A stay at the high-end wilderness lodge on the banks of southwestern Nova Scotia's Tusket River
Gerard LeBlanc strums an Acadian folk song on his guitar for a handful of guests sprawled in the Great Room at Nova Scotia’s Trout Point Lodge. A young couple plays chess at a small table by windows overlooking the Tusket River. A few more cozy up on a brown leather sectional in front of LeBlanc. The set of stone fireplaces that flank each end of the post-and-beam lodge are roaring on this rainy October evening.
I’m at the bar sipping a blueberry basil Moscow mule that Alex Putz, the lodge’s bartender — and as I later find out, the astronomy guide this season — muddled with local blueberry jam. Patrick and Pamela Wallace, the lodge’s owners, mingle with guests, moving from one group to the next as they chat and top up wine.
“We’re intimate and small, and one of the nice things about that is that we know our guests by name and we have a chance to learn where they’re from and why they’re here,” says Patrick, who’s warm and friendly, as he keeps a constant eye out for empty glasses or guests with questions.
The couple, who met in Pamela’s native Singapore, moved to Montreal in 2012 and first came to Trout Point Lodge in East Kemptville, N.S. — about 50 kilometres northeast of Yarmouth — on vacation just two years ago. They fell in love with the sprawling property, which includes an eight-room main lodge and two guest houses, so when they learned it was for sale, they ditched their office jobs and dove head first into the resort business.
“We were just blown away with what we saw and where it is,” says Patrick. “You’re driving through the forest, right into the middle of the wilderness, and you make that final little turn and there’s Trout Point Lodge just waiting for you. It was an experience I remember for sure.”
When the music dies down and the Great Room clears out, I take the creaky wooden stairs to my room, the Burlwood, where the Wallaces first stayed. The furniture is rustic and handcrafted, and there’s no TV or reliable WIFI. There’s nothing to do but unplug, sink into the fluffy bed and listen to the rain tapping the metal roof.
Raked by glaciers following the last Ice Age, southwestern Nova Scotia’s rocky lakes and rivers, eskers and moraines are surrounded by strands of coniferous and deciduous forests with clumps of towering old-growth pine and hemlock. It’s the province’s frontier, or the “empty quarter,” where, at the turn of the 20th century, Acadian and Mik’maq guides squired wealthy American sportsmen to hunt and fish the region’s legendary moose and trout. It’s that spirit that sparked the tourism industry here, which still attracts urbanites looking for peace and quiet, good fishing and high-end lodge accommodations. It also inspired Charles Leary and Vaughn Perrett, Trout Point’s first owners whose Acadian roots led them from Louisiana to Nova Scotia, to build the eastern spruce lodge in 2000 at the edge of the Tobeatic Wilderness Area, a UNESCO-certified starlight reserve with the darkest skies in North America.
It’s nearly midnight by the time Putz knocks on my door for a stargazing lesson. Just five minutes down a dirt road to a platform on a riverside meadow the glow of the lodge is gone — it’s almost complete darkness save for a few bobbing headlamps other guests are wearing. I step on to a boardwalk, which I can’t see, but I know is there from the sound of boots clomping over wood planks. When I reach the platform, the air is cold and damp and my eyes strain to adjust to the darkness — then the sky comes into focus. There are infinite stars, and it feels like I can see every single one. Putz points to a glowing band stretching across my entire view: the Milky Way. I’ve never seen it like this before.
Freshly-caught mussels in a white wine foam sopped up with garlic bread; parsley soup topped with local trout and a brown butter cream; fall-off-the-bone short ribs from nearby Richmond Highland Farms in an arugula cream with maple carrots, Brussel sprouts and shiitake mushrooms; and local halibut surrounded by a sweet and spicy red curry. Though the Nova Scotia frontier may seem like an unlikely place for five-star dining (there’s little competition in the area), the elegantly-plated local cuisine served in the lodge’s main dining room is mind-blowing — the kind you’d expect from a metropolitan Michelin-starred restaurant. But since the Wallaces took over the property, they have worked with executive chef Andreas Preuss to push haute cuisine to the forefront, earning them praise from the likes of Travel & Leisure, Food & Wine and Forbes Traveler.
“We’ve taken it up more than a few notches,” says Patrick about the lodge’s new culinary team. “We’re quite far in the wilderness, so we don’t do the lobsters and the lighthouses. You can do that in many other places.
