Family can make you do the most unexpected things, in no small part because they themselves do the most unexpected things. Like moving to Newfoundland. Nobody does this unless they’re moving back home. Certainly not born and bred mainlanders, or so the legends (and more often than not, the facts) say. But I have an uncle who did this very thing a few years back and in doing so set in motion a timeline that would eventually lead me on a most unexpected journey of discovery.
Marrying a Newfoundland gal certainly helps. Even those looking for a fresh start rarely set their sights on The Rock as the place to do so. But a good woman can get a man to do pretty much anything. Well, I guess a bad woman can too. God we’re gullible when blood flow is diverted south. Anyway, in my uncle’s case, she was a good one and they would, in due course, move back to the narrow bays and hidden coves along the rugged north coast of her Newfoundland homeland.
And so it was that in the summer of 2018, my family and I would exit the Deer Lake airport parking lot in a rented, black Dodge Charger and turn left, heading east, rather than right. That right turn, the one most tourists make, takes you west to Gros Morne National Park then north to L’Anse Aux Meadows, the two icons of Newfoundland tourism. We would see both eventually, but first we had kin to visit and they were to be found in far less renowned area of Canada’s easternmost province.
Our destination was Coffee Cove, a small (and I do mean small), secluded (and I do mean secluded) hamlet (and I have no idea if it is too small to be even considered a true hamlet) of a handful of homes and a handful of residents on route 392 along the northwest shore of Little Bay Arm. It’s a place I would have died never knowing about, never mind seeing in person, had someone I knew not lived there. And that person couldn’t be just any old acquaintance living in any old abode. With great travel effort comes great destination expectation. Ours was exceeded in spades.
Coffee Cove is one of several little villages and towns (Springdale being the largest and best serviced) that make up the Green Bay area of Newfoundland. Not being a noted tourist hub, and dwarfed in notoriety by the Avalon and Great Northern peninsulas, Green Bay is easily ignored, often serving as little more than a pit stop on the way to places flaunted on postcards and travel brochures. As we soon discovered, this is a shame.
We spent three nights in Coffee Cove visiting my uncle and aunt, but also exploring several of the unsung attractions around Green Bay. What we found was every bit as interesting and beautiful as L’Anse Aux Meadows or Gros Morne National Park with a helping of quirky and artsy tossed in for local flavour. Backcove in Beachside may have even surpassed both tourist magnets in terms of beauty, if only for the unexpectedness of it. And if you want extraordinary accommodations for a night or four, ooo wee, have I got a place for you!
This picturesque dwelling, tucked up on the rocky shoreline of Little Bay Arm overlooking a mussel farm could just as easily be the box top for your Grandma’s favourite 1500 piece puzzle. It is not. Though maybe it should be. Is there big money in puzzles? What it is, however, is something even better; my aunt and uncle’s home and business, Coffee Cove Seaside Retreat. It is a treasure.
Guests staying at Coffee Cove Seaside Retreat have two options for accommodations; the Baker House and the Lighthouse. Each is a detached and wonderfully unique cottage with all the amenities of home. They’re both so distinctive yet equally charming that you will struggle to choose only one. In fact, you’ll probably need to visit twice just to avoid having to decide.
For our first stay at Coffee Cove, we settled into the Baker House. This quaint, two-storey, genuine Newfoundland saltbox house dates from the 1890s and at first glance, appears no bigger than an oversized garden shed. That eleven children were raised within its walls seems impossible; more Harry Potter magic trick than earthly reality. Even now as a cozy, two bedroom cottage, the dimensions of the Baker House feel otherworldly.
Entering Baker House from the rear (or is it the front? I’m not sure. It’s the entrance nearest the parking area.), brings you into a rebuilt addition to the original saltbox home. This portion of the cottage contains the kitchen and dining area as well as the four piece bathroom. Although newer and filled with modern appliances, there are touches of antiquity in the furnishings and finishings that welcome you back in time and transition smoothly to the historic portion of the cottage. This is most notable with the lovely, old buffet/hutch cupboard unit as well as the railing and doorway around the passageway into the saltbox itself.
The main floor of the original structure has a relatively roomy living room with a couch, coffee table, and television. Pamphlets and local history books offer light reading and planning for your visit and the walls are ornamented with photos and chronicles of the Baker family in whose former home you are staying.
To the right of the living room is a small but quaint bedroom with a double bed and dresser. This private, little bedroom is fine for mom and dad offering some privacy. It’s admittedly cramped. Your luggage won’t fit in here with you so some creativity is required.
Like storing your luggage upstairs, for example. Next to the private bedroom is a narrow, creaky wooden stairwell rising up to the second floor. This area is quite a treat. You rise up through the ceiling to a relatively sprawling, open second storey with two beds (a single cot and a double four-poster), an old writing desk, and a lovely dresser with mirror. The roof is low and the windows are at knee height and you can immediately imagine yourself huddled together with your siblings watching a storm roll into the cove from the south.
Everything about the Baker House cottage is rustic and the very antithesis of modern luxury and you wouldn’t want it any other way. The timber floors and exposed ceilings caked in a century of paint, the low windows held open with removable screens, the history seeping from every imperfect corner; it’s all such a delight after so many hockey tournaments spent in cookie-cutter Holiday Inns.
