Lighthouse Picnics at Ferryland Are an Unforgettable Experience

©. K Martinko -- Perfect spot for a picnic lunch

An ingenious tourism initiative keeps visitors flocking to this rocky, remote lighthouse in southeastern Newfoundland.

If you ever find yourself on the southeastern coast of Newfoundland, near the city of St. John's, there is a place you absolutely must visit. Its name is Ferryland, and it is a spot so very magical in its unearthly beauty that I think its name would more appropriately be spelled 'Fairyland.'

The village of Ferryland clings to the rocky coastline in a cove, as do most small towns in Newfoundland, but this one is bisected by a narrow finger of land that juts out into the cold, dark Atlantic Ocean -- in places, just wide enough for a car to drive along. At the end of the point, the land expands into a larger outcropping of rock, on which a beautiful old lighthouse stands.

road to Ferryland

© K Martinko -- Looking back at the village of Ferryland on the coast

Ferryland was one of the first 'New World' fishing spots frequented by European fishing vessels in the 1500s. Portuguese, Spanish, and French fleets vied for its waters rich in cod, but by the later part of the century, it was exclusively English territory. Ferryland was also one of the first North American locations proposed for a year-round colony. A charter was granted by the British government to Lord Baltimore to establish a community there in 1621. Baltimore, however, found the winter so harsh that he moved south and petitioned for a second charter to create the colony (and eventual state) of Maryland. A plaque at Ferryland's lighthouse reads:

"Even today the inscription of the Great Seal of Maryland attests Lord Baltimore's claim to be 'Absolute Lord of Maryland and Avalon.'"
Ferryland lighthouse

© K Martinko -- The Ferryland lighthouse

Ferryland is the site of many famous shipwrecks and dramatic rescues, including the SS Torhamvan, which ran aground in dense fog in 1926. Its exotic cargo included macaroni, which was eaten by the locals for years after and became a curious part of the regional cuisine, mixed with potatoes.

What makes Ferryland particularly attractive these days, however, is an ingenious tourism initiative -- gourmet picnic baskets sold at the lighthouse, which was restored in 2004. Instead of an in-house café or restaurant, staff in the lighthouse kitchen prepare delicious lunches packed on wicker trays that visitors can carry to wherever they want on the rocks. Insulated plaid picnic blankets are included.

I went this week with my sister and her boyfriend (who live in St. John's), eager to see it for myself; our parents did a Ferryland picnic three years ago and haven't stopped talking about it since. The experience lived up to my high expectations. The food was excellent -- hearty sandwiches on home-baked oatmeal molasses bread, orzo and vegetable pasta salad, cakes drizzled with warm toffee sauce, ice-cold lemonade that's freshly squeezed each day, and strong coffee. We sat on the furthest point we could find, surrounded by plunging cliffs and a surging turquoise sea, and ate a meal that I'll never forget.

Ferryland picnic basket

© K Martinko -- Lunch for three

Apparently, there is a strong picnic tradition at Ferryland, as attested by the collection of black and white photographs on the interior walls of the lighthouse. I love this, because I'm a big fan of picnics. They turn a meal into an experience of its own, encouraging people to linger outdoors and pay attention to scenery that might otherwise get overlooked in the rush to move on. And there's nothing like eating outdoors to make food taste better.

I'd highly recommend a jaunt to Ferryland if you're ever in the area -- and I think more tourism destinations should consider similar ventures, since it seems to be very popular. Despite a reservation, we waited a half-hour for our baskets, but the time flew by in such a beautiful spot.