Nova Scotia Joy Ride: Exploring the Best of the Northumberland Coast
Scottish immigrants were some of the first Europeans to settle in this coastal region of Nova Scotia. Today, the shores of Northumberland have retained much of their heritage, reflected in the lives and small businesses of its residents. From Halifax to Pugwash, a road trip is the best way to discover the area’s sandy beaches, historical sites, farms and vineyards, fresh cuisine, and genuine hospitality.
Start your Engines!
Halifax to Antigonish
Halifax was an ideal spot to begin my road trip. There is so much history here that I was tempted to spend all of my time taking in the sights. Some of the best include the Citadel National Historic Site, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and Canada’s National Immigration Museum at Pier 21. The latter, where a million immigrants passed through from 1928-1971, is sometimes compared to Ellis Island.
As I headed cross country toward the Northumberland Coast, I made several stops along the way. It’s worth mentioning that throughout these travels, I noticed some unusual sounding names in the Northumberland area, and these have their origin with the Mi’kmaws (an Aboriginal group of Nova Scotia.)
After driving around Truro and visiting Victoria Park, I head north along Highway 102 for about an hour toward Earltown and the Sugar Moon Farm. This family-run sugar farm produces several varieties of some of the best maple syrup on the planet—from mild to buttery to rich and flavorful. This little known gem is quite the destination for locals who come to enjoy a hearty buffet like the Sugar Moon Classic, featuring all-you-can-eat whole grain, buttermilk pancakes with maple syrup, baked beans and sausage (16 CAD).
As I continued north, I entered the town of New Glasgow, situated on the shores of the East River of Pictou. Take some time wandering about town to view its many retail shops but you will want to make sure, as I did, to schedule your timing to coincide with a performance at the Glasgow Square Theater. This indoor/outdoor performing arts center hosts everything from drama to comedy to major music events.
My final stop for the day was in Antigonish. This charming little town has some wonderful little boutiques, retail shops and eateries. For a must do dinner, make a reservation at Gabrieau’s Bistro. Chef Mark Gabrieau is passionate about food and wine and will serve you a multi-course dinner that will be a truly unforgettable experience.
Antigonish to Pictou
Route 337 out of Antigonish provided a scenic route along the coast my next stop: Cape George and Northumberland Bluefin Tuna Charters. If you make prior arrangements, you can join Captain MacGillivray and his crew aboard the Amy and Laura for a chartered fishing voyage.
Driving along the highway towards Pictou, I came across gorgeous scenery and photo ops, including the 360-foot tall, red and white Cape George Lighthouse. Originally built in 1861, the lighthouse has been rebuilt several times, the last one being in 1961.
This is fish and chowder country. Still, finding good fish and chips can be a hit or miss proposition. When you arrive in Pictou, navigate along the wharf to Waterfront Fries. This new, small family business is located in a kiosk right on the water and serves up fish and chips using fresh hand battered haddock from an old family recipe. The fish and fries are light and crispy and some of the best you will find anywhere.
Pictou Lodge Beach Resort on the North Umberland shoreline provided a wonderful respite for the day. The lodge features log cottages and chalets, all directly overlooking the water. The chef here does some pretty amazing things with seafood and the resort is known for its taste of Nova Scotia seafood dining. I had the best, freshest lobster anywhere for dinner, a perfect way to end the evening.
Pictou to Tatamagouche
After breakfast at the Pictou Lodge (try the awesome fishcakes), I checked out and hit the road again for a short ride back to the waterfront area for a visit to the Hector Heritage Quay. Here, I found a full-sized replica of the sailing vessel, the Hector, as well as a multi-story interactive center.
Next, I walked to the Northumberland Fisheries Museum to learn all about lobsters, an important part of the history and economy of this area. Since the 1980s, there has been a steady decline in lobsters, and this project is an attempt to repopulate the species through their Adopt-a-Lobster program. On site, you can see the entire process unfold, from infancy to the ultimate goal— release. One of the more unusual lobsters, Blueberry, is a 20 year-old genetic anomaly with a spotted deep blue color.
For lunch, I strolled over to Mrs. MacGregor’s Shortbreads on Water Street. Selections include sandwiches, soups, and a variety of homemade shortbreads, the latter of which were selected as one of the best in Canada.
If you like lavender, you don’t have to travel to the south of France to find it. Take Route 6 for a 15-mintue ride to the Seafoam Lavender Farm along the Northumberland Strait.
Along the way to my final stop, I hit Rushton’s Beach to frolic in the surf and enjoy the beautiful sunshine and warm water.
When I travel, I love finding hidden attractions and unusual accommodations. This was certainly true at my lodgings for the night, a converted railroad car, at the Tatamagouche Train Station Inn. The rooms are equipped with seating areas, bath and showers, televisions, and all the charm and ambiance of a bygone era.