Nova Scotia: Canada on the high seas

Located in the far east of Canada, Nova Scotia is a bit of an unknown land for French travelers. However, this province of the Maritimes combines assets with superb maritime, lake and forest landscapes, historic towns on a human scale and a vibrant culture where Gaelic and Acadian influences coexist. In the far north of the province, Cape Breton Island, traversed by the scenic Cabot Trail, is in itself worth a trip to Nova Scotia. An unforgettable ten-day road trip through the great outdoors of Atlantic Canada!

Nova Scotia, a province of maritime Canada

Canada's Ocean Playground, Canada's Ocean Playground… The motto of the vehicle license plates of the Nova Scotia is telling the truth. Because, in this maritime province of eastern Canada, the Atlantic is never far away, at most 50 km. For centuries, water, salt or fresh, maritime, lake or river, has shaped the landscapes, cultures and lifestyles of this 55 km000 peninsula where Canada seems to marry the ocean.

Nova Scotia has maritime landscapes both striking in their size and imbued with bucolic serenity. Coasts jagged by the elements, picturesque fishing villages, endless beaches, deep bays living to the rhythm of spectacular tides ...

As elsewhere in Canada, the famous magic of the great outdoors plays thoroughly, but according to a different, deeply maritime score. However, Nova Scotia is not just about its oceanic landscapes. Huge fir, spruce and maple forestss cover a large part of its territory, while, in places, vineyards and orchards have been designed by human labor.

Nova Scotia, where Canada's fate was played out, is also a history and a culture to discover. Populated since prehistoric times and colonized by Europeans from the beginning of the 17th century, this province has several historic towns and villages, including its dynamic capital Halifax, as well as 3 sites classified as World Heritage by Unesco. The most moving is that of Large meadow, linked to the memory of our French-speaking cousins ​​in America, the Acadians, who are now nearly 30 living in Nova Scotia.

Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia

In the shadow of the gleaming skyscrapers overlooking the harbor, Nova Scotia's capital has retained a most pleasant provincial atmosphere. Student city punctuated by green spaces, Halifax (415 inhabitants) pleasantly mixes the old and the modern. Victorian mansions and colonial-era buildings, including Canada's oldest Protestant church, coexist with contemporary architectural daring, such as the astonishing public Library.

The second largest natural port in the world after Sydney, Halifax is the main gateway for travelers to Nova Scotia, having long been the first point of arrival for European migrants to Canada. Thus, from 1928 to 1971, the Halifax Harbor Pier 21 welcomed no less than a million immigrants who crossed the Atlantic.

This former marine terminal, a sort of Canadian Ellis Island, has been transformed into Immigration museum, which pays homage to the men and women who came to Canada in search of a better life. The visit will be a highlight of your stay in Halifax, before a stroll on the harbor quays arranged as a promenade.

Along theHalifax waterfront Bars and restaurants follow one another, but also interesting museums (Maritime Museum of the Atlantic) and boats open to visitors, art galleries and Historic Properties, a beautiful set of warehouses and houses from the 19th century. Along the way, the covered market of Halifax Seaport Farmer's Market allows you to eat and discover local products.

The Route des Phares: 350 km facing the Atlantic

From Halifax, the Lighthouse Route (Lighthouse Route) runs nearly 350 km along the southwest coast of Nova Scotia to Yarmouth. This tourist route gives to see, on one side, dense coniferous forests, on the other, deserted coves, sandy beaches like the superb Crescent Beach, rocky capes, fishing villages, offshore islets and, of course, lighthouses at the end of the world.

Among these, an icon: the lighthouse of Peggy's Cove, camped on granite boulders a 45 minute drive from Halifax. A true postcard from Nova Scotia, it watches over an adorable fishing village, whose colorful dollhouses nestle around a small harbor lined with sheds on stilts. Enough to attract (many) tourists ...

