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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A popular concept in East Asia, many people know that it is good for your health to walk in a forest and be exposed to the phytoncides they give off. "Phyton" means "plant" in Latin, and "cide" refers to the natural substance that a plant gives off to kill microorganisms. Research in Taiwan has shown that limonene phytoncide promotes sleep, and helps fight anxiety and ease pain.
In Japan, a forest bathing experience, called Shinrinyoku in Japanese, is regarded as being similar to natural aromatherapy. A forest bathing trip involves visiting a forest for relaxation and recreation while breathing in phytoncides, whose antimicrobial volatile organic compounds derive from trees, such as a-pinene and limonene. Incorporating forest bathing trips into a good lifestyle was first proposed in 1982 by the Forest Agency of Japan. It has now become a recognized relaxation and/or stress management activity there.
The New York Times reported that one scientific study " included data on 280 healthy people in Japan, where visiting nature parks for therapeutic effect has become a popular practice called ' Shinrin-yoku,' or 'forest bathing.' On one day, some people were instructed to walk through a forest or wooded area for a few hours, while others walked through a city area. On the second day, they traded places. The scientists found that being among plants produced 'lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, and lower blood pressure,' among other things."
Governor-General Award winning author Marq DeVilliers described the forest at Trout Point for the Globe & Mail:
This is pristine Acadian forest; thousands of hectares of red spruce mixed with sugar maple and yellow birch, beech with their silky bark, red oak, pine and spruce, and hemlock on the lower stretches, some of them 30 metres or more tall. No roads, no houses, no industry … just nature. No all-terrain vehicles, no trucks. Not a golf course anywhere, not even a croquet pitch.
The main lodge water at Trout Point draws from springs and represents world-class mineral water! Tested according to government standards for a public water supply, absence of bacteria and mineral quality parameters are regularly monitored.
Environmental Services Laboratory test results from a sample in September, 2013, once again revealed superb mineral water quality and perfect pH of 7.6 at Trout Point!
Few hotels can offer mineral water for every shower & bath, in addition to being freely offered from every sink and at every meal.