Mount Desert Island
Northeast Harbor and Seal Harbor offer classic Maine vistas and quieter charms.
The home of Acadia National Park, which draws more than two million visitors a year, Mount Desert Island is the most popular destination in Maine. At 108 square miles, it is also the state’s largest island, and the second largest on the eastern seaboard, topped only by Long Island in New York. A place of dramatic natural beauty, what locals call “MDI” is divided roughly in half by Somes Sound, a deep, fjord-like body of water extending five miles inland from the Atlantic coastline. The western, or “quiet,” side of MDI includes the towns of Southwest Harbor and Tremont, with the village of Bass Harbor at its southern tip. The larger, eastern side includes the main entrance to the park, its famous carriage roads, Cadillac Mountain, and the town of Bar Harbor, which teems with visitors in the warmer months. Not far away are the quieter communities of Northeast Harbor and Seal Harbor, both part of the town of Mount Desert. Here, elegant summer homes can be glimpsed along leafy lanes, and classic sailing yachts bob at their moorings. Part-time residents include Martha Stewart, whose sprawling stone retreat, Skylands, perches above Seal Harbor.
Some 10,000 people live on MDI year-round. Real estate broker, hospitality investor, and music producer Kim Swan has called Bar Harbor home for most of her life. The owner of the Swan Agency Sotheby’s International Realty, which has offices in Bar Harbor, Northeast Harbor, and Blue Hill, Swan is a devoted member of the MDI community, involved in local initiatives ranging from television and film projects to animal rescue. “Mom” to two Yorkies, Ava and Izzi, she often walks her pups on Acadia’s private carriage roads reached from Seal Harbor. Bicycles are allowed on the park’s carriage roads that are on public land but not on the small section that remains in private hands. “They are owned by the Rockefeller family and are so beautiful and serene,” Swan says, adding that the roads, built by John D. Rockefeller Jr. between 1913 and 1940, are a favorite place to bring friends. “During the high season you may have to stand aside while one of the gorgeous horse-drawn carriages goes by—that’s a treat for visitors too.”
Swan also likes to take friends to the charming village of Northeast Harbor, known by sailors for its protected anchorage. “Our first stop is my friend Erika Wibby Mitchell’s new shop, Main Street Mercantile, which has beautiful clothes, jewelry, toys, and lots of fun items, including work by Erika’s husband, artist Aaron Mitchell,” Swan says. Across the street, Shaw Jewelry has unusual pieces and paintings by a variety of artisans, curated by owner and artist Sam Shaw. It’s another favorite stop for Swan. “I’ll buy myself something special there for a job well done.” Lunch is often at the grand and historic Asticou Inn, which over-looks the harbor; its menu includes the same pop-overs made famous at the Jordan Pond House in Acadia National Park. And no visit to the area would be complete without a hike. “Our favorite is Day Mountain—you can either follow the carriage roads to the top or take the path,” says Swan. “Either way the views are fantastic, especially in the fall with all of the colors.