St. John’s, NL – Top Five Things To Do, Plus Places to Eat and Stay

St. John's, NL harbour
St. John’s Harbourfront

I decided on a Monday to go to Newfoundland and Labrador, hopped on a plane on Wednesday night and arrived Thursday morning without having done much more than a stitch in time of research. It all worked out.

When we got off the plane and I walked straight to the Tourism Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) kiosk. The friendly ambassador set me straight in a manner of minutes. How long would we be here? What do we like to do? What were we hoping to see? She had an easy laugh, a kind smile and made a great first impression for her province. Within minutes we were loaded with maps and the well laid out NL tour book that proved invaluable over the eight days of our stay.

Top of our list of things to do in NL was hiking so I’ve posted on some great hikes we did in Terra Nova National Park, and on Fogo Island, Bonavista Peninsula and at Signal Hill in St. John’s. In fact, I think my top tip for travelling in NL would be to bring your hiking boots!

Read on for other fun ideas, and places to stay and eat in St. John’s. Hopefully my sharing will help you launch your own vacation on “the rock.”

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Skerwink Trail, Elliston’s Bird Island and Cape Bonavista Lighthouse – Three great walks on Bonavista Peninsula, NL

Skerwink Trail - photo by Karen Anderson
Skerwink Trail with view to Port Rexton

Skerwink Trail

This trail, also the local’s name for the Shearwater, a pelagic seabird that thrives offshore here, on Bonavista Peninsula is ranked in the top 35 hikes in the world by Travel and Leisure magazine. It’s 5.3 kilometres and though rated moderate to severe, we found it quite easy at a slow and steady pace with lots of breaks for appreciating the surroundings.

Located on a steeply inclined head of land in Trinity Bay, between Port Rexton and the town of Trinity, you access the trail on the Port Rexton side and head out in a clockwise direction. It doesn’t matter if you do go counter-clockwise, you’ll get the climbing done on the way out and enjoy a descent on the way back but, going clockwise is wise because it gives you the best angle to appreciate the views.

As you’ll see in the photos below, another reason we found the hike to be moderate was the perfect weather we enjoyed on our visit. My memory of it might not be nearly as serene had we done it in a howling gale. We got to start around 9:30 a.m. and enjoyed bluebird day with a dramatic cloud pattern forming offshore. Even with all the photo opp stops, we finished in 90 minutes. Are you ready to follow along?

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Hiking the trails of the Fogo Island Arts’ Studios

Todd Saunders of Saunders Architecture
Todd Saunders, Architect

If you hike to the four Fogo Island Arts’ Studios in one day, you’ve walked 10,000 steps. The kind and helpful Todd Saunders, designer of the studios and umpteen other unforgettable contemporary architecture structures around the globe, shares this encouraging fact with us after we tell him that’s what we’re off to do on this fine day on Fogo Island, NL.

We met Saunders on the trail down from the Fogo Island Inn to the main road. I smiled and said, thank you for imagining this place, when I recognized him. He stopped to chat a bit and we learned he’s building five homes at Ghost Lake, Alberta not far from our home in Calgary for a project called Carraig Ridge.

Despite being ranked in the Top 100, 10 or 5 contemporary architects in the world, depending on the source, Saunders says all he cares about is working with kind, nice people. When he finds out that I am in food tourism, he pitches the idea of collaborating for a pop up dinner at Carraig Ridge. Needless to say, I’ll be following up on that idea.

Today, though, we leave behind his life altering achievement, Fogo Island Inn, and head to the four International Arts Studios he designed for Fogo Island Arts’ artists in residence program.

As a little background, “Fogo Island Arts is a residency-based contemporary art venue for artists, filmmakers, writers, musicians, curators, designers, and thinkers from around the world.”

Come on along and you’ll see what make Saunders’ designs for this pop with their purpose.

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Hiking Newman Sound Coastal Trail in Terra Nova National Park, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

Newman Sound, NL -photo by Karen Anderson

I’ve already written about Signal Hill National Historic Site in St. John’s and the rambling we enjoyed up and down its craggy cliffs and trails. Now it’s on to Terra Nova National Park.

There are only two national parks in Newfoundland and Labrador, Gros Morne on Newfoundland’s west coast and Terra Nova on the east. Terra Nova fit in our itinerary on this trip. Gros Morne remains on our bucket list for another adventure.

This post will highlight a hike along Terra Nova’s Newman Sound Coastal Trail.

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Hikes and walks to enjoy in North East Newfoundland

Stairs to Brimstone Head - photo by Karen Anderson

Above all else, Newfoundlanders are outdoorsy folk. While many have lives tied to the sea, there are as many more snugly fastened to the shores, moors, bogs and boreal forest. You see their love for this woodsy way of life in the care they take in building and maintaining the island’s many trails. Why in Newfoundland and Labrador, you can even hike to one of the corners of the flat earth. More on that later.

This post will share photos and tips for the first of several trails I enjoyed while touring the Northeastern corner of Newfoundland. I’ll cover the other hikes and walks in upcoming posts. The posts to watch for are as follows:

  1. Signal Hill to Quidi Vidi and back to St. John’s harbour via Chain Rock Battery
  2. Newman Sound Coastal Trail in Terra Nova National Park
  3. Fogo Island Arts Studios and a bonus: The Brimstone Head Trail
  4. Skerwink Trail, Bird Island in Elliston and Cape Bonavista on the Bonavista Peninsula
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The charm of Newfoundland and Labrador – it’s in the details

Signal Hill, St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador

There are grand gestures in life. And grand landscapes and meals and people too.  But, it’s often the small details that creep up on us and take all that grandness and bring it down to a scale that sticks in our minds and hearts. This theory is especially true when it comes to places. 

Case in point, my recent travel in Newfoundland and Labrador. This is a place of grand size but it’s all its small details that have stuck in my mind and heart in the weeks since my visit. Whether it was a bit of homespun goodness like a cozy crazy quilt on your bed at night or the vivid colours in homes and landscapes, the fresh tastes of place, the turn of a phrase or the dramatic geography – I was completely charmed. I hope you’ll read on to see what I mean.

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Food News: announcing the Calgary Eats Cookbook Launch Party plus a preview recipe for Flourless Chocolate Cake – just for you!

Calgary Eats by Gail Norton and Karen Ralph
Note: This post is not sponsored. I’m just excited to share this!

The details:

Tuesday, September 17 – 6:30 pm at the Cookbook Co Cooks, 712 11 Ave SW, Calgary
Come meet Gail Norton and Karen Ralph, authors of Calgary Eats, and chefs featured in the book.
Tix – $50 per person* at 403-265-6066 extension 1

*Registrants will take home an autographed copy of Calgary Eats: Signature Recipes from the City’s Best Restaurants and Bars ($40 value).

The scoop:

Author Gail Norton is the fairy godmother of the Calgary’s food scene. For over 30 years she’s boosted restaurants and chefs through the magazine City Palate she co-founded and through her cooking school and cookbook slash gourmand store, Cookbook Co Cooks. Along with her friend, the accomplished cook and sommelier, Karen Ralph, she once again showcases our food community of local chefs, farmers and producers. This time with a collection of 80 signature dishes by the city’s top chefs called Calgary Eats.

A follow-up to the best-selling Calgary Cooks, these chef-tested recipes, with stunning photographs by Chris Amat, will help we mere mortals re-create the signature dishes of our favourite chefs and restaurants. Read on for one of the books most scrumptious recipes – Rogelio Herrara’s (Alloy Dining) Flourless Chocolate Cake.

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