‘The world outside can wait. It’s pure bliss.’
Less than an hour’s drive from where I live, there are two wilderness lodges: Trout Point Lodge, located on the East Branch of the Tusket River (east of the village of Kemptville, Yarmouth County), and Birchdale, located on South Carrying Road Lake, north of the same village.
Think opulence versus bare bones.
Oddly enough, as the crow flies, they are less than 10 km from each other; by road, they are about one hour apart (and an hour from Yarmouth.)
Heather White from Halifax says, “They both have large hearths for fires, where visitors can sit and stare and wonder how generations past depended upon open flames for heat and food, plus twinkly dark skies to tuck you in tight at night.”
Heather adds that Trout Point is pure luxury with all the modern conveniences against a back-to-nature-setting. “Kind of like glamping 10-fold.”
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I asked my husband for his top memories of our recent stay at Trout Point Lodge.
“The meals, kayaking on the river, and the welcome reception when we arrived,” was his immediate response.
Indeed, all were stellar, along with the hiking, the stargazing and the forest bathing experiences.
Oh, and the wine and cheese while soaking in the wood-fired hot tub, or sitting around the bonfire after dinner, or chatting with the lovely staff.
Oh, and watching humming birds flit around patio feeders, or soaking up the wilderness solitude or relaxing in the gorgeous lodge.
Trout Point Lodge is a pretty wonderful place where you come home with a list of special memories.
So put away your cellphone (no service here) and set aside the need to keep up with the Kardashians (no TVs in the rooms) and get ready to truly unwind.
The luxurious boutique hotel, tucked away in the wilds of southwest Nova Scotia, has long been renowned for its seclusion and culinary excellence, making it a destination for those who like to get off the beaten track while enjoying all the amenities of a five-star hotel.
New owners Pamela and Patrick Wallace of Montreal, who bought the property after being wowed by it during their own stay last summer, are committed to keeping up this well-earned reputation and building on it for the future.
As my husband noted, our stay got off to a warm and welcoming start with the pair meeting us upon arrival, Patrick apologizing for being dressed in his “work” apparel, including rubber boots for doing chores on the wooded property.
The first wow was the main lodge and adjoining rooms, built with notch and dovetail joinery from huge eastern spruce logs brought in from New Brunswick and cut on site. There’s nary a nail to be found.
Local Acadian art is lovingly on display in the great room with Tiffany lamps providing a warm glow over charmingly rustic furniture fashioned by the late Vernon Cottreau, a local craftsman.
It was easy to quickly settle into a routine of relaxation while enjoying a cocktail on the veranda overlooking the Tusket River, or from the garden patio, where resident kitty Lilly might stroll by for a visit, or in the cozy loft library, which also houses Patrick’s collection of Montreal Canadiens memorabilia.
Located about 45 minutes from Yarmouth or three hours from Halifax, Trout Point Lodge sits on the border of the Tobeatic Wilderness Area, 120,000 hectares of relatively untouched land that is home to the headwaters of nine major rivers and old-growth forests. The Tobeatic, as locals call it, is an ecological gem.
The area also overlaps the UNESCO-designated Southwest Nova Biosphere Reserves, all of is which to say that the region is protected, cherished and off the beaten path, at least by Nova Scotia standards.
Thanks to being in the middle of nowhere, Trout Point Lodge is a renowned destination for stargazers who come to enjoy North America’s darkest skies.
On a clear night, staff astronomer Alex Putz will guide you to the riverside stargazing platform with 360-degree views of the sky and walk you through the constellations seen overhead.
You’ll get an even better view thanks to his high-powered telescope.
Putz says many guests come to the lodge just to do that very thing, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s a really unique opportunity.
“As soon as the moon has set, we can see about 3,000 stars,” he said on the night we were on the platform, serenaded by frogs and other nighttime critters.
“In big cities you see 10 to 20 stars, in New York City sometimes only one or two.”
In the daytime, hiking, and kayaking, canoeing or swimming in the river are popular activities, along with a peaceful forest-bathing experience that includes some light meditation and a more quiet observance of the area’s natural beauty.
During a three-hour hike into the Tobeatic, student naturalist Nora Alsafi and I had the trail to ourselves, which she says is the norm, while resident pup Herbert bounded ahead. Skirting the Tusket River and many ponds, Alsafi pointed out regional flora and fauna and explained the geographical history of the area.
Hiking with kitty
We could have also hiked with lodge kitty Lilly, who loves to go out with guests.
If stargazing and the remoteness of the lodge are top calling cards, its culinary excellence is probably next in the deck, from the delicious rustic breakfasts to spectacular four-course dinner extravaganzas offered up in the cozy dining room. The focus is on quality, locally sourced ingredients.
One evening, a couple from Halifax had driven up just to eat at the lodge. I’m sure they were not disappointed with the fare, which included egg yolk ravioli, chicken essence with truffle royal and sous-vide pork tenderloin.
Executive chef Andreas Preuss — legendary for obsessing over the flavoured butters to be served that night — and his team are serving up some world-class dishes deep in the woods of Nova Scotia.
If you’re so inclined, you can sign up for a cooking class with the chef or Kara Crowell, a local resident and longtime employee, who might show you how to how make a regional specialty like Acadian rappie pie or Scottish oatcakes.
Whatever you decide to do at Trout Point Lodge, it will be memorable.
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To be honest, I didn’t even want to go stargazing.
After a long drive, followed by paddling a canoe up and down the Tusket River and a five-course meal with wine, what I really wanted to do was stay in my comfortable bed.
But virtually every guest at Trout Point Lodge takes advantage of the complete absence of light pollution to gaze into the sky (many come just for that purpose) and I had promised, so at 11 p.m. I dragged myself off to join Alex Putz, staff astronomer, at the stargazing platform.
It was the right decision. We happened to be at Trout Point on a cloudless night and even with the naked eye, the sky was spectacular. It’s clear to see how the Milky Way got its name — the sky is dominated by long, wavy beautiful shapes that look, well, milky. Mars glowed red on the horizon, while higher up I saw a shooting star and a satellite.
But when Putz fired up his giant telescope, the show really started. He showed me Andromeda, the galaxy next to the Milky Way, then Jupiter and Saturn, its rings clearly visible. On some nights, Putz guides eight or nine guests through the universe. I was the only one stargazing this night, and I wished I’d gotten my wife out of bed; this is a unique experience.
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