While more-established destinations such as British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley and Ontario’s Niagara region have slowly started to receive global acceptance for their winemaking endeavors, a number of other, lesser-known regions throughout the country are also slowly upping the ante for Canadian winemakers.
Count among them Nova Scotia, one of Canada’s easternmost provinces.
While at first, salty, sea-sprayed Nova Scotia, might not seem a likely contender in the wine-making game, the province is home to about 20 wineries, which account for about two percent of the nation’s entire yield. The wineries are spread far and wide throughout the province, but the bulk of them make their home in the fertile Annapolis Valley, which is also known for its apple crop and its production of Nova Scotia’s famed blueberries.
Here the healthy soil and the chillier climate create the perfect environment for producing grapes that have gone on to gain a lot of international and award-winning attention. Nova Scotia is particularly known for its white wines and even has its own appellation, Tidal Bay, which pairs perfectly with the seafood pulled from the adjacent Atlantic waters.
Visitors planning to spend some time in Nova Scotia would be remiss if they skip wine tasting for at least an afternoon. Fortunately, the farthest reaches of the Annapolis Valley are just about two hours away from Nova Scotia’s capital, making it an easy day excursion, especially for cruise passengers looking for a unique shore excursion.
Visitors short on time can explore the Annapolis Valley in a hub and spoke style excursion from Halifax. Either sign up for one of a number of wine tours of the area that depart from Halifax or rent a vehicle and go it on your own.
Nova Scotia, however, just like the wines it produces is meant to be savored. And while the northeastern part of the province tends to get more acclaim, due its scenic Cape Breton Island and the Cabot Trail, southwestern Nova Scotia is equally worth exploring on an overnight jaunt.
Grand Pré and The Bay of Fundy
A great place to start is the Grand-Pré National Historic Site, near the town of Wolfville, both of which are just about an hour’s drive north of Halifax.
The National Historic Site, located on the shores of the Bay of Fundy—home to one of the most extreme tidal ranges in the world—chronicles the history of the Acadian people in the region and showcases their ingenuity in building the dykes that first converted the salt marshes of the Annapolis Valley into a rich, fertile agricultural area. Thanks in part to the ingenuity of the dyke system, Grand-Pré was inscribed onto the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 2012.
The bigger, sadder story at Grand-Pré, however, is the history of Le Grand Dérangement, a seven-year period from 1755 until 1762, when the British forced the deportation of all Acadians in the region. The Deportation tore apart families, many for generations, but the historic site also pays tribute to the Longfellow poem Evangeline, which is largely attributed to a resurgence in Acadian cultural pride.
Probably not coincidentally, Grand-Pré is also home to Nova Scotia’s first winery, Domaine de Grand-Pré. Founded in the late 1970s, the winery offers guided tours from May through October. There’s also an excellent restaurant, Le Caveau on site, with plenty of local offerings on the menu. It’s the perfect place to unwind after spending a morning exploring history. If you happen to stick around for dessert, be sure to order the Domaine de Grand Pré Pomme D’Or Apple Cream Liqueur, which is kind of like Bailey’s Irish Crème, only made from apples.
Overnight options are plentiful, here. The charming heritage town of Wolfville—the birthplace of hockey—is an excellent place for exploring. Also making its home in Wolfville is Benjamin Bridge Vineyards, another one of the top provincial producers. This is the central depot for the Magic Winery Bus, a classic British Double Decker Bus, that offers hop-on, hop-off service to five area wineries.
Head a little farther southwest, and you’ll reach the waterfront town of Annapolis Royal, which became home to some of North America’s earliest settlers in 1605. Before that, it was home to Nova Scotia’s native Mi’kmaq people for thousands of years.
The location is steeped in history, including housing the highest concentration of heritage buildings in Canada. A can’t-miss attraction is a night-time graveyard tour by candlelight which will introduce you to some of the town’s earliest settlers—and some of the oldest gravestones in North America.
You won’t find any chain hotels here, but local inns, such as the Hillsdale House, the Garrison House Inn and Restaurant, and the Queen Anne Inn, among others, will transport you back in time to the mid-1800s. Be warned, however, the inns’ breakfasts are so good, you might forget about wine tasting for a little while.
Kejimkujik National Park and Historic Site
For the next leg of your journey, you can continue on a coastal loop to Yarmouth, and learn about the province’s important contributions to the global shipbuilding and fishing industries.
