I just returned from 5 glorious days along the Eastern coast of Canada, Nova Scotia to be exact. But you might already know this. In those days I visited Halifax, Dartmouth, the Annapolis Valley, Sambro, Ketch Harbor, Wolfville, and many points inbetween as part Canada’s Explore Like A Local campaign. In fact, I was one of the lucky three selected to hit the ground running and well, explore the area just like a local. And that I did! We ate, sipped, snacked and devoured the best Nova Scotia has to offer, and while I could easily spend an hour talking about the food, how about I just jump right into my Top Ten Halifax moments for you? It’s that good.
Look, this is a beer-drinkin’ part of the world and Haligonians love their beer. Love. Their. Beer. That doesn’t mean you can’t find some amazing cocktails at places like Nectar and The Bicycle Thief, because you can. But if you’re looking for a pint of local beer enjoyed in great company then you’ve come to the right place. I fully embraced my IBL (Inner Beer Lover) and I’m sure Benjamin Armendariz will be very very proud of me.
9. A Drive. Anywhere.
Never have I been so non-specific! But really, it’s hard not to tell you to get in a car and drive somewhere, anywhere, in this beautiful part of the world. Idyllic views, beautiful waterways, rugged coastlines and crisp air beg to be explored (as long as you can tear yourself away from #10 above). Give yourself plenty of time and get out and explore Nova Scotia like I did. You won’t regret it.
8. Blomidon Inn
I swore I stood in my room at the Blomidon Inn just waiting for someone to come in and dress me before walking down a grand staircase for dinner. It never happened, but that’s ok; this turn-of-the-century mansion enthralled me in so many other ways. While I don’t always throw out words like quaint and old-fashioned without a snicker, there will be no joking about this glorious hotel. It’s easy to go back in time here, especially with the afternoon tea served in one of the hotel’s magnificent front rooms.
7. Foxhill Cheese
I was lucky enough to spend time with Jeanita Rand, the owner of Foxhill Cheese House who, along with her husband and family, run this amazing micro-cheesemaking business on a sixth-generation farm in Port Williams. While you’ll taste some of the most delicious fresh quark and yogurt made from the milk of their own cows out back, it’s almost easy to be awestruck when you hear the family motto: “Quality, Service, Education”. The dedication to their customers and the pure hard work they put into cheesemaking make you realize how special this place is. Oh, and another thing: there’s not enough space on the internet to tell you the lengths they went through to bring glass bottle milk to their customers. If only every business thought of their customers half as much as Foxhill Cheese.
First, you’ll need to read this article written by my friend Simon Thibault in The Globe And Mail. Read it now. Ok. Done? Now let me tell you why I love it, as summed up by Mr. Thibault himself: “Best eaten late at night and on the street, it is a sweet and savoury, tasty and messy snack for meat lovers.” Yes, it sure is. You can’t visit this part of Canada without trying a donair, and it’s exponentially better when enjoyed with friends after barhopping. While I admit it took me a while to get used to the sweet donair sauce on top of what seems to be a doner kebab, I can see the appeal. There’s simply nothing else like it. But since I’m all about discovery and trying new things, I wasn’t about to pass up the Donair Pizza, either. I actually loved it more, imagine that! One day I’ll return to try Donair Poutine. Who knew?
5. Fid Resto, Specifically This Blood Pudding.
We stopped by Fid Resto for lunch, where I discovered heaven in a bowl: warm smoked haddock sitting on top of a potato and spinach mash that’s been topped by a poached egg. That’s right folks: eggy, mashy, smoked fishy. Three things I adore all put together. Needless to say I felt right at home with Chef Dennis Johnston’s local creation. After snapping a few photos, he began to tell us about a special dinner he was doing that involved his own housemade blood pudding, and as luck would have it a small plate appeared on the table at the end of our meal. I’m going to tell you this right now: a piece of blood pudding (or sausage as we Americans call it) on top of creamy smooth mashed potatoes with cooked apples instantly became the highlight of the day. And before you get all squirmy squeamish on me (ewwww blood!!!!) I want to tell you that you’d most likely enjoy every savory bite of it, too. You would.
4. Tibs Family Dinner
You don’t really know how lucky I was to snag an invite to the Tibs Family Dinner Pop-Up at Dartmouth’s favorite local coffee shop called Two If By Sea. These regular dinners focus on a seasonal ingredient or theme, and with asparagus season upon us we enjoyed tempura, risotto, a savory cappuccino and a beet salad that rocked my world. It was great to see a community come together for a meal and was a fantastic way to really explore Halifax like a local.
3. A Stroll Through The Halifax Public Gardens
Sunshine and gorgeous views made for a wonderful way to spend an afternoon at the Halifax Public Gardens. Created in 1875, these Victorian gardens cover 16 acres through a series of walkways, bridges and paths and feature a bandstand in the middle of the park. Strolling through the park and admiring the beautiful plants and trees make for a perfect city experience.
2. Digby Scallops
I get pretty excited when I experience something that I feel is the absolute best: salmon from the Copper River in Alaska, Ig Vella’s Dry Jack from my adopted homestate of California, and tart cherries from Traverse City, Michigan. Now add Digby Scallops to this list as I’ve never had a more perfect example: tender, fresh, flavorful, sweet but not too sweet, and just right. Of course I must give credit to the chefs who prepared them perfectly at both Chives restaurant in downtown Halifax and Le Caveau restaurant inside the Domaine De Grande Pré winery. This dish in the photo featured then crusted and pan-seared served on top of housemade kimchi. Um, hello? How do you say perfection?
1. The People Of Nova Scotia
I saved the best for last here, with good reason. I talked about Nova Scotia being “nice” in my earlier post, but I’m pretty sure I’m still not getting it across here. You see, I really do believe that people are good and nice; I spend enough time traveling the globe to know that mankind is generally, well, kind. But Nova Scotia? Oh you people, you do something different. You take friendliness to a whole ‘nuther level, in a way that takes this citydweller by surprise. Off guard, even. All you need to do is strike up a conversation with a shopkeeper, with someone at the table next to you, at a bar, on the street…just about anywhere and you’ll see what I mean. Gracious, friendly, warm, welcoming. And if your town has a deficit in the Manners Department, we can all look to the entire province of Nova Scotia, Canada for having it in spades. It’s just the way they are.
Psst. There are two things missing from this list. Two things that needed their own posts, two places that I’m still dreaming about now that I’m home. Check back in a few days to see what they are.
Disclosure: As part of the Explore Like A Local Campaign, I am working with the Canadian Tourism Commission and all opinions and viewpoints are my own. Travel expenses have been covered by the CTC.