We decided not to wait for Christmas to enjoy one of our mutually given gifts — a weekend of pampering at Rockland’s Berry Manor Inn and fine dining at Primo and Café Miranda. We also picked up gifts for others (and ourselves) at Fiore Artisan Olive Oils & Vinegars. Merry Christmas!

George

You should stay at Berry Manor Inn just to take a shower. Six jets, aimed anywhere you want on your body, with piping hot water — an example of the high level of elegance found at what has become a very favorite destination for us.

When you stay here, you are remembered. Amy (who greeted us at the door) began a tour of the inn in the dining room with an explanation of the menu for the next morning’s breakfast. She casually asked, “Do you both still take your coffee black?” Even my best friends don’t remember that!

What did I love about our room in the Carriage House annex? The blend of comfort and beauty — thick warm robes, lighting to fit every mood and need, an exceptionally comfortable lounge chair for stretching out, foot stools, a writing desk, the drapes and decorations, an array of pillows to fit every head and an amazing bed. And it was only 10 steps from our room to the pies in the guest lounge! Also to-die-for are the breakfasts.

At the end of our dinner that night at Primo, as our server finished reviewing the lengthy list of desserts, I told him, “There’s just one problem. We’re staying at Berry Manor Inn and …”
I got no further. “Say no more! Say no more!” he said dramatically. “Berry Manor’s guests come here all the time and no one orders desserts!”

We really feel at home here now, largely thanks to Cheryl Michaelsen who owns the inn with her husband, Michael LaPosta Jr. Cheryl is vivacious, interesting and is always up for conversation, even in the kitchen while she’s cooking. She’s also a great ambassador for the Rockland area, filling us in on upcoming events right through 2013.

One of Cheryl’s stories really touched our hearts. A lady from away has been staying at the inn for the last five or six years while visiting family in the area and attending Rockland’s Christmas parade.

Every year, she arrives with hats and mittens that’s she’s knitted, and she goes to the parade — not to see it, but to walk along the street, looking for kids who don’t have hats and mittens and giving them hers.

Her hats and mittens are always bright red, and each year she sees more and more kids wearing them.

Primo

On Friday night we dined at Primo, often named one of Maine’s top restaurants. We’d read that it’s tough to get a reservation, and that it is expensive. But we got our reservation online on Wednesday through OpenTable.com. That was the first surprise.

The second was the cost. For a restaurant that would be in the top of any ratings in any city in America, prices are not exorbitant. Sure, Primo is more expensive than most Maine restaurants. It’s also better than most Maine restaurants. With a bottle of wine and a generous tip, we spent $140. And our meal was tasty, creative and memorable. Very memorable.

Alas, Primo closes for the winter, so you only have about another week to eat here, but we’ll tell you more about this fine restaurant when it reopens in May.

Café Miranda

While Primo is undeniably a special treat, Café Miranda remains our favorite Rockland restaurant for many reasons. Chef/owner Kerry Altiero is amazingly creative, passionate about food and very entertaining.

We’ve written about Café Miranda before, and heard from readers who were disappointed that they were unable to eat there  during a day trip to Rockland. It was only open for dinner.

Great news! Kerry is now open for lunch! And what a lunch it is. This is good news for all of us and good news for Maine’s economy, because this has allowed Kerry to add 6 full-time jobs to his staff, in addition to the 3 positions he added this year to his bartending and catering business — an impressive record in Maine’s floundering economy.

We’ll be writing an entire column about Café Miranda next week, but I’ll give you a slight preview. My favorite sandwich in the world is a Reuben. And I had the best Reuben I’ve ever eaten in my life for lunch that day at the café.

Linda

Our weekend getaway to Rockland in early December boosted my Christmas spirit greatly. At a time of year when I wasn’t even close to being prepared for Christmas, George thought we should take a 24-hour vacation. The thought of this wasn’t helping my stress level at all. We barely had any gifts purchased, nothing was wrapped, I still had many sewing projects in the works and there wasn’t a sign of Christmas in the house.

But when he tempted me with a stay at the Berry Manor Inn, a dinner at Primo and lunch at Café Miranda it was easy to agree to go. Staying and eating at places that oozed Christmas helped me forget all that I hadn’t done and just let me enjoy the season a whole lot more.

On our way to dinner that Friday night, our drive through Rockland was highlighted by beautiful Christmas lights decorating many houses. There wasn’t just a wreath on the door — these houses were stunning! Farther up the road I got my first look at Rockland’s famous Lobster Trap Christmas Tree. I’d seen postcards of it, but seeing this giant structure fully lighted was a treat.

Walking into Primo, I was further immersed in Christmas. From the garlands lining the walkway, to swags on the doorways and windows, this was tasteful decorating at it’s best. Each of the restaurant’s small rooms felt beautiful and intimate. If you looked closely, there were small Christmas decorations tucked here and there enhancing this very elegant place. A wide variety of music (not Christmas) played subtly in the background and I could feel all the stress melting away.

When we arrived at the Berry Manor Inn, both George and I were taken with how stunning the inn and carriage house looked from the outside, embellished with Christmas lights.

A Christmas miracle happens a bit early here at the inn. Because Mike and Cheryl go away in November, they have one day upon their return to transform this house for Christmas to be ready for Rockland’s Festival of Lights, a benefit for the town library (the last day to enjoy the Festival is this Saturday).

Mike, Cheryl and employees Lori and Amy, dive into decorating the inn head to toe. Each doorway features decorated garlands — some with fruit or berries.  My favorite was in the sitting room, adorned with red cardinals, greens and gold pears. The fireplace is decorated to the hilt — a golden ribbon tree, greens with lights, berries and crystal beads. There’s a huge tree in the library as well — color-themed in rose, white and burgundy.

Mike and Cheryl host the inn’s holiday tour in period costume to give visitors a feel of life in the Victorian era. This must be an outstanding tour!

Twenty-four hours later, my stress level was under control. I’d been able to forget about my to-do list and just enjoy the beautiful surroundings. Landing in a place that oozed Christmas was just what I needed.

The next day, we gathered some greenery from our woodlot and I began to embellish the inside of my own house. And you know what? Even though it was already mid-December and we didn’t have a tree yet, that little bit of decorating made our house feel just like Christmas.

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