I squeeze my eyes shut and feel a damp, cool sensation brush across my lower lip. The bar erupts with cheers as a man holding a large fish moves on to another patron, and I down the Screech rum shot he's just put in front of me. I'm sitting in Christian's, a small, wood-paneled tavern in the capital city of St. John's, where the Newfies (locals) are sandwiched around the bar like sardines.
Pictured: Brightly colored homes dot the rugged coastline south of Newfoundland's capital city of St. John's.
I've just been "screeched-in," a tradition that—according to the makers of Screech rum—started in the 1970s, when departing sailors would kiss a cod before heading south to Jamaica to bring boats full of rum back to Newfoundland (pronounced new-fin-LAND).
Pictured: A local fisherman holds cod, a staple on most Newfoundland menus.
To feel the love in this province that has passionately painted pink, yellow, and purple "jellybean" houses overlooking the water, and towns with names like Cupids and Heart's Content. This fantastical island off the coast of Nova Scotia has an allure unique from other parts of Canada—or the world, for that matter. (Where else can you dip your toes in Conception Bay?)
The people-watching is addictive: Flanked by a rainbow of buildings, the road is closed to vehicles at night and fills with groups walking hand in hand, dipping into dive bars such as the red-brick Yellow Belly Brewery & Public House and hanging out on outdoor patios. It feels a bit like Mardi Gras as laughter floats through the crowd along with guitar riffs from a live band and the smell of fried pub fare.
A man stepping out of the restaurant cheerfully asks me if I'm up for a scuff. "Excuse me?" I say. He laughs and explains that "scuff" is Newfie for "dancing." The English spoken here is unique: It includes some seven dialects and about 60 language subgroups, all based on where people live along the coast. Maybe it's not quite the language of love, but it certainly adds an extra layer of charm.
Keeping with the fantastical spirit, the property's crown jewel is its grand staircase, built by the same craftsman and in the same style as the staircase on the infamous luxury liner Titanic, which sank in the icy waters just south of Newfoundland.
Pictured: Family farm south of St. John's
The tasting room overlooks blue and red fishing boats gliding through the water. Giant silver vats process the award-winning drafts. I buy a six-pack of Iceberg for later, and wave goodbye to some fishermen on a sky blue vessel.
The grass is dotted with couples lying on flannel blankets, enjoying ham-and-Brie sandwiches ordered from the restored keeper's quarters turned lunch spot. Owner Jill Curran re-opened the light in 2004 knowing she wanted to fuse this idyllic setting with gourmet meals served in charming picnic baskets. "You'd be surprised how many people get engaged here—or maybe it's not a surprise," she says with a laugh.
Bread and Cheese is a family-run inn, and owner Rita Williams tells me that although it's quiet here, there's a lot going on—from hiking the East Coast Trail past sea stacks and adorable puffins to whale-watching tours. "We are lucky," she says. "We're part of something really special."
Pictured: The East Coast Trail
Cook positions his kayak next to a large rock jutting out of the water, reaching out to pluck a spiky black urchin that clings to it. As we pass the little guy from kayak to kayak, I'm distracted by a faint splash of water to my right. We paddle a little closer and discover two furry sea otters diving through the water. Their small teddy bear faces emerge for just a moment before they head off, continuing to wrestle and bob through the surf.
I say my farewells to the group and get back on the road, heading toward the tiny town of Cupids, the first English colony in Canada. Today, the community curves around a U-shaped harbor. Most visitors stop here to see the New World Theatre—a small, wooden structure modeled after Shakespeare's Globe in London. I take a peek inside; the intimate space smells like fresh timber and is a throwback to the 16th century, when it was just the actors, the stage, and an audience—no technology required.
Pictured: La Manche Provincial Park south of St. John's
Pictured: A seaside farmhouse