Last-Minute Getaway: St. Andrews, New Brunswick
(Yes, that's me holding a giant short-nosed sturgeon at a fishery in Canada last year, taken moments after I had dropped the poor creature on its head. But more on that in a minute...)
Last September, I had the chance to go to St. Andrews, the most charming little town in New Brunswick, Canada. Just 20 miles over the border of Maine, this low-key town is the perfect spot for foodies (fabulous seafood, just-picked veggies, amazingly talented chefs), outdoor adventurers (whale watching, mountain biking, sea kayaking), or anyone in need of some R&R. I wrote a few posts last fall post-trip: a Q&A with the outstanding young chef Guillaume Delaune of Kingsbrae Arms, and an afternoon spent gardening and mushroom foraging with Chris Aerni, chef and owner of Rossmount Inn.
Located on the Passamaquoddy Bay (part of the larger Bay of Fundy), St. Andrews has some of the most dramatic tides in the world, rising and falling as much as 27 feet each day! During low tide, you can walk on the ocean floor out to nearby Minister's Island, a half-mile away. Hours later, once the tide comes back in, the path is completely covered. During high tide, you can head out into the Bay for some whale-watching or sea-kayaking. Or, just skip the tide-watching and go a scenic bike ride while wearing a kilt (not joking).
If there's one place I'd go back to in St. Andrews, it would be the dreamy Kingsbrae Arms, a grand old home turned 5-star Relais & Chateaux property. Both the hotel and the restaurant are impeccable, thanks to the dream team pictured above: owners Harry Chancey and David Oxford (left and far right) and their chef of nearly 2 years, Toulon, France-born Guillaume Delaune (middle). Chancey and Oxford, formerly B&B owners in East Hampton, fell in love with St. Andrews (and the property) while vacationing there in the mid-90s. They bought the house, shut down their other B&B, and re-located permanently to St. Andrews to renovate, open, and run their new inn.
They are incredible hosts and great storytellers – definitely take time to chat with them if you make the trip up. And by all means, make sure to enjoy a meal in the restaurant. Each night, Delaune prepares a seasonally inspired 6-course menu, so even if you eat there two nights in a row, you'll have a completely different meal. His flawless interpretations of local ingredients (lobster, wild boar, wild mushrooms, oysters, vegetables from the garden), combined with his classical French training, make for a memorable dining experience.
Just next door is Kingsbrae Gardens, a magical 27-acre garden with winding mazes, wild rose bushes, sculptures from some of Canada's top sculptors, and – my personal favorite – the Fantasy Children's Garden with flowering animals like the horse above. Built on several grand estates donated to New Brunswick, the gardens have sweeping views of the Bay of Fundy and a charming little garden cafe where you can eat a light lunch.
I was enamored by all the wild mushrooms that seem to grow all around St. Andrews. I had the privilege of foraging with Chef Chris Aerni in the woods surrounding Rossmount Inn, and we (or rather he) found everything from chanterelles (pictured above) to porcini to several local varieties that I had never heard of. Even better was the chance to eat them later for dinner that night, simply sautéed in butter, shallots, and white wine.
And last, but not least: the fish story! I visited Breviro, a local caviar producer who brought a rare variety of short-nose sturgeon back from the brink of extinction. They now breed and grow the fish in an eco-friendly facility in St. Andrews and make top-notch caviar – only available locally in St. Andrews on restaurant menus (such as Kingsbrae Arms). The owner asked me if I'd like to hold one of the fish. I did a double take and said, "Um no, that's probably not a good idea." But before I got the words out, there was a 20+ pound wriggling fish in my arms and in a matter of seconds, it had flopped its way onto the ground! Nonplussed, he picked the fish up so I could get a quick photo, and then threw the fish back in the water. Now I realize why I've never been a great fisherman (er, woman)...