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.
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).
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’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
The Mariner King Inn, Lunenburg
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
The Orient Hotel Bed & Breakfast, Victoria-by-the-Sea
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
The Holman Grand, Charlottetown
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
Old Fish Factory Restaurant, Lunenburg
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
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
Landmark Oyster House, Victoria-by-the-Sea
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
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
Terre Rouge, Charlottetown
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.
Images: Atlantic Canada, Sarah Shaffi