I’m sitting on what feels like the edge of the world. My feet are dangling from the worn wood dock beneath my seat and in front the temperature of the sky has shifted from soft pale, almost white blues to a tapestry of firey oranges with thin strands of yellow woven through. To my left a sailboat hovers, like magic, several feet above the horizon, safe from winter’s icy waters and yet to be reunited with its liquid landing pad for the summer. And behind me the quaint Ye Ole Argyler Lodge, where I’ve just downed half a dozen sweet, just-briny-enough Ruisseau oysters from Eel Lake.
I fish in my bag for the all-in-one bottle opener and wine glass that I snuck down from my room, which I’m fairly certain I’m not supposed to do but it’s been a long week of travel and I want nothing more than to pop open the Double IPA I picked up at Boxing Rock earlier that day to pair with this edge-of-the-world sunset. It’s a milder kind of IPA than I’m used to, with just slightly bitter hops that don’t knock me off my feet like the Cascadian variety so popular in Portland. Its amber liquids warm my insides at the exact moment that the wind starts to whip off the chilly waters, leaving my skin prickly and proud.
This has got to be the purest, most Nova Scotian moment ever, I think to myself.
One of the three Maritime provinces in eastern Canada, perhaps known best for its lobster but running, I think, a fair race at the oyster and craft beer and sunset game, too. Whether you’re traveling as a couple, in a group, or you’re flying solo, it’s the perfect place to explore, eat, and indulge, all for a journey (for most of us) that’s nowhere near as grueling as transatlantic travel. Here are a few of my favorite things from a week in nautical Nova Scotia.
Because Nova Scotia is almost entirely surrounded by coastal waters, it’s not surprising that its restaurants boast an abundance of seafood. Stories, the restaurant in the historic Halliburton Inn where head Chef Scott Vail has led the kitchen for nearly twenty years and which seems to be a Haligonian must-try destination, is no exception. Order: The pan-seared scallops wrapped in crispy rice paper and served with a sweet-spicy ginger vinaigrette and the roast darne of Faroe Island salmon.
To be in Nova Scotia is to eat lobster and to eat lobster right is to eat it at the Five Fishermen Restaurant. Light spills through stained glass windows, solid wood beams gush from floor to ceiling, weathered brass trim that I like to imagine centuries ago once adorned seafaring vessels. Order: a dozen of their oysters (selections are always local but do change) and the Steamed Lobster Dinner, complete with warm water and lemon for your hands and enough drawn butter to feed a small army.
Just because seafood reins supreme in Nova Scotia doesn’t mean meat doesn’t have its time and place. Only, its time is anywhere between 2am-5am and its place happens to be in any random pizza joint in town. I’m talking about the donair–savory spit-roasted beef wrapped in a warm pizza and topped with a sweet, white garlic sauce that is Nova Scotia’s finest and most iconic late-night food that’s sure to help if you drank one too many double IPAs at the bar that night. Where: According to most Haligonians, any pizza establishment that stays open past midnight, though I can personally attest to the donairs at Tony’s.
On trips like these, where my main goal is to taste as many of the local dishes as possible, it’s often difficult to fit it all in. Local Tasting Tours offered us the opportunity to taste bites at six unique Nova Scotia places, including local chocolatiers, rum cake makers, and, my personal favorite, Morris East wood-fired pizza. If you go: Be sure to order the summer vegetable pizza with a drizzle of their house made chili olive oil and ask your server to tell you the story of their straight-from-Italy oven delivery—it’s a good one!
They say that a true New Orleanas po-boy can’t really be found anywhere outside of New Orleans. That it’s all in the bread, which is all from the water. I am not a bread baking expert by any means, I admit, but I can tell you that the seed-y (in a good way) bagel at LaHave Bakery, a small bakery on the Lighthouse Route near Lunenburg, is one of best I’ve ever had and I like to think it has something to do with the crisp coastal waters that surround it. Topped with a smear of cream cheese and a healthy piling of fresh smoked salmon. Also don’t miss: the haddack burger on their equally-perfect fresh baked bun.
Sometimes, restaurants that sit on vineyards miss the mark. Other times, they hit the nail on the head, in ambiance, charm, and everything in between for a stunning fine dining experience. Le Caveau falls into the latter of those two categories, with an emphasis on fresh local produce and protein and many Italian-leaning dishes. Be sure to order: the seafood chowder. I had at least half a dozen chowders while I was in Nova Scotia and this one was a favorite.