An hour's drive west of Peggy's Cove, Mahone bay, another village with smart wooden houses, is distinguished by its three churches built one next to the other facing the bay. A pleasant holiday resort with an arty atmosphere, with beautiful shops and some good restaurants.

Inland, the Kejimkujik National Park, accessible by Route 8 from the coastal city of Liverpool, offers beautiful hikes and canoe trips to observe flora and fauna.

Lunenburg and Shelburne: a journey through time

The Route des Phares also takes you back in time. Throughout history, several waves of immigration (but also privateers!) Have forged the character of this corner of Nova Scotia, such as the Acadians, the British Loyalists and the Huguenots. Two towns, Lunenburg and Shelburne, bear witness to the province's past beautifully.

Located an hour's drive from Halifax (day trip possible), the small fishing port of Lunenburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the most beautiful historic cities in North America. Founded in 1753 by the British, Lunenburg was originally populated by Protestant settlers from Germany, Switzerland and France.

Today, the adorable colorful wooden houses from the 18th and 19th centuries, hanging on the hill facing the port, have retained their old-fashioned charm. You can even spend the night in some of them, turned into hostels. Other pearls of Lunenburg's heritage are its astonishing 18C wooden churches, such as the Saint John Anglican Church (1754), offer fine examples of the “Gothic carpenter”, who revisits European medieval architecture.

On the port, a Canadian icon: the Bluenose II, replica of a famous schooner found on the 10-cent coins. Trips are possible at sea aboard this proud 43-meter-long ship. Right next door, the Fisheries museum de l'Atlantique traces the history of fishing in the Maritimes.

A 1 hour drive southwest of Lunenburg, beautiful 30th century buildings proudly display British flags. welcome to Shelburne, the former stronghold of the Loyalists, these subjects who remained loyal to the British Crown who took refuge in the region after the American Revolution.

A visit to Shelburne County Museum allows you to learn more about this page of history. 7 km away, the Black Loyalist Heritage Center de Birchtown uncovers the plight of Black Loyalists who took refuge in Canada at the end of the 18th century in the hope of a better life. An expectation which was, unfortunately, disappointed.

Acadia: the other French America

Continuing west, a change of culture and language… because, here, we speak (also) French, in a version significantly different from ours. It was in Nova Scotia that the French-speaking epic in North America began. Not far from the Bay of Fundy (formerly “French Bay”), in 1605 around forty pioneers established the first permanent French camp on the continent. Now reconstituted and open to visitors, the small wooden fort Royal Port gives an idea of ​​the living conditions of the time.

In the 17th century, Nova Scotia was part of theAcadia, a territory belonging to New France, which extends to present-day New Brunswick. Coming under British rule in the 18th century, the French-speaking Acadians suffered a terrible fate. Refusing to swear allegiance to the English, they will be deported in 1755 to the United States. This deportation went down in history under the name of Great disturbance.

Today, some 30 Acadian descendants who returned from exile live in Nova Scotia, in the villages of county clare, along the Acadian coast, around Cheticamp, on Cape Breton Island, and Pubnico, where there is an interesting Acadian historic village.

Speaking a particular French (chiac), the Acadians cultivate with passion a culture of their own (music, Mi-Carême festival, “hooké” rugs, etc.) and the discovery of villages of Sainte-Marie bay is particularly moving for a francophone.

These peaceful fishing ports, nestled in the heart of bucolic landscapes, still bear witness to the resistance of the minority Acadian culture, particularly around the Catholic religion. So at Pointe-de-l'Eglise, rises neither more nor less than the largest wooden church in North America: Sainte-Marie church.

Grand-Pré: Mecca of Acadian memory

Annapolis Royal: Historic Nova Scotia Village

Annapolis Royal… A romantic name for a charming village of 350 inhabitants, located a 2 hour drive northwest of Halifax. Founded by the French on the banks of a large river flowing into the Bay of Fundy, Annapolis Royal was the first capital of Nova Scotia in the 18th century.