Instead, he says, Trout Point Lodge offers a four-course gourmet menu for dinner that changes every day.
This morning, however, I’m stepping back in time to sample a different kind of local fare — rappie pie, or râpure in French, an Acadian dish from southwest Nova Scotia.
“It takes five strong women and a bag of potatoes to make rappie pie,” chuckles Kara Pinkney-Crowell, as she starts my Acadian cooking class in the lodge’s main kitchen. Pinkney-Crowell is the lodge’s cook and a local guide whose Acadian-Mi’kmaq relatives fled Wedgeport, N.S., in the mid-1700s and hid in the woods where the community of Quinan is now, about 35 kilometres south of the lodge. This particular recipe from Pinkney-Crowell’s great grandmother combines finely ground potatoes, stock and chicken (leftover from last night’s dinner) in a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs casserole. She cracks jokes between sharing cooking wisdom passed down through generations of her family. While we could layer the potatoes and chicken to make the dish look nice when it’s served, Pinkney-Crowell says, “if my great grandmother were here, she would do this,” and she mixes everything in one pot and pours the gloopy concoction into a casserole dish to bake.
When the rappie pie is brown on top and bubbling around the edges, Pinkney-Crowell serves me a generous wedge and suggests I drizzle maple syrup and hot sauce over top, like a local. I do and gobble down heaping forkfuls of soft potato and chicken. Pinkney-Crowell’s grandmére would be proud.
Later that day, the rain pauses long enough to trek over the cold, wet grass behind the lodge to a rustic, wood-fired hot tub on the banks of the Tusket. There are three trails running throughout the property and along the river. Fall’s chilly nights have ignited the trees in this part of the Tobeatic, and the river is blanketed in orange, red and yellow leaves.
I drop my robe and sink into hot water up to my chin. I can feel a few leaves swirling beneath my feet, and I hear the water bubbling over the Tusket’s rapids. I look back to the lodge. It’s just starting to get dark and guests are gathering in The Great Room. I can see Leblanc with his guitar, setting up his evening’s post by the big windows, ready to play.
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Go fishing in Canada
Canada’s wild, rugged landscapes and wide, open ocean make it a hotspot for outdoor foodie adventures, with a plethora of eco-conscious resorts on hand...
But for those who want to home in on fishing, suggest Nova Scotia’s Trout Point Lodge. Named one of the world’s top-10 fishing spots by the Guardian, this luxury, back-to-nature resort offers catch-and-release fishing outings plus weekly foraging walks in the woods, where guests seek out the edible treats that populate this Unesco Biosphere Reserve.
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Being called “the smartest hotel in the province” by Financial Times, Trout Point Lodge is a truly unique stay. Choose to stay in the Main Lodge, Beaver Hall, or Lakeside Cottage, and enjoy the closeness to the wilderness without skimping on the luxury. Have chocolates and champagne awaiting you in your room when you arrive, and order up an in-room massage for two if you’re in the mood. And if you venture out of your room, enjoy forest bathing, geo-excursions, and more activities on site.
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‘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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Trout Point Lodge is honoured to Canada’s only destination featured in this elite global list in the Globe and Mail’s recent article on Six Bucket-List Destinations for Devoted Foodies.
SEAFOOD EXPERTISE IN NOVA SCOTIA
The fishing industry is ingrained in the East coast culture – even Costco and McDonald’s have offered lobster sandwiches.
Trout Point Lodge, a luxury retreat in southwestern Nova Scotia, teaches visitors how to choose and prepare lobster, and even to use the entire crustacean to make bisque, owner Patrick Wallace says. Instructors have Michelin-star experience.
Guests can also forage for local berries and chanterelle mushrooms, often included in that night’s meal. The menu recently offered pan-fried sturgeon loin and rainbow trout prepared tableside. “It makes for a great spectacle for our guests to have it filleted and served in this way,” says Mr. Wallace, who runs the resort with his wife, Pamela.
Other packages include guided night-sky walks under one of North America’s darkest skies in the UNESCO-designated Southwest Nova Biosphere Reserve, and ice and geology excursions in the Tobeatic Wilderness Area.
Details: Trout Point Lodge is three hours from Halifax or 40 minutes from the ferry that runs daily from Yarmouth, N.S., to Portland, Maine. Packages start at $1,459 a couple for two nights including meals and a cooking class. www.troutpoint.com.
