Travels in Ferryland

Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula is a magical place. In 1621, George Calvert, Lord Baltimore, founded his Colony of Avalon here, a place that offered a utopian vision of religious freedom. Baltimore is far more famous for his time in the colony of Maryland, but the Newfoundland site, now known as Ferryland, continues to be a rich and revealing one for archaeologists. It’s an hour’s drive from Newfoundland’s capital city, St. John’s, and the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve — which has North America’s largest puffin colony — is on the route, making it a perfect day trip.

The tricky thing, when traveling with celiac disease, is figuring out where to eat on a day trip like that, especially when the number of options isn’t large. That was why I was so glad to discover Lighthouse Picnics while I was in Newfoundland. The business was created by local talents Jill Curran and Sonia O’Keefe. Curran is the great-granddaughter of the onetime keeper of the 1869 lighthouse, and O’Keefe is a chef who trained with the legendary Darina Allen at Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland. (That’s the same Darina Allen who co-authored a cookbook called Healthy Gluten-Free Cooking with Rosemary Kearney in 2005.) The pair have created a vibrant tourist site by renting the scenic red metal Ferryland Head Lighthouse every summer since 2002. They create gourmet picnic lunches for visitors to enjoy al fresco while whale-watching from the grounds (there’s also indoor seating for rainy-day lunches).

The spicy curried chicken they made for me was incredible, as was the simple green salad that blended different lettuces with herbs and nuts, and the Strawberry Fool, a rich dessert of fruit and rich cream. Even the delicious lemonade was made on-site. Because the owners prepare every picnic themselves, using produce from local farmers, they are able to create gluten-free dishes; advance reservations are strongly recommended for everyone, but they’re essential for anyone with a food intolerance or allergy.

Lighthouse Picnics also hosts great events. In the past these have included readings by Michael Crummey (author of River Thieves and The Wreckage), and performances by Encuentro Flamenco, a local dance troupe. If you’re visiting Newfoundland in summer, make sure that a picnic at Ferryland is on your itinerary.

Lighthouse Picnics [address] Ferryland, Newfoundland, Canada [tel] 709-363-7456 [web]

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