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Tranquil bays and pretty towns on south shore of Nova Scotia

 

The pretty village of Chester, Nova Scotia.

Jim Byers

The pretty village of Chester, Nova Scotia.

NOVA SCOTIA – Drives in Cape Breton get most of the international attention. And deservedly so, with those plummeting cliffs and the ocean views and pretty villages.

The drive from Halifax to the South Shore of Nova Scotia isn’t as dramatic as Cape Breton. But it’s drop dead gorgeous, and so easy. Whereas Cape Breton is several hours from Halifax and the Cabot Trail another hour beyond, the scenic route from Halifax to Lunenburg takes only an hour or two, depending on how much time you take gawking and snapping photos and shopping and stopping for snacks at cozy cafes along the way.

I took my Dad and a friend of his the other day. They’d been to Peggy’s Cove but never down to the South Shore, and they absolutely loved it.

We pulled off the main highway that runs from Halifax to Yarmouth and drove towards the coastal town of Chester. We got to the water and turned left and drove along Nauss Point Rd., then pulled over to take some photos of the stunningly pretty bay, with its deep grey-blue water and small piers dotted with yellow Muskoka chairs. (In the Maritimes they seem to call them Adirondack chairs, not Muskoka chairs. As an Ontario guy with a great love for Muskoka, I am offended J ). We spotted a pretty, green bench on a small bit of land along the bay and, for some reason, decided to sit down for a photo.

No sooner had we got up from the bench then a lady of a certain age came bounding across the road. I thought maybe we were going to get heck for it. But I forgot I was in the Maritimes, which means that she only wanted to see what we thought and who we were and to chat about her lovely yellow home with its giant windows looking out on this winsome bay.

“You just christened my bench,” she said. “I just got it and you’re the first people to sit on it.”

She was quite delightful, and it might have been the highlight of our day. She gave us directions that I mostly understood, so we drove back to the v-intersection and then headed south on Water St., passing the famous Rope Loft café where my wife and I took our kids some 15 years ago and then driving past more immaculate, clapboard homes painted white and grey and blue and yellow, with deep green lanws and perky yellow daffodils and small boats bobbing in those impossibly pretty bays.

It’s the sort of drive that conjures up images of retirement and a good book on the porch on a fine summer’s day with a cup of coffee or a lemonade or a gin and tonic.

Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia.

Jim Byers

Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia.

We drove over a pretty stone bridge and past a couple memorials to colourful locals before heading into Mahone Bay. I’d remembered from a previous visit that the best view of the town’s famous Three Churches is from across the bay on Oakland Rd., which seemed fitting as Oakland is my Dad’s hometown.

We got some nice photos and then drove through town. I’d stopped before and found a nice tea shop and some cute stores, but we stayed in the car this time and admired things from inside on a clear but brisk day. The main town of Mahone Bay is a bit on the kitschy side, perhaps, but it’s still a lovely summer town that feels a bit like Bala or Port Carling. We spotted some young skateboarders with helmets as bright as the colours of the buildings and admired the water views and then drove into Lunenburg.

Actually, I took them first to the small fishing village of Blue Rocks; one of those quintessential spots in Nova Scotia with a tiny harbour protected by a rock wall and old-time wooden fishing shacks and lobster traps that look like they were deliberately put there for tourists to take photos. In fact, it’s a working port. But it looks almost too good to be true, and it’s surrounded by more beautiful homes. There’s a sea kayaking spot at the end of the road in a harbour area filled with large, flat rocks and shallow water and pretty islands. I’d love to go back and spend a couple hours in a kayak sometime.

The fishing village of Blue Rocks, near Lunenburg.

Jim Byers

The fishing village of Blue Rocks, near Lunenburg.

My family loves chowder so I wanted to take everyone to the Salt Shaker Deli for lunch. It was a huge hit, with a chowder that’s thick with fresh seafood (including smoked haddock for a lovely layer of flavour). We had some great bread and a few Propeller beers from Halifax to go with it and enjoyed the bright atmosphere and cool, Italian posters on the walls. I don’t know if they still have it, but I had a killer plate of pasta here a couple years ago with scallops and pancetta.

In the past I’ve written about the fun horse-drawn carriage tours you can take and the Ironworks Distillery and the fun fisheries museum in town. And also about the restoration of the Bluenose II, which is still being worked on. This time, we satisfied ourselves with some shopping and an ice cream in the sun before checking into the handsome and friendly Lunenburg Arms hotel.

The town of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. You'll great views from the golf course across the bay from town.

Jim Byers

The town of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. You’ll great views from the golf course across the bay from town.

It’s a fine spot with nice furnishings and wood floors and nice bathrooms. There’s also free Wi-Fi and breakfast, and many of the rooms look out onto the harbour. I highly recommend it as a terrific and centrally located place to stay in a fine town filled with brightly coloured buildings, good restaurants and fun shops. The whole town is a UNESCO world heritage site, and someone has put up a sign near some of the colourful buildings that proclaim the area the “UNESCO FRESCO.”

Cute.

Dinner was pretty good but a tad short of great at the Grand Bankers Pub. In retrospect, I should’ve had us go there for lunch and saved Salt Shaker for dinner, or maybe the sister restaurant to Salt Shaker, the pretty and wonderful Fleur de Sel. Still, our server was eager and it’s not a bad spot for simple food. The fish cakes were bland but I had a pretty good steak sandwich at a fair price and the grilled cheese got good reviews.

It’s only an hour from Lunenburg back to Halifax if you take the main highway, and only an hour and 15 minutes or so to the Halifax Airport. So there’s no reason not to make the trip the next time you’re in Nova Scotia.

For more information, go to www.novascotia.com

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