Navigating Nova Scotia

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of July 16-22, 1998
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Navigating Nova Scotia
Question: I would like to visit Nova Scotia with my wife as a pure holiday. Tourist attractions are to be avoided but we would like to stay in a nice spa-type place in a natural area that’s not too commercialized. I do lots of biking and hiking, and we would like to spend some time on the ocean. Help! Nova Scotia is huge. Thanks.

Jeff Wallman
Lexington, Massachusetts

Discover the scenic beauty of Nova
Scotia's rocky coastal terrain

Adventure Adviser: Sure it’s big, but fear not. As long as you steer clear of the bigger cities, like Halifax and Sydney, you’ll find plenty of serene areas to explore. Nova Scotia is a perfect vacation destination for the outdoor lover who’s also after some quality R&R and a cultural experience. And with the present exchange rate, vacationing in Canada is a real bargain. While there are plenty of B&Bs scattered throughout Nova Scotia, spas are a bit harder to come by. The most posh accommodations available are the three provincial government’s luxury resorts, all of which I mention below. For additional information, call the Nova Scotia Information & Reservations at 1-800-565-0000.

For a great mix of scenery, and plenty of hiking and biking opportunities, consider spending your vacation along Nova Scotia’s northeastern shore and Cape Breton Island. Most of the small fishing villages in this area have a decidedly French and Gaelic feel. Ingonish is a perfect little base town, with a peaceful sandy beach and lots of fresh seafood, and you can stay at the graceful Keltic Lodge (902-285-2880). From here, you’ll have easy access to Cape Breton Highlands National Park, the island’s most remote area and one of Canada’s gems. Rent a canoe for the day, or hike one of the park’s 27 trails, which includes a 35-mile loop. The riding is great too, although a tad difficult for some. Check in with Ingonish Mountain Bike Rental (902-285-2294) for recommendations and gear. For a jaw-dropping scenic drive, head out on the 180-mile long Cabot Trail which winds around the island and through the park, but you’re bound to encounter other tourists along this revered route. For whale watching, cruise over to Pleasant Bay.

It’s a four-hour drive from Halifax to Cape Breton, along the quiet northeast coast. This shoreline is one of Nova Scotia’s least-visited areas, with a narrow road running along the rugged coast and passing by beaches and tiny fishing villages steeped in Scottish history. Peaceful Liscomb Mills is a serene mid-way stopping point, and you can kick back for the night at the comforting Liscomb Lodge (902-779-2307). Before continuing north, explore the Liscomb Park Game Sanctuary, where you can swim, hike, fish and canoe.

Another fine choice for a Nova Scotia vacation is the island’s southwest corner. It’s under three hours by car from Halifax to Digby, famed for its scallops and smoked herring. The Bay of Fundy is known as the best place in Nova Scotia for viewing whales, and the icy waters are home to finback, minke and humpbacks, along with dolphins, porpoises and seals. You can take a wildlife cruise from Tiverton, East Ferry or Westport, all located on the slender Digby peninsula, which is also fantastic for cycling with its wind-swept sea views. Off the very tip of the peninsula is Brier Island, a hotbed for puffins, grebes, kittiwakes and razorbills. In Digby, stay at the elegant Pines Resort Hotel (902-245-2511), which overlooks the Annapolis Basin. As close to a spa as you’ll find, Pines Resort has an outdoor pool, beach, tennis courts, croquet, shuffleboard, a fitness center and sauna. It’s within walking distance from quaint Digby and the spirited fisherman’s wharf. Basic rooms run $140/night, or $280 for a romantic cottage. If you’re still hankering for some spa treatment, you can visit Digby’s Our Secret Spa (902-245-6371) for a facial or massage.

The surrounding countryside, known as the Annapolis Valley, is lush and verdant, laced with orchards and farmlands. For nearby hiking, head inland 25 miles to the Kejimkujik National Park, an amazing wilderness best accessed by foot or paddle. In fact, only 20-percent of the park is accessible by car, so you’ll have to hike or paddle into its wild interior. If you want to overnight, plant yourself five minutes from the park’s entrance in Caledonia, where the comfortable Whitman Inn (902-682-2266) has a pool and sauna among its amenities.

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