WATERFORD, Maine - "Hey, Bernie," I addressed the dog slumbering at my feet, "you received your own confirmation letter." He thumped his tail in reply. We had chosen the Bear Mountain Inn for a quick escape because it had a pet-friendly cottage, and we wanted to take our 18-month-old Leonberger with us. While many accommodations market themselves as welcoming dogs, the fine print often restricts those to purse-sized pooches. Bernie, at 95 pounds and growing, certainly didn't qualify as one of those.
Less than an hour after I made the reservation, Bernie received a letter penned by the innkeeper's dogs, Dakota and Cheyenne, detailing what would be provided - bowls, pooper-scooper, and treats - and what would be expected of him: "Please insist that your human companions take you with them whenever they leave the inn's property. . . . Your parents are responsible for any damage you may cause, so you'd better be on your best behavior. . . . Remember that not everyone loves us four-legged friends. . . . Please insist on being kept safe and sound on your leash while enjoying the outside property of the inn. . . . Do not leave your 'you know what' in the yard." All reasonable requests, and Bernie thumped his tail again in agreement.
Waterford is one of those delightful little towns you discover when you're on your way to someplace else. It snuggles in the hilly folds between Bethel and Bridgton, on Route 35, a quiet road that noodles around numerous bodies of water. The area is best known for its children's summer camps, but tiny, bordering on precious Waterford has a general store, a buffalo ranch, and a handful of well-preserved homes amid its forested mountains and nine lakes (officially, they are ponds). Summer, when the area attracts water-sports enthusiasts and hikers, is prime time, but it's spectacular in autumn and, we found, blissfully peaceful in winter. For those who savor low-key escapes, Waterford is a find.
Complementing the gentle yet genteel landscape is the Bear Mountain Inn, a classic New England farmhouse and barn dating to the early 1800s. The property is bordered on three sides by water - Bear Lake, Mutiny Brook, and Bear River - and by Bear Mountain on the fourth. Nature trails, groomed by snowmobile for skiers and snowshoers, are etched across the inn's 52 acres, and one connects to ITS 89, Maine's Interconnected Trail System, providing snowmobilers access to the system webbing Maine and some of New Hampshire. There's even a tubing hill. In summer, guests have use of a private beach, canoes, and a barbecue area.
The inn's accommodations range from simple rooms with detached baths to family suites to luxury rooms with gas fireplaces and double whirlpool tubs. All are unpretentious and meticulously decorated by professional designer-turned-owner-innkeeper Lorraine Blais. Her skills, honed as a fashion designer for Jordache and later as an interior decorator in Boca Raton, Fla., shine. She provides rustic-inspired country comfort without kitsch combined with modern must-haves, including Wi-Fi throughout, TVs and DVD players, a guest computer station, and a convenience area with guest fridge, microwave, snacks and hot drinks. Blais commissioned local artisans to create furnishings and artwork for the inn, ranging from tables to stained glass. The bear theme prevails in some artwork and teddy bears on each bed, but it doesn't dominate.
Just steps away from the main inn is the pet-friendly Sugar Bear cottage, a renovated and expanded traditional sugarhouse overlooking the lake. "It took three years to get the smell of maple syrup out of it," Blais says. She added electricity, a full bathroom, a wood-burning fireplace, and an efficiency kitchen, complete with stovetop, microwave, and small refrigerator, along with the necessities for cooking. Outside is a small lakeview patio.
Bernie took an instant liking to Sugar Bear, and we loved its privacy and found it cozy and charming in a woodsy way. The only thing lacking was a comfy chair; other than the bed and wooden chairs at the dining table, there was no place to sit.
After dinner in Bridgton, we borrowed a DVD from the inn's library, and settled in for the night. We debated making the provided popcorn and lighting a fire, but were too lazy to do either. We spread a blanket from home atop the bed, in case Bernie decided to pay a midnight visit, but he curled up on the braided rug.
In the morning, we ambled over to the inn, where Blais welcomed us with a fresh fruit cup, followed by homemade oatmeal sweetened with honey and a bit of brown sugar, then laden with cranberries, raisins and walnuts, and accompanied by a warm cranberry scone. That would have been plenty, but she returned with eggs benedict. That's enough to fuel anyone through a day of skiing (Shawnee Peak and Sunday River are easy day trips), snowmobiling, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or, in our case, a leisurely drive home.
Back in the room after a walk, Bernie sprawled on the rug. "Whatcha think?" I said to him. "Do you want to return?" He thumped his tail, rolled over on his back, and gave the inn four paws up.
Hilary Nangle, a freelance writer in Waldoboro, Maine, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.