Weekends are short and precious moments in our hectic lives filled with work and responsibilities. The trouble with planning a weekend escape in New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island is narrowing the possibilities – city or small town, seaside or inland, adventure or family activities, resort or quiet B&B. These two provinces have it all in spades.
From the world’s highest tides along the Bay of Fundy to PEI’s endless beaches, from pastoral farmland to riverside cities, from historical villages to top golfing resorts, the possibilities for a rewarding getaway abound. Kayak a sea cave, enjoy a music festival, hike to a waterfall, take a boat tour, explore local history or just sit on the beach. Whatever the personal preference, there’s a corner of New Brunswick or PEI waiting with activities, attractions and comfortable accommodations. The best antidote to that work-a-day stress and hustle is to select one of these great getaway ideas and just go for it.
New Brunswick Weekend Escapes
Just across the US border, Saint Andrews’ history as a summer destination goes back a century and a half. In 1889, the Algonquin Resort opened on a hill overlooking the Bay of Fundy and this seaside town. There’s old-fashioned luxury to be found here at its restaurants, indoor and outdoor pools, golf course and tennis courts. It’s a short walk past luxury heritage homes built in that period down to Water Street for coffee and baked treats at Honeybeans or fine dining at Europa. Whale watching tours depart right from the docks.
Saint Andrews is a family-friendly town. At the Fundy Discovery Aquarium, kids can feed the seals and feel the spray from a giant, round tank of schooling salmon. At the award-winning Kingsbrae Gardens, both children and plant buffs will enjoy strolling the themed gardens and searching for the many works of art that change annually with their sculpture competition. Everyone will enjoy a tasting tour of the Chocolate Museum in nearby St. Stephen to finish off the day.
Alma has no rivals as New Brunswick’s adventure capital. The one-street town on the shores of the dramatic Bay of Fundy where fishing boats bob at high tide and nestle into the ocean bottom at low tide is walking distance from the entrance to the Bay of Fundy National Park. Here, hiking trails follow the rugged coastline, lead to waterfalls and wind through mossy forests. The 48-kilometre inland Fundy Circuit will challenge the most ambitious.
Sixteen kilometres in the other direction at the aptly named Cape Enrage, adventure seekers can zipline to a lighthouse at the tip of a jagged cliff and test their rock climbing skills. The lightkeeper’s house is now one of the province’s best restaurants – try the lobster tacos. About half an hour north, kayakers can paddle among the “flowerpots” at Hopewell Rocks. These whimsical red stone pinnacles carved by some of the world’s highest tides are topped with small trees and other vegetation and have nicknames like Dinosaur Rock, Turtle Rock and E. T. At low tide, descend the staircase to walk among these towering formations and imagine yourself inside a picture book by, say, Dr. Seuss.
The Captain’s Quarters in Alma is a central resting place for all this adventure. Comforts of home await, including handmade quilts on beds and a home-cooked breakfast in front of a sunny window. Ask for a room in this traditional Maritime B&B with a view of the bay.
A great way to literally get a taste of Saint John is to hit the streets with Uncorked Tours, which starts at the historic Saint John City Market. With a ring of the bell, the market opens, as it has since 1785. Canada’s oldest continuous farmers market is now a National Historic Site and home to vendors peddling everything from fresh fish to delicious takeaway lunches like salmon burgers from Slocum and Ferris, an original vendor.
Saint John is a city of working-class roots heavily influenced by historical waves of immigration. Reflecting this history, the fine dining room at Italian By Night would transform into the work-a-day Urban Deli every morning. IbN has since moved, but both remain popular Saint John dining rooms run by the same passionate foodies. Enjoy handmade pasta like Tagliatelle with baby clams at night and tuck into Urban Deli’s generous sandwiches with culturally-diverse working class backgrounds like Philly beef and Montreal smoked meat.
