Nova Scotia, one of three Atlantic Maritime provinces in Canada, is a land of colorful villages, craggy coastlines, and some of the finest seafood in the world. Recently, I took a driving tour of the southern half, an 800-mile circle route beginning in the historic and cosmopolitan capital of Halifax and traveling along the Lighthouse Route and the Evangeline Trail. Along the way, I discovered some of the best Nova Scotia has to offer.
A tour like this should take at least a week, though I could have easily spent two. Here are some of Southern Nova Scotia’s “bests” you shouldn’t miss.
Best Tour Route: Lighthouse Route. If you love Cape Cod and Victorian architecture, maritime scenes, and incredibly fresh seafood, the Lighthouse Route is for you. Skirting drop-dead gorgeous coastline and wending through step-back-in time fishing villages, the Lighthouse Route travels 210 miles, passing 20 classic lighthouses. For centuries, these lighthouses have protected sailors and fishermen. Today, they stand proudly against the elements, symbols of the province’s maritime history.
Best Lobster: Hall’s Harbour Lobster Pound. For hundreds of years, Nova Scotians looked to the sea to make their living. Not only is fishing a proud tradition, today the province exports $1 billon worth of fish and seafood annually to nearly 90 countries around the world.
Lobster, the “King of Seafood,” was once so plentiful and inexpensive in Nova Scotia it was known as poor man’s food and was even used to fertilize farmer’s fields. It was often served to prison inmates, and, if they were forced to eat lobster more than three times a week, it was considered cruel and unusual punishment! Today, lobstering is a thriving and in-demand industry and savvy foodies prize the sweet meat of these crustaceans from Nova Scotia’s cold waters.
While you can get lobster in many restaurants in southern Nova Scotia, at Hall’s Harbour Lobster Pound in the cliffside village of Hall’s Harbour, you can pick your own lobster (from small to jumbo) and have it cooked while you learn about lobsters and lobster fishing. Then put on a bib and chow down on fresh lobster and plenty of side selections from baked potatoes to coleslaw while enjoying the water view.
The lobsters at Hall’s Harbour range in size from 1 to 3+ pounds and are priced from $24.95-$35 (jumbos, 3+ lbs., go for $15.50/lb.). I ordered a large, approximately 2 pounds, and while it was absolutely delicious, that’s a lot of lobster even for a lobster lover like me. I ended up largely ignoring the accompanying roll and crispy coleslaw.
Best Inn: Blomidon Inn, Wolfville. Nova Scotia is filled with quaint, historic inns. None is better than Blomidon Inn in the college town of Wolfville. Built by a prosperous shipbuilder in the 1880s, the three-story inn features teak and mahogany wainscoting, mantels, and staircases, marble fireplaces and gold gilt mirrors. There are 24 guest rooms ranging from superior rooms to suites as well as 6 luxury guest accommodations away from the main building all with modern updates like queen beds, flat screen TVs, free super-fast Wi-Fi, individual air conditioners, and, in some rooms, jetted tubs and gas fireplaces.
Rooms includes a continental breakfast (cereal, yogurt, fruit, juice, breads/pastries, coffee/tea) served in beautiful dining rooms. Full meals (lunch and dinner) are served in the inn’s elegant dining rooms.
Best Dairy: Fox Hill Farm & Cheese House, Port Williams. A six-generation family farm nestled in the agricultural Annapolis Valley, Fox Hill Farm & Cheese House plants the seed, grows the grass, and milks their own herd of Holstein and Jersey cows to produce delicious milk in glass bottles. This pasteurized non-homogenized milk actually has cream that floats to the top! Fox Hill also makes a line of cheeses, yogurt, and gelato.
Best Bakery: White Sails Bakery and Deli, Tantallon. We almost sailed by this don’t-miss bakery, but their colorful red, yellow and lime green building caught the eye of a photographer in our group and we’re glad it did. White Sails Bakery and Deli offer freshly baked items, including ooey-goody cinnamon rolls, crumbly lemon blueberry scones, and something called the Xango cheesecake that’s buttery, cheesy and definitely a not-to-miss. They also make sandwiches, many with smoked meat imported from Montreal.
