Travel

Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island: an Atlantic getaway for adventurers and beach lovers

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Sarah Shaffi
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Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island will fulfil your holiday needs.

Hop across the pond to Canada’s maritime provinces of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, which will cater to your every holiday need.

My longest-running literary dream — you know, the things you want to do because you read about them in a beloved book — is to own a gorgeous chocolate-brown dress with puffed sleeves.

Fans of LM Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables will immediately recognise that piece of clothing, and drift off into memories of a world where boys tie your pigtails to chairs as a way to flirt with you (unsuccessfully). For those of you who haven’t read Anne of Green Gables, trust me when I say you’re missing out.

I might never own that dress with puffed sleeves, but I got pretty close to living in Anne Shirley’s world with a visit to Prince Edward Island, one of eastern Canada’s maritime provinces which also doubles as the real-life setting for the book.

But don’t worry if you’re not a fan of stories about independent girls set on having adventures (although, why would you not be?), Prince Edward Island and its neighbouring province, Nova Scotia, have something for everyone, whether you’re a foodie, a beach bum or an adventurer.

Where to go if you want… 

Anne of Green Gables

There are two different sites on Prince Edward Island if you love Anne of Green Gables, and they’re each worth a trip because they offer something different.

Anne of Green Gables Museum is run by descendants of author Lucy Maud Montgomery. It encompasses the house in which Montgomery stayed with her aunt and uncle, and where she wrote and got inspiration for her novels Pat of Silver Bush and Mistress Pat,. After touring the house, which is set in sweeping, lush grounds, you can indulge in some raspberry cordial at the gift shop, take one of Matthew’s Carriage Rides which goes through the property’s flower gardens and down towards the beach, or visit the Lake of Shining Waters, which features in Anne of Green Gables.

Prince Edward Island is home to plenty of things to do for fans of Anne of Green Gables.
Prince Edward Island is home to plenty of things to do for fans of Anne of Green Gables.

Green Gables Heritage Place, which is a short drive away, is run by Parks Canada, and is a slicker enterprise, although no less full of magic. The visitor centre is home to displays which take the themes of Anne of Green Gables, from friendship to family, for their inspiration. But it’s outside that you’ll get to really indulge your Anne of Green Gables’ love. There’s Green Gables house itself, set on a rolling hill, as well as trails that will take you down places featured in the books, including Lover’s Lane and the Haunted Wood.

And once you’re done with those, you can head in to Charlottetown, which is home to two musicals based around Montgomery’s series. I took in Anne & Gilbert, in the small The Guild theatre. It’s a fun and sweet musical, and you have to lean into the tweeness to enjoy it fully.

Adventure — tidal bore rafting in Shubanacadie

Nova Scotia’s Shubanacadie River is the only place in the world where you can do tidal bore rafting (tidal bores are area where the incoming ocean suddenly reverses the flow of a river), and it’s one of the most fun things I’ve ever done.

It doesn’t look that impressive at the start but be patient. You’re taken out on a Zodiac boat and then let loose to hang out on red mud (the high iron content gives the mud and sand in Nova Scotia its distinctive colour) for a while until water is spotted coming in to the river bend.

And then it’s back in the boats, as within minutes you’re confronted by 20ft high waves, which the Zodiacs drive into like it’s some kind of water-based roller coaster. Be prepared to scream and laugh a lot, and get completely soaked, before taking part in some mudsliding to end the trip.

You’ll leave with mud in places you never knew it could reach, and completely ruined clothing, but it’s well worth it.

Ghost stories — Lunenburg

The picturesque port town of Lunenburg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thanks to its narrow streets and unique architecture — think clapboard buildings in an array of colours. Lunenburg is also home to many, many ghosts, if all the stories are to be believed, and some of them occupy the town’s inns.

From the caretaker who occupies the Lunenburg Academy to Sarah who lives in the famous Mariner Inn, there are plenty of chilling stories that form part of the town’s bank of myths, and you’ll get to hear them on Lunenburg’s walking tours.

If you’re a scaredy-cat, you can stick to Essential Lunenburg tour, an-hour long daytime tour in which a local and very knowledgable guide will make the buildings come alive with cultural tidbits. But if you’re braver, then Haunted Lunenburg, which is a night tour, is the tour for you.

Stunning views — Peggy’s Cove

If I’m honest, all of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island look like they’ve broken free from the pages of a picture book, but one of the most scenic places of all the scenic places is Peggy’s Cove. A tiny working fishing village, it’s home to around 35 residents all year round, but around 750,000 tourists head into the village annually.

That’s thanks to its lighthouse — in Canada’s distinctive squat white and red style — and the fact that you can walk over rocks to get right to it. From the moment you arrive it’s easy to see why Peggy’s Cove is one of the most photographed places in Canada, and you’ll be snapping away trying to get the perfect shot for the ‘gram.

Nature — Kejimkujik National Park

This vast park, known as Keji, encompasses a number of traditional waterways that used to be used by the Mi’kmaq, the First Nations people who are indigenous to Canada’s Atlantic provinces. The park is unofficially split in two — the front country and the back country.

