Nova Scotia (July 2019)
Lighthouses, endless deserted white sandy beaches, secluded coves and the Acadian heritage. These are some of the many highlights of my beautiful road trip to Nova Scotia, between July 21st and July 27th, 2019.
To maximize my time away, I opted for an Air Canada overnight flight departing Vancouver at 12:05 am, via Montreal, with arrival same day in Halifax at 12:00 noon.
The Halifax Airport is small and easy to navigate through, but a good forty-minute drive to the city centre. Getting to the centre, it is either a taxi for about $64.00 one way or a $22.00 shuttle ride operated by Maritime Shuttle which departs every hour on the hour until 7 pm. Car rentals are available and in high demand during high season – July and August – and it is strongly recommended to book months in advance.
I spent my first night in Halifax at the Residence Inn by Marriott, an excellent location for walking to anywhere in the city and steps away from the Avis Car Rental office. This hotel is perfect for anyone needing spacious accommodation. My studio suite came equipped with a full kitchenette, a queen bed and a pull out sofa, large enough to fit 4 adults comfortably. Tea and coffee facilities, as well as air conditioning, added to the sense of comfort. Full American breakfast is included in the rate and served buffet style in the dining room. Throughout the day, a coffee and tea stand is available in the lobby area. Dining can be had at Stubborn Goat pub next door that serves delicious food. My copious beet and goat cheese salad was so good and large enough to feed two hungry adults.
Points of interests in Halifax include the Citadel National historic site, and the Halifax Botanical Garden, founded in 1836, where summer concerts series are offered every Sunday afternoon. The Central Library is an architectural wonder and a modern contrast to the Victorian buildings around it. Venture to the fifth floor for the outdoor garden, offering a 360-degree view of the city. The 2.5km waterfront boardwalk is quite enjoyable before or after a meal, with many eateries and pubs. During my visit, Pride Week was in full swing with entertainers and music everywhere.
The Avis car rental was sold out of small cars by the time I arrive at their office on Grafton Street and was happily upgraded to a small SUV. This vehicle proved very useful for the back roads of Nova Scotia and it offered space and comfort.
First stop of the road trip was Wolfville, about one hour’s drive Northwest of Halifax. It is home to Acadia University and a starting point to explore the Annapolis Valley and the Bay of Fundy. The weather was warm and humid, with a forecast of rain for the next few days.
Plan on booking a B&B through Expedia because the closest hotel/motel is in Grand- Pre, about six kilometers away. My home for the next three days was the Stella Rose Bed and Breakfast. The friendly hosts Robyn, a Canadian, and Neil, her English husband, were a great help in designing the right itineraries during our stay.
Taking advantage of the dry weather, I was eager to see the Bay of Fundy. A quick stop at the Look Off which overlooks the Bay and the Minas Basin in the distance, and farther along the road, a nice hike at Blomidon National Park. With its stunning red cliffs and easy access to the long stretch of beach, I was in awe at its beauty. The tide was low with a steady slow ride while walking that red beach.
A few locals were sitting with fishing rods and when asked why they were there, the response was that when the tide comes in so do a large number of fish and especially sea bass. The water was so warm that I couldn’t contain my excitement and had to put my feet in the Bay of Fundy .. And that’s when I dropped my cellphone and ruined it. Worth every penny I spent to replace it. The area is known for the highest tides in the world. Sadly I wasn’t able to witness this world wonder.
The drive back to Wolfville, lead to a stop at the Planters Ridge winery for some wine tasting, a fairly young winery producing some the best wines in Nova Scotia. The view of the vineyard at sunset was amazing. Because of driving, wine sampling was very minimal, but I bought a nice bottle of their award-winning Quintessential red for a slow degustation later.
Today, the drive to Annapolis Royal revealed so many interesting stops along the way. Driving south on Highway 103 in search of lighthouses, the discovery of Margaretsville on a foggy and grey day was just the ticket. Perched at the extremity of the waterfront the historical lighthouse is painted in black and white, to match my outfit on that day! There is a small gallery selling local arts and crafts. The owner, a woman who reminded me somewhat of Maudie Lewis was putting final touches to the watercolour of the waterfall that you could hear in the distance but could not be distinguished in the fog. I loved every moment of this lovely community.
Back on the 103, at Aylesford, a big sign inviting passing drivers to “come and play in their background” piqued my curiosity and I had to stop. Loud rock music playing and it was a surprise to discover the farm belonged to a Mennonite Family. A moment after arrival a mini-van pulled in with Backroads written on its side, followed a shortly afterwards by a substantial group of cyclists for a lunch stop.
Reaching Annapolis Royal at the end of a long drive was lovely. History says this is the most contested portion of land between the French and the English in Nova Scotia. Originally inhabited by the Mi’kmaq indigenous people, it has seen the arrivals of Europeans by the early 1600s. The quaint narrow streets lined with many unusual heritage buildings and have some of the oldest wooden frame buildings in Canada. The botanical gardens deserve a stop and a walk. A haven of beauty and tranquillity, albeit in the month of July, disturbed by the constant assault of the vicious mosquitoes.
Breakfast at the Stella Rose Bed and Breakfast is a big affair. Neil plans the meal the night before by asking his patrons about their preferences. This particular morning, he concocted a giant spinach frittata - per person – that required the subsequent 12km hike to be completely digested.
The Millennium hike and bike trail connects downtown Wolfville and the historical Grand-pre, with stops along the way at Reservoir Park, Willow Park. It runs parallel to the train tracks, on one side, with farmland on the other. The day was hot and humid and mosquitoes were out in full force. Luckily the multitude of birds and their singing helped to keep moving along the trail.