Best Museum, Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, Lunenburg. This museum, located on the docks in the village of Lunenburg, tells the story of cod and other fisheries in Nova Scotia that built the province. Tour guide Nancy, the wife of a fisherman, led us through exhibits that include nets, gaffs, hooks, buckets and other fishing tools and two fishing vessels, a side trawler and a salt bank schooner, one of the last of its kind. It’s fascinating to climb beneath deck of these working fishing boats and imagine the difficult lives of these hardy fishermen.
Best Oysters: Eel Lake Oyster Farm, Ste. Anne du Ruisseau. Located in the cool, clean, salty waters of Eel Lake, fisherman Nolan D’Eon and his family grow some of the finest oysters in the world. Medium-sized with deep cups and meat that’s sweet without being too salty, Ruisseau oysters are grown with a revolutionary new method called Oyster Gro that allows the oysters to develop in the first nutrient-rich inches of water. Oysters grow naturally in the saltwater lake and Nolan collects the oyster seed (spat) and, as they grow, transfers them to a series of cages. It takes about three years for the oysters to develop to market size. The family offers informative boat tours of the oyster beds ($30 pp) that include oyster tasting.
Best Wine Region, Annaoplis Valley. A land of orchards, vineyards and farms, the fertile Annapolis Valley grows Nova Scotia’s world famous apples and is Canada’s newest wine region. Currently home to 12 wineries, the region even features the MagicWine Bus ($25 pp), a hop-on-hop-off wine bus that takes visitors to several wineries for tastings.
Best Memorial: Grand-Pré National Historic Site, Grand-Pré. This UNESCO World Heritage Site commemorates the Acadian settlement in this area (1682-1755), and the mass deportation of the Acadian people from Nova Scotia.
In the mid-1600’s, French immigrants settled land they called Acadie (now Nova Scotia or New Scotland). Over the years, the territory was fought over by the French and British. In the 1700’s, the British won control, but they feared the presence of Acadians who were French Catholics. In 1755, in one of the largest mass deportations in history, British soldiers forced an estimated 10,000 Acadians off their land, burned their villages, confiscated their livestock and equipment, and deported them to America and Europe. This park, which includes acres of diked land that Acadian farmers reclaimed from the sea (grand pré means “great meadow” or “great marshland”) as well as exhibits of Acadian relics, dike-building, and a reconstruction of the original church where Acadian men were rounded up by the British, is a testament to this sad history.
Best Acadian Restaurant: La Cuisine Robicheau, Salunierville. A few decades after deportation, some Acadians made their way back to Nova Scotia. In Salunierville, La Cuisine Robicheau, a modest waterside eatery, is one of the finest Acadian restaurants in Nova Scotia. Operated by husband and wife team, Chef Scott and Nadine Robicheau, everything is housemade in the Acadian tradition, the portions are large, and the seafood is super fresh.
I ordered pan fried haddock with lobster sauce, a big piece of juicy fish smothered in creamy sauce studded with huge chunks of sweet lobster meat accompanied by mashed potatoes and peas and carrots. A friend ordered seafood lasagna, a thick, tasty slab of lobster, shrimp, and scallops in a creamy-cheesy sauce.
Best Authentic Acadian Dish, Évelina’s, Salunierville. One of the most well known Acadian dishes is rappie pie (rapure pie), a mixture of meats (usually beef, chicken or clams), shredded potatoes, and salted onions baked in a hot oven for several hours to create a thick crust on top. And no one in Acadian country makes more rappie pies than Évelina’s Râpure Pie where they crank out 200-300 pies per day. Non-Acadians may find rappie pie, which has the texture of loose polenta, an acquired taste.
I preferred another Acadian staple, Évelina’s fricot, chicken soup with shredded potato dumplings. The soup features chunks of chicken, potato cubes and potato dumplings that are silky, almost creamy in texture.
Best Pastry Shop, Slow Dough, Wolfville. One of the highlights of Wolfville is Slow Dough Pastries & Cafe, a pastry and bread shop and deli owned and operated by pastry chef Elizabeth Charlton. The shop specializes in slow-rise breads and all butter pastries. The breads are made with minimal yeast and allowed to rise slowly overnight in individual bowls and they make sandwiches with their housemade breads.
Elizabeth’s pastries really shine. I ordered a Cranberry Walnut Tart, which I asked her to warm in the oven. It featured a heavenly buttery crust with just the right amount of cranberries for a sweet-tart flavor and walnuts for a bit of nutty crunch, all in a not-overly-sweet brown sugar filling. Delicious!