The front country is great for picnicking, canoeing and taking in the scenery if you only have a short amount of time. For a glimpse of the park’s history, the petroglyph tour is well worth booking; guides will show you the historical carvings made my Mi’kmaq on river rocks, which literally amounts to history written in stone.

If you’re one for hiking, you can take one of Keji’s trails (there are also canoeing trails) into the back country, where there is the possibility of spotting a black bear.

City life — Halifax and Charottetown

The capitals of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island — Halifax and Charlottetown respectively — offer everything you need if you’re after a quick city break. Both are small enough to explore on foot, although Halifax’s Harbour Hopper tour is a great way to learn about the city (our tour guide was hugely informative and very funny).

Halifax in Nova Scotia can offer the perfect city break experience.
Halifax in Nova Scotia can offer the perfect city break experience.

With theatres, restaurants and plenty of shopping, plus great waterfronts, you won’t get bored in either city.

Beaches —Dalvay by the Sea and Greenwich

Prince Edward Island is so small that there are beaches within reach everywhere, but two of the best are at Dalvay by the Sea and Greenwich PEI National Park. The former is a couple of minutes walk from the Dalvay by the Sea hotel, and an early morning walk along the shoreline meant I bumped into few people and saw a great sunrise.

Greenwich PEI National Park is home to a gorgeous beach, which you can access through various trails.
Greenwich PEI National Park is home to a gorgeous beach, which you can access through various trails.

Greenwich PEI National Park’s beach is the ideal place to take a book and some food and drink, and settle back for a relaxing afternoon. The beach has lifeguards, and if you fancy taking in some countryside beforehand, you can hike to the beach along one of the many trails in the area.

Village life — Victoria-by-the-Sea

Victoria-by-the-Sea looks pretty unassuming at first glance; it’s a small collection of streets, and walking from one end to the other takes about 10 minutes at a London pace (if that). But you won’t be walking that fast, because you’ll be stopping to look at the gorgeous buildings, and popping in to some of the many arts and crafts shops. 

There’s a small beach as well, and you can kayak if you desire. Whatever you do, make sure you stop in at Island Chocolates, a family-run chocolate shop which is home to the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had.

Where to stay 

Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island are the perfect place to indulge in another one of my fictional dreams: staying in an inn like the one run/owned by Lorelai Gilmore in Gilmore Girls.

There are only big hotels in Halifax and Charlottetown, so be prepared to bed down in small inns where character is key.

  • Westin Nova Scotian, Halifax

    Owned by Marriott, the Westin Nova Scotian sits practically on the waterfront (making it a fabulous location from which to start and finish an early morning run), and many of the rooms offer views of the water.

    From the outside, the red-brick building looks a little austere, but inside it’s relaxing. The rooms are modern and generously sized, and the hotel contains a gym and swimming pool if you want to work for your holiday. 

  • The Mariner King Inn, Lunenburg

    Lunenberg is home to the gorgeous Mariner King Inn (and some ghosts).
    Lunenberg is home to the gorgeous Mariner King Inn (and some ghosts).

    Spread over three houses (the original inn building, and then two other houses known as the Cranberry and Candy Apple buildings thanks to their brightly painted facades), The Mariner King Inn is located right in the centre of Lunenburg.

    Despite the age of the buildings (the original inn dates from 1830), the inside of the inn is contemporary, and bedrooms and en-suites are spacious.

    Just beware ghosts…

  • Old Orchard Inn, Wolfville

    From the outside Old Orchard Inn is, and there’s no other way to put this, a bit ugly. Although it’s got inn in the name, this is more of a motel.

    But once you’re inside, this is a charming hotel. Some of the rooms — modern but with some fantastic old furniture — look out over the Annapolis Valley, and the hotel also contains a spa if you want to indulge in a little relaxation before heading out for a busy day of sightseeing.

  • The Orient Hotel Bed & Breakfast, Victoria-by-the-Sea

    The Orient Hotel's may look quaint, but it's home to some giant rooms.
    The Orient Hotel's may look quaint, but it's home to some giant rooms.

    Don’t let this tiny inn’s quaint exterior fool you, it’s home to some fantastic rooms. I stayed in what amounted to a suite — a living area, separate bedroom (with the biggest bed I have ever seen), and a bathroom.

  • Dalvay by the Sea, York

    Dalvay by the Sea was built in 1895 by a rich American — Alexander MacDonald was a businessman and one-time president of Standard Oil Company — for his wife Laura Palmer. It’s been a hotel since 1959, and it’s exactly the sort of place Lorelai Gilmore would want to run.

    The main hotel (there are also cottages you can rent) includes a fantastic restaurant, and guests can relax in front of the giant lobby fireplace, or in the living space, which is full of comfy seating and equipped with books and board games, before retiring to bed. If you’re lucky (like me) your room will be one whose ensuite includes a proper claw foot bathtub.

