Story by Nancy Wigston
Vacay.ca Senior Writer
ST. JOHN’S, NEWFOUNDLAND & LABRADOR — They call Newfoundland “The Rock.” But the welcome visitors receive on this craggy outpost in the Atlantic Ocean — closer geographically to County Clare, Ireland, than to Thunder Bay — brings to mind something much softer, warmer: a pillow, perhaps, or a hot cup of tea.
The capital, St. John’s, has not only recovered from its economic doldrums, but has been reborn as one of Canada’s hippest cities, fuelled by a bustling energy sector that the Conference Board of Canada predicts will help the province lead the nation in economic growth for 2013. You’ll find a slew of art-and-craft galleries, clothing shops, bistros, and excellent bars, where your cocktail might be enhanced by a cool slice from a 10,000-year-old iceberg.
But then, in its heart, Newfoundland has always been a quirky, international sort of place. As a St. John’s innkeeper told me, speaking of days past, “Our road was the sea, we shopped in Ireland.” Newfoundland’s Celtic roots immediately grabbed our attention — in music, in accents, in old-fashioned friendliness. “I wish cars wouldn’t keep stopping for me when I jaywalk,” half-complained a Toronto friend as we strolled around St. John’s. “Drivers here are so nice — I’m not used to it.”
Our perfect Newfoundland holiday included a few days in the capital complemented by an hour’s drive along the Baccalieu Trail to enjoy a country interlude at the Doctor’s House Inn & Spa, in Green’s Harbour. This large Tudor-style house, the longtime home of a Belfast-born doctor and his wife — she a dedicated gardener, he a visionary planner — has been thoroughly restored and artfully furnished.
Our luxurious room, one of 10, was tucked under the eaves. The inn’s ambience was old world without being cloying, and we wanted to stay much longer than the single night we’d booked. Making the most of our short stay, we hiked groomed paths on some of the inn’s 50 wooded acres, passed grazing Newfoundland ponies (favourites of the doctor’s wife), and took in the views of Hopeall Bay, glistening in the sun.
Eagles, icebergs, and whales
American eagles nest on a nearby point in June, and area visitors are treated to frequent sightings of icebergs and whales through late summer and into fall. We were told a moose and her foal were on the property, and that they could be heard at night. Heading back to the inn’s Aveda Spa, I enjoyed one of their wonderfully restorative facials, part of a menu of treatments designed to soothe away the outside world.
Old and new blend very nicely; the tap water comes from a reservoir fed by glaciers, and the English-style gardens, a mere half-century old, are a joy to behold — a living testament to one couple’s enduring love affair with their rugged island home.
Romance, naturally, is everywhere in Newfoundland — most obviously in its place names. Cupids, farther down the Baccalieu Trail, was founded in 1610 by a Bristol man named John Guy; Cupids was the first English settlement in Canada. Close to Green’s Harbour is Heart’s Content, which boasts of landing the first transatlantic telegraph cable in 1866 — and in a similar mood, there’s Heart’s Desire and Heart’s Delight. You get the picture. When it rains here, folks tend to call it a “little mist,” just as they do in Ireland.
Friends strongly recommended we stop for lunch in Dildo, before heading back to St. John’s and the airport. Who could resist? Although the origins of the town’s name are obscure, it’s been around since the early 18th century, and the town’s long history includes trading with the aboriginal Beothuk.
Over lunch at the Dildo Dory Grill, we gazed out at fishing boats bobbing in the blue harbour on a perfectly cloudless summer’s day. The pan-fried cod was fresh from the sea, and the menu offered everything from cod tongues to salmon, chicken, and steak. Service was relaxed, friendly. Celtic music played on the sound system, to the enjoyment of all.
More Tips About St. John’s Travel
If you’re going to be in St. John’s before the end of September, book one of the deluxe rooms ($355-$455) at history-steeped Ryan Mansion, where pampered guests have included Prince Charles, who praised the innkeepers’ “brilliant idea” of using fire logs made from recycled coffee grounds.
The Baccalieu Trail gets its name from the old Spanish/Portuguese presence in these parts, captured in the sailors’ saying, ”Wherever you are, steer northwest for Baccalieu.” This coastal scenic trail is one of the finest on The Rock.
The Doctor’s House Inn & Spa: From St. John’s, follow the Trans-Canada Highway west to exit 28, then take Route 80 North to Green’s Harbour, turning left on West Side Road at Green’s Harbour, then left again on Hopeall Rd. At number 21, you’ll find The Doctor’s House. ($185-$285 per night, includes breakfast) — see map below
Dildo Dory Grill: 9 Front Road in Dildo, overlooks the government wharf; outdoor seating available.
More St. John’s Coverage
VIDEO: Raymonds, a Top 50 Restaurant in Canada: While in St. John’s, do not miss a chance to drop in on Raymonds, the city’s finest restaurant and one that ranked 10th overall in the 2013 Vacay.ca rankings of the nation’s top dining spots.
Four Spots Not to Miss While in St. John’s: From Cape Spear to Portugal Cove, be sure to hit all of these places during your driving tour of the city.
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