When in Nova Scotia…

A summer destination without the crowds, open roads without the traffic jams, locals who seem genuinely pleased to see you. Too good to be true? Anna Selby disagrees when she discovers Nova Scotia.

The first reaction to Nova Scotia is often that it seems a long way to go. Surprisingly, however, flights to its capital Halifax take just five and a half hours from London Heathrow. Bear in mind that this is the most south-westerly point of Canada, so it really is closer than you think.

The second reaction is – brrr. Admittedly, spring comes late to Nova Scotia and the season doesn’t really get going till the end of May, but its summers are pleasantly warm (not in the 40s that we’re becoming accustomed to in the Med) and long with the fine weather extending well into September and sometimes beyond. It is – and this really is a surprise – on the same latitude, roughly, as Burgundy and there is a thriving wine industry to prove it.

The joys of the open (and empty) road

My husband and I spent a week driving around the western half of Nova Scotia and it was the first time I could remember in ages when driving was a pleasure. Talk about open roads. In fact, it became a standing joke that, whenever we reached an intersection and I looked to the right, I always said: “Nothing there”. Rarely have I seen such empty roads and, even when you do come across other drivers, they are cautious, never hoot the horn and are almost preternaturally courteous. If as a pedestrian in a town you hover on the pavement, the traffic will come to a standstill, patiently waiting to see if you’d like to cross. This even goes for the relatively busy (in Nova Scotia terms) capital, Halifax.

With a population of just under half a million, Halifax does have a bit of that city buzz while still feeling laid back. And there’s a lot to see. The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is fascinating – lots of history, boat models and a whole section on the Titanic, as this was the closest harbour to the scene of the disaster and played a major part in the aftermath. At the Citadel, there’s a history of Halifax’s role as a key naval station in the British Empire – with bagpipes to prove the point.

There are plenty more museums, great shops and quirky finds worth the time investigating, such as The Alexander Keith Nova Scotia Brewery where actors in period dress take you back in time to learn about Halifax’s history through the medium of beer! The quickest and most entertaining way of getting your bearings is via the amphibious Harbour Hopper that takes you on a city tour as a bus and then makes a big splash into the Harbour.

In fact, all of Nova Scotia is really about the waterfront. There is, certainly, a barely inhabited interior mostly forest and described by locals as ‘wilderness’ but everyone lives in the towns along the shoreline, all as pretty as chocolate boxes with their painted wooden houses.

Towns as cute as cupcakes

Peggy’s Cove is part-fishing village, part-artist colony and its lighthouse is iconic, one of the most photographed landmarks in Canada. Lunenburg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s one of the best places to go whale watching – every kind of boat is available for this even, for the romantically minded, a 19th century schooner. You can take a ship from Yarmouth across to the American state of Maine (it takes about three hours but be sure you have all the paperwork).

My single favourite place along the beautiful Nova Scotia South Shore, though, was Shelburne. It’s a tiny place now with a population of around 2,000. However, during the American Revolution in 1782, it was around five times that number. Those loyal to the British Crown fled, arriving in ships from New York City and built beautiful Georgian style houses – all made of wood, of course, and all still standing today, painted in bright colours.

A very loyal tradition

Part of the loyalist migration into this part of Canada was a large number of ex-slaves who joined the British Army with the promise that they’d be granted their freedom in return. There’s a museum devoted to them at the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre at Birchtown, just outside Shelburne.

On the north-western shoreline is the Annapolis Valley, originally home to the indigenous Mi’kmaq community and later populated by wave after wave of settlers and soldiers. Fort Anne was its stronghold – and is Canada’s oldest National Historic Site. One of the most hotly contested pieces of land on the entire American continent, it was fought over intensely for years by French and English armies. As you stand looking out over the water, it is clear why this was such a vitally important spot. It’s one of the safest natural harbours in the world.

Lobster land

Nova Scotia is pretty much synonymous with seafood. You’ll find lobster just about everywhere and you are generally provided with bibs and a battery of probes and crackers to delve into the shell and find all that delicious meat. Add to this, cold water shrimps, crabs and all kinds of white fish (my husband declared he’d just eaten the best haddock of his life after one memorable dinner). And then there are scallops. Digby is the self-declared scallop capital of the world and so I had to try them, being one of my favourite foods. Juicy, tender and enormous, they were delicious. Even when, as in my case, they were for breakfast. When in Nova Scotia…

Anna Selby was a guest of Tourism Nova Scotia and Destination Canada.

Next steps

Silver Travel Advisor are on hand to help you plan and book your holiday to Nova Scotia. Call 0800 412 5678.

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Anna Selby

Travel writer & author

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