As much as we revel in all things Toronto, long weekends are a great time for reminding oneself that you can get by in life without spending every moment of your time in the Centre of the Universe… and in fact, life is better when you can get away from the hustle and bustle from time to time.
By publishing this article after the working day on Friday, many of you won't see it until you're in a cozy spot on the living room couch or stretched out in bed with your iPad. Or, lucky you if you've made the drive to a weekend retreat and are now ensconced in a favourite seat, tea or coffee on the side table, and a treasured view out the window. That's the kind of place I like to put myself in when settling down to read about somewhere a little exotic, a little removed from my day-to-day; it's a good way to help induce the dream.
I've been lucky enough the last two summers to be invited out for a short visit to Fox Harb'r in Nova Scotia. The trip is free with the understanding that there'll be a write-up following. In the world of television, similar arrangements are classified as promotional consideration, and it's typically negotiated to the nth degree and covered by contracts. In travel writing, which this nearly is, there are rarely contracts, (none in this case), and the resort flies you out and puts you up for a couple days, hoping you'll find something you like about the place and that you'll want to write about in return. (At UrbanToronto, we don't do travel per se, but there are homes for sale here, so it's a perfect fit for our annual vacation home story.)
Fox Harb'r management don't really have to fret that they might be wasting their money on these familiarization trips. I came back last year with "you won't believe how great a place there is out in Nova Scotia" type stories that I bombarded my friends with, and I was equally happy to write about it here. The place hits me everywhere that I'm vulnerable: gorgeous setting—both to photograph and enjoy outright, super-comfortable suites, plenty of options for exercise and relaxation, the friendliest, least attitudinal staff you can imagine, and food and drink that leave you totally content as the sun sets.
I was really pleased to be invited back this year: Fox Harb'r has expanded offerings that they want to introduce, and I wanted to try out a couple of things I missed on my first visit.
So, first, the nitty gritty: Fox Harb'r (missing the 'o' if you're American, the 'ou' if you're Canadian) sits on 1,100 acres of gently rolling land that overlooks the Northumberland Strait (there lies Prince Edward Island on the distant horizon) near the village of Wallace. This is Nova Scotia's less-well-known and softer North Shore, just over an hour-and-a-half by car or shuttle bus north of Halifax's Stanfield International Airport, and the same time from YQM in Moncton.
The resort started off as a getaway spot for Ron Joyce, former President and co-founder of Tim Hortons. Joyce grew up half an hour to the east in another North Shore town called Tatamagouche, and bought the property here (with a disused lobster processing plant on part of it) in 1987. Joyce built a home, then over the years added places for friends to stay when visiting, then golf links to entice them to visit, and even an airstrip to make it easy. In the mid 90s, Joyce conceived of greater things for the site, hired noted golf course designer Graham Cooke to rework the links, and began building more accommodations and support buildings. In 2000 the resort opened primarily as a golfing destination, the links being awarded the title of Canada's Best New Course in 2001.
In the years since, Fox Harb'r has earned a place on its fair share of wanderlust lists. Former New Brunswick Premier and Canadian Ambassador to the US Frank McKenna began holding annual events at the resort, welcoming several former US Presidents to the site along with business leaders from around the Maritimes, in 2009 Tiger Woods set a course record of 63 (par is 70), and the resort has become a major stop on the worldwide clay shooting circuit with several tournaments a year. (You'll find it difficult to feel more Downton Abbey anywhere else other than maybe Highclere.)
If clay pigeon shooting doesn't appeal (you might not know it yet, but it does appeal: it's a gas making those flying saucers explode in mid-air), there are more intrinsically calm ways to spend your time here too. There's catch-and-release fly fishing on offer in one of the resort's two stocked trout ponds, or for those who need full pampering, the resort's Dol-ás Spa is waiting for you with its tranquil massage and treatment rooms and pools. A fitness centre with weight training and aerobic equipment shares space in the spa building.
Naturally the biggest sport here is still golf, and people come from a long way to play the 18-hole championship course here. It starts with 9 parkland holes through forested grounds before finishing with 9 of the Scottish-links style along the seaside. Fox Harb'r also offers a Golf Academy to improve your game, a driving range, and a 9-hole Executive Par-3 course if you'd like a quicker play. The pro shop at the clubhouse can outfit you if you need any equipment or course attire.
Two new activities that have been added to Fox Harb'r's roster are horseback riding and sea kayaking. The more than one thousand acres allows plenty of options while on horseback—trails through the forest, along the seaside, or through fields, while the kayaking will get you out onto the ocean—albeit a sheltered part. Here you can grab a solo or a tandem kayak and head out onto Fox Harbour itself (there really is a harbour, no missing o or u), where you're protected from the waves of the already relatively calm Northumberland Strait. Our paddle took us east a couple of km to an otherwise uninhabited island where we listened to a colony of seals barking. That was a bit of magic.
