Scottish immigrants were among the first 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 is an ideal spot to begin your road trip. There is so much history here that you might be tempted to spend all of your 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 you head cross country toward the Northumberland Coast, you will want to make several stops along the way. It’s worth mentioning that throughout your travels, you’ll notice some unusual sounding names in the Northumberland area, and these have their origin with the Mi’kmaws (an Aboriginal group of Nova Scotia.)
Your first stop will be in Truro at the 40- foot statue of Glooscap. This imposing figure can be seen from the highway and is dedicated to the Mi’kmaw. While here, visit the Glooscap Heritage Center and its displays, exhibits and gift shop celebrating the culture of the Mi’kmaw people.
Drive around Truro and you will notice many sculptures that were created by local artists after an elm disease took many of the trees. Rather than cut the elms down, the artisans preserved them as works of art along city streets.
Victoria Park is a 400-acre wooded oasis in the center of town. Take the time to hike up some of the easy trails to see wildlife, a river gorge and two waterfalls amidst lush trees and foliage.
Return to your car and 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 you continue north, you will come to the town of New Glasgow, situated on the shores of the East River of Pictou. You can spend some time wandering about town to view its many retail shops but you will want to make sure you 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.
Your final stop for the day will be 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
Before leaving Antigonish, take a little time for a walking tour of St. Francis Xavier University, known to locals as F.X.U. This institution has been ranked in the top three undergraduate programs in Canada and has a rich, dedicated commitment to the area’s Celtic traditions.
Route 337 out of Antigonish will provide a scenic route along the coast to your 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.
Afterwards, continue along your route towards Pictou, taking advantage of the 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.
Your final stop for the night will be at the Pictou Lodge Resort, featuring log cottages and chalets, all directly on the Northumberland shoreline. The chef here does some pretty amazing things with seafood and the resort is known for its taste of Nova Scotia seafood dining.
Pictou to Tatamagouche
After breakfast at the Pictou Lodge (Try the awesome fishcakes.), check out and hit the road again for a short ride back to the waterfront area for a visit to the Hector Heritage Quay. Here, you will find a full-sized replica of the sailing vessel, the Hector, as well as a multi-story interactive center.
The history of the Hector is quite fascinating. In 1700s Scotland, life was not looking good for tenant farmers. Land owners were raising rates and Scottish clans ended up losing to the British in the bloody Battle of Culloden.
With the promise of land in the New World, 189 people boarded the Hector for an arduous journey to Pictou. In spite of disease (smallpox), crowded conditions and many other hardships, the Scots landed in this area and slowly established themselves in Nova Scotia. Today, you can tour their museum and the Hector to get a glimpse into a long lost world.
Next, walk to the Northumberland Fisheries Museum & Hatchery 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, stroll 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.
The Belt family decided to try their hand at growing this crop against the inhospitable conditions of northern Nova Scotia. Despite losing up to 30% of their crop each year, they have been successfully providing tours, growing many different species of lavender and creating a variety of products made from the plant’s essential oil. During certain festivals, you can sample some of their lavender lemonade and vanilla ice cream topped with simple lavender syrup.
Along the way to your final stop, hit Rushton’s Beach to frolic in the surf and enjoy the beautiful sunshine and warm water.
If you love finding hidden attractions and unusual accommodations, you will be delighted by the lodgings, converted railroad cars, at Jimmy and Shelley LeFresne’s Tatamagouche Train Station Inn. Jimmy’s dream was to one day own a train station, and his wish came true in 1989 when he officially opened with nine converted railroad cars, including a dining car, gift shop and restaurant. The rooms are equipped with seating areas, bath and showers, televisions, and all the charm and ambiance of a bygone era.
Tatamagouche to Wallace
Before you depart the Train Station Inn, have breakfast in what was formerly the men’s waiting area. Back in the day, the two sexes were divided owing to the fact that men liked to smoke and use spittoons and coarse language. In fact, certain train conductors, specially trained in how to properly speak to women, wore buttons to let the fairer sex know that these were the best people to ask for assistance.
As you wind your way along the Northumberland Coast, your next stop should be Jost Vineyards in Malagash. Here, you can tour the vineyards and sample the many varieties of Jost’s award-winning wine. Don’t forget to try their Tidal Bay—one of their best-selling white wines.
Enjoy the pastoral landscapes and photos ops on your way to the five-star Fox Harbor Golf Resort and Spa (one of five in Canada). Set on hundreds of pristine acres by the ocean, the resort offers championship golf, tennis, skeet shooting, spa services, an indoor pool, and suites that look and feel more like upscale individual homes with all the amenities.
As you would expect from a luxury resort, the food is sublime with daily offerings of fresh fish, steak, lamb, and pasta. Enjoy a cocktail or some fine wine to accompany dinner as you watch the crimson sun blink below the ocean for the end to a perfect day.
Wallace to Halifax
Today, you will be traversing the shoreline where, on a clear day, you can see Prince Edward Island (PEI). Stop at Pugwash Disc Golf’s wooded course for a round of disc golf, a game that uses a hand thrown disc where the goal is flinging the disc into baskets. The fewest total tosses (strokes) wins. This can be enjoyed by people of all ages and you are never subject to a bad tee time.
Backtrack a bit to Hwy 307, south toward Masstown, but plan to stop at some of the roadside food stands along the way. Creative entrepreneurs have repurposed old boats and school buses, turning them into eclectic eateries selling everything from fish and chips to fried clams to ice cream. The pink school bus with cats festooning the exterior typically offers a variety of ice cream, including the hard to say but delicious Kejimkujik Campfire S’mores.
The Masstown Market is a local favorite where you can buy home-made foods, meats, baked goods, and, of course, fresh fish. Make sure you head over to the lighthouse and order some of their fish and chips. These aren’t stingy portions but full-sized fish slabs with a heavy battered tasty and crunchy crust. The coleslaw and homemade tartar sauce are also quite good.
Enjoy the drive back to Halifax for the end of your intrepid road trip with your final meal of the trip at the historic Five Fisherman restaurant. This was originally home to the first school in Canada but is most remembered for being the private home of the Snow family, which served as a makeshift morgue for the victims of the Titanic disaster.
Along your joy riding route not only will you find great attractions, accommodations and food but you’ll also discover the true warmth and hospitality of the Nova Scotian people. This combination will make any road trip one worthy of remembrance.
Best Culinary Discovery- Waterfront Fries, Pictou
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 are likely to find anywhere.
Most Unexpected Surprise – Train Station Inn, Tatamagouche
This is probably one of the most unique country inns you are likely to encounter. The Train Station Inn in Tatamagouche was built circa 1887 and the last freight train came through in 1986. Seventeen year-old James LeFresne then purchased the property and proceeded to lovingly and painstakingly convert it into a country inn. All of the cars and cabooses have been uniquely converted to sleeping quarters and have just about every convenience. The food in the dining car is also wonderful with the lobster pie getting the top billing among would be passengers.
Most Unusual Experience- Skeet shooting at Fox Harbor Resort and Spa
If you have never tried skeet shooting clay targets, this is something you have to experience at least once. This is sort of like a penny arcade, only much more fun. As you say, “Pull,” the range master releases a clay target, and as it hangs in the air, you blast it (hopefully) into oblivion. As you gain more confidence, you can try your hand at shooting two at a time. Either way, it will be a hoot.
FTC Disclosure: Promotional considerations and sponsorship were supplied by the providers in this story.
Where to stay:
The Westin Nova Scotian
Antigonish Victorian Inn
Tatamagouche Train Station Inn
Pictou Lodge Resort
Pugwash Disc Golf