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Weekending in St. Andrew's-by-the-Sea

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By The Gremotraveler

They have been doing it for over 200 years, weekending that is. After all, St. Andrew's embodies proper Loyalist values at their finest. The ambiance of St. Andrews reflects the practical resourcefulness of these loyal subjects to the monarchy. It was for this very reason that St. Andrew's and nearby Campobello Island became the summer residence of choice for the wealthy and powerful, including Sir Samuel Leonard Tilly, Sir James Dunn, Sir William Van Horne, C.D. Howe, and even Franklin Roosevelt.

Founded in 1783 by United Empire Loyalists and named in honour of St Andrews, Scotland, the town is well preserved, with many original buildings still in place. Some of the town's most historic structures arrived by floating barge from Castine, Maine at the end of the Revolutionary War. Much like nearby Saint John, the town was once an important shipping port and strategic location for the British. However, for the past 100 years it has been better known as the place to relax and recharge. History abounds along side fresh local seafood, two of the major draws of this quaint seaside resort town.

It all started with the creation of the St. Andrews Land Company in 1888 and the arrival of a unique man in 1891 to nearby Minister's Island. Ministers Island was the last significant vestige of Sir William Van Horne, the driving force behind the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway which unified Canada coast to coast. By the time of Van Horne's death in 1915, the island had been transformed into a small Xanadu, sporting a sandstone mansion furnished in the most lavish late Edwardian manner. The estate, Covenhoven, was surrounded by manicured grounds, scenic roadways, and a massive network of greenhouses turning out exotic fruits and vegetables he had discovered in his travels. Van Horne loved fine foods, especially exotic fruits and foreign cuisine. Covenhoven provided him with all of the luxuries of a current day 5-star resort and was fully-sustainable with most of his food and supplies produced by several facilities spread out over his private island estate. The island's most impressive structure was a massive barn and breeding farm producing prize-winning Clydesdale horses and Dutch Belted cattle. It was the most spectacular of the many palatial summer homes in St. Andrews and tours are now made available to the general public of what remains of this famous estate.

Van Horne's arrival sparked a flood of socialite tourists into the sleepy town and by 1889, The Algonquin Hotel was built to accommodate these worldly guests. The impressive four-storey half-timbered structure with its castle-like facade and 80 guest rooms, each with its own fireplace and water closet. The opening of the town's landmark resort, now part of Fairmont Hotels, was an event celebrated by distinguished guests from across Canada and the United States. The Loyalist residents of St. Andrews quickly seized upon the summer tourism draw that the hotel was creating as the wealthy of humid inland cities of North America descended on their seaside paradise. Over the years, the resort became the playground for several royals and heads of state, such as Presidents of the United States Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson to HRH Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, as well as Sir John A. Macdonald and virtually every Prime Minister of Canada since Confederation.

Waking up at the Algonquin is a spectacular event. Guests can sit on the massive front terrace and sip tea as they watch the fog from Passamaquoddy Bay slowly creep its way out of town like little grey fingers. The town's main street is a short walk down the hill from the resort. Here, visitors can see local fishing vessels arriving with the freshest seafood or take a whale-watching adventure through the Fundy Islands. The town is filled with historic loyalist homes, art galleries, and shops. Every Thursday morning, during the summer months, there is a local Farmer's Market in the town square. Local farmers and artisans converge to sell their organic produce and meat, plants, herbal soap, and crafts. A must are the crepes filled with a wide-variety of local fruits with melted chocolate and homemade local fudge.

If you arrive in the early spring, fiddleheads are the staple ingredient for most dishes in the region. Fiddleheads are unfurled fronds of a young fern harvested by hand in rural areas of New Brunswick, New England, Quebec and Ontario. The name comes from their resemblance to curled ornamental work (called a scroll) on the end of a stringed instrument, such as a fiddle. Fiddleheads are a New Brunswick delicacy and are prepared by cooking the "heads" in a small amount of lightly salted boiling water or steamed. The quicker they are eaten, the more delicate their flavour, and have a taste somewhere between asparagus and beet greens. A favourite east coast dish for fiddleheads includes cooked and chilled heads served as a salad with an onion and vinegar dressing.

On the hill, adjacent to the Algonquin, is the only Relais &amp; Chateaux/Mobil Four-Star property east of Quebec and one Fodor's Top 25 Hotels in the world: The Kingsbrae Arms. In 1996, two New Yorkers turned a derelict 1897 mansion into one of the most spectacular inns in Canada. In 2006, innkeepers Harry Chancey and David Oxford celebrated 10 years of serving fine food, refined accommodations, and the ultimate weekending St. Andrews can offer. While visiting Kingsbrae Arms for dinner, or for an extended stay, you will experience Chef Marc Latulippe's cuisine du terroir et de la mer (from land and sea). Each day, Chef Marc creates from the freshest ingredients cultivated by Madame Latulippe, the official organic gardener. Great wine is another passion of the inn. Every night the goal of their wine program is to create the most exciting vineferous experience for each guest, whether they be experienced sommeliers or vino virgins.

Nearby, at Kingsbrae Gardens, visitors will discover a florae paradise in the traditional English form. Over the past several years the inn as well as the gardens have been bringing lost plants, fruits, and vegetables back to life and incorporating them into culinary works of art. Organic isn't a fad here, it has been a part of daily life since the turn of the century.

The work of the gardens to preserve the natural environment for future generations is well documented. With over 70,000 varieties of plants, there are edible gardens, a cedar maze, an ornamental grass garden and a rose garden with a genuine Dutch Windmill. The gardens are even home to a Scents and Sensitivity Garden built with advice from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, and designed for the visually impaired. In 2006, Kingsbrae announced it would be the first public garden in Canada to display the rare Australian Wollemi Pine, discovered in 1994 and originally believed to be extinct for over two million years.

The pace in St. Andrews is laidback and refined. Nobody needs to rush, unless of course you are running late for your round of golf at the Algonquin Golf Club. Visitors casually stroll the streets and the wharf sampling local food, picking up handmade crafts, art, and pottery. Foodies may opt to stay back at the Algonquin for their "Cooking with the Chef" experience. Guests can join Executive Chef Ryan Dunne and team as they teach and prepare dishes using some simple and unique culinary techniques guests can master at home. Each session showcases a fresh ingredients from their local herb garden, seafood from the Bay of Fundy and organic ingredients reflective of their "100 mile diet".

At sunset, weekending always comes to a close with a cocktail on the terrace while you soak in the orange glow casting down over the bay and town. The traditional drink while in St. Andrews-by-the-Sea? Scotch, of course!


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