Wine, cheese, extraordinary preserves, a garden estate, a great cup of coffee and three tourist stops you won’t want to miss. Explore Wolfville, Nova Scotia as only an insider can, with a little Foodie Tour!
Being an innkeeper in rural Nova Scotia was perhaps one of the most interesting twists of my colourful career. One of my favorite parts of the job was chatting with guests over coffee as they would ask for tips on their planned itinerary. Switching hats I played tour guide as well as real estate agent, as many would come to visit and fall in love with all that these shores have to offer.
The most common mistake I found many visitors guilty of was the “WE MUST SEE IT ALL!” itinerary; a vain attempt to see the entire province in 10 days. Don’t get me wrong, it can be done, but trust me when I say “Nova Scotia is bigger than you think”. it looks small but roads can be winding and slow, heaven forbid you wind up behind a tractor pulling a load of hay because that could last for miles (think of it as ‘local colour’). It will always take you longer to get there than you think, so I’m an advocate of ‘stay and explore’ holidays that focus on seeing less, but experiencing more.
Nova Scotia has a flavour all it’s own, rich with history and filled with what my grandmother called ‘good, plain folk’. Real people, genuine smiles and a lack of the busy-ness we’ve come to accept as daily life in a more urban environment. A recent trip to the South Shore to celebrate a family function returned me to the salt and sea and a place I love so well. While many things have changed in the four years since I left (hail be to all that’s holy Nova Scotia, you paved the roads!), many remain the same.
This ‘Foodie Tour’ is a day-trip I sent many a guest on as years went by, guided by my home printed map & directions. It highlights businesses I admire, artisans with passion and flare, two very diverse wineries, a cheese house, two primo photo ops and a historic site, all in a daylong journey along Nova Scotia’s Evangeline Trail through Grand Pré, Wolfville, Port Williams & Blomidon.
Should you find yourself on the shores of the Minus Basin, take the time to TASTE Nova Scotia.
Note: The directions for this tour are oriented from Halifax, but it can also be explored from bottom to top if you were coming from deeper in the Annapolis Valley (like the charming Annapolis Royal where I lived as the owner of the Dragonfly Inn for all too brief a time) simply Hyway 101 (Harvest Hyway) east, towards Halifax, and take Exit 11, then pick up this tour at #6 – Fox Hill Cheese and on ward to the next few stops, then backtrack to Wolfville and have a merry day making your way to Halifax.
Craving a great brew? Let’s get you going. Just Us Coffee Roasters is a local co-op focused on fair-trade, organic coffee, teas and now chocolate and sugar. At this location you can explore their roastery, museum and chocolate workshop. Pick up an artisan bean or two, have yourself a flat white and a little treat to get ready for a busy day.
This is one of those great business success stories of people who thought “we should do something” when they uncovered for themselves the social and economic imbalance in their morning java. So in 1995 they did something and now they’re still doing it, and bigger and better than ever. Theirs is a great story, well told on their website and one I look forward to detailing next time I’m on these shores for a longer stay. I highly endorse what they do, how they do it and — their coffee.
Directions (from Halifax): take Hyway 101 West, to the Annapolis Valley, Exit 10 to Wolfville & Grand Pre to Hyway 1 (Route 1), the shop is on your right hand side.
Address: 11865 Highway 1, Grand Pre, Nova Scotia, Canada
Tangled Garden is my number one foodie stop in this region of Nova Scotia, full stop. This high praise is well earned after countless encounters over many years. Makers of fine preserves, flavoured vinegars and condiments, their product line is nothing short of gourmet. Featured in the spring, 2014 in Martha Stewart Magazine, they still make their jams, jellies and savory salsas and tasty bits in the artisan style; small batched, superbly handled, featuring estate grown herbs from their kitchen garden.
One of my personal favorites from their shelves is the Pepper Herb Jelly, which I would regularly request from guests making this trek. Much to their delight I would then feature it at breakfast the next morning in my Chili Cheese Cornbread Muffins (one of the first recipes I posted on Food Gypsy). Ripe & sweet, with a hint of heat and it makes an amazing taste compliment to sweet, fresh corn & cream cheese.
As spectacular as their products, is the Tangled Garden itself. Open to visitors daily (10AM – 6PM) with a classical seven circuit that crosses water features, clover fields, vegetable garden, arbors and a wildflower labyrinth, this is a reprieve of beauty for any garden lover. This garden was, in my time in the Annapolis Valley, a regular source of inspiration for my own. Every visit I would marvel at some new feature or discovery. Please honor their suggested visitors fee ($3 at last visit) which helps with upkeep and development, with that you’re free to roam, contemplate and breathe deeply the scent of this, Tangled Garden.
Directions: Return to Hyway 1 and turn right for about 200 meters, or just walk across the parking lot from Just Us Coffee.
Address: 11827 Highway 1, Grand Pré, Nova Scotia, Canada
A slice of Canadian history, this site commemorates Grand-Pré area as a centre of Acadian (French) settlement from 1682 to 1755 and the Deportation of the Acadians (1755-1762). In addition to educational displays on Acadian life, you’ll find the picturesque Memorial Church and a statue of Evangeline, the heartbroken heroine of Longfellow’s epic poem; Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie.