Today, the village evokes a film setting, with its beautiful wooden Victorian houses from the 18th and 19th centuries, its botanical garden, its market of regional products and especially the Fort-Anne, built by the French by the river in 1635. Magnificent panorama at sunset.

Located between the Acadian coast and the Bay of Fundy, Annapolis Royal is an excellent base for exploring Northwestern Nova Scotia and the Annapolis Valley, agricultural heart of the province, reminiscent of Normandy.

Not really softwood forests around here. The surrounding region, which can also be traveled by bicycle, offers lush landscapes of orchards, cultivated fields and - oh surprise! -, vineyards. We stock up on cider, jams, fruit, dairy products and even wine!

Halfway between the university town of Wolfville and Grand-Pré, we unearthed a little gem: “ The Tangled Garden », A superb landscaped garden where the friendly Beverly passionately cultivates flowers and aromatic plants that she transforms into delicious jams and jellies ... A most recommendable stopover.

The Bay of Fundy: the highest tides in the world

Notice to record lovers! A gigantic, 290 km stretch of sea separating northwestern Nova Scotia from New Brunswick, the Bay of Fundy twice a day offers a magnificent natural spectacle: the highest tides in the world, which can reach 16,5 m in places. Each tidal cycle discharges the equivalent of the daily discharges of all rivers and streams on Earth: 100 km3, or 100 billion tonnes of water!

At each ebb, the bay reveals immense tidal flats, which extend over more than 1 km during the equinoxes. It is then possible to walk at the bottom of the sea ... a few hours later, the landscape, invaded by the ocean, changes radically. An astonishing experience, to live absolutely.

To watch the tides, you can take Route 215 northwest of Annapolis Royal. The route runs along the Minas Basin between Burlington and South Maitland, has many tidal viewpoints, including the Burntcoat Head Park where they are highest.

Another major observation site: the Five Island Provincial Park with its red rock cliffs tumbling down to the sea ... or the pink-hued sand at low tide.

Cape Breton Island: The Apotheosis of Nova Scotia

Don't be fooled by his name. It is not a cape, but an island, connected by a dike and a bridge to the rest of Nova Scotia. One thing is certain : Cape Breton, located in the northeast of the province, is one of the most beautiful regions of Canada.

A road of about 300 km goes around it, the Cabot Trail, regularly cited among the most beautiful coastal routes in the world. And for good reason… Dug on the side of a hill, the Cabot Trail runs along, all in sinuous curves, the Gulf of Saint-Laurent, revealing splendid coastal panoramas.

The most beautiful section is between the Acadian village of Cheticamp and the wearing of Pleasant Bay. Many lookouts allow you to stop to take pictures. Steep cliffs, long beaches, secret coves and small fishing ports punctuate the route, which then sinks inland.

The landscape changes radically as you cross the Cape Breton Highlands Plateau, with dense forests of fir and spruce, peat bogs, vast valleys carved by salmon rivers. Along the way, it is not uncommon to come across moose, bears or eagles protected by a national park where more than 20 hiking trails are set up. 

Then, the Cabot Trail road descends to the east coast of the island, which alternates between cliffs, fishing villages and beautiful sandy beaches. He finishes his race on the shores of Bras d'Or lake, in the pretty town of Bath deck where Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, lived, to which an interesting museum pays homage.

It takes 2 to 3 days to savor the landscapes of the Cabot Trail, stopping in the villages to discover the two cultures of Cape Breton: Acadian to Cheticamp and Gaelic to Bath deck.

Among the sites not to be missed include the skyline and its 7 km hike to a steep cliff plunging into the sea; the superb beaches white sand of Ingonish and the panorama of cap smokey ; finally, wearing Pleasant Bay, where you can go whale watching by boat.

Along the way, the Scenic Loop, an alternative route between South Harbor and Ingonish, passes through remote and beautiful corners such as White Point or Neil's Harbor. A real end of the world!

