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Bath: 33 miles NE of Portland. Boothbay Harbor: 23 miles E of Bath; 41 miles SW of Rockland

Veteran Maine travelers contend that this part of the coast, long known as the "Midcoast," is fast losing its native charm -- it's too commercial, they say, too developed, too highfalutin' . . . in short, too much like the rest of the United States. These grousers have a point, especially along U.S. Route 1. But get off the main roads and you'll swiftly find pockets of another Maine, some of the most pastoral and picturesque meadows, mountains, peninsulas, and harbors in the entire state.

The coast is best reached via U.S. Route 1, which you catch in Brunswick by taking exit 28 from I-295. Going north, some highlights of the coastal route include the shipbuilding town of Bath, pretty little Wiscasset, and the Boothbay region on the southern end of the Midcoast; the lovely Pemaquid peninsula; lost-in-time Monhegan Island; and finally the power trio of Camden, Rockland, and Rockport at the northern end of the Midcoast (which are covered in the next section, "Penobscot Bay").

Beyond local tourist huts and chambers of commerce, the best source of information for the Midcoast region in general is found at the Maine State Information Center (tel. 207/846-0833) just off exit 17 of I-295 in Yarmouth, which isn't really in the Midcoast -- but you'll almost certainly pass through to get there. This state-run center is stocked with hundreds of brochures, and is staffed with a helpful crew that can provide information about the entire state but that is particularly well informed about the middle reaches of coast. It's open daily from 8am to 6pm (8:30am-5pm in winter), and the attached restroom facilities are always open.

Mapping Your Next Stop -- Right across the road from the Maine State Information Center in Yarmouth is the DeLorme Map Store (tel. 800/642-0970), open daily from 9:30am to 6pm. You'll find a wide selection of maps here, including the firm's trademark state atlases and a line of CD-ROM map products. The store's fun to browse even if you're not a map buff, but what makes the place really worth a detour off the interstate is Eartha, "the world's largest rotating and revolving globe." The 42-foot-diameter globe occupies the entire atrium lobby and is constructed on a scale of 1:1,000,000, the largest satellite image of the earth ever produced. Far out.