The charming border town known as Canada’s Chocolate Capital
St. Stephen, New Brunswick is a small Canadian city with a high claim to fame. It’s Canada’s Chocolate Capital! Any town that claims to have a chocolate compound is worth checking out in my opinion, but as I learned on a recent press trip, there’s more to see than just confectionery in this friendly frontier town.
St. Stephen is located in southwest New Brunswick, directly across the St. Croix River from Calais, Maine. Driving from Bangor will take about 2 hours to get to St. Stephen. Those who fly in often choose Fredericton, the capital of New Brunswick, as their primary destination. The airport is just over 90 minutes away.
Travelers traveling in winter should expect some services to be closed or have reduced hours, and winter tires are a must-have for driving in the countryside in the province. I may be biased as my own visit was in September, but I think early fall is the ideal time to visit. The landscape is beautiful and there are fewer day-trippers compared to the summer months. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t give two special reasons to visit in August: the annual chocolate festival and the international homecoming festival.
The chocolate museum
The hotel is located in the former Ganong Candy Factory Chocolate Museum is managed by the Ganong team. It guides visitors through the development of cocoa as a valuable global commodity until the late 19th century, when Ganong was founded as one of Canada’s first pastry chefs. In many ways, St. Stephen and Ganong share a common history, with each influencing the growth and development of the other. St. Stephen is a true corporate town in the sense that you will hardly find a single family in the area who does not employ one of its members at Ganong. And Ganong, in turn, is part of the history of New Brunswick and Canada. Among other things, it was one of the first (maybe even the very first) to create a candy bar, and it was also the pioneer of the heart-shaped chocolate box.
Guided tours are offered several times a day in the chocolate museum. Grab a bag of my personal favorites – chicken bones, a pink cinnamon drop with a thin chocolate core – at the gift shop before you leave. They are deliciously addicting!
Every year in early August, all of St. Stephen and some of the rest of New Brunswick come together to celebrate the community festival Chocolate festival. Based on past event plans, it is perhaps the most fun festival in Canada. Participants will enjoy workshops on making their own chocolate crust, a jelly bean fun run, pancake breakfast, treasure hunt, recipe competitions, movie nights, and BINGO. There’s even a pudding-eating competition! This might just be the type of competitive event that I would excel at. Activities range from free to cost a few dollars.
International homecoming festival
St. Stephen and Calais, Maine, may be separated by the St. Croix River, but the two cities consider each other family. In fact, families often live on both sides of the river and people often cross the border to shop, attend events, and visit friends. The annual International homecoming festivalwhich takes place in August each year, celebrates this special connection. Visitors can expect special events in both cities, including fireworks, children’s activities, free public swimming and ice skating, parades, scavenger hunts, and more.
Charlotte County Museum
The hotel is located on the outskirts of St. Stephen in the Milltown community Charlotte County Museum traces local life from the late 19th century, with a special focus on the early settlers, including loyalists, Irish and Scots. While the museum is open seasonally. Contact in advance for tours all year round.
Methodist burial place, Kirk McColl United Church
I usually sneak around church grounds when I travel, but every time I pass by Kirk McCll United Church, I could see that there was something behind it. Finally, on my last day in St. Stephen, I turned the car over to look and I’m so glad I did. Behind the church is a small Methodist burial site dating from 1786. If you can visit church without disrupting church activities, it is worth stopping, just like me, to check out. It is one thing to describe St. Stephen as a historic city, but it is quite another to see evidence of it in this cemetery, which I suspect is one of the oldest in the province. And the presence of small American flags is evidence that this is truly a border community.
Ganong Natural Park
Located just a few miles from St. Stephen, Ganong Nature Park is a 350-acre park and wooded recreation space overlooking the St. Croix River. There is 11 short trails, They range from just a few hundred feet to less than a mile, so it’s entirely possible to walk through them all in one visit. Sights include a Ganong family cottage and the foundations of old farm buildings. Glamping units on site are a nice accommodation option for anyone who wants to spend time in nature without breaking it down too much.
Riverside Waterfront Trail
Just under 1 mile long (one way) that Riverside path takes hikers and walkers along the St. Croix River. Along the way, see a cute mini lighthouse and outdoor sculptures. The parking lot at the west end of the trail is my preferred starting position, especially because of its proximity to a cafÃ©!
Something is brewing cafÃ©
This tiny riverside cafe is an absolute delight. Chocolate lovers will want the greatest flavored hot chocolate they can as it is absolutely delicious. Those who like it a little less sweet should inquire if they can get a Chicken Bones Latte. The tangy cinnamon flavor of this local sweet goes perfectly with espresso (and with all that coffee and tea Something’s brewing is fair trade, which makes your enjoyment even more beautiful). If you plan to hike the Riverside Trail, this is a good place to refuel with a vegetable and goat cheese breakfast sandwich, a vegetarian hummus wrap, or an oat cake.
This cozy diner has an old fashioned feel to it. Some stands even have baby jukeboxes! Carman’s menu is filled with classic diner dishes, from hot turkey and hot roast beef to spaghetti and meatballs and Salisbury steak. Most breakfast items are under $ 8, and there is a senior special for $ 9.50 that includes coffee and dessert. If the chocolate cake is on the menu, give it a try!
This diner specializes in submarine sandwiches, with 18 types, all of which cost under $ 11 for a mighty 12-inch sandwich. The blondie comes with roast beef, ham, salami, bacon, jack cheese, and vegetables and may just need a nap when you’re done. Diner 81 is also my favorite place to have breakfast in St. Stephen. It’s a perfect above average fried egg that’s far less common than you might expect! (We above-average lovers suffer in a world made for those who like egg yolks that are too light or tough.) Another great cake stop, both chocolate and chocolate coconut flavors are usually on the menu.
The 5 Kings Restaurant
This upscale brewery serves some of the best food in town. Go here for a hearty meal like a Philly Cheesesteak Melt with a beer barbecue sauce or pulled pork tacos with avocado and arugula. The Five Kings is part of the Picaroon family, my favorite brewery in Fredericton. And to go with St. Stephan, there is sometimes a chocolate beer on the menu. Afterglow Aphrodisiac Ale is made every February and contains chocolate, ginseng, and cayenne pepper.
Pro tip: a word about accommodation
Accommodation options in St. Stephen are a bit sparse. You have the choice between very simple motels and possibly seasonal B & Bs. I secretly hope that one day the city will have a chocolate-themed inn! If you prefer a wider range of amenities and convenience, the nearby parish of St. Andrews by the Sea is a great base. This pretty seaside town is 25 minutes from St. Stephen and is home to the luxurious Algonquin Resort. More comfortable options are the cozy ones Inn on Frederick, and the beautiful Montague Rose B&B (which serves an elegant high tea!).
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