With appetites satisfied, it’s time to search out some outdoor adventure sites like Irving Nature Park and Rockwood Park. Many of these, including the entire city itself, lie within the 2500 square kilometre Stonehammer Geopark, this continent’s first UNESCO geopark. Visitors can zipline over reversing rapids, kayak sea caves, go fossil hunting, photograph a waterfall and walk the ocean floor at Stonehammer’s 60 geo sites.
Evenings in Saint John are best spent swapping stories of the day’s adventures over a local brew like Tool Shed Porter at Big Tide Brewing Company, snacking on the city’s best charcuterie at Saint John Ale House or discovering a local wine like Mott’s Landing Summer Solstice at Happinez Wine Bar. Because “uptown” Saint John is entirely walkable, all of these are a short walk back to the quaint and quiet rooms of the Earle of Leinster Inn. My preference is for the Victorian-style rooms in the heritage part of the building, but there are more contemporary digs in the back.
New Brunswick’s capital city Fredericton sits at a picturesque bend in the historic Saint John River that runs the length of the province. Shopping among 250 vendors at the bustling Boyce Farmers Market and browsing the recently expanded Beaverbrook Art Gallery where a large, dramatic Salvador Dali painting is the star attraction are the best places to enjoy Fredericton’s laid-back qualities. Wake up in the five-star Quartermain House, rated the continent’s best B&B, where a perfect blend of period furnishings and contemporary creature comforts make for one luxurious stay. Sitting down to Debra Quartermain’s breakfast at a sunny nook in the Gothic Revival heritage property, expect pastries, frittatas and local fruit preparations like braised pears in maple syrup that are as well prepared as in any top restaurant.
What’s surprising about Fredericton is the contrast between the pastoral setting and the high energy that surges through this city at festivals and events all year round. During the week-long September party known as the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival, one of the best music festivals in Canada, downtown streets become concert venues. For a full month in winter, Frostival fills the calendar with a hundred individual events like old fashioned outdoor skating parties and lots of live music. Bonus – Fredericton is the Maritimes’ top location for craft beer.
Small town Caraquet at the heart of the Acadian Peninsula is the perfect place to get to know the Maritimes’ unique French Acadian culture. And whether you’re a family with kids or a bunch of old friends, the cottages at Les Chalets de la Plage de Bas-Caraquet is a great launching pad for a fun-filled getaway. A long stretch of beach with quiet, warm waters front the cottages. There’s a colourful water park for kids and adventure nearby for everyone at Club Plein Air de Caraquet. The “Get Some Fresh Air Package” includes a family pass with access to ski trails, snowshoe trails, skating with music and night lighting and new fat tire bike trails in winter, as well as great hiking and biking in the other seasons.
There is no East Coast event more boisterous and dynamic than Festival Acadien in Caraquet. The street parade alone will blow your socks off. Held every August 15, the festival ends two weeks of revelry in celebration of Acadian culture. Participants wearing the red, white and blue Acadian colours make as much noise as possible. For a deeper immersion into the culture, a visit to the Village Historique Acadien half an hour away is a must. There, costumed interpreters at the site’s 60 buildings work and live as Acadians did at historical periods from 1770 to 1949. For a great culinary experience, head to Mitchan Sushi for a Japanese take on regional terroir. Try the Mitchan Combo that showcases local seafood like scallops, salmon and crab.
The Maritimes are a trove of luxury hotels at wallet-friendly prices. Don’t believe us?
P.E.I. Weekend Escapes
Canada’s cradle of Confederation, Charlottetown, is loaded with history and Canadian culture. The best place to start exploring is the Confederation Centre of the Arts, home of the beloved musical, Anne of Green Gables, now the world’s longest-running annual musical theatre production, according to Guinness.
Adding to the city’s unique mix of activities is a new Chinese junk boat tour of the harbour aboard the red, two-masted Hai Long (Sea Dragon) that includes an authentic Chinese meal. It’s said to be the only such tour in North America. It departs near Peakes Quay, the city’s harborside shopping district.