A second entrance off the living room takes you out front (or is it out back?) to a deck offering a perfect view of the Little Bay Arm looking southward as the tides gently come and go. A patio table and chairs are provided allowing for lazy afternoons imbibing and noshing.
The Lighthouse cottage is, in some ways, the complete opposite of Baker House and yet oozes with a similar charm and hominess. Built by my uncle in 2011 to expand the original retreat, the Lighthouse is a modern replica of the traditional lighthouses found all over Newfoundland and the Maritimes. All that’s missing is the searchlight, which might explain the derelict fishing boat marooned on the small beach at property’s edge.
From its rocky perch towering over Coffee Cove Seaside Retreat, the Lighthouse Cottage offers a more modern experience while retaining a comfortable, snug and home handyman feel every bit as gratifying as Baker House is nostalgic. The layout is even comparable, with kitchen, bath, and living room on the main floor and the bedroom on the second floor. A hidden ladder in the bedroom takes you through a trap door into the third storey observation room offering a spectacular 360 degree view of the resort and surroundings.
The couch in the living room converts to a second bed if more than two are sleeping in the Lighthouse. As a family of four, I think we would have enjoyed sleeping in the lighthouse every bit as much as we did in Baker House. The kids surely would have, though we would have struggled to keep them out of the observation room all day. But as a romantic retreat for a couple, it would be even more perfect.
Another large, wooden deck offers Lighthouse guests a place to relax and take in the beautiful scenery. And like Baker House, a BBQ is available for cooking that perfect summer steak to enjoy with your beer or wine. Yeah, I know that ain’t seafood; there’s a limit to how much of the east coast lifestyle I can adopt.
The views out over the water from either cottage are delightful, be it watching the birds swooping or the mussel farmers tending their crop. But the true magic happens at night. When skies are clear, this remote location offers up a night sky unlike any most city dwellers have witnessed. Darkness envelops you, save for the bright security light in the parking area of the resort (dear uncle, you really need to put an off switch on that thing), and the night sky comes alive with sparkling, celestial lights and wisps of Milky Way. Had I not been so damned tired from all our exploring, I could have sat under those stars all night long communing with the Universe. Full moons here must be staggering. If only I’d had space in our luggage for a telescope!
Daytime reveals the hard truths behind Newfoundland’s nickname. There is hard, cold rock everywhere. It may not inspire at first glance, but after awhile you start to appreciate the humbling beauty of it and the perseverance of Newfoundlanders present and past. I’m a geologist (of sorts) and love observing this planet at its rawest. The Rock gives you exactly that.
The resort grounds aren’t all rock, mind you. Grasses and wildflowers splatter this earthen canvas with colour and life providing an appealing natural environment rather than the manicured, landscaped exteriors of chain hotels. There’s even a two-seat, wooden porch swing in the yard for two lovers, friends, or siblings to share.
At water’s edge, you’ll find a dock and boathouse as well as a small beach. It’s not exactly a sandy, swimming, catch some rays kind of beach, but at low tide it offers a nice spot to walk around looking for pretty, polished stones and vibrant, blue mussel shells. Beachcombing is both relaxing and intriguing and my kids enjoy it immensely; she the shells, he the rocks. I love it too.
One must not forget, however, that Newfoundland remains an island in the hostile North Atlantic and Mother Nature gets angry sometimes. A modest storm blew in during our first evening at Coffee Cove and that wind whipping up the valley was quite the welcome. The Baker House stood strong but hardly silent. Sure, it makes for difficult sleep. And sure, wind elevates my anxiety. But a storm only adds to the character of this fascinating place. At least you’re not in a boat.
Of course, you have hosts during your stay. I’m obviously biased since I’m related to these folks and my words here have Christmas gift implications, but they do go out of their way to make your stay as perfect as imaginable. If you want solitude, they’re happy to leave you be. If you want socializing, they’re equally happy to join you for a conversation and a beverage. There are lots of stories to share about the resort itself, the surrounding Green Bay area, and Newfoundland as a whole. I quite enjoyed relaxing on the deck listening to my uncle share stories of local mythology and family lore, something I hadn’t done in many years, if ever.
I left Coffee Cove Seaside Retreat in awe, wishing I could return regularly. It’s such a gorgeous spot and, to be honest, something I never imagined anyone in my family owning. Sure it’s off the beaten path. Okay, it’s off the path that’s off the beaten path. Coffee Cove is not a world renowned tourist destination with masses of visitors each summer. It’s not even terribly close to such a destination. But that makes it all the more special. It’s the kind of place you find when you’re looking in the opposite direction as everyone else. The kind of place without tee-shirts, key chains, or glossy travel brochures, but with a soul-moving realness that will better your life.
I unequivocally recommend Coffee Cove Seaside Retreat. I’m so glad I came to know this place. It really is a quaint, special gem of a spot and can easily add to the magnificence of a Newfoundland adventure. Go ahead and enjoy the big name destinations. Do St. John’s and Gros Morne and L’Anse Aux Meadows and the dozens of other notable places on this fascinating and unique island. Just save a couple days to try something a little less common. Turn the other direction and come visit the beautiful Coffee Cove Seaside Resort.
Click here to read Part II where I share all the great outings we had in and around Coffee Cove and discovered that this out of the way place has a lot to offer the curious traveler.