(Grand Pré photo credit – www.pedalsandadventures.com)
A glimpse into the history of Nova Scotia and its peoples and the beginnings of tale of French vs. English that still plays out in our country’s politics today. When they left these shores the French Acadians traveled south to the Bayou and became what we know as Cajun, and if that’s part of your heritage this is a must see and well worth the stop.
Directions: Follow Hyway 1 in a westerly direction for about half a kilometre, then turn right at Grand-Pre Road, and continue for another kilometre, your destination will be on your left.
Address: 2205 Grand-Pré Road, Grand Pre, Nova Scotia Canada
The first of our two vineyard stops on this tour, Grand Pré is world class and award winning , welcoming more than 25,000 visitors in a year. Before you turn up your nose at Nova Scotia wine let me put you wise to a little secret, Nova Scotia produces some very good wines. Most of them never leave the vineyard and I’ll tell you why; the cost of distribution and marketing is so high it’s often in the winemakers favor to sell direct to the consumer on site. Many of my favorite Nova Scotia wines will never be found out of province or even off property (which is why a stop and sample tour is so important). Now on line shopping has opened up a whole world of wine exploration for the daring.
Try: Grand Pré’s Reserve Foch, Reserve Riesling, Cabernet Foch and their Muscat (muscat does very well in this region) and be sure to try an ice wine or two. If you’re getting a bit peckish, Le Caveau Restaurant is a treat for those who love a good wine and food pairing. Each dish is custom tuned to compliment a certain vintage, or sometimes two. They really know their wines, and the kitchen is exceptionally well run with an eye towards local, local, local. This is one of my favorite stops for lunch, off hours, as Grand Pré can be busy with bus tours so I would often stop early or late for a bite.
Directions: Return to Hyway 1, turn right for about 300 or so meters and turn right, following the signs to visitor parking.
Address: 11611 Highway 1, Grand Pré, Nova Scotia Canada
Turn right out of Dormaine de Grand Pré and continue along Hyway 1 and you’ll find yourself in the lovely collegiate town of Wolfville Nova Scotia. Home to Acadia University, it has a thriving arts scene and well established core of business. Park the rental and take a stroll to experience the historic beauty of the well maintained campus and wander in and out of local shops and art galleries.
(Acadia University photo credit: Killiam Photography)
Bevvies: Just in case you missed it, you can catch a coffee at one of Just Us Coffee Roasters retail locations in the centre of town (450 Main Street) or grab a cold one at one of the bustling down down pubs Patty’s Brewpub & Rosie’s Restaurant (460 Main Street) or The Library Pub & Wine Merchant (472 Main Street). Of the two, if you have kids in tow Patty’s Pub would be my choice, a kid’s menu and a few crayons our picky eater was most delighted. If you’re in the mood for the party, head to The Library and settle in. (“No Mom, I’m not drinking, I’m at The Library!” Wink, wink.)
Dining: If you are looking for a fine dining experience try Front & Central (117 Front Street). The former location of The Tempest, a Wolfville staple for many years, Front & Central is now lead by engineer turn Chef Dave Smart and is delivering what many consider some of the area’s finest cuisine in a slick, modern environment. One of my favorite venues, Acton’s, is now the Privet House (406 Main Street). Now hosted by longtime industry professionals Liisa Sellors and Chef Jamie Smye (formerly of Madison’s Grill in Steady Brook,NL) their menu focuses on contemporary Canadian cuisine in a stylish, but relaxed atmosphere and a stellar wine list (we checked).
Accommodation: Living so close for many years I’ve never taken the opportunity to enjoy Wolfville’s many fine inns and lodging, but many past guests and friends have, and these remain their top three recommends: The Blomidon Inn (195 Main Street), The Tattingstone Inn (620 Main Street) and Victoria’s Historic Inn (600 Main Street). Each one of these character driven inns has a solid reputation for service and cleanliness, but don’t expect to drive up to their door and have a room for the night. They book well in advance, so be sure to call and see what’s available if you’re planning to spend the night.
Insider’s note: If you’re traveling Nova Scotia a tremendous resource to assist with your accommodation arrangements is the Travel Nova Scotia website: www.novascotia.com. Many operators (including myself as a busy innkeeper) will list their property and it’s availability with Travel Nova Scotia which allows you to make one call and book much of your travel arrangements, to suit your needs. Perhaps you need a room that’s wheelchair or pet friendly, maybe you’re traveling with extended family and want to book a seaside cottage, or you prefer not to be pestered by this whole B&B thing and want the anonymity of a hotel/motel. Their local agents can provide you with options, availability and directions. Personally, I always preferred to speak to my guests one-on-one, but if time is a factor for you they can be a big help in planning your Nova Scotia vacation. It’s bigger than you think! Toll free: 1-800-565-0000.
Amenities: NSLC (Nova Scotia Liquor Control I.e: Liquor Store) – 122 Front Street. Groceries: Save Easy – 396 Main Street. High end groceries: Pete’s – 360 Main Street.