The historic city that it is, Charlottetown’s accommodation options is an embarrassment of riches like the grand Victorian Shipwright Inn or the elegant heritage property, Harbour House. For historical character and luxury, none can beat Fairholm Inn. Dating from 1838, the five-star, red brick inn is a National Historic Site in the city’s downtown. From here, it’s easy to discover by foot, say, a great brewpub like Gahan House or the resourceful and inventive creations Terre Rouge Bistro Marche, a hearty restaurant and well-stocked market filled with house-made meats, condiments and ice cream.
Events large and small take place in and around Summerside. Check out calendars at Harbourfront Theatre and Credit Union Place for theatre, music and sports. No events are more rousing than the performances at the College of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts of Canada, the only year-round institution of its kind in North America. Their summer stage presentation called Highland Storm is an exhilarating mix of bagpiping, drumming and dancing. Retreat to The Warn House B&B for the night where the rooms are as spacious and peaceful as the grounds. Co-owner and chef Gerry Gill offers fine evening dining and a hearty breakfast.
From Summerside, it’s a short hop over to the north side of the island for essential PEI activities. Get to know Anne of Green Gables at the museum and other sites dedicated to her. Dine in traditional Maritimes style at the original PEI Lobster Supper in New Glasgow. Swim or just relax at one of PEI’s famous beaches like the one at Cavendish in PEI National Park.
Alberton and Northwest Coast
PEI’s northwest coast is too often overlooked. This is farm country surrounded by ocean, so every shade of green and blue can be found on a road trip through fields and forests between little towns like O’Leary, Alberton and Tignish. The road ends at the dramatic North Point Lightstation. Rural PEI is no place to be shy. People love a good conversation with visitors. In fact, tours leaving from the Canadian Potato Museum in O’Leary take visitors into the fields for a personalized tour with a potato farmer to learn the finer points of growing the island’s famous spuds. Back at the museum, check out the thorough collection of historic farm machinery, tuck into the best fries ever and try your hand at making potato fudge.
Stompin’ Tom Connors, one of Canada’s greatest musical heroes, grew up here in Skinners Pond, a seaside hamlet with a few houses and fishing boats. The brand new Stompin’ Tom Centre interprets his life and music, and hosts concerts all summer long. Next to the new interpretive centre, visit the one-room schoolhouse with the potbellied stove where Tom and his mischievous classmates tried and occasionally succeeded in staying out of trouble.
From any of these towns and stopping places, Briarwood Inn, Cottages and Lodge in Alberton is a nearby, central stay. From this 19th century heritage home and new cottages, kayak on the protected adjacent waters, golf at Mill River or just enjoy a private lobster boil – Briarwood will supply the cooking utensils.
Rodd Brudenell River Resort on the island’s eastern shores is a golfer’s dream. It’s just outside charming Montague, a town with an outdoor art gallery of sculptures and murals. Brudenell Resort is adjacent to a couple of the island’s finest 18-hole courses – Dundarave and Brudenell River, the latter named for the quiet waters they overlook. The idyllic setting – gardens, ponds and of course the river – have attracted many professional events to Brudenell for nearly half a century and placed it on many top golf course lists in Canada. Next to it, the relatively young Dundarave opened in 1999 with a pleasing mix of contemporary and traditional features. Together, the two make for one of the country’s top golfing getaways.
For those who enjoy other outdoor activities, there’s kayaking and canoeing on the river, an outdoor pool, tennis courts and bike rentals. A children’s centre and indoor pool keep the kids entertained. For a rare local experience, head to Bay Fortune to make sea glass jewellery at Fire and Water Creations with Teri Hall. At the neighbouring Inn at Bay Fortune, book a seat at their communal table for a culinary experience that is the highlight of many a trip to the Maritimes – TV chef Michael Smith’s “FireWorks” feast.