As a Canadian Travel Specialist I was recently invited to take part in the Canada Super Familiarisation trip with travel agents from around the world. We visited all the provinces in Canada before coming together in Niagara to share what we had all learned in the various provinces.
My own trip was to Newfoundland, one of the earliest settled parts of North America and the first part of the ‘new world’ to be visited by Europeans (Vikings visited in the 11th Century!) The flight from Heathrow to St John’s takes just over five hours and it was a superb flight. Air Canada look after you well with great service and a fantastic entertainment system.
From the airport it is less than 20 minutes to downtown St John’s with its colourful houses and super harbour. I stayed at the Sheraton Newfoundland which is ideally located to access everything in St John’s and is overlooked by Signal Hill.
Some must-see sights in St John’s are Signal Hill (where the first transatlantic wireless message was received), The Rooms (the local museum), and the historical town centre of St John’s including the brightly coloured clapboard houses and the nightlife on George Street. We had a great tour of this lovely historic town including a visit to Government House. Also, not to be missed is the hugely interesting Geo-Centre and quaint Quidi Vidi Village, both just outside St John’s.
During the trip we also visited many of the ‘outports’ or surrounding villages where a great deal of effort is being made through archaeological digs to preserve and understand the amazing amount of history there is on the island. The island’s initial attraction to Europeans came from the huge fishing grounds just off the coast. Nowadays the wealth of the region comes from the major oil deposits offshore and the huge mineral finds in Labrador. There is a unique culture to Newfoundland, a mixture of the original English and Irish settlers. Amongst the high points of our outport visits were a picnic near one of the iconic lighthouses; a boat trip to see the Puffin colonies (unfortunately, we were visiting at the wrong time of year to see any whales); and a ‘flag raising’ ceremony.
We were also spoiled rotten in terms of food and drink, visiting lots of wonderful restaurants. Newfoundland has many local restaurants as well as breweries and distilleries that are unique to the island. One particular brand of beer is made from the water of icebergs which are harvested specially for the purpose, this water is thousands of years old and very pure.
With the short flying time from the UK, St John’s is ideal for anyone looking for a short break. It is quite different from other big North American cities and has a unique feel to it. For longer trips there is also the opportunity to hire a car and explore Newfoundland - especially to the Gros Morne National Park on the west of the island. I would also recommend combining a trip to Newfoundland with Nova Scotia and or Prince Edward Island. There is a real opportunity for exploring all these maritime provinces using the great ferry connections
All too soon we were on our way to Niagara Falls. I was lucky enough to stay in the Marriot FallsView Hotel which has spectacular views of the Horseshoe Falls. Our trip included a helicopter ride above the falls, an amazing experience that I would recommend to everyone. The views from the air are just fantastic! Niagara Falls has become a very commercial resort with lots of large skyscraper hotels, casinos and restaurant chains taking full advantage of people visiting one of the wonders of the world - the Falls themselves. For a truly marvellous lunch I would recommend eating at Elements at the Falls as the restaurant looks right out over the Horseshoe Falls.
On our final day in Canada we were able to visit Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is a beautiful quaint town, in complete contrast to the skyscrapers and neon of Niagara Falls. This Victorian era town has horse drawn carriages and lots of local quaint shops and restaurants – I would definitely recommend anyone in the area to spend at least part of a day here.
All too quickly it was time to return to the UK on the overnight Air Canada flight from Toronto – another superb flight to end an amazing trip.