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By Linda Fasteson
It’s no wonder Nova Scotia is affectionately called Canada’s Ocean Playground. Here, 160 billion tons of water, equal to the flow of all the freshwater rivers of the world, rush in or out of the Bay of Fundy every six hours, creating the most extreme tides on earth.
Its urban capital, Halifax, grew and prospered around one of the world’s largest deep-water ports, one that remains ice-free year-round. Today, it’s a thriving cultural epicenter, with renowned museums and galleries, a lively music and nightlife scene, and, not to be overlooked, a bounty of seafood and regional specialties offered up at public markets and high-end eateries.
On the opposite shore, along the Bay of Fundy, sits the quieter Annapolis Valley, with miles of rolling hills, scenic farmlands, and big bright blue skies. Here, farm-to-table is the norm, with the day’s plate coming right from the nearest harvest, and a formal dinner might lead you to dine on the ocean floor, where mere hours earlier your table would have been submerged by the tide.
No matter which side of Canada’s Maritime province you explore, you’re in for plenty of reasons to stay hungry—for both food and adventure.
Halifax: Piers, picnics, pints, and playwrights
In Halifax, first bites should be taken along the coast. Feel the sea breeze and breathe in the salt air as you stroll across Harbourwalk, a two-and-a-half mile long boardwalk full of food and fun.
Along the way, stop for a scoop or two of creamy Cownadian Maple or Wowie Cowie ice cream at COWS, enjoy the freshest Atlantic fish and chips right on the waterfront at Salty’s, or take in some seafaring history between meals at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. For a photo-op as irresistible as a sugary snack, try a Beavertail, named for the shape of this signature fried dough delicacy with an array of toppings.
Winding down the boardwalk will lead you to the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market, the oldest continuously operating farmer’s market in North America. There you can chat with the growers of Nova Scotia’s freshest fruits and vegetables. The artisanal bread at Boulangerie La Vendéenne pairs beautifully with a slice (or two) of fresh gouda or Dragon’s Breath Blue from Nova Scotia’s original artisanal cheese makers, That Dutchman’s Cheese. And the perfect pour awaits with a glass of regional wine from Avondale Sky Winery or fresh-pressed apple juice. If you’re feeling hungrier, Norbert’s Good Food has a full menu of organic sandwiches, soups, and hearty salads. Most notable on Norbert’s menu is the Seaport Market Full Breakfast, which fills a plate with eggs, bacon, potatoes, and greens all produced by farms represented in the market.
Across the street from the Seaport market stands Garrison Brewing, a fitting place for a pint in a city once home to rumrunners and privateers. Pull up a stool and grab a glass of one their many rotating brews, like nut brown ale, Irish red, and raspberry wheat. Or, sip samples and have some toe-tapping fun during Alexander Keith’s Nova Scotia Brewery’s interactive tour, just up the street.
Fine dining at Five Fishermen Restaurant, famed for its local seafood, is the ideal way to top off a busy day. Enjoy the plentiful menu items with a side of history. The unassuming building, where John Jacob Astor IV and other wealthy victims were brought following the R.M.S.Titanic disaster, was also home to an art school founded by Anna Leonowens, the royal tutor whose novel Anna and the King of Siam was made into the film and musical The King and I.
The Bay of Fundy and Annapolis Valley
Way back when, 17th-century French settlers, known as Acadians, built dykes in the Annapolis Valley to create land suitable for agriculture. Today, this fertile region produces an abundance of harvests from the land and sea.
All across the area, chefs, fishermen, farmers, and vintners work together to create exceptional culinary experiences by using the richness of the valley’s offerings to elevate cuisine with both fresh ingredients and bold flavors. Wolfville, a small town about 60 miles northwest of Halifax, is known for fine dining and country inns like the Blomidon Inn, a former sea captain’s home. It’s an ideal for choice for a romantic getaway.
The Annapolis Valley also benefits from the dramatic tides of the Bay of Fundy, and species beyond locals and tourists use this ecosystem to find their next meal. The nutrient-rich waters attract various marine wildlife, like the whales that feed on plankton, krill, and herring. The abundance of fish—from flounder, mackerel, monkfish, and hake to sharks and eels—attracts soaring eagles. Migrating sandpipers, with their tiny bodies and sharp beaks, come in search of mud shrimp at low tide.
As the world’s largest exporter of lobster, Nova Scotia offers the ultimate lobster dinner experience at Hall’s Harbour, an authentic fishing village dating to 1779 that was formerly used as a base by Captain Hall and his privateers. Now you can see fishing boats rush in before the tide rolls out, leaving them on the ocean floor. Also be sure to take some time and watch as fishermen unload their catch.
Hall’s Harbour Lobster Pound ships their meaty cold-water lobsters worldwide. Its restaurant serves a “Lobster in the Rough” interactive dinner experience that owner/operator Sharla Cameron describes as “a one-of-a-kind Nova Scotian adventure” where you can “witness the movement of the highest tides in the world while savoring the Bay of Fundy’s cold water lobster and other fine seafood in our harbor-side restaurant.”
Here, Cameron adds, you can “gain knowledge on the Fundy tides, the fishing and lobster export industry, and lobster biology from our friendly and experienced staff. Finish your stay with a stroll on the boardwalk and take in one of our spectacular sunsets.”
For a sip worth savoring, head to Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards, a winery and culinary destination that goes beyond its organic certification to practice biodynamic viticulture on land, a practice that’s been in the family for generations. According to co-owner Jocelyn Lightfoot, “We know that living soils grow healthy vines, which bear balanced fruit and make quality wine. Biodynamic farming is considered a holistic vision of the farm as a self-sustaining, living ecosystem.”
Lightfoot continues, “This is achieved through integration of plants, livestock, and inhabitants of the farm. We return more to the soil than we take out.” Taste the difference at lunch or one of chef Geoff Hopgood’s multi-course dinner events in the barrel cellar.
Owner/Manager Melissa Velden describes The Flying Apron Inn & Cookery as “a true culinary destination. Guests may indulge their inner foodie with a meal in our award-winning restaurant, enjoy a culinary getaway with accommodations in our charming inn, and learn a thing or two at a delicious class and meal in our Cookery School.”
Velden explains their motto “We Do Local!” as: “Everything we do is to connect people to their food and the people that produce it […] even in the winter, and even on the ocean floor where we introduce guests to the best Nova Scotia food, beer, and wine during our Dining on the Ocean Floor experience.”
Plan ahead for this culinary adventure: reservation requests flood in from around the world for this one-of-a-kind event that has hundreds on the waiting list.