Some places just make you want to smile. Nova Scotia is one of those places.
Established in 1604 as the first European settlement in Canada, its first 80 years were marked by battles with the English, Scottish, Dutch and French who fought for possession of this beautiful island. Fishery, a hard life, was the pillar of the economy for centuries until the mid-1990s, when overfishing wrought a sharp decline in the industry. Ever resourceful, creative and known as a cultural center, the province turned to tourism, the arts and a burgeoning film industry, hosting more than 100 productions annually. Titanic is its most famous.
Halifax, the capital of the province, is the perfect anchor city for exploring Nova Scotia, and the Prince George Hotel, located midway up the hilly downtown area, is the perfect place to stay.
Main attractions in Halifax include The Citadel, a star-shaped fortress from the early 1800s where kilted, bagpipe-playing 78th Highlanders escort you around this naval stronghold; the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, where beloved Canadian folk-artist Maud Lewis’ teeny, tiny house covered with her vivid paintings of birds, flowers and butterflies resides; the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic for fascinating seafaring history; the Old Town Clock; and the historic Properties Wharf. Ask any local for directions and you’ll get a one-word reply: “Uphill.”
For flatter terrain, wander the waterfront and take in local eateries the Red Stag Tavern, Five Fishermen and MacAskills, to name a few. Gio’s in the Prince George Hotel is an epicurean delight, and The Press Gang Restaurant & Oyster Bar with its 18th-century atmosphere and marvelous dining so captivated us that we ate there two nights in a row.
Rent a car for an hour-long drive down the coast to the historic seacoast towns of Chester, Mahone Bay and Lunenburg. Chester, a sailing paradise, is one of the loveliest summer spots I’ve ever seen. A few B&Bs are available, but since you won’t want to leave once you arrive I’d contact Tradewinds Realty for summer rentals or, even better, purchases.
Grab a bite of lunch at the Kiwi Café and mosey on down to Mahone Bay, where you will find more B&Bs if you choose to stay over a bit. It’s an arts and festival haven with a Mussells Festival, Opera Festival, Father Christmas Festival and, my favorite, the Great Scarecrow Festival all along Main Street. The Big One is the end of July Regatta, not to be missed.
Lunenburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Town, awaits. Learn about rum running, whales, August gales and whether fish ever sleep at the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic. Better still, customize your own seafaring adventure and jump aboard a schooner from Heritage Harbour Tour, ending your day with a glass of wine and gourmet dinner at the charming Fleur de Sel.
Another easy side trip from Halifax is the tiny fishing community of Peggy’s Cove. The rugged beauty and barren landscape of this land’s edge village draws thousands of tourists each year. But nothing — no parking lot of buses, no deluge of cameras, no onslaught of human beings — could possibly diminish the spectacle awaiting you here. Crashing waves, soaring gulls and the iconic red-and-white lighthouse will stay in your mind’s eye forever.
I’ve barely touched the treasures to be found in Nova Scotia — a kaleidoscope of art, multicultures and raw, breathtaking nature. And, yes, it will make you smile.