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Lewiston, Maine is home to the Great Falls Balloon Festival each summer

Lewiston, Maine, is home to the Great Falls Balloon Festival each summer. — Robert Bukaty/AP

Lewiston, Maine

Artists, nature lovers and owners of thick winter coats unite! Lewiston, a post industrial town on the Androscoggin River, has quietly emerged as peaceful artist community — and retirement outpost — 30 miles north of Portland.

See also: Best places to live the simple life

Lewiston is rarely mentioned these days without its companion city, Auburn, which occupies the opposing bank of the Androscoggin. Together know as L-A, the area is within an hour's drive of the coast, the mountains, Portland and Augusta, and is 120 miles northeast of Boston.

The attraction for the older set is in the numbers: a high percentage of locals are age 65 and older.
 
One major lure for retirees on a budget is affordable housing and, for the artistically inclined, spacious, affordable studio space, much of it in high-ceilinged, 19th-century buildings.

Such space is on prominent display in the Bates Mill Complex, a collection of former mill buildings that has been redeveloped into offices, retail shops and housing. One tenant, Museum L-A, highlights the textile, shoe and brick industries that once thrived here. The past is also celebrated at the Franco-American Heritage Center — roughly half of the metro's population reports French or French-Canadian ancestry.

Bates College (enrollment: 1,700) has a large art museum and the Olin Arts Center, which includes a 300-seat concert hall; both are adjacent to a downtown arts district that has several theater companies. The large public library downtown holds concerts and film festivals in its Marsden Hartley Cultural Center. The L-A area also hosts numerous annual festivals, including the Liberty Festival, Moxie Festival, FrancoFun and Great Falls Balloon Festival.

If you're in that "semiretired" mode and hoping to work, incomes here are fairly low: median household income and cost of living are near the lowest one-third of U.S. metro areas, and that has restrained some expansion of the area.

But encouraging signs abound, including the recent addition of a $13 million Marriott Residence Inn in downtown Lewiston. Also, the area has a very low crime rate, with violent crime almost unheard of (which makes one wonder where author Stephen King, a hometown hero, drew his inspiration).

For the active set, the Androscoggin River connects to hundreds of lakes and streams where anglers can cast for Atlantic salmon, striped bass and more. There's good cross-country skiing right in town, and many downhill ski areas are a short drive away. A local group maintains bike paths along the river and is expanding a network of footpaths across the region.

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