Louisbourg, Gibraltar of America

Of Gaelic culture today, Cape Breton remained under French rule until 1763. The region, then called "Île Royale" was even one of the few territories in North America to escape. to the English after the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713.

To protect it, the French then built the fortress of louisbourg : a walled city so colossal that it was nicknamed the "Gibraltar of the New World". Up to 2 people have lived in this strategically located harbor, which was one of the largest in America. In 000, Louisbourg surrendered, exhausted by the assaults of the British who demolished it in 1745.

The story could have ended there, without the determination of the Canadian authorities who, two centuries later, rebuilt the fortress of Louisbourg identically! The result is stunning. Ramparts, cannons, period buildings, farm, taverns, residence of the Governor… It is all Louisbourg that comes back to life under the astonished eyes of the visitor.

Along the way, costumed and French-speaking actors recreate the life of the city in the 18C, call on visitors to tell them about life in the days of the colony, while many activities punctuate the visit. The copy seems to join the original for a lively "history lesson"!

Lobster and wine: the gastronomy of Nova Scotia

Do you like lobster and seafood? You will be spoiled! His Majesty the lobster reigns on the plates of Nova Scotia where it is available in lobster roll, lobster poutine, wrap or burger! The must is of course the whole lobster, barely out of the tank and cooked in seawater ... as in Hall's Harbor Lobster Pound, a renowned address throughout the province!

Other great classics: salmon, halibut, Digby's scallop and chowder (chowder), a thick soup made from fish, seafood, potatoes and cream, are on the menu of all restaurants.

On the land side, you have to taste the good products of the Annapolis Valley, such as lamb, apples, cider or cheese, as well as the delicious micro-brewery beers found throughout the territory. Produced in Cape Breton, the whiskey of Glenora distillery (Glen Breton Rare), particularly renowned, is the only 100% Canadian single malt.

A discovery: the Nova Scotia wines. Located at the same latitude as Bordeaux, the Annapolis valley is home to some vineyards, which produce very appreciable wines. Icewine and whites, dry and aromatic, constitute the best of the production. Acadie Blanc, Tidal Bay and Domaine de Grand-Pré are the most famous appellations. Most of the estates open to the public are located around Grand Pré (Luckett Vineyards, Domaine de Grand Pré, L'Acadie Vineyards, Blomidon Estate, etc.).


Find all the tips, practical information and addresses in the Routard Quebec, Ontario, Maritime provinces in bookstores

Consult our online guide Canada

Canadian Tourist Board

Tourism Nova Scotia

How to get there ?

Daily direct flights Paris-CDG-Halifax with West Jet from May 31, 2018 and via Montreal or Toronto with Air Canada (also from Lyon, Marseille and Nice). Find your plane ticket.

On site, car rental recommended to travel the province.

Or sleep ?

- Waverley Inn: 1266 Barrington Street in Halifax. Beautiful Victorian mansion in central Halifax. Comfortable rooms with rather chic old school decor. For those on a budget, the Halifax Heritage House Hostel, a quality AJ at 1253 Barrington St.

- Garrison House Inn: 350 St George Street in Annapolis Royal. A warm 19th century wooden house in the heart of the village and a stone's throw from Fort Anne. Cozy and comfortable rooms, adorable welcome and quality restaurant. A good address.

- Gingerbread House Inn B&B: 8, Robie Tufts Drive in Wolfville. Very close to the Wolfville campus, a colorful address in the heart of a pretty garden, which seems to have come out of a fairy tale. Great welcome and good breakfast.

- Midtrail Motel: 23475 Cabot Trail in Pleasant Bay. Classic, simple motel in a good oceanfront location. An interesting stopover on the Cabot Trail in Pleasant Bay Harbor, one of Cape Breton's best whale watching spots.

- Cambridge Suites Hotel: 360 Promenade in Sydney. A modern and comfortable hotel right on the water's edge. Spa, gym and restaurant.

Where to eat ?

