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The seaside resort town took hold as a retreat for stressed-out urbanites in the late 1880s. With its iconic hotel, colourful main street, slow pace and natural splendours, it serves the same purpose still today.

The Algonquin Resort has been a fixture of St. Andrews by-the-Sea, N.B., since its opening in 1889 as a seaside resort featuring saltwater baths. Rates back then: $3 to $5 a night. After the original hotel burned down in 1914, it was replaced by the grand Tudor-style building that exists today, perched on a high point in the town of 1,500 residents and overlooking Passamaquoddy Bay.

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The Algonquin Resort underwent a $50-million renovation, beginning in 2012, to bring its standards into the 20th century and up a few notches on the luxury ladder. Its 223 guestrooms and suites reopened in March of 2014. The hotel's amenities include an indoor pool with a three-storey waterside, 19,000 square feet of meeting space and upscale restaurant Braxton's, named for the resort's original chef from the 19th century, African-American George F. Braxton.

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St. Andrews by-the-Sea sits on the southern tip of a peninsula that juts into Passamaquoddy Bay. Water Street runs the length of the tip and is the finest walk in town, beginning at its historic commercial district full of colourful artisan shops, galleries and eateries, and continuing on to the 185-year-old Pendlebury Lighthouse and Indian Point. Great Places in Canada, a contest run by the Canadian Institute of Planners, named Water Street as the greatest street in Canada in 2016.

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The 11-hectare Kingsbrae Garden, consistently ranked among Canada's top 10 gardens, is an oasis of horticultural beauty and tranquility in the middle of town. It has 50,000 perennials, an authentic Dutch windmill, a cedar maze, art installations and a menagerie that includes alpacas, goats and other small animals. It has also added a multi-purpose amphitheatre for performances.

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Ministers Island was the summer estate of William Van Horne, the 19th century president of Canadian Pacific Railway who played a key role in Canada's completion of the railway coast to coast in 1885. The island, including his Covenhoven mansion and barn, have been preserved and today it's designated a national heritage site. Getting there is as interesting as the island itself. At high tide, the island is cut off from St. Andrews. But at low tide, the water retreats enough to permit visitors to walk, cycle or even drive across the ocean floor to reach the island.

Chris Flemming

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St. Andrews by-the-Sea invites outdoors physical activity, including kayaking on the Passamaquoddy Bay, either self-guided or guided through tour operators such Seascape Kayak Tours and Eastern Outdoors. Landlubbers might prefer a unique cycling expedition with Off Kilter Biking Tours, whose required uniform includes a kilt.

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Because of its slow and gentle pace of life, it's tempting to linger in St. Andrews by-the-Sea exclusively on a visit to the town. But curious minds who need a diversion might head to the Hopewell Rocks in Fundy National Park. It's about a three-hour drive but worth the effort to see one of Canada's most stunning displays of nature. The rocks are works of art, sculpted by nature's wind and water. They look impressive from the cliffs above but even more fascinating up-close. The Bay of Fundy's water drops up to 16 metres and visitors can descend a staircase to walk on the ocean floor, among the rocks.

Jeff Brooke/The Globe and Mail

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