By SHELAGH BRALEY
ST. ANDREWS BY-THE-SEA, NEW BRUNSWICK—We travel a lot as a family, that’s our goal. We’ve done the Cape, Nantucket, beaches and sailing, across New England and around the world.
Life-list worthy? Yes. But when we really need a break, we look to Canada. Heading north, we can feel the pace we keep get slower, kilometer by kilometer.
Hit Maine. Turn right.
Our family is half Canadian, and we always look forward to our annual summer sojourn to Saint John, New Brunswick. This summer, we decided to add a new stop into the trip, so we’re not only enjoying the familiar but challenging ourselves to see “home” in a new way, too.
After a glory-days-reliving high school reunion for the Adventurer at Shadow Lawn Inn in Rothesay (KVHS Class of ’88 4-ever), we turned in at St. Andrews by-the-Sea, for a weekend of luxury at the Algonquin Resort.
This charming hotel opened in 1889, creating Canada’s first seaside resort town, according to Historic Hotels Worldwide. It passed hands a few times until becoming part of the Marriott Autograph Collection as a “soft brand.” The marks of “Autograph,” as general manager Matthew Mackenzie told the Globe & Mail in August 2015, are “historic, yet high-tech and high-touch for today’s traveler.” It also means the resort benefits from the Marriott chain’s back-end functions (operations and reservations) but tries to maintain its own special identity.
That identity is one that no chain could replicate. The Algonquin features modern amenities like a golf course, an indoor pool with waterslide, outdoor pool, spa, fitness center, a roof deck, fire pits surrounded by Adirondack chairs, ever-popular beehives for the kitchen and signature spa products, as well as 10 second-floor rooms with verandas overlooking the property.
But, much like Canada itself, its identity transcends all of those things.
After a final-tally $50 million renovation that shuttered this historic haven from 2012-2014, it’s still a place where tired travelers go to sit in front-porch rockers for cocktails, sunsets and old-school seaside repose, where the sound of children’s feet and laughter doesn’t illicit scowls but rather a sense of community and belonging.
Having only seen this red-roofed icon in photos, coming up to the resort in real life did not disappoint us. Its Tudor style is unfading, harkening to summers past where families arrived in sedans and wood-paneled wagons with their belongings packed in trunks and hatboxes, and they stayed for weeks on end. They knew how to holiday back then.
In the midst of a Canadian heat wave—temps reaching high 80s (F) and accompanying humidity uncommon for this part of the world—we stepped into the lobby and were greeted by a refreshing wave of cool air. We weren’t the only ones who had this great idea, though. The whole place was sold out, and the front desk staff labored to keep the line moving.
Our room wasn’t going to be ready for more than an hour, despite checking in en route through the Marriott app. The Captain and Daddy were more than happy to hit the pool, a refreshing, full-sun sanctuary teeming with kids cannonballing, laughing, their parents snuggling them in striped towels before they scampered across the resort grass toward the main building.
While the boys swam, Radar stayed and assisted with a photo shoot of this majestic, 233-room property. We struck up a great conversation with bellman Jacob, a business student in college on Prince Edward Island. He was dressed in full kilt and obligingly told us all about the red- and gold-foliage hues of his unusual uniform.
“(The plaid on the kilt) is the Canada plaid, the maple leaf,” he said, taking a break from stacking bags on a gold luggage cart. He told us how he’ll stay at the Algonquin till October, like most of the kilted staff, then head back to college. (Apparently, there are no men in kilts in residence over the winter season.) “So sorry you’re room’s not ready yet,” he said with genuine concern. “It’s super busy here this weekend. I think the long weekend brought more people out.”
The long weekend was New Brunswick Day where, since 1976, towns within a province celebrate the strength of their local community, celebrating what’s special about their history, culture and geography.
We checked into our room: a clean, one-window space on the fourth floor with a cute alcove for Radar, and a soft, white bed punctuated by a throw pillow emblazoned with a regal, red monogrammed A.
Then we headed down to find something to eat, because, really, one can only eat so much poutine in one visit.
What we discovered was the highlight of our trip. Braxton’s Patio had seating for our party of four right away. Sitting outside suited us just fine, a light breeze blowing in from the ocean a short distance past the resort, sunset on its way, and a three-course feast we savored. Our waiter, Devon, another college student on break whose tag identified him as “thespian at heart,” catered to us for more than two hours—not because service was slow but because we were enjoying our food, the ambiance, and the relaxation so much. He even caught that the kitchen hadn’t heeded my food allergy alert and my dish was remade before it ever left the kitchen.
“I’m so chill, eating here,” said Radar, the setting sun glowing off of her head like a halo. “Good,” I said, “that must mean you’re ready for Europe.”
She was so chill, in fact, she actually left her sweater behind at the table—though Devon himself was quick to call our room to let us know. (I don’t know why, this is what it’s like in every country. Raise a teenage daughter and the phone just rings.)
After our meal, we walked the property a bit, enjoying the grounds and even daring to go on the hotel’s ghost tour—hosted by our friendly Jacob. (But that’s a tale for another time…)
In the morning, we moved over to Prince of Wales wing for our second night, where word has it, Prince Charles and Princess Diana once stayed. Our room was slated for the third floor but was not ready so the clerk offered us a ground-floor room. At first we were concerned that anyone could see in our windows, but then a curious little deer popped his face in and we were delighted.
There’s so much visitors love about St. Andrews by-the-Sea: the freshest lobster rolls, the exchange of Canadian currency, the Bay of Fundy with its wild currents, bike trails, private beaches, Finback and Minke whales, and its proximity to New England. It only took five hours and 32 minutes to reach our destination.
In a room off the Passamaquoddy veranda where we had breakfast, a photographer and assistant were setting up a makeshift studio for a shoot. I asked the Boomer-age man-and-woman team what they liked about the Algonquin.
“It’s like a step into another time,” she said. “Like the Poconos in the early ‘60s?” I asked. “Yes, exactly like that,” she continued, “like you’re just waiting for the talent show to start.”
Back then, they toasted marshmallows on open fires, and took up temporary residence in rocking chairs on the front porch without feeling guilty about it. I don’t know if they danced the Pachanga, or carried watermelons.
But they did know how to rest, and have fun without being connected 24/7.
Now we go to Canada for all of that. It’s still happening at the timeless Algonquin.
There’s plenty of time for a late-season stay at the Algonquin. Go to their website for best rates and be there for an unparalleled fall foliage experience.
Shelagh Braley is a Boston-based luxury/adventure travel journalist. She and her life-listing husband, teen and preschooler share their REAL tales of finding the awesome as they travel together. Come along with us. #mylifelist #findwhatmatters
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