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Food & Travel Guide

Food & Travel Guide

If you’re tired of doing the same old summer activities, then it’s time to seek out the unusual.

Picture this: It’s a beautiful day, so you decide to go for a hike. After a while, you stop for a rest and to have a picnic. After you get home, you soak in the tub, washing away the day’s sweat and grime. Those are all pretty ordinary activities that you can do just about any time at any place in Atlantic Canada, right? Well, yes—but let’s add a twist to them, because after all, Atlantic Canadians like to mix it up.

Raphial, a handsome llama with attitude, watches his owner, John Bennett, as he slips a halter over his head and puts some chopped carrots into the animal’s inquisitive lips. Fellow llamas Al, Whistler, Camelot, Peanut and Cashew observe with equal interest. Bennett is preparing to ready several of his llamas to accompany a couple of hikers who have arrived at his llama-trekking business, Off the Beaten Track Llama Adventures in The Lookoff, near Canning on the North Mountain of Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley.

There are few hiking operations where a llama is your companion pack animal. Bennett takes his guests over a variety of woodland and meadow trails, including the occasional trek out to the world-famous Cape Split in nearby Scott’s Bay. The hikes range in length from one to five hours, depending on the trail (Cape Split is the longest) and include a mug-up and snack at the halfway point (if you’ve never eaten s’mores toasted over an open fire, you don’t know what you’re missing).

Llamas are alpine animals and therefore quite at home on the North Mountain, where brisk winds off the Bay of Fundy make for cooler but still pleasant summer days that are perfect for hiking. They can easily carry up to 85 pounds of gear in specially designed packs, though Bennett never loads more than 60. He offers tours year round; whether in winter or summer, people love hiking the trails with him and his furry friends. “People come from the city or from here in the Valley just to hang out with the llamas,” he says.

Something about lighthouses warms the heart and fires the imagination. I know I’d love to spend a few days in a restored lighthouse with nothing but my computer, some books, maybe one or two of my cats and—of course—some good food.

I don’t know if that’s possible yet anywhere on the East Coast, but one thing travellers can do is experience the pleasure of Lighthouse Picnics in Ferryland, N.L. Business partners Jill Curran and Sonia O’Keefe offer gourmet picnics using the freshest local and organic ingredients at the restored Ferryland Head Lighthouse, a 20-minute walk down a winding nature trail with some of the best scenery in coastal Newfoundland.

The proprietors of Lighthouse Picnics use the freshest local and organic ingredients in their picnic-basket fare.

The lighthouse was constructed in 1869 and became operational the following year, with a succession of lighthouse keepers living at the station’s house until 1970, when the light was automated. Curran’s great-great grandfather was one of the lighthouse keepers, so she long has had an abiding passion for the building. Several years ago she noticed that the property was falling into disrepair, so she and O’Keefe discussed developing some sort of business plan. They eventually hit upon the idea of offering picnics on the rolling grounds surrounding the old lighthouse. Because the structure was still in serious need of repair, in 2003 they operated completely outdoors their first summer.

“Our first day we did crab cakes, grilled lemon-chicken pita salad, chocolate toffee squares and strawberry shortcake,” says Curran. “One of our first two customers was a couple from Colorado who was astonished to hike out and find us, because we had done no advertising. It was especially funny on foggy days, when people would come up the trail out of the fog and find us there with big baskets of fruit and bread and a hand-operated juice squeezer.”

Encouraged and delighted by the response to their first season, Curran and O’Keefe set about leasing the lighthouse from the Town of Ferryland; it had never possessed running water, it needed rewiring and it was in dire need of repair. With the main floor now restored, there’s an informal area for indoor picnics in the event of inclement weather, but Curran has noticed that visitors don’t really mind if the fog is in or out. “People spend hours with us,” she says. “One couple stayed the whole day. There’s such a vast space around the lighthouse that you find your own spot and feel like you’re the only person around.” The menu changes daily but always features several choices and fresh local ingredients.

The business partners have created an interpretation centre inside the lighthouse, with pictures of the families who once lived there, along with some history of the area and the shipwrecks that happened around the treacherous shoreline. During renovations, they managed to keep some of the original floors and timbers while adding electricity and running water. They also created a function room that they rent for meetings and private parties. Last autumn they held some events inside the building.

