ST. ANDREWS BY THE SEA, N.B. - Calling the Kingsbrae Arms a hotel is a bit of an understatement, maybe even an insult to the two charming individuals - David Oxford and Harry Chancey Jr. - who have worked so hard to create a home away from home for weary travellers.
And, wow, what a home!
A rambling estate, built in 1897 by a prominent family with Nova Scotia and Boston roots as a summer "cottage," serves as the foundation for this five-star Relais & Chateaux gem that sits overlooking the Bay of Fundy and the beautifully manicured Kingsbrae Gardens next door - one of St. Andrews' top tourist highlights.
The delightful Harry, a native of Michigan and a former PBS (Public Broadcasting) exec in New York, and the equally engaging David, a southerner who retired from his New York law practice to become an innkeeper, rescued Kingsbrae from decay a few years ago and have since created a whimsical escape for those who visit this antique town.
David and Harry make Kingsbrae's eight spacious suites and two guest rooms look homey with unique touches like four-poster beds, fireplaces, soft-coloured hardwood floors and huge marble bathrooms that come complete with deep soaking tubs.
The public areas are accented with original artwork and comfy overstuffed furniture - there's even a grand piano in the spacious parlour. There are enough antiques scattered about the handsome old house to make it museum-worthy - the mirrored wet bar, once owned by one of the famed Astors, which Harry purchased for $150 at an estate sale, and the luscious ebony Chinese matrimonial bed tucked away on the third floor, were my favourites.
"I keep telling David we finally own a hotel we can't afford to stay in," laughed Harry.
Actually, the rates at Kingsbrae - starting as low as $300 per person, which includes breakfast, lunch, dinners, cocktails, wines, golf and a wide range of Maritime activities - are quite reasonable considering the experience is priceless.
Kingsbrae Arms is full of narrow, arched staircases and features lots of nooks and crannies that invite guests to explore.
Think grandma's house. And just like grandma's, there's always sweet smells coming from the kitchen.
"Our chef Marc Latulippe is the real star of this show," said Harry, whose property is the only one in Atlantic Canada which carries the prestigious Relais & Chateaux emblem on its entrance.
Latulippe, a delightful man with French-Canadian roots, continues the tradition of making a Relais & Chateaux stay as much a gastronomic delight as a great hotel experience.
The way he blessed one lobster and turned it into six heavenly dishes during my stay was pure magic.
"We could tell you the recipe Marc uses for his tomato consomme but then we'd have to kill you," said the entertaining Harry as he delivered the delicious clear broth, accented with the sweet tomato taste, that was accompanied by a lobster fritter. Believe me, this is one recipe you'd like to take to your grave.
Left: You get a true sense of the Maritimes in St. Andrews. Right: The town is full of charming homes.
Warm lobster timbale with chive creme fraiche proceeded the Cinzano-braised lobster that came swimming in a brown butter pink peppercorn sauce. Chef's traditional lobster gratin had us licking the shell it came in and the organic greens highlighted with lobster salpicon and radish vinaigrette were to die for.
"Now it's time for some real food," said our gracious host as he placed a combination of poached lobster medallions, Acadian spiced halibut and lime ricotta ravioli at our library table.
Latulippe ran out of lobster before the dessert portion of the meal but his apple creme brulee with house hazelnut brittle ice cream that was smothered in cinnamon syrup was the perfect ending to the perfect meal.
David takes over the kitchen in the mornings and delights guests with his delicious breakfast offerings, like crepes that come dripping in syrup that's as smooth as his southern accent. David's version of Eggs Benedict, featuring smoked salmon instead of ham, will have you singing his praises all day.
Before each dinner, guests gather in the huge parlour overlooking Kingsbrae's own impressive garden and get acquainted over drinks and canapes offered by some of the most hospitable staff in the industry.
You can sit at a communal table with other guests in the parlour for dinner or retire to the library for a romantic evening for two at a table overlooking the garden. During the day it's not unusual to see Chef Latulippe in the hotel's herb garden picking ingredients for that night's dinner.
Between each delicious course, David or Harry regale guests with facts about Kingsbrae's past.
"The people who originally owned Kingsbrae traded a great deal with Shanghai so the house was once filled with priceless Asian treasures," said David.
Most of that collection is the highlight of a nearby museum now.
"When I bought Kingsbrae, I phoned the museum and told them, 'okay, I want the original pieces back.' They almost died before recognizing my sense of humour," laughed David.
The only Asian artefacts still on property are the bed and a collection of beautiful blue and white tiles that surround one of the inn's cozy fireplaces.
"I call this the Magic Kingdom without Mickey," said Harry, who oversaw much of the painstaking restoration that brought Kingsbrae back to its original glory.
Despite its grandeur, it's the simple touches at Kingsbrae that make guests feel at home, like the second-floor pantry where visitors can help themselves to snacks and beverages at any time of the day or night. Guests are also welcomed with a glass of champagne or wine upon arrival.
Not surprisingly, Kingsbrae boasts a long list of awards and recognition from a Who's Who list of travel publications. But, the greatest compliments come from the inn's many guests who write their opinions in a book when leaving. I defy anyone to find an uncomplimentary entry.
David and Harry may run the house but their dog Ozzie has the run of the house and greets guests with a wagging tail and bright puppy dog eyes each morning.
"Many of our guests bring their pets and Ozzie gets along with most of them," said the delightful David.
Chef Latulippe makes the Kingsbrae Arms equal to any Relais & Chateaux property you'll find in Europe - but David and Harry, and their flair for hospitality, make Kingsbrae better than its European counterparts.