring 17 stone bridges. Bar Harbor is an entirely walkable coastal town, full of shops, restaurants bars and craft breweries, with sightseeing cruises from its harbour. We stay the first two nights at the town’s finest lodging, the West Street Hotel, overlooking Frenchman Bay with great views from the rooftop pool, the only one in Maine.

Maine’s two other signatures are its postcard-perfect fishing villages and Maine lobster. As integral to the local fabric as pizza is to Naples or wine to Burgundy, lobster is everywhere here – even in the ice-cream. On our third night, Backroads hosts a cocktail hour with a local fisherman to educate us on all things lobster. Our very first meal of the trip is a lobster roll, the most common local offering: chunks of meat tossed with butter and mayonnaise on a bun. 

Our group first comes together in Portland, Maine’s largest city, and we are driven to Northeast Harbor, a tiny fishing village. The third Backroads staffer, behind-the-scenes miracle worker Susan, has prepared an oceanfront lobster roll picnic and as we eat our guides fit out the bikes. Backroads provides titanium models custom-made in Europe to company founder Tom Hale’s specifications.

Backroads is the oldest luxury active travel outfitter in the United States (1979) and over four decades, Hale has honed every detail, including the bikes, guides and vans. Every group, no matter how small, gets two vans and three guides. It works, and more than half the participants are repeat guests. 

After lunch, we enjoy a 27km warm-up along beautiful Somes Sound, often described as the East Coast’s only fjord, into Bar Harbor. 

After our adventures in Acadia National Park, the Day 3 options (34km to 56km) all finish in Camden, perhaps the most scenic of Maine’s many beautiful coastal towns. Many of what were once the homes of sea captains are now upscale inns, Camden now being a summer hub for the yachting set.

We stay two nights at Camden Harbour Inn, a Relais & Châteaux property, which is also home to Natalie’s restaurant, renowned for its five-course lobster tasting menu. However, tonight’s dinner is at Primo, the most desirable reservation in Maine. Truly farm-to-table, Primo boasts its own sustainable farm (vegetable garden, pigs, poultry) and contracts local fishermen. Asking about the chicken, one of my fellow cyclists is told, “It was walking yesterday – you will never find fresher.” 

We work the calories off on Day 4 with the longest (71km) option, including a lunch stop (lobster club sandwich) and visit to the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, before a farewell dinner at Natalie’s. 

Our final day features an easy scenic 29km post-breakfast (lobster benedict) loop around a pristine lake before we board the shuttle back to Portland. Guests swap tales of Backroads trips past  and rave about the week’s scenery and food. Including the very best available dining in every trip is a company trademark, so much so, that many repeat guests have nicknamed it “Snackroads”.

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