By Shelley Cameron-McCarron
Fishermen’s boats bob at the wharf in Quidi Vidi, NL. The roads are a little narrow. And houses cling to dramatic rocky cliffs, around a spectacular, sheltered harbour. By anyone’s standards, this centuries-old fishing settlement is an enchanting, scenic slice of rural Newfoundland and Labrador. But here’s the thing—it’s all within 10 minutes of downtown St. John’s, the province’s largest metropolitan area.
So when the Inn by Mallard Cottage opened in this tiny village on the eastern edge of St. John’s in 2017, it not only created an authentic Newfoundland experience for guests—with wool socks in rooms instead of slippers, rustic iron coat hooks, colourful handmade quilts covering the beds—it offered a destination experience unlike anything else, in one of the province’s most photographed locations.
Visitors feel they’re in an outport fishing village, but can easily walk to the city’s bustling downtown. Quidi Vidi feels worlds apart, yet it’s not, says chef Todd Perrin, co-owner of the Inn by Mallard Cottage and Mallard Cottage restaurant.
“Basically you’re in downtown St. John’s. It’s this unique geographic situation where you can take advantage of it,” he says.
“People really like how different it is here than where they’re from, that natural ruggedness, the rural and urban experience all in one. You can see whales, icebergs, eagles, seals, and fishing, but if you want to go to shops, restaurants and city amenities, it’s just 10 minutes away.”
That’s if you even want to leave the village, known locally as “the Gut.” Adventure a-plenty is on the doorstep.
Quidi Vidi is home to world-renowned hiking trails, artisan studios, and fishing and foraging excursions. The province’s oldest and largest microbrewery makes its home here, and the quirky, fun Inn of Olde pub. Quidi Vidi Lake welcomes scores during St. John’s annual regatta. It’s easy to not want to leave.
Connections and cocktails
You get that rural connection to nature, but also amazing cocktails, top dining, a comfy place to sleep, and much to do, says Perrin. He and his partners provide a kind of rustic experience at the inn and restaurant, but at the same time, the service is elevated with upscale elements and a definite focus on details.
At five years old, Mallard Cottage has built an enviable reputation heavily focused on local food. Its setting is enviable too, part of an 18th century Irish-Newfoundland vernacular style cottage recognized as a National Historic Site of Canada. The original building is more than 200 years old, one of the oldest wooden structures in North America. The modern-day addition is heavy on traditional wood and brick. It’s rustic and folksy, with traditional Newfoundland ingredients, Perrin says. The quality level is high, but it’s still a comfortable place, a cool neighbourhood restaurant, where brunch, served family style, is a big draw.
When opportunity came to acquire neighbouring property, they constructed two traditional Newfoundland salt box style houses, with seven guest rooms. “It looks like they’ve been there forever,” says Perrin. “It’s one foot in tradition, but also quite modern.”
Walk on the wild side
McCarthy says Quidi Vidi is a place where the old and the new are spectacularly shown.
“It’s just a real beautiful example of old port Newfoundland, you have old fishing stages, that sense of heritage and culture, idyllic scenery, all that people envision when they think of Newfoundland,” she says.
Another cool way to experience the environment is by hopping aboard Quidi Vidi Charters, operated by Kevin Battcock and Noel Brown, from a wharf in the community.
“The fishing grounds are literally right there,” Battcock says. “We’re looking out at the North Atlantic—there’s just a gap in the rocks and it’s right there.”
While guests fish cod from the Smuggler’s Run, a stable, deep sea vessel, they’re treated to dreamy sightseeing—seabirds, maybe whales, and St. John’s by water. The tour ends back on their wharf where just-caught fish is filleted and cooked up into a fish and chips feast. “You really get to know what fresh fish tastes like,” Mr. Battcock says. “Everybody loves it, it’s just so authentic. No day is ever the same. It’s all punctuated with storytelling and Newfoundland humour.”
Also on a picturesque wharf, with picnic tables and benches to enjoy oceanside views, Quidi Vidi Plantation, a City of St. John’s facility, is an artist incubator where visitors may see craftspeople selling locally-spun wool, leatherwork, jewelry, ceramics or textiles. Up to 10 unique artisans are at work in their studios, where visitors can purchase craft and chat with the maker.
Interestingly, the Plantation gets its name from the term planter, a settler in Newfoundland, rather than a migratory fisherman, who supported himself through the inshore fishery. His property was known as a plantation. Locals say early maps of St. John’s show many in Quidi Vidi. One of the longest standing was the Eli Tucker Premises, built in the 1600s, and now repurposed as the Plantation.
For hiking, visitors are spoiled for choice, including the East Coast Trail’s Sugarloaf Path, which begins or ends in Quidi Vidi, depending on where you start. It’s a day hike, taking three to five hours one way (the trail comes out in Logy Bay near Memorial University’s Ocean Science Centre), and it’s moderate to difficult. Coastal views are unparalleled, including places where you look into the horizon and really feel you’re on the edge of North America. You can do a shorter hike on Sugarloaf, walking along the side of the coast, climbing up the stairs to the view at Bawdens Highland.
Also iconic is Parks Canada’s Ladies’ Lookout Trail from Quidi Vidi up to Signal Hill National Historic Site—do keep an eye out for bald eagles nesting.
At Quidi Vidi Brewery, a former fish plant surrounded by cliffs, sea otters and seals, visitors enjoy Friday kitchen parties, brewery tours, live music with Dave Whitty on “Quidi Whitty Thursdays” and award-winning ales, lagers and Iceberg Beer, in its distinctive blue bottles, crafted with waters from over 20,000-year-old icebergs that drift by their shores. It’s Newfoundland & Labrador’s largest craft brewery, and its oldest, starting in 1995. Upgrades last year mean they now have 16 taps pouring Quidi Vidi beer in a tasting room with one of the best views ever.
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Header Credit: NL Tourism/Ray Mackey
Intro caption: Meals at Mallard Cottage are not to be missed.
Intro Credit: Courtesy of Inn by Mallard Cottage