Grand-Pre is a monument dedicated to the Acadian settlement between 1682 and 1755 and their deportation between 1755 and 1762. It was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012. The visitor centre tells the story with pictures and video of the tragic event of the deportation of the Acadian people (le grand derangement). It is a serene park with green lawns, weeping willows and the statue of Evangeline, the heroine of Longfellow’s poem.
Back to Wolfville at 3 pm for a nice facial and relaxation at the Tiszata Viz Spa ( pure water in Hungarian).
Every Wednesday and Saturday, Wolfville farmer’s market is open between 4 and 7 pm, where you can enjoy a lovely supper in a convivial setting with live music as well. Open to locals and tourists it is a lovely idea to share a table while sampling the many dinner offerings from the vendors. For $10.00, that also includes a scoop of greens, and a slice of bread, served on really on plates and real cutlery, you can sample local organic and fresh local fare. This proved to be one of the best meals during this trip: roasted chicken leg, tabbouleh salad and rice from the new Syrian family vendor that moved there just a few years ago.
Lunenburg was the next stop for two nights on this amazing road trip.
Back to Highway 103, driving south towards Windsor took me towards Nova Scotia’s South Coast and to the Lighthouse Route. First, stop at Chester a charming seaside resort in Mahone Bay. The waterfront boasts beautiful sailboats and the streets are lined with charming homes.
The second stop was at Mahone Bay is lovely with its three picture-perfect colourful churches. Their reflection in the water is stunning. Lots of souvenir shops and a very good pub, O My Cod, a perfect spot to recharge with one Holy Mackerel craft beer! For real!
Lunenburg is a short 15-minute drive from Mahone Bay, and it was around 5 pm when the Alcion Bed and Breakfast was reached. Joe one of the two owners serves a “low tea” every afternoon with a glass of Nova Scotia white wine and home-baked goods.
Alcion bed and breakfast is a stately mansion, in a quiet neighbourhood a ten-minute walk to the centre of town. A full breakfast is served daily between 8 am and 10 am, cooked by Christopher and served by Joe in their sumptuous dining room.
Lunenburg is a gorgeous town by the sea. The old town is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site, with its narrow and sometimes steep streets, unusual architecture and its colourful waterfront buildings dating back to 18th and 19th centuries. On the harbourfront, every Saturday summer evening, live bands and family-friendly events entertain the tourists and locals alike.
So much to see and so little time on the south shore of Nova Scotia.
Carter’s Beach was on the list but by that time, driving was getting a little too much. So I settled on Crescent Beach some 20 kilometers south of Lunenburg. To get there, one must take a five-minute ferry ride from La Petite Riviere over la Havre river and drive south. Off the ferry, a lovely bakery is a must-stop for a coffee, lunch, or anything you want to buy - from paintings and books to frozen dinner foods on your way to the beach!
Crescent Beach is magnificent. About 1 km long, with packed white sand that you can drive on. A perfect place for relaxation after almost a week of driving and discovery of this amazing Province. No facilities at Crescent Beach but the shimmering warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean made up for it. And it was almost deserted!
Last day in Nova Scotia.
The drive back to Halifax was amazing along the scenic Lighthouse Route, with the detour to Blue Rocks a ten-minute drive from Halifax. Absolutely one of my favourite stops. An uneven road leads you along the coast to this idyllic spot for kayakers, beachcombers and cyclists. There is a lovely Blue and White non-operating lighthouse too. Rugged and beautiful, this village is dotted with colourful buildings and a general store for souvenirs and refreshments.
The drive along the Margarets Bay is spectacular. All the small villages and beaches along the South Coast are worth a stop at least for a picture: Mill Cove, Hubbards Beach, Queensland Beach. The latter was one of the busiest as it happened to be a Saturday and provides facilities such as bathrooms, and food carts.
And there was Peggy’s Cove in all its glory!
Somehow, it was bigger and more emotional than expected. Standing on these rocks and looking out to the crashing waves below, the power of the ocean and its wrath can’t be denied. Thinking of all those who perished at sea was a heart-wrenching feeling.
The late afternoon light bathed the lighthouse in a soft glow while crowds got thinner by the minute. A detour worth the effort and the fear of not having enough gas in the car.
You see, the gas tank showed about a quarter full, however, the closest gas station was either 25kms to the east or 30kms to Halifax. Luckily and thankfully a good Samaritan came along offering 5 litres of gas to tide us over until the next station. The best $20.00 ever spent.
For the last night in Halifax was very relaxing. After returning the car, a long walk on the waterfront followed by the second-best meal in Nova Scotia. The Bicycle Thief restaurant is well known with locals and tourists alike and getting a reservation is required months in advance. Unless you don’t mind a stool at the bar. I treated myself to a plate of Digby scallops in lemon butter and capers, followed by a beet salad and delectable crème Brulee for dessert. My choice of wine was a lovely crisp Chablis to pair with my seafood.
My overall impression of Nova Scotia is of welcoming people, kind and warm. The scenery is spectacular, the cost of living is low. This province is under-explored and should be on every Canadian traveller’s bucket list.
The North Shore is warmer and more humid in the summer months and insect spray is highly recommended.
The South Shore is dryer and sunnier and sun protection is also recommended. Gas stations are few and far apart and distances from point to point are greater than expected, therefore ensure you have a full or at least half full tank of gas at any time.