"Whatever you do, don’t forget to drive the Cabot Trail. Take your car or join a tour bus – just don’t skip it!” That was what a long-time resident of Nova Scotia told us when she learned we were taking the Trans Canada Highway by storm and making a three day stop in Nova Scotia. After our visit we had to give credit to our friend. She knew we were going to love it. It turned out to be the loveliest ride of our lifetime. We went back a few years later, and it seduced us even more. When we learn that friends are going to Nova Scotia, we tell them, “don’t forget the Cabot Trail, don’t forget the Cabot Trail.” Why did we feel a need to repeat that?
The answer is that the Cabot Trail is one of Nova Scotia’s most spectacular treats. It’s scenic. It’s breathtaking. To miss it would mean you only saw half of this province’s jewels.
Another tourist recommended doing the Lighthouse Trail as well. You go west along the southern coast from Halifax, the provincial capital. Another must-see is Peggy’s Cove which everyone agrees is the most photographed lighthouse in the world. An incredible village that inspires the poet in everyone. It stands on gigantic boulders with the sea as a backdrop. Plan half a day at Peggy’s Cove when the sun is shining and the skies are blue – usually mid June to mid October. You may want to linger and spend another day. It’s that alluring.
There’s only one thing: Peggy’s Cove it’s not so enticing when the sky is overcast and the air’s nippy. So do plan to go when the weather man says “a sunny day throughout, with not a hint of cloudiness or showers.”
If you want us to give you a bird’s eye view of Nova Scotia, how about these? fossil exploration, fresh lobster, Celtic music, water, water everywhere. But really, you get much more than that.
The best time to take advantage of Nova Scotia’s pleasures is during the summer (mid June to mid October). Most of the festivals and worthwhile events happen during July and August. If your trip is scheduled for October, you’ll find Cape Breton as appetizing as the blazing foliage of a New England autumn. Whether it’s golf or skiing you fancy, this province has got what it takes to delight its visitors.
If you’re coming from Boston, Halifax is located about 1100 kilometers (or 705 miles) northeast of Boston. You won’t get that big city feeling, especially if you take a stroll downtown. Your car might come in handy, but parking in Halifax may be difficult especially during the work week.
Halifax’s attractions charm the first time tourist: take the Anna Leonowens Gallery. Its displays focus on contemporary studio and media art. Or visit the Brewery Market where Alexander Keith once brewed the beer he became famous for. The Market has stalls for enthusiasts of leatherwork, art, clothing accessories, farm cheese and warm cinnamon buns. If you’re a history buff, walk over to the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site, the main core of the city’s fortifications. There are free tours conducted by a guide dressed in a kilt. Soldiers do their drills in front of the Army Museum and if you hang around till noon, you will hear cannon fire.
The public gardens of Halifax promise flowers, blazing colors and tranquility. The gardens are not open in the winter but you can always take a leisurely walk around along the fence. If you take Marginal Road, you will stumble upon Pier 21, once upon a time Canada’s entry point for immigrants. The museum did a great job recreating the immigrant experience and presents live shows, multimedia presentations and a whole range of photographs and artifacts.
If you’re into gastronomical delights, try these restaurants:
Chives Canadian Bistro – 1537 Barrington Street. Casual dining, good wine list. Ask for their red wine-braised Nova Scotian lamb with root vegetable puree.
MacAskill’s Restaurant – 88 Alderney Drive (in the Darmouth Ferry Terminal Building). Romantic view of the Halifax Harbour. Primarily seafood, but steak’s available.
Wooden Monkey – 1685 Argyle Street – organic food, home-brewed beers and coffees. Serves good seafood with fresh vegetables.
Prince George Hotel – want your waiters in starchy uniforms? This is your restaurant. Business-like ambiance. 1725 Market Street.
National parks are always delightful places to visit. Go for the Kejimkujik National Park experience, located 67 kilometers northwest of Liverpool. The park consists of 381 square kilometers, a generous stretch for canoeists, hikers or just leisure strollers. You can camp in the park and equipment is rented out. If you’re here in the Fall, the foliage will dazzle you.
Canso is an old settlement and is home to the Stan Rogers Folk Festival. Stan Rogers was a Canadian folk singer and composer. Enjoy the free boat rides to the island where interpretative tours are given.
Cape Breton Island is where you’ll take the Cabot Trail. Cape Breton is known for its other attractions – reason why it has been called Nova Scotia’s soul. A strong Scottish community is a source of pride for Cape Breton. Square dances are plentiful in Inverness County during the summer: piano sounds, fiddle tunes, happy choppy feet and smiling faces. The Cape’s western shoreline faces the Gulf of St. Lawrence where you get warm salt water and sandy beaches.
Baddeck is Cape Breton’s touristic spot – only because it has 1,000 motel beds. You can play a round of golf here in Baddeck, but you’ll want to visit the summer home of Alexander Graham Bell where he lived until his death at age 75.
If you like Celtic music, plan on visiting Baddeck for the Celtic Colours International Festival. It takes place for 10 days during the second and third weekends in October. Artists from international Celtic groups converge here. The general public pays anywhere between $18.00 and $90.00 to watch a show. There are workshops that give lessons on Gaelic language, history and culture.
You need not worry about accommodations in Nova Scotia, although you may want your travel agent to make reservations if you’re travelling in the summer. June, July and August are popular with vacationers. You have your choice of first class hotels, top country inss and bed and breakfasts. Air conditioning? Usually, in hotels downtown, but B&Bs along the coastline are cool because of their proximity to the ocean.