Best Mussels, Elliot’s Dining Room at White Point Beach Resort, White Point. This seaside resort, a favorite among Nova Scotians and visitors alike, is also known as “rabbit resort” for the many feral bunnies that occupy the property. Chef Alan Crosby cooks his fresh mussels in a smoky tomato sauce that’s lusciously creamy and flavorful. You’ll want to sop up the sauce with bread. This is a dish I couldn’t stop eating!
Best Scallops, Churchill’s Restaurant at The Digby Pines Golf Resort & Spa, Digby. Scallops from Digby, big, white, and luscious, are known the world over as some of the best in the world. And at Churchill’s they make them right. I ordered pan seared scallops with scrunchions (small irregular pieces of cured salt pork fried golden grown). The scallops were perfectly cooked with a nice sear on them and they came with a light lemony sauce. They were accompanied by fresh, still crispy green beans and a carrot mash.
Best Dessert: Tie between La Cuisine Robicheau, Salunierville and Charlotte Lane Café & Crafts, Shelburne. There couldn’t be two more different restaurants: La Cuisine Robicheau, a modest seaside restaurant serving home-style Acadian dishes, and Charlotte Lane Café, a tiny romantic eatery along a small cobblestone street that’s headed by a Swiss chef. Both offer terrific desserts.
Chef Scott Robicheau’s homemade coconut cream and chocolate cream pies are sure to please. The pieces are huge and the crust is flaky. The coconut cream is loaded with coconut and topped with toasted coconut; the chocolate cream is uber-silky with a rich chocolately flavor and the pies are smothered in a mountain of whipped cream.
Chef Roland Glaser’s sticky toffee pudding is a traditional warm English cake that’s drenched in butterscotch and custard sauce that’s silky and lip-smacking delicious. This is one that makes you have “just one more bite,” even if you’re stuffed.
Best Body of Water: Bay of Fundy. There’s no bay quite like Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy that boasts the highest tides in the world. Every six hours, the tides change as much as 40-50 feet, moving 160 billion metric tons (1 metric ton = 2,205 lbs) of water during one tidal cycle. That’s more water than the combined total of the world’s freshwater rivers. The tides on this 170-mile-long bay leave boats high and dry during low tide and, at high tide, create huge tidal bores (standing waves) 10-12 feet high that daring rafters ride.
Best Village, Lunenburg. Established in 1753, Old Town Lunenburg is the best surviving example of a planned British colonial settlement in North America and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This quaint and colorful town has retained its original layout and its proud residents have safeguarded the beautiful wooden houses and commercial buildings, some of which date from the 18th century.
Best Winery View: Tie Petite Revière Vineyards, Crousetown and Luckett Vineyards, Wolfville. These wineries and their beautiful views are complete opposites: Petite Revière in the LaHave River Valley and Luckett Vineyards in the Gaspereau Valley.
Petite Revière is a tiny winery located in a sunny microclimate on the slopes of the Drumlin hills. It’s small and intimate with wines that are complex, elegant and inventive. It’s a place that invites one to pull up an Adirondack chair on the stone patio and contemplate life.
In contrast, Luckett Vineyards is a big, sprawling operation with an open-air restaurant and sweeping views of the Gaspereau Valley and the waters of Minas Basin and Cape Blomidon. It features a huge tasting bar and wine and specialty foods shop (its owner has a background in grocery stores). This is a winery that encourages you to clink your wine glass with friends, walk amongst the vineyards and make a phone call (free to anyone in North America) from their unique red English phone booth.
Best Tour: Lunenburg Walking Tours, Lunenburg. There’s no better way to experience and appreciate historic Lunenburg than on foot with a knowledgeable guide. Ashlee Fenner, eighth-generation Lunenberger and former research librarian, is the perfect host. She and co-owner Shelah Allen escort guests along the city streets, pointing out historic sites such as the grand Lunenburg Academy built in 1895; a 1753 Cape Cod, the oldest house in Lunenburg (it was for sale!); Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, the oldest in Canada; St. John’s Anglican Church, which was burned down and rebuilt by the community in the exact style of the old church; and more. And because everyone knows everyone in this friendly little town, you might get invited inside like we did by homeowners of the “wedding cake house,” a beautiful pink and white Victorian.
