Travel

The Alt Hotel St. John’s is the best harbourfront stay in the Newfoundland capital

Past and present collide at the innovative Groupe Germain property on St. John’s historic waterfront 

  • Sep 24, 2018
  • 762 words
  • 4 minutes
The modular, grey-and-black exterior of the waterfront Alt Hotel St. John’s hides a playful interior that has earned it the affectionate local nickname “the Rainbow Hotel.” (Photo: Alt Hotel St. John’s)
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When it comes to describing what they’re most proud of on their island and in their towns, Newfoundlanders have a flair all their own. Take St. John’s rainbow-painted “Jellybean Row,” or its world-class The Rooms museum and gallery. When the huge red-roofed museum went up next to the Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist on the hill overlooking the downtown area in 2005, locals started referring to it fondly as “the box the church came in.”

In the same vein, taxi drivers and tour guides in St. John’s may tell you how the newly opened Alt Hotel St. John’s “went up like a stack of Lego bricks on the waterfront.” It’s an apt description — the structure was built from dozens of prefabricated room modules, with beds, desks, touchpad controls and all, stacked by crane and connected on the spot. That not only made for significantly less disruptive construction at the busy downtown corner of Water Street and Job’s Cove, it brought a new level of cool, colourful and affordable to the city’s hotel scene.

The result, which opened at the end of 2017, is a trendy, highly eco-sensitive 148-room hotel steps from a slew of boutiques, restaurants (including Raymond’s, one of the nation’s top dining experiences, next door), live Newfoundland music and the famed barscape of George Street. A few minutes on wheels will get you to the Atlantic views of Signal Hill, several wild and spectacular sections of the East Coast Trail, and the fishing-village neighbourhood of Quidi Vidi.

Breathtaking Atlantic and harbour views are just a short drive away from the Alt Hotel St. John’s at Signal Hill. (Photo courtesy Alt Hotel St. John’s)
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Most of the hotel’s rooms look out onto St. John’s Harbour, up to the fortifications of Signal Hill and, just beyond them, to open ocean. It feels a bit surreal to play with the bedside control panel — adjusting the brightness and hue of the lights, the temperature of the room and the blinds on the floor-to-ceiling windows — while watching enormous ships pass through the Narrows and out to sea as they have for hundreds of years, but that’s what you get at the Alt Hotel St. John’s. And just so you truly can’t forget that you’re about as far east as you can go in Atlantic Canada, a glass dividing wall between the bed and bathroom in each room features a huge opaque puffin.

Like the other locations in Groupe Germain’s cross-Canada Alt Hotel and Le Germain brands, service is exemplary and the public spaces are artsy-modern and awash in colours — hence why some locals have been referring to the Alt as “the Rainbow Hotel,” despite its mainly black and grey exterior. Fall 2018 will see the opening of a sure-to-be-popular restaurant accessed through the lobby, but the space is already well-tuned for reading with a coffee, catching up on emails, or harbour-watching. It’s easy to get lost in the Alt Expo art installation, an interactive mosaic of thousands of images of Newfoundland by local photographer Michael Winsor, and featuring a screen that’s constantly updating with other visitors’ #altexpo-tagged Instagram posts of the region. And in another homage to local geography and history, the footprint of the building and its grounds has incorporated the outline of the cellar of the Marshall Brothers warehouse and post office that stood on the site through the 1800s, tributes to which you’ll see mounted on walls about the hotel.

Lest you forget that you’re about as far east as you can go in Atlantic Canada, a glass dividing wall between the bed and bathroom in each room features a huge opaque puffin. (Photo courtesy Alt Hotel St. John’s)
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Most people who stay at the Alt Hotel St. John’s probably don’t realize it, but all of the Group Germain hotels — from Calgary to Charlevoix (outside Quebec City) and on to the East Coast — are quiet leaders in sustainability and eco-responsibility. Each property harnesses a geothermal heating and cooling system adapted for the local geography; part of the the Alt Hotel St. John’s system, for example, draws on the Atlantic Ocean, pumping and circulating ocean water through the building in a large-scale temperature exchange. Innovative heat recovery systems and automated central switches that cut power whenever rooms are unoccupied are also in play.

Knowing all that, sleep well in your standout-comfy bed surrounded by Egyptian cotton sheets. But don’t be surprised if, when you wake up and the first thing that registers is a fishing trawler disappearing into a fog bank, it takes you a moment to remember just where you are.

The Alt Hotel St. John’s has a fixed room-rate policy, which means prices do not fluctuate during a given season. Book now to stay at the best launchpad for exploring St. John’s and Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula.

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