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Grand Manan, New Brunswick’s Secret Island

Your secret island awaits, ringed with rocky cliffs and sparkling ocean, adorned with wildflowers and lighthouses. Grand Manan Island sits just off the shore, at the point where New Brunswick meets Maine. And while it’s within sailing distance of two of the world’s largest countries, it feels like a world unto itself. The island’s Inn at Whale Cove Cottages is the unhurried embodiment of this mostly undiscovered borderland.

Owned and operated by Laura Buckley, the Inn at Whale Cove Cottages beckons travelers seeking a taste of the island’s rugged red and green cliffs and driftwood-adorned beaches. As Buckley will tell you, it’s a place “for readers, nappers, and explorers.”

Perhaps the highlight of the inn, though, is Buckley’s incredible cooking. While showing me around the property, Buckley made a casual aside about the pot of lobster risotto that was bubbling away in the main building (which houses both her kitchen and the formal dining room for guests). Perhaps I would like a bowl for dinner?

An hour later, and a knock on my cottage door presented the friendly owner, balancing a tray with an overfilled bowl of risotto, a fresh salad, and a glass of white wine. Setting down the meal, Buckley explained that the vegetables were grown in her garden and the lobster was local to the waters around the island. Handing me a pink checkered cloth napkin, she slipped back out the door just as unobtrusively as she came in.

I found a fork in the cottage’s kitchen and brought my meal out onto the porch. In an Adirondack chair, I sat and looked out over the peaceful cove while tucking in to the best risotto I have ever had. The fresh lobster meat was tender, the mushrooms earthy, the sauce rich. Even the garden salad was perfection, topped with warm goat cheese that had been fried until it was crispy on the outside yet soft and creamy on the inside.

Early the next morning, with a mug of coffee in hand, I sat in the same chair and watched the sunrise over the ocean. The next-door neighbor wandered over, trudging through knee-high grass to cut bunches of wild peonies and lilies of the valley, while her dog trotted up the steps to my porch with a slobbery grin. I took my coffee with me as I explored the property, walking from one cottage to the next until arriving at one that belonged to American author Willa Cather, who was a summer resident of Grand Manan from the 1920s to the 1940s. I continued on the path that leads hikers from the inn to the dramatic basalt cliffs that line the island’s shores, then wandered down to the beach and combed for shells and driftwood. At day’s end, I drove up the road to Long Eddy Point to watch the sunset from The Whistle, one of a number of lighthouses on Grand Manan.

This is a tiny island, at just about 50 square miles. The drive from one end to the other takes about 30 minutes, but Grand Manan rewards those who turn down side streets in pursuit of seaweed shacks that sell local dulse and nori or pull over to photograph the wild purple lupine that spread from road to sea. In this way, driving the island could take an entire leisurely afternoon.

Here, no one hurries, and the clocks seem to stop, recalibrate, and then tick-tock just a bit slower. Grand Manan is a place known to few, but to those few, it’s a closely guarded secret—because to tell is to spoil its appeal, its seclusion, and its hushed beauty.

If You Go

In summer, the Coastal Transport ferry runs daily from Blacks Harbour on the New Brunswick mainland to Grand Manan. The crossing takes 1.5 hours and costs about $10 (plus an additional $30 to bring your car). Arrive at least 45 minutes before departure or you will lose your reservation. If you’re bringing a car, position your vehicle in line at the terminal in Black’s Harbour at least an hour before departure, as space is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

On the ferry ride across the Bay of Fundy to Grand Manan, you might spot whales, dolphins, and puffins, and on the island, wild pheasants, white-tailed deer, and a variety of seabirds (not to mention blackflies and ticks, so be sure to bring bug spray). From the harbor, it’s a short drive up meandering Whistle Road to the Inn at Whale Cove.

Once on the island, it’s best to book your return passage the day before you plan to leave. You can do this in person at the Coastal Transport office, located on the harbor where the ferry arrives and departs.


Have a question for Julianne about her trip to Grand Manan? Planning a trip yourself and need advice? Want to share your own Grand Manan experience? Leave a comment below! You can also follow Julianne on Google+.

(Photos: Julianne Lowell)

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