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Peace off the Maine coast

At Diamond Cove, a serene destination springs from a military base

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Peace off the Maine coast
A scenic overlook at Diamond Cove. PHOTO: CELINA COLBY

Just a 30-minute ferry ride from Portland, Maine sits Diamond Cove, a historical and military artifact stuck in time and dusted with luxury for the summer vacation crowd. The island was a military base during the Spanish-American war. More than a century later, it’s now a semi-private retreat for homeowners and vacationers alike.

Most the properties on the island are built out of former military buildings. PHOTO: CELINA COLBY

The first thing visitors notice when stepping off the ferry is a line of golf carts standing at attention on the pier. Diamond Island is a no-car island. The only cars you’ll find are maintenance and construction vehicles; everyone else whirs around the small island in their golf carts. Though the name is a bit confusing, Diamond Cove is a separate section of Diamond Island. Visitors can’t cross over from there to the rest of the island, which is primarily occupied by longtime homeowners.

The Inn at Diamond Cove is the only accommodation on the island, and it’s been a long time coming. Built in the former barracks of the military base, the Inn brings something remarkable to the private island — access. Now, travelers of all kinds can walk the lush paths of the island, not just the privileged few who rent or own for the summer season.

The Inn at Diamond Cove allows visitors to stay in upscale accommodations on the private island. PHOTO: CELINA COLBY

Other than the historic building, the Inn bears no resemblance to its Spartan forefather. The property offers 44 condominiums with partial kitchen, living room, deck, bathroom and one or more bedrooms. Utilizing connecting rooms, some accommodations can sleep up to 10 people.

The property offers a heated pool, hot tub and fire pit, and many of the condominiums have private porches. Elsewhere on the island, explorers can find a turn-of-the-century bowling alley and game room, a fitness room and yoga studio and an indoor basketball court. These amenities are shared with the other summer residents of the island.

The island presents a fascinating dichotomy. Walking around, visitors come across military ruins, bunkers shrouded in growth and frames from former houses. But the other face of Diamond Cove is that of pristine luxury, carefully curated by the local homeowners. Of the homeowners, less than a dozen live on the island year-round.

Military bunkers and other remnants of the islands past can be seen around Diamond Cove. PHOTO: CELINA COLBY

Most of these homes are also former military buildings, homes of officers and utility spaces. Many are still labeled with their original use, such as “Bakery” or “Doctor’s Office.” The result is a charming homage to the island’s history. This history can be explored at the Fort McKinley Museum located by the island’s marina. Run by a year-round island resident, the museum is a wealth of information. There are a several yet-undeveloped properties on the island owned by the state, including a sprawling hospital compound with exceptional views. Until a builder with the right vision comes along and can be approved by the current residents, the property lies dormant.

Two restaurants are available on the island. Diamond Edge is a culinary adventure connected with the Inn at Diamond Cove. Crown jewel is an Asian fusion restaurant boasting perfectly Instagrammable décor. Both menus draw on New England’s rich history of local seafood while providing top-tier alternatives as well.

Seafood scampi at Diamond’s Edge Restaurant. PHOTO: CELINA COLBY

Before the military took over the island, it was a retreat for some of America’s most famous artists, including literary titans Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Walking around the cove, it’s not difficult to see why. Deep blue water meets endless sky at the horizon line, and waves lap lightly at the island shores. There are a number of scenic viewpoints overlooking the cove where nature lovers can watch boats conduct their business at port and spot birds cruising island to island. If anywhere could inspire a restless creative mind, it’s Diamond Cove.

Beach lovers can visit Diamond Cove to comb the sheltered beaches for sea glass, art lovers can venture out to the gallery the Inn runs in a beautifully renovated barn by the marina, and history lovers can spend days absorbing the island’s background.

But what Diamond Cove offers most is peace. Four miles from mainland Portland, a serenity falls on this island. Children play freely around the island, locals stop to chat, leaning out of their golf carts for a hearty laugh, and the spotty cell service turns out to be a blessing for quieting the mind.

Diamond Cove, Maine, Portland