Remembering of all of that, I'm hungry again, thirsty too… so at the clubhouse, the resort can take care of you at two restaurants, one more casual, one more elegant. Both follow the Ocean Wise sustainable seafood programme drafted by the Vancouver Aquarium, the first restaurants on Canada's East Coast to do so. To compliment Chef Shane Robilliard's farm and sea-to-table cuisine (most of what you eat here is grown, raised, or caught close by, even onsite), both restaurants also serve a wide selection of wines and beers. Served with particular pride-of-place, you'll find delicious brews from the nearby Tatamagouche Brewing Company on offer, and excellent vino from the even-closer Jost Vineyards. It's Jost with whom Fox Harb'r has partnered to bring their own vineyards online. Homeowners here even have the option of getting in on creating their own wine from personal vines. (There's more about the food program in last year's write-up as well as a visit to Jost, which is another highlight of the area.)
Speaking of homeowners, homes have been available for purchase in Fox Harb'r's traditionally styled 'Stone Village' for a number of years now, either as turnkey opportunities, or as open lots upon which you can build a custom home. Seriously spacious townhomes are also available in Stone Village, either as full ownership, or as 1/4 fractional ownership. (Again, there's a full write-up on those offerings with several photos in last year's story.) This year though, Fox Harb'r is opening a new section for development in sight of the resort's marina and the Northumberland Strait.
For this part of the property, Fox Harb'r went looking to Halifax-based DSRA Architecture for a less traditional feel. Peter Connell, Managing Director of DSRA explains, “They were looking for a more modern and appealing look… development that would strengthen a sense of community. Our design approach was driven exclusively by the rustic, wind-swept shores of northern Nova Scotia which offer unmatched natural beauty, set against the powerful elements of the Northumberland Strait. The rural vernacular and character of this region is one of practicality and modesty, much like the people who have farmed and fished this fertile coastline for centuries.”
“Working with the Fox Harb’r team, we developed a simple wedge-like form as the basis for the villa designs. The high and low form responds to the functional space needs and creates a visual tension in the landscape. The form is carved away in areas to create transparency, shelter, and openness. The repeated forms seem to gather and nestle into the landscape like mollusks. They sit low and quiet, clad in weathered natural materials. Each villa has unique architectural differences, but collectively they form a family. The villas seem settled in the land, offering leisure and retreat along a blustery coastline, and framed views to a majestic ocean setting.”
Exteriors of the Marina Landing homes will feature natural stone, with broad wood decks that span the oceanside width. Sizes range from 1,810 to 2,455 square feet; there are seven 2-bedrooms and five 4-bedrooms, each bedroom features an ensuite bath.
To outfit the flexible open-concept interiors for casual entertaining or refined elegance, Fox Harb'r brought on Toronto's DesignAgency, with partner Matthew Davis leading the project. "We envisioned Fox Harb’r with thoughtful selections of materials that speak to its surroundings. The interiors reflect two concepts. ‘Tailored + Fresh’ is about unique tailored details and an approachable ambience. Using natural warm toned woods, beadboard and local stone, the space pays tribute to the coastal environment. ‘Polished + Atmospheric’ highlights contrasting materials, light and dark woods, dark soapstone countertops and brass detailing to create a dramatic and luxurious atmosphere. Both designs demonstrate a comfortable and homey residential experience, celebrating the cultures of Nova Scotia.”
Eric Lum, Real Estate Sales Manager at Fox Harb'r explained the idea behind the Marina Landing homes, saying they "have a smaller footprint than those we have previously built and sold here, because we were often asked for choices in these sizes. They are still very generous in square footage, because our owners enjoy the carefree resort lifestyle here, and love to entertain. These new homes will be more manageable for those who travel, because they can simply lock the door and leave worry free.”
Fox Harb'r's President, Kevin Toth, summed up the resort's intentions for their latest offering; “People know Fox Harb’r for its award-winning championship golf course, spa, luxurious accommodations, sport shooting and sumptuous dining, and our efforts to add horseback riding and kayaking to the amenity mix make this community even more fun for guests and residents. Marina Landing is perfect for those seeking single-level resort living in a 5-Star environment.”
Owning at Fox Harb'r starts at $195,000. It's a two-hour flight from Toronto, and another hour-and-a-half on the road, or you can fly right in to Fox Harb'r's private airport. Either way, you don't have to drive the 400 northbound. As a complete getaway, it's not too close, and for everything you might want, it's not too far.