Events: A couple of my favourite events in the Wolfville area worth mentioning are the weekly Farmer’s Market (24 Elm Avenue) held on Wednesdays from 4 – 7PM (May – December) and Saturdays from 8:30 – 1PM (year round). Pick up local honey, artisan breads, crafts and trinkets as well as some great original artwork, all under one roof. If you’re considering the off season, the Pumpkin Festival is a great deal of fun for the kids. It’s pumpkin-tastic!
Lover of music that I am, I have an intimate fondness for Wolfville’s Deep Roots Music Festival. Held annually on the last weekend in September, Deep Roots features talent (much of which is Canadian) across several genres; roots, blues, folk, celtic, bluegrass and swing. The bonus is, depending on the show you choose, you may well get the chance to experience some of Acadia University’s grand halls, which are worth the price of admission alone.
For a true “Gout de Terroire” (French for “Taste of the Land”), make the stop at Fox Hill Cheesehouse. The salty marsh of the Wellington Dyke and rich land surrounding Fox Hill Farm results in a uniquely flavoured feed for their small herd. The resulting taste and composition are apparent in an array of quality cheeses, yogurt, gelato and non-homogenized milk products available at their chateau inspired cheesehouse.
Feta, cheddar, gouda and flavoured havarti; Fox Hill makes marvelous cheese. While the kids indulge in creamy gelatos, my best recommendation is their varieties of fresh Quark. Quark is a European version of cream cheese, but with a tangier, more robust taste. They often have several varieties to sample and it makes a great accompaniment for a good bottle of Nova Scotia wine.
Directions: Take Hyway 1 (Main Street) through Wolfville, for about 3 kilometers, turn right on Route 358 North and follow it through the village of Port Williams. Turn right onto Church Street and follow it to Fox Hill Cheese House on the right.
Address: 1678 Church St, Port Williams, Nova Scotia Canada
Our second wine stop on this tour, Blomidon Estates is a boutique winery worth going out of the way for. A small shop and an equally tight offering of wines, this can be a one of those stops that wows you. I say ‘can’ because taste is subjective, what I adore might not be your cup of tea (or wine), but after sending flocks of clients over many years I feel confident you’ll find something at Blomidon to suit your tastes.
Building wines from 100% Nova Scotia grapes, Blomidon Estates has been one of my hot, relativity undiscovered, picks in Nova Scotia’s emerging wine market for years, and they’re now seeing solid action on the international wine awards scene.
Try: The Baco Noir, a great grape for this climate I think you’ll find it smooth and structured, while their rosé is among my favorite seafood pairings. Perhaps it’s the blend of L’Acadie Blanc, New York Muscat, and Leon Millot or maybe it’s the seaside location of the grapes themselves, but it gives great height to Digby scallops or Bay of Fundy lobster. Knowledgeable, friendly staff are also familiar with local fare and would be more than happy to suggest a pairing for that Fox Hill Cheese you just picked up.
Directions: Return to Route 358 North and follow it to a “T” intersection, bearing right, travel through the town Canning. Follow Route 221 North, for about 3 kilometres to the town of Habitant and follow the signs, the winery is on the right.
Address: 10318 Highway 221 Habitant, Nova Scotia
You’re all fed and watered now, time for a long walk on the beach in the distinctive red mud of the valley. Hey, you need your photo ops, you need your “Hey Facebook peeps, I’m on a beach in Nova Scotia!” photos and this is a great place for exactly that. When the tide is out, the shallow mud flats offer miles of red muck to squish between your toes. Perfect for a soak in the sun on the sand, a long walk with the canine, or a sprint with the kids after a day spent in the car.
In the tourist season there is a little snack-shack on the wharf selling hot dogs, pop, candy bars & chips and a public toilet. Must have: camera & sunscreen.
Directions: Turning right out of Blomidon Estates, return to Route 221 North, for about 2 kilometres to Kingsport, and follow the signs to the beach on your right.
On a clear day, you can see five counties from the top of North Mountain overlooking the Minus Basin. Stretched out in front of you is a checkerboard of farms, gardens and sun dappled forests that make up Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley.
If the ice cream Gods are with you, the little kiosk will be open. Now, pose and snap away. It’s the perfect way to end your day, before making your way back down the mountain to to your next stop along the way. (My vote: nap.)
Directions: From Kingsport return to Route 221 North, for about 5 kilometres to Canning to a four way intersection and take a right on to Route 358 (AKA: Gospel Wood Road), and follow the “Look Off” signs, you’ll find a small loop parking lot on your right.
In closing, one final foodie tip: While traveling in Nova Scotia, if you see a sign that reads “Church Dinner” or other variations such as: “Strawberry Supper”, “Ham Dinner”, “Turkey Dinner” or “Chicken BBQ” and you happen to be in the right place at the right time… just do it.
Remember all those good plain folk I told you about? Well, they’re cookin’ dinner right down to the peas & carrots! (No, really.) Unless you have friends or family in Nova Scotia, this is as close as you’ll get to a home cooked meal (for a shockingly low price) and they’d be pleased as punch to have you. Mable is determined to out do Madge and that upstart Betty in the annual baking of the pies, so whatever you do, don’t skip dessert. It’s the real deal.