Cruise for Giants in Newfoundland

1. Where to Stay

The Ballard Suite at Ryan Mansion, left, and a jacuzzi tub at the Monastery.Photo: Courtesy of The Ryan Mansion; The Spa at the Monastery and Suites

Sleep in first class at the Ryan Mansion (from $170 USD), built by the craftsman of the ill-fated Titanic, and featuring the same luxuries like mahogany mantles and an ornate white English oak staircase. Ask for the spacious Ballard Suite, named for the explorer who discovered the ships’ remains in 1985, where a 4-poster bed and heated marble floors await.

Feel secure at the Rendell-Shea Manor (from $105), one of the very few architectural survivors of the “Great Fire of 1892.” The wallet-friendly rooms have soaking tubs and harbor views.

Recharge at the Spa at the Monastery and Suites (rooms from $110) with Aveda bath amenities, elevated fireplaces, and two-person Jacuzzi-tubs. Jump into the pure iceberg-water plunge pool, noted for its high oxygen and mineral content.

2. Where to Eat

Basho's modishly lit bar. Photo: Terry Rice

St John’s native Tak Ishiwata studied at Nobu before returning home to open Basho (283 Duckworth St; 709-576-4600). Begin your meal with an iceberg-garnished martini on the upper deck. At dinner, order the asparagus with egg sauce and sautéed lobster—a dish created by Chef Matsuhisa Nobu exclusively for Basho.

Watch the icebergs drift past your table at Atlantica, on the outskirts of St. John’s. The seven-course tasting menu highlights the region’s abundant seafood for only $77.

At Portobello (115 Duckworth St; 709-579-7050), fantastic harbor views are enough to make you forget that the building used to be a KFC. The surf-and-turf menu pairs well with Quidi Vidi Brewery’s Iceberg Beer, a crisp local microbrew made with 100 percent glacier water.

3. What to Do

A puffin colony seen on the O'Brien's tour boat, left, guide Rick Stanley on one of his diving expeditions for Ocean Quest Adventures, right. Photo: Courtesy of O’Brien’s Boat Tour; Ingo Vollmer (Diver)

Look at the underside of icebergs by diving into Conception Bay with Ocean Quest Adventures (packages starting at $299). Owner Rick Stanley (709-685-4565) guides experienced advanced divers around hulking giants and medium-size growlers. For the less experienced, Rick also offers PAD and SDI certification-training classes at the lodge in his simulation tank.

Paddle a kayak behind whales, around icebergs, and inside caves on a tour with Stan Cook Sea Kayak Adventures ($48 USD/two-and-a-half-hour tour). The father-son team will guide you around Cape Broyle; dock and walk the trails of this salty stretch of the Atlantic coast.

Question trained naturalists and marine biologists aboard an O’Brien’s Boat Tour (two hours for $50). Sail around the puffin colonies and whale-feeding waters of Bay Bulls. Admire the view with a drink in hand from the boat’s fully stocked bar.

4. Insider’s Tip

The lookout point on top of Signal Hill. Photo: Adam H. Graham

Take a $5 taxi ride to up Cabot Tower on Signal Hill, an excellent vantage point from which to see icebergs coming in from western Greenland. Walk down the winding cliff-ridge path leading toward the historic Battery, a tight-knit and vividly painted neighborhood on the edge of downtown. A warming cup of hot chowder awaits at Anchorage Coffee.

5. Oddball Day

The Celtic Hearth, left, and the Ferryland Lighthouse. Photo: tderouin (Lighthouse)

Pack on some extra protection from the cold by sampling the traditional Newfoundland diet. Fried bologna and eggs is a long-standing breakfast classic available anywhere on “The Rock,” but Velma’s Place (264 Water St, 709-576-2264) a diner short on ambiance but long on flavor, is where it feels most authentic. Order it with a side of scrunchions (salted pork rinds) and fried toast with partridgeberry jam.

Rent a car and drive (Budget Rentals 709-747-1234; from $40 a day) 45 minutes south to Ferryland to Lighthouse Picnics. Work up your appetite on a leisurely hike past Lord Baltimore’s Colony, Goose Island, and the Torhamvan shipwreck. Eat your prepared picnic lunch of crab cakes, lemonade in bell jars, and rhubarb fool on a tartan blanket, but bring an extra wrap for when it gets windy.

On your drive back to St. John’s, buy some flipper pies—yes, that’s seal in there—at Bidgoods, the supermarket near Ferryland. Spread bake-apple (a.k.a. cloudberry) jam or some squashberry jelly on hard-tack, the dense, dry crackers beloved by Newfoundland residents.

Prepare for bed with glass of screech, Newfoundland’s strong, super-sweet liquor made from the sediment at the bottom of the rum barrel. Dodge the rowdy crowd on St. John’s George Street and enjoy a glass at the Celtic Hearth (298 Water St, 709-576-2880), a relaxed, dimly lit pub with worn wooden booths, a potbellied stove, and live Celtic music.

6. Links

Track ice floe in the area with Iceberg Finder, which uses Google Maps and the Canadian Ice Patrol satellite technology to map incoming ‘bergs.

The Telegram, St John’s daily newspaper, is a good source for concert and event listings in the area.

Newfoundland native and prolific blogger Robert Hiscock has the latest happenings in local art, music, and film on his Product of Newfoundland blog.

Cruise for Giants in Newfoundland