Hey all – I’m super excited to share details on my urban getaway to St. John’s Newfoundland at the Alt Hotel with Air Canada Vacations!
I’m being honest when I say that visiting the East Coast of Canada and Newfoundland in particular, has been on my bucket list ever since I moved from Vancouver to Montreal. It just seems this coast doesn’t get the love it merits…and that became even more evident after I discovered what St. John’s has to offer!
Our flight on Air Canada to St-John’s was pretty much blissful. We got bumped up to business class and let me tell you, it is AWESOME. Seating is more spacious (even though Kristina and I are tiny…it’s just slightly easier to curl up in those chairs) and the meals they provide are better than what get in some restaurants. I assure you that the economy cabin is great but if ever you have a few more bucks to splurge on business class, or better yet, start racking up your points with Air Canada to make the priority upgrade list, it’ll be worth it!
We were surprised to learn that our flight to St-John’s was just over 3 hours. What?! Think about it…when you get to Newfoundland and in particular all the way up to Cape Spear, you’re literally at the most eastern point in North America. Half way to Europe! I’ll get back to Cape Spear in a sec.
We rented a car with Budget Rent a Car upon arrival and made our way to downtown St-John’s, which was a 15-20 minute ride from the airport, an easy peasy route to the Alt St. John’s Hotel. The Alt St. John’s is in the same family as the Germain hotels and if you read my last blog post, you’ll know I felt right at home upon checking-in. Incredibly friendly staff including one lady in particular, who patiently answered my 2 billion questions about the city and what to do was definitely a highlight. In fact, the people in St-John’s in general were just so nice, so warm…so polite! Our room was perfect, with the most comfortable beds and comforters…I definitely slow-motion fell onto the white fluff of a duvet as soon as I got in. A girl needs to power nap after a (somewhat) long flight!!
Our first stop: CAPE SPEAR! Located on a cliff about 15 minutes drive outside the downtown centre, Cape Spear is the home to Newfoundland’s oldest surviving lighthouse. The drive up was majestic – after cruising down a road lined with forest, you find yourself driving on top of what I can only describe as a massive rock, with ocean waves crashing against the cliff. We parked and walked towards the lighthouse and despite the cold and the fog(ok, it was like, 3 degrees C…we were COLD) we were blown away by the beauty around us. For me personally, the thought that beyond that point, the closest piece of land would be Europe, was really cool.
After trotting around there for a bit, snapping pics and making new friends (everyone was so friendly! We met a group of breast cancer survivors who were on a trip together – I won’t get into it, but it was inspiring to meet such amazing women) we headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. Our first night, we dined at Merchant Tavern – a lovely and modern restaurant with really good cocktails and incredible food. If you go to St-John’s it’s definitely a must. The night was young when we finished, so we headed to George Street for some live music at O’Reilly’s. Guys, live music in this town is serious. And, it’s a totally authentic representation of Newfoundland -pub dancing and live music is how people party and I am not at all opposed! So. Much. Fun! An early night was in the books though, as we had a day of exploring ahead of us. Obviously, we slept like angels in our home away from home!
The following two days were spent exploring – the highlights were definitely finding the jelly bean houses that define St-John’s architectural landscape. The homes, so brightly coloured, popped against the cloudy and foggy atmosphere. Green, blue, pink, yellow – you name it, there’s likely a house painted in it! So cute!
We then took our fish and chips craving over the Chafe’s Landing, a place the late and wonderful Anthony Bourdain ate at so we knew it was going to be a truly delicious feast. See picture below for the most perfect piece of fried cod I have ever had!
Signal Hill was another must-see, of course! Overlooking all of St. John’s, the views were incredible. Fortifications were built here in the 17th Century and served as harbour defences up to the second world war. You can see anyone coming by boat up there! While the site itself is the most popular landmark of St.John’s, Kristina and I still talk about the Newfoundland Chocolate Company, a small café located halfway up to Signal Hill. Here, you can choose a fun hot-chocolate from a mouthwatering menu or you can opt for a Mocha (etc…there is are lots of choices). This was hands-down the BEST Mocha I’ve ever had and I still dream about it daily! NEED. MORE. If you go to St.John’s, you MUST go there. The warm beverage was much needed as the cold gusts of air up on Signal Hill were chilled enough to wake the dead, haha! (Side note: it was unseasonably cold for the month of June).
We finished the day off eating a delicious lunch with lentil soup in the Uber-cool Mallard Cottage located in Quidi Vidi village; home of the province’s largest microbrewery, the Quidi Vidi Brewery. Mallard Cottage is a must if you like the vibe that places like Joe Beef and Liverpool House give off aka cool locals.
I want to finish with my FAVORITE part of this trip: getting SCREECHED in at Christian’s! Screech is Newfoundland’s Rum. Back in the day, they used to trade this deep, dark rum with the Jamaicans, who in exchange, took loads of Cod Fish off their hands. And, in order to become an honorary Newfoundlander, you must participate in a Screeching Ceremony, in which you learn some awesome Newfoundland slang, take a shot of Screech…and….kiss a cod. Yes, an actual cod. It happened. We laughed. We learnt. We drank. We got a certificate. True story! It was hilarious! Best part? This (Christian’s Pub) is where Anthony Bourdain got Screeched in a few months ago, when he spent 2 weeks in Newfoundland.
Our Sunday night was spent celebrating our honorary titles: we had an insanely delicious dinner at Adelaide’s, made some awesome new friends (and perhaps, just perhaps, a few more drinks than I care to remember) with dancing back at Christian’s. Let’s just say that we were in no hurry to get up and at ‘em the next day!
Our last night was spent with a lovely group of media, hailing from Toronto and Montreal, as they were invited to stay at the new Alt Hotel. We had dinner at “Mussels On The Corner”, which has a long menu with Mussels cooked in ways you couldn’t even imagine. Not into mussels? You can try something else off their delicious menu and if you’re adventurous enough…maybe dabble in a Seal Meat Poutine.
I feel truly lucky to have visited this adorable city, full of history, great food (read: chocolate) , great people and great music. It’s a perfect Urban getaway that actually feels more “cottage-country meets small town”. In fact, St.John’s would be a great place to fly into for a few days before spending some time exploring the rest of Newfoundland…something I absolutely will do one day again.
Thanks Air Canada Vacations and the At Hotel for this incredible experience!