    Opposite the main building is Dalvay Lake, home to what look like hundreds of Canada geese who like to roam the grounds in the morning and evening, and the beach is a five-minute walk away.

  • The Holman Grand, Charlottetown

    Located in the heart of Charlottetown, The Holman Grand has views stretching over the city down to the waterfront.

    A boutique hotel with luxurious rooms, the hotel is also attached to a shopping centre and has a gym and pool.

Where to eat

Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island are famed for their seafood, particularly lobsters and oysters, but there’s plenty more on offer too.

  • The Sou’Wester Restaurant, Peggy’s Cove

    This gift shop and restaurant began in 1967 as a small five-table tearoom and now seats 180. It’s not flashy, but it’s buzzing and provides a good meal on a day out, plus the location is excellent. The grilled haddock with salad and baked potato was a highlight.

  • Old Fish Factory Restaurant, Lunenburg

    Lobster tacos at Lunenberg's the Old Fish Factory Restaurant.
    Lobster tacos at Lunenberg's the Old Fish Factory Restaurant.

    Housed in the building of a former fish processing plant, this restaurant sits on the water and has a museum attached, if you fancy a pre-meal wander. I tucked into lobster tacos, which were served with a delicious chili lime mayo and blueberry pickled onions. There are plenty of options for land-lovers, from pasta to steak, and a number of vegetarian options.

  • Perfect Picnic Lunch, Keji

    Perfect Picnic Lunch at Keji.
    Perfect Picnic Lunch at Keji.

    A trip to Canada wouldn’t be complete without a lobster roll, and I indulged in on while at Keji. Visitors to the park can order the Parks Canada Perfect Picnic, and they come packed in cute red and black boxes. I went for Lane’s Privateer Inn’s perfect lobster lunch, which consisted of a lobster roll, a summer berry salad, an apple tart (which was the envy of everyone I was eating with) and a blueberry lemonade. It was indeed the perfect lunch, made more so by sitting under the trees in Keji with the lake stretching out before us.

  • Halls Harbour Lobster Pound, Hall’s Harbour

    If you’ve never had a whole lobster before (like me), then this is the place to try it. The restaurant is based next to the lobster pound (where I met a gigantic lobster called Alfred, he sighs in at 13lbs), and is pretty basic inside. But that’s because the focus is on the food. Guests choose their own lobster from the shop — you choose by size (from small to very large), and gender if you want to.

    The lobster is served with salad and a roll, with melted butter to dip the lobster meat into. If you don’t fancy a full lobster, you can dig into lobster mac ’n’ cheese or lobster poutine as an alternative. There’s also other seafood, plus meat and veggie options on offer, but the lobster is Hall’s Harbour’s strength.

  • Landmark Oyster House, Victoria-by-the-Sea

    Cheesecake at The Landmark Oyster House.
    Cheesecake at The Landmark Oyster House.

    Located right in the centre of Victoria-by-the-Sea, this restaurant offers up stunning dishes in an intimate setting. Knowledgable staff, a variety of food (the Atlantic salmon served with crispy lentils was a delight) and a great cheesecake topped with berries make this a must-visit if you’re on Prince Edward Island.

  • Malpeque Oyster Barn

    Freshly shucked oysters at Malpeque Oyster Barn.
    Freshly shucked oysters at Malpeque Oyster Barn.

    A family owned and operated restaurant, this is located on a wharf, so you can look out and see the boats coming in with their oyster catch. Even those not a fan of shellfish will find it fascinating watching the waiters shuck oysters, and there are plenty of options whatever you fancy eating, from seafood to salads.

  • The MacMillan Dining Room, Dalvay-by-the-Sea

    The food at this hotel restaurant is divine, and it’s easy to see why locals travel from all over Prince Edward Island to this eaterie for special occasions — if I lived on PEI I’d be here all the time.

    The home made fettuccine, served with mushrooms was delicious, but it’s the sticky toffee date pudding I’ll be dreaming about for years to come.

    Breakfast here is also excellent — portions are huge, but the food looks so good you’ll not want to waste a bite.

  • Terre Rouge, Charlottetown

    Located on one of Charlottetown’s main shopping streets, Terre Rouge is a modern restaurant focused on fresh, local ingredients. After a week of eating mostly seafood, I wanted vegetarian, so opted for the lentil beet burger, which was a little dry, but the drinks (I went for a non-alcoholic cocktail) are excellent.

Getting there, and around

Public transport is largely non-existent once you get out of Halifax and Charlottetown, so car rental is a must. The roads are wide and smooth, and there’s hardly a traffic jam to be seen, plus you get to take in all the scenery while you drive from place to place. Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island are connected by the Confederation Bridge.

Canadian Sky offers a 10-day trip to the Maritimes starting from £1,849 per person, including accommodation, some meals, and return flights with Air Canada to Halifax from London Heathrow. More information can be found at Atlantic Canada.

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Images: Atlantic Canada, Sarah Shaffi

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