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Mark Davidson from Oasis Travel Howard Street answered Canada’s call of the wild recently, heading for adventure and exploration in fabulous Newfoundland on a trip hosted by Prestige Holidays, WestJet and Destination St John's.

WestJet's non-stop (and well-priced!) flights from London Gatwick to Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg and St John's make it easier than ever before to holiday in Canada, and the five hour flight from Dublin to St John’s in the region known as ‘Atlantic Canada’ even makes even a long weekend viable for those in pursuit of something different.

As I discovered with Prestige Holidays, St John's on the northeast shore of the Avalon Peninsula is a stunningly colourful, almost impossibly picturesque destination. From the delightful, technicolour vibrancy of the appropriately named ‘Jellybean Row’ in the city centre, to the reflected colours of the harbour area, this city is truly easy on the eye!  It is at once large enough to have all the facilities and attractions you’d expect in a provincial capital, but it has retained much of its original small town charm.

My better-than-comfortable room at the characterful 4* Sheraton St John’s gave me a great panoramic view of the city and its central location made it the perfect base for exploration.  

The oldest and most easterly city in North America, St John’s is increasingly recognised as a rare destination full of character and charisma, with a contemporary, sophisticated edge. The city is small and easily walkable and has a great music scene.  Although the port area is not nearly as busy as years gone by, there is still a good industry here and you can see where the local saying ‘Cod is God’ originated. 

There is a great selection of quality restaurants not only in St John’s itself, but also throughout the peninsula.  Not surprisingly the main offering is seafood and culinary standards are high. 

Just outside St John's is the tiny fishing village of Quidi Vidi (pronounced Kiddy Viddy) where we visited the Quidi Vidi Brewery.  Eight brands of beer have been brewed here for the past fifteen years, for local and selected Canadian and International markets.  Huge quantities are consumed locally, as the Newfoundlanders take a pride in locally produced food, drink and craft … and of course ‘When in Rome’ ….

To the north of the peninsula, but still within easy reach, is beautiful Conception Bay whose architecture is reminiscent of New England, complete with clapboard houses and picket fences in picturesque Brigius.   Here, I also took the opportunity to check out Sea Salt & Thyme.  Located in a former convent, the main floor is a gastropub specialising in local ingredients, while the top two floors are beautifully appointed rooms – a really super boutique property for those who like somewhere a bit out of the ordinary.

Cupids Cove, home to the earliest permanent English settlement in all of Canada, and dating back to 1610, is also within easy reach and The Cupids Legacy Centre details the history, with a folktale or two thrown in.  The people of Newfoundland are very friendly, and take great pleasure in relating the history of their home region.  Wonderful storytellers, they love their tales of folklore and it all adds colour to the visitor experience.

The coastal scenery south of St John's is strikingly similar to the Antrim Coast Road, particularly the small town of Ferryland is particularly reminiscent.  Here there is a wonderful attraction, the Ferryland Lighthouse Picnic.  As the name suggests, you purchase a hamper from the kitchen of a converted lighthouse and sit at the cliff edge, taking in the gorgeous coastline and watching the tuna leap from the water. You can brag afterwards that you have eaten in the most easterly eatery in all of North America.  In June, July and August thousands of Humpback Whales can also be seen along the coast, attracted by the warm currents and feeding grounds.

There is a great outdoor feel to this country.  The people are very straightforward and direct, with no fuss.  The Lighthouse Picnic was a classic example of how the Nanny Culture does not operate here.  No fences or barriers, just take your hamper to the cliff face, and if you want to venture too close to the edge.

It would be perfectly possible to while away your time in St John’s, but hiring a car will give your visit a whole new dimension and allow you to get out and enjoy Canada’s wonderful scenery and amazing wildlife – just be sure to keep an eye out for jay-walking moose!  In this region you can sample so much it’s almost like a ‘mini Canada’.

Canadian tourism has adopted the slogan ‘Keep Exploring’ and, after my first venture into Atlantic Canada, that’s just what I intend to do. If this mix of the Great Outdoors and welcoming city attractions appeals to you, give me a call and I’ll share my new-found enthusiasm for Newfoundland.

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