Or head inland—due south—to Kejimkujik National Park and Historic Site. (Yes, it is a mouthful, but you can do like the locals do, and call it Keji.)
The park, home to traditional waterways and canoe routes used by the Mi’kmaq people, also houses a series of traditional petroglyphs that can be seen on guided tours. Keji is an excellent spot for hiking, canoeing and camping. It is also one of the top Dark Sky preserves in the nation. If there isn’t enough time to overnight, at least bring a bottle from your wine tasting endeavors and enjoy a peaceful, lakeside picnic lunch.
Next, continue on to the adjunct Kejimkujik Seaside, about an hour south of the main park, where you’ll want to hike at least some of the 5.4-mile-long main trail, where you can take in beaches and lagoons and plenty of local wildlife.
Head northeast and you’ll happen upon of Nova Scotia’s most acclaimed beach resorts, the year-round White Point Beach Resort, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary in 2018.
Spend the night or purchase a day pass, but no matter what you do, don’t miss a meal in Elliott’s Dining Room, where Chef Alan Crosby brings Nova Scotia flavors to life and sommelier Dan Tanner can walk you through the finest Nova Scotia-made wines, beers and hard ciders.
Continuing your trek northeast back to Halifax, you’ll want to stop at Lunenburg and scenic Mahone Bay. Even a short visit will find you filling your Instagram feed, but save some time to really explore. Lunenburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was inscribed as the “best surviving example of a planned British colonial settlement in North America.”
A walking tour through town is a good introduction, but also spend some time exploring on your own. Lunenburg is home to Nova Scotia’s famed Bluenose II Tallship, which is inscribed on the Canadian dime.
You’ll also want to make time to visit the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, a fascinating facility, which chronicles the realities of fishing industry along Canada’s Atlantic Coast. It is also home to the schooner Theresa E. Connor and trawler Cape Sable, both of which can be boarded and toured.
Time permitting, visit the Lunenburg County Winery. Officially a highbush blueberry farm, the winery produces 26 different Nova Scotia-grown fruit wines.
Plenty of accommodations are available in the area, but a stay at the Oak Island Resort & Spa will introduce you to THAT Oak Island featured on the History Channel’s The Curse of Oak Island.
The 105-room, waterfront resort also features 13 oceanfront villas and three seaside chalets. Once again, the dining is a can’t-miss experience, and the La Vista restaurant is true to its name with gorgeous views of the South Shore. The menu is largely comprised of local specialties, including, of course, Nova Scotia’s famed lobster.
Every evening, a local performer entertains in the Fireside Lounge, where you can order local snacks and imbibe in more Nova Scotia wines, beers and ciders. If you’re looking for total relaxation, head to the resort’s Aqua Spa, where a 90-minute treatment extends the Nova Scotia experience, including a sea salt exfoliation, a seaweed mud wrap and relaxing massage—all for just $125 (CDN.)
The Oak Island Resort is located less than an hour from Halifax, so head back to the city at a leisurely pace. Be sure, however, to stop at the province’s most-famous site, Peggy’s Cove, along the way.
Leave enough time to snap photos of one the world’s most-famous lighthouses and fishing villages, and bring a jacket, as things can get breezy here. You’ll also want to pop into the locally owned shops and boutiques and then stop by the Sou’wester restaurant, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
For 2018, the lobster dinner special includes a salad or a bowl of chowder, choice of potato, rolls and a full lobster for just $16.99 (CDN.) You’d have to look far and wide to find a better deal than this.
Soon, you’ll find yourself heading back into Halifax. But don’t worry, the Haligonians (as the people of Halifax are called) are incredibly proud of their local bounty, so you won’t have to look very hard to find a restaurant serving Nova Scotia’s Tidal Bay.
If you’re looking for a deeper exploration of Nova Scotia’s wineries and wine regions, Tourism Nova Scotia offers a number of wine tasting itineraries and road trip suggestions. Atlantic Canada Tours also offers a number of itineraries through the region.
Halifax is easily reached from throughout North America on Air Canada, with major connections in Toronto and Montreal. Take-home wine laws vary by province, so be sure to check with the winery before planning to bring home a souvenir. Nova Scotia wines are not a permitted carry-on item, although Nova Scotia lobsters (both live and cooked) may be brought on board and a permissible item according to the TSA.
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