Best Farmer’s Market: Wolfville Farmer’s Market, Wolfville. There are likely larger farmer’s markets in the province, but yeara round Wolfville’s Farmer’s Market has the perfect mix of arts, crafts, food, produce, music and smiling people of all ages to make it one of the most enjoyable markets I’ve encountered.
You’ll find jams, jellies, furniture, honey, wines, photographs, art cards, fresh seafood, grass fed meats, handmade soaps and lotions, fresh bread and pastries, local fruits and veggies, woven and quilted/sewn goods, and all kinds of prepared foods from Moroccan chicken to sausage and egg breakfast bagels. Year round, the market also hosts special events like concerts and seasonal dinners.
Best Seaside View: Peggy’s Cove. Overlooking St. Margaret’s Bay, Peggy’s Cove with its iconic lighthouse and giant granite boulders may be the most photographed site in Nova Scotia and with good reason. From the red and white lighthouse standing atop the rocky landscape to the colorful boats in the harbor, Peggy’s Cove is a photographer’s paradise. And all of Peggy’s Cove’s beauty is just an hour way from Halifax. It’s no wonder this place attracts 750,000 visitors annually.
Best Seafood Chowder: La Cuisine Robicheau, Salunierville. Seafood chowder is ubiquitous in Nova Scotia. Why not? They’ve got plenty of seafood and nothing can warm you better than a bowl of steaming chowder. In fact, Nova Scotia is so serious about chowder, they’ve developed the Chowder Trail, complete with passports visitors can have stamped to qualify for prizes.
We sampled seafood chowders everywhere we traveled in Southern Nova Scotia and none is better than the chowder served at La Cuisine Robicheau. In Chef Scott Robicheau’s version, the broth is creamy but not overly thick and it’s loaded with big morsels of erfectly cooked haddock, scallops and lobster and potatoes. Click here for Chef Scott’s fabulous Seafood Chowder recipe.
Best Outdoor Dining: Le Caveau Restaurant at Domaine de Grand Pré Winery, Grand Pré. Founded by Swiss wine pioneer Hanspeter Stutz, this boutique winery and restaurant in the Annapolis Valley delivers memorable dining experiences. We joined Hans in a tent in the vineyard with Chef Jason Lynch cooking up a five-course meal of local ingredients, including Martock Glen lamb rack, heirloom tomatoes, and fresh area peaches, all perfectly paired with Grand Pré wines. Chef Jason uses dried vines from the vineyards to give his grilled dishes a unique smoky flavor. — Story and photos by Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor
If You Go
Tourism Nova Scotia www.novascotia.com
Lighthouse Route www.novascotia.com/explore/road-trips/lighthouses
Hall’s Harbour Lobster Pound www.hallsharbourlobster.com
Blomidon Inn www.blomidon.ns.ca
Fox Hill Farm & Cheese House www.foxhillcheesehouse.com
White Sails Bakery and Deli www.whitesailsbakery.com
Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic fisheriesmuseum.novascotia.ca
Eel Lake Oyster Farm www.ruisseauoysters.com
Annaoplis Valley www.novascotia.com/about-nova-scotia/regions/bay-fundy-annapolis
Grand-Pré National Historic Site www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhnnhs/ns/grandpre/index.aspx
La Cuisine Robicheau lacuisinerobicheau.com/
Évelina’s Râpure Pie www.evelinas.ca
Slow Dough Pastries & Cafe www.slowdough.ca
White Point Beach Resort www.whitepoint.com
The Digby Pines Golf Resort & Spa www.digbypines.ca
Charlotte Lane Café & Crafts www.charlottelane.ca
Lunenburg www.explorelunenburg.ca/ and http://www.novascotia.com/see-do/attractions/old-town-lunenburg-unesco-world-heritage-site/2615
Petite Revière Vineyards www.petiterivierevineyards.ca/
Luckette Vineyards luckettvineyards.com
Lunenburg Walking Tours www.lunenburgwalkingtours.com
Wolfville Farmer’s Market www.wolfvillefarmersmarket.ca
Peggy’s Cove www.peggyscoveregion.com and www.novascotia.com/see-do/attractions/peggys-cove-village-and-lighthouse/1468
Domaine de Grand Pré grandprewines.ns.ca
Chowder Trail tasteofnovascotia.com/the-chowder-trail
Bay of Fundy www.bayoffundy.com/about/highest-tide