- Chives Restaurant: 1537 Barrington Street in Halifax. Local products worked with finesse and originality by two talented chefs. One of the best restaurants in Halifax. Mains $ 18-30.

- Seaport Farmer's Market: 1209 Marginal Road in Halifax. On the quays, this covered market is home to many food stalls. Ideal for eating on the go.

- The Henry House: 1222 Barrington Street in Halifax. This pub, which bears the name of one of the fathers of the Canadian constitution, is an institution of the city. Rustic and refined setting, good pub food, good selection of beers and whiskeys.

- Magnolia's Grill: 128 Montague St. in Lunenburg. This cozy bistro, which has a terrace overlooking the port, cooks up good meals. Friendly welcome, despite a somewhat casual service. Main courses $ 12-30.

- Rudder's Brew Pub: 96 Water Street in Yarmouth. A waterside pub - with a terrace - that brews its own beer. Good local cuisine (scallops, chowder, lobster…) and a very warm atmosphere. Main courses $ 15-35.

- Halls Harbor Lobster Pound: on Hall's Harbor. Choose your lobster from the fish tank, bring it yourself to the cook who will prepare it for you. An absolute must for lobster lovers, worth a visit to this charming Bay of Fundy fishing port! Count $ 30 for the lobster menu.

- Bistrot East: 274 Saint George Street in Annapolis Royal. A good bistro acclaimed for its pasta with seafood and fish. Also pizzas. Good value for money and live music some evenings. Mains $ 15-30.

- Paddy's Brewpub: 460 Main Street in Wolfville. Beers, fish and chips, chowder, but also more elaborate dishes in this lively pub-restaurant. Main courses $ 10-25.

- Chowder House : next to Neil's Harbor lighthouse. This small wooden hut serves chowder, lobster, scallops, fish to eat inside or on an outside table facing the sea. What a view! Main courses $ 8- $ 25.

- Baddeck Lobster Suppers: 17 Ross St, in Baddeck. On the menu, a main course (lobster, salmon, crab, steak) and unlimited appetizers and desserts. Very popular. Menu $ 45.

- Flavor on the Water: in the Joan Harris Cruise Pavillion in Sydney. The waterfront annex of Flavor Restaurant in Sydney. Well-prepared cuisine, young atmosphere and a wide choice of dishes.

Where to buy good products?

- Glenora Distillery: 13727, Route 19 in Glenville. Glen Breton Distillery malt Rare open to visitors. Beautiful period building. Also a comfortable hotel and a chic gourmet restaurant with meticulous cuisine. A nice stopover before doing the Cabot Trail.

- Tangled Garden: 11827 Nova Scotia Trunk 1, in Grand Pré. We love this little shop which offers jams, herbal jellies, chutneys and homemade liqueurs. Do not miss the garden with its labyrinth and its essences, ideal for meditating while having tea accompanied by pastries.

- Domaine de Grand Pré: 11611 Highway 1 in Grand Pré. Visit of the vineyard and tasting of wines from the estate created in 1999 by the Stutz family. We have a preference for whites and ice wine. At nearby Luckett Vineyards, you can savor small bites to accompany the wines.

- Annapolis Cider Company: 388 Main Street in Wolfville. A good place to discover and buy the ciders produced in the Annapolis Valley.


- Candlelight Graveyard Tour: Fort Anne, in Annapolis Royal. Every evening at 21 p.m., Alan Melanson, of Acadian origin, offers a candle-lit tour of the local cemetery. Through the fate of certain "residents" of the cemetery, he tells us (in English) the history of Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia and Canada. Alan's talent as a storyteller makes this visit fascinating, in addition to being particularly original! Price: $ 10 for a 1 hour visit.

- Captain Mark's Whale & Seal Cruise: in Pleasant Bay, several daily sea trips (approx. 2 hours) to go whale and sea lion watching. It is one of the best viewing spots in Nova Scotia. Price: $ 50.

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