Living in a place like Portland, where there are more breweries per capita than any other city, will turn most hop-loving humans into a bit of a beer and bar snob. It’s just what happens when you can throw a rock and hit a trendy place serving dozens of write-home-about brews. One welcome surprise for me on this trip – shame me because I am the aforementioned beer snob – was to discover such a lively craft beer scene in Nova Scotia, and Halifax in particular. Agricola Street Brasserie served up a refreshing, spicy saison from their neighbors at eco-friendly North Brewing with a trendy interior and a lounge-laden rooftop patio lined with soft string lights.
Agricola wasn’t the only place swanked with local craft brews and soft string lights, though. At the newly opened Stillwell Beer Garden in downtown Halifax, over a dozen local craft beers are poured on tap, selections changing regularly. One small tip: The bartenders at Stillwell are incredibly friendly and knowledgeable. Ask them for advice to guide you to the right choice. And then walk twenty feet to your right to pick up whatever food is being grilled up at the snack bar.
There are at least a handful of places to grab local beer and wine in the colorful town of Lunenberg, but the one that stole my heart (perhaps because it’s where I discovered the aforementioned Boxing Rock Vicar’s Cross Double IPA) was Tiffany’s-box-blue-paneled Grand Banker, where owner Adam Bower has recently begun an annual “Winemaker versus Brewmaster” pairing dinner to celebrate local wine, beer, ingredients, and chefs. Don’t miss: The Lunenburger, a smoked mozzarella-topped cheeseburger with a heavy topping of steamed lobster meat. And order me a pint of Vicar’s Cross while you’re at it.
While red wines aren’t quite as popular in Nova Scotia, the clean white varieties were abundant. One of my favorites was L’Acadie from the Gaspereau Valley Luckett Vineyards. It’s more on the dry end of the spectrum, crisp, and with just a small bit of vanilla on the nose is the perfect pairing with oysters and lobster. Bonus: There’s a semi-functional London-style fire engine phone booth situated among the vines. Because why not?
As one of the first land spottings from sea, Nova Scotia has played a vital role in immigration and welcoming newcomers to Canada. Pier 21, described as “the Ellis Island of Canada,” is the museum currently dedicated to exploring and celebrating that welcoming history with antique artifacts from immigrating families and a wall of notes written by museum visitors to those who bravely left home with hopes for a better life in Canada. Don’t miss: The 20-minute video that runs every hour and will convince you, should you need it that is, that “wall building” is not the way. Also, bring tissues because if you’re anything like me you’ll cry like a baby.
Someone young but wise once told me, “I’ve never regretted getting up early to watch a sunset.” And difficult as it was to rise at 3am, jetlagged no less, the experience of watching Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse come into view just as the pinks were beginning to streak the sky, with the space all to ourselves, was priceless. Continuing down the historic Lighthouse Route as the sun rose high was equally worthwhile. Time tip: Should you be unwilling to make the early morning wakeup call, try to be there for sunset instead. Tour groups crowd the space during the day but sun up and down are often entirely empty.
The edge of the world is how I described it earlier. It’s the experience of dining at Ye Ole Argyler Lodge, followed by an hour of watching warm-hued sky shows, maybe even with a little beer you packed in your purse. Bonus: If you happen to have some time to kill before dinner, venture behind the lodge for a careful, quiet stroll through the chef’s gardens.
The Argyle Municipality of Nova Scotia, where the French Acadians once settled, is also home to Eel Lake and Nolan’s oyster farm. Nolan and Kim offer pre-arranged tours that show their history, their farm operations, and even come complete with private tastings. If you go: Please give their dog Cooper a big kiss from me.
I wrote about the Acadian deportation a few weeks ago here. Much of that information came from years of passively researching and reading about the topic. But much also came from the Grand-Pré National Historic Site, a UNESCO Heritage Site and interpretive center that shares this rich and tragic bit of Canadian history through film, exhibits, and historical documents. Don’t miss: The newly constructed church that houses the documents containing the names of the men who were deported and all of their accompanying property, such as hogs and sheep. Women were not listed in the records.
From old historic B&Bs to lakeside lodges to rustic campsites, Nova Scotia has it all. In 1809, the Halliburton Inn existed as three separate buildings with room rentals available to seafaring sailors looking for a bed on solid ground. Today it exists as an historic hotel in downtown Halifax with high ceilings and charming (though not functional) fireplaces.
For the nights when you don’t feel like leaving your hotel room, book a room at the Lunenburg Arms Hotel in Lunenburg. It’s a clean, modern place to listen to the birds and the clanging of halyard rings against sailboat masts through open hotel windows and is just a short walk from many cafes, restaurants, and bars should you decide to venture out. When booking: Request a room that overlooks the colorful, sailboat-dotted harbor and, preferably, one with an in-room hot tub.
Many thanks to Tourism Nova Scotia for hosting me! As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own. But in case you couldn’t tell from my words, photos, and Instagram account, I’m completely smitten with the entire province and fully intend to return.