This item appeared in Sun Media and Postmedia publications in Canada earlier this week…
PORT REXTON, NEWFOUNDLAND – It starts innocently enough; an easy walk on relatively flat land through a thick forest.
But as I start a steady, moderate climb it gets interesting. The trees get gnarlier, with deep pine/juniper smells and plants with small red berries and what looks like a Newfoundland version of Spanish moss in the trees. Suddenly off to my left I spot an opening in the forest and walk over to a fence near a cliff. I look down at a vast sea of gentle green water lapping up against tall, towering black rocks called sea stacks that have been blasted by wind and cracked by ice and baked by the sun for eons.
One of them is called The Music Box, allegedly because the wind can make pretty sounds as it whips around the rock. But this day is Newfoundland at its best; a 22 C day in early September with nary a breath of wind. I gaze across the bay at a series of white homes set against rolling green hills under a sky of robin’s egg blue.
Further along we emerge from a narrow trail through a thicket of trees and emerge onto a large, grassy plateau that juts out into the water. The views down the bay and out towards the ocean are tremendous, and the selfie sticks are out in full force.
Later we turn a corner and look out at the pretty village of Trinity with its boats and colourfully-painted homes. The last part of the hike skirts a nice beach and a small pond before the trail brings us back to the parking lot. After the hike we reward ourselves with beers on the patio at Port Rexton Brewing, making quick friends with a pair of locals as we sample a couple Baycation Blonde beers.
The hiking in Newfoundland is some of the best in Canada, with lonely trails just minutes from downtown St. John’s and eye-popping walks around the steep headlands near Twillingate, a popular spot for spotting icebergs.
We didn’t have time for a hike on Fogo Island, but we did get a wonderful tour from Clem Dwyer, one of many local residents hired to show off the island to guests of the remarkable Fogo Island Inn, voted best hotel in Canada this week by readers of Conde Nast Travel.
Dwyer shows us small, picture-perfect fishing villages and shows us a marvellous beach in the tiny village of Tilting, where he grew up and still lives. We also watch hikers coming down the steep hill at Brimstone Head, a towering rock that dominates the village of Fogo. Dwyer explains that Brimstone Head is one of the four “corners” of the world as defined by the Flat Earth Society.
Rooms at the luxurious Fogo Island Inn feature patchwork quilts made by island residents. I wander into the Winds and Waves shop near the Inn, where they sell quilts and other crafts made by locals, some as young as 15 and as old as 94.
“Sometimes the older ones miss a stitch in their quilt,” shop worker Violet Cumbden tells me with a smile. “We just nip in and fix it right up.”
“I like that they’re not perfect,” I reply.
“Heck, no,” she says with a laugh. “You want perfect order it from a factory in China.”
Back near St. John’s, we take in a “lobster adventure” with Colette Kavanagh at a tremendous B & B called A Schooner Inn. We’re given slick yellow sou’wester hats and ugly sticks to bang on the floor. (An ugly stick is a Newfoundland instrument usually fashioned from a broom stick decorated with bottle caps, a boot or shoe and some sort of wig.)
We choose our sticks and parade into her kitchen, shouting out words to a sea shanty tune. Then it’s time for our cod tongue cooking lesson, where Kavanagh shows us how to dip the tongues in flour and salt and pepper and how long to fry them (about seven minutes). I’d rather eat a bowl of mussels with white wine but they’re pretty good.
After that it’s lobster time. Kavanagh rubs her finger on the top of their heads, something she claims calms their frayed nerves, then drops them into a pot of water for our dinner.
I’m not sure I’ll remember the taste of the lobster ten years from now. I know I won’t forget Kavanagh.
JUST THE FACTS
A Schooner Inn is in Holyrood, a short drive from St. John’s.
Captain Blackmore’s Heritage Manor is a beautiful B & B on the water in Port Union that’s run by a lovely couple. It’s a short drive up the coast to Elliston, where folks gather to watch adorable puffiins.
Fogo Island Inn is reachable by ferry from the mainland near Port Albert, NL. The rooms and food are to die for.
Fisher’s Loft is a marvellous property on a hill in Port Rexton, with lovely views and good food.
The Bonavista Biennale was on this year, with marvellous, thoughtful exhibits scattered around the north end of the Bonavista peninsula. Definitely worth seeing.
The Boreal Diner has great food in the town of Bonavista, with a used book store upstairs mixed in with the restaurant seating.
Bella’s at Round Da Bay Inn is a nice spot for lunch in Plate Cove West. They also have unique rooms for rent, each with a different theme.
Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism is at http://www.newfoundlandlabrador.com/
DEAL OF THE WEEK
Enjoy the fall colours or try a great meal or a spa treatment at JW Marriott The Rosseau Muskoka, north of Toronto.
THIS AND THAT
The Brand USA tourism folks are working on a new IMAX film. The last one, still playing in parts of Canada, featured iconic U.S. national parks. The next one centres on the country’s remarkably diverse music scene and should be out in February, 2018 … WestJet has launched twice daily flights between Montreal and Boston.
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