“In the fall, Newfoundland weather is only good for picnicking just so long” says Curran wryly, “so we’ve had various writers and musicians and workshops and held indoor picnics around those.” One of the events that Curran and O’Keefe enjoyed the most was the unveiling of a painting of the lighthouse by artist Gerald Squires, who lived there with his family from 1970 to 1983.

After a day of hiking or picnicking, we often need a good scrub, right? Today we take soap for granted, but our ancestors had to make their own as part of their housekeeping tasks. When you walk into the brightly lit building housing the Olivier Soapery and Economuseum of Soap in Ste. Anne de Kent, N.B., the first reaction is that it smells almost good enough to eat. The air lightly scented with lavender, jasmine, lemon, peppermint and rose. Customers pore over soap products in the boutique, trying to decide which to choose.

You can learn all about the history of soap and its importance in our lives at the Olivier Soapery. The facility includes the soap museum, which contains artifacts and displays on the art of making soap and the concepts of hygiene, from antiquity to the present day. The Soapery is the brainchild of husband-and-wife team Pierre Pelletier and Isabel Gagné. Isabelle, an artisan with a chemistry background, is the visionary who comes up with the recipes for their handmade natural soaps; Pierre, gregarious and a great storyteller, looks after the marketing and does some of the product demonstrations.

The company’s success is in part due to the couple’s top-quality soaps, which are made from olive oil, beeswax, cocoa butter and, for the scented soaps, essential oils. The best-seller is a soap designed especially for those who suffer from eczema and other troublesome skin conditions. Because of this success, says Pelletier, the couple has worked with doctors and other health care practitioners to develop various therapeutic products.

The most fun aspect of the Soapery might just be the live demonstrations on the art of making soap. Pelletier’s grandmother was the soap-maker in the small Acadian community of Grande-Digue, N.B., providing soap for all of the village residents. Pelletier and Gagné loved the idea of preserving an important part of their heritage, and since they were finding that customers were fascinated to see what they were doing, in 2004 they began holding soap-making demonstrations once a day. Now the demonstrations are offered five times daily and are free of charge, as is admission to the museum and art display.

If you’re really lucky, Pelletier, who changes his soap-making “character” each year, will treat you to his particular demonstration. In 2005, to acknowledge the 250th anniversary of the deportation of the Acadians, he played Acadian freedom fighter Beausoleil Broussard, who was raised by the natives and a thorn in the side of the British soldiers who were pursuing Acadians after the deportation.

Expect that a stiff sea breeze will be caressing the shore when you visit North Cape, P.E.I. This most northern tip of the province is home to the Atlantic Wind Test Site and wind farm, as well as to the North Cape Complex, the Black Marsh Nature Trail, the most important navigational lighthouse on the island and the largest natural rock reef in North America.

This has to be one of the most extraordinary spots in P.E.I. Here the Gulf of St. Lawrence meets the Northumberland Strait in a sonata of crashing waves and surf, especially as waters break over the rock reef. At low tide, visitors can walk out across the reef as far as half a mile, where they can observe the activity of seals, sea birds and other marine life.

Where else does natural history and traditional labour meet so perfectly with innovative technology? This secluded area is one of the windiest regions in the county and, for 26 years, wind turbines have been catching the sea breezes with their graceful “arms.” In their shadows, the Irish moss harvesters arrive with their trucks holding their working horses before heading down the beach to harvest the sea’s bounty.

The Black Marsh Nature Trail meanders along the shoreline and through wooded areas, marked with bilingual interpretive displays on everything from the region’s natural history to the local legend of the phantom ghost ship. At 2.7 kilometres (1.7 miles), the hike isn’t difficult; along the way you’ll pass by the towering wind turbines and smell the sea-scented air.

The North Cape site features a recently renovated and expanded complex that houses the Wind Energy Interpretive Centre, where visitors can learn about the history of harnessing the wind for energy. Interactive displays and models demonstrate the technology of wind power and depict its use as an energy source both now and in the future. There’s also a fine marine aquarium and a gift shop featuring local artisans and the Wind & Reef Restaurant and Lounge.

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