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Have you ever dreamed of spending time in the forest, where the hustle and bustle of city life fades away for a few days, to a place in nature that feels so off the grid that even your cell phone connection doesn’t work? Trout Point Lodge in Nova Scotia is that place.
A meandering country road leads you to what could only be defined as “luxury in the wilderness”. Japanese maples at the main entrance catch sunbeams on their leaves, and the timber-built lodge is a seamless work of art where every log seems to fit into place perfectly.
BIRDINGYou will notice lots of ruby-throated hummingbirds flitting by with racing wings. They love Trout Point and travel up from Mexico and Central America to congregate out here. The breakfast room area seems to be where they like to hang out the most, so have your camera ready.
Trout Point has so much unspoiled nature to explore, and with only twelve guest suites, you don’t have to share it with loads of people. The lodge even has its own Staff Naturalist, who is happy to take you into the woods for a guided meditation.
You will feel any stress begin to ebb away once you relax and breathe in the great outdoors. You can even head out for a kayak ride along the Tusket River, surrounded by the Tobeatic Wilderness Area, the largest protected expanse in the Maritimes. After a day of activity make your way for a dip in the wood-fired hot tub situated by the river, or warm up in the cedar barrel sauna.
The restaurant at Trout Point is the perfect intimate setting for an evening of culinary delights. Each dish draws from a local element. Chef Andreas Preuss knows how to utilize the ingredients around him, from fresh seafood, local cattle, and garden grown finds. Be sure to make a reservation for the 4-course dinner and bring your palette.
STARRY NIGHT SKIES
Trout Point is one the best places in the world to stargaze with no obstruction. The Lodge boasts the title of the “worlds first starlight hotel”. They even have there own live-in astronomer that will take you out at night along a boardwalk to a star gazing platform in the middle of the nowhere. On a clear night you will feel as though you could touch the stars. Head back to your rustic suite in the woods and prepare to sleep like a baby from all that fresh air.
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Trout Point Lodge is thrilled to receive our 10th consecutive Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator for our wine program. Carefully selected by our sommelier, our wines complement our exquisite cuisine.
Trout Point Lodge of Nova Scotia, the world’s first Starlight-Certified hotel, is taking its renowned stargazing a step further with the launch of specialized Astrophotography Workshop Packages.
Now guests at the Lodge will not only enjoy the starry skies during their visit but will also head home with professional night sky photographs they take themselves.
“Our dark skies and stargazing excursions are hugely popular with our guests,” says Patrick Wallace, who owns Trout Point Lodge along with his wife, Pamela. “Seeing our amazing night skies come alive is an experience you’ll never forget. The workshops give our guests the chance to develop their expertise and learn new techniques.”
Workshop participants hone their dark sky photography skills during nightly excursions on the Lodge’s stargazing platform, which offers unspoilt panoramic views of some of the darkest night skies in North America. During daily photo editing workshops, participants learn basic and advanced editing techniques and how to work with photographic and telescopic equipment for best results. Every participant ends the program with a digital repertoire of their own dark sky photos.
“We expect some friendly competition among our guests for this season’s best night sky shot,” said Wallace.
Trout Point Lodge, located in East Kemptville, Argyle Co., has been the leader in popularizing stargazing in Nova Scotia after bringing awareness to the quality of its dark skies. In 2014, following the Lodge’s certification from the UNESCO-backed Starlight Foundation, the surrounding area became known as the Acadian Skies & Mi'kmaq Lands Starlight Tourist Destination.
“Our guests are blown away by our amazing night skies,” says Alexander Putz, Trout Point Lodge’s Staff Astronomer. “Our workshops are a perfect choice for those who want to develop their nighttime photography skills, while enjoying everything else Trout Point Lodge has to offer.”
This summer, the night sky viewing will be even more spectacular than usual. On August 11th and 12th, the Great Perseid Meteor Shower will offers its best views in Nova Scotia. “If the skies are clear, we expect to see up to 150 shooting stars in a single hour,” said Putz. “That’s more than two a minute!”
On clear days, Putz also offers guests the unique opportunity to solar gaze using Trout Point Lodge’s advanced solar telescopes.
“The nights are the star of the show,” said Putz. “But our solar telescopes offer an amazing opportunity to safely view the sun and its powerful spectacle in ways few people ever get to enjoy.”
Astrophotography Workshops are available all season long. For more information, pricing and to book, please go to http://www.troutpoint.com/packages.html
Contact Patrick or Pamela Wallace at (902) 761-2142.
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