By: Sarah Jaquay
“What are all these ‘Céad Míle Fáilte’ signs?” my husband asked as we neared Antigonish on Nova Scotia’s northeastern shore. It means “a hundred thousand welcomes” in Gaelic. That’s an apt expression of Maritime hospitality from this college town nestled in a nook of St. George’s Bay. My husband had meetings at St. Francis Xavier University’s (“Saint FX’s”) Coady International Institute, a renowned center for community-based development and leadership education. I tagged along because I’d read about crisp, acidic whites Nova Scotia wineries are producing on this fertile peninsula surrounded by the Bay of Fundy, the Atlantic and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick are commonly referred to as Canada’s Maritime Provinces. Although we dashed through New Brunswick, we spent time in Antigonish, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island – famous for its mussels and reddish-white sand beaches.
Nova Scotia’s wine landscape is developing rapidly. Its short summers and harsh winters make growing viniferas challenging. In the past decade, however, entrepreneurs have experimented successfully with heartier varietals of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gamay. Visiting wine buffs will also taste unusual varieties including L’Acadie, Léon Millot and Baco Noir.
The big news, however, is Tidal Bay – the appellation designated for Nova Scotia whites. Launched in 2012, Tidal Bay wines are blends of approved varieties (including (L’Acadie, Seyval Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Geisenheim cultivars and more) that pair well with seafood. Although the wines may be blends, the grapes must be 100 percent Nova Scotia-grown and reflect its distinctive taste profile: fresh green fruit, vibrant acidity and the minerality that’s so characteristic of the soil.
Oenophiles will want to explore the Wolfville area in the Annapolis Valley. Situated between two mountain ranges along the Bay of Fundy, it’s Nova Scotia’s wine-growing capital. Wolfville boasts destination wineries such as Domaine de Grand Pré, Luckett Vineyards and Gaspereau Vineyards, known for their Rieslings.
Grand Pré offers an intimate courtyard setting with cozy grape arbors. Guests may stroll through the vineyards to an overlook with sweeping vistas of the land of Grand Pré: a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was the center of Acadian settlement after their expulsion from British Canada in 1755. The winery offers daily tours and tastings and Le Caveau, their fine dining venue, serves sumptuous lunches and dinners.
We were delighted to discover St. FX’s influence (particularly the Coady Institute’s international draw) causes tiny Antigonish to punch above its culinary weight. When Rose Murphy opened the community-supported Townhouse Brewpub & Eatery, she gave the town a place to savor Maritime dishes, beer, wine and live music, partly financed by pre-paid memberships to her “SUDS Club.” Members helped Murphy launch her restaurant with small loans, repaid over time with meals. The menu features grilled oysters from Mabou and famous Digby scallops, but Townhouse’s red chowder made with tomato, tarragon, haddock, scallops and topped with cream & arugula oil is noteworthy, too. (That probably explains why Townhouse is listed on Nova Scotia’s Chowder Trail, a trail that features 61 chowders throughout the province.) Their wine list includes selections from Jost (Nova Scotia’s largest winery), but since Townhouse brews its own cask-conditioned bitter ale, I sampled Terry’s Best Bitters—a perfect foil for the rich red chowder.
Locavores and wine lovers congregate at Gabrieau’s Bistro on Main Street. Culinary Institute of America-trained Chef Mark Gabrieau and his wife Karen have earned accolades for their menu, extensive wine list (which includes some 30 Nova Scotia selections in the summer) and their commitment to community. Local flavors shine through in their Nova Scotian braised lamb shank and Atlantic seafood vindaloo.
Just a short ferry ride from northern Nova Scotia is Prince Edward Island (PEI), Canada’s smallest province, known worldwide for its succulent mussels. We ferried to the island, then drove to PEI’s capital, Charlottetown. Another draw is PEI National Park, site of the Green Gables House – the magical setting for the children’s classic, Anne of Green Gables. Young readers the world over are captivated by author Lucy Maude Montgomery’s outspoken orphan. A pilgrimage to the House (once Montgomery’s grandparents’ farm) is nostalgic platinum for Anne fans, or for anyone with a vivid imagination.
Literary quests require fuel so we stocked up on PEI’s celebrated mussels. The knowledgeable concierge at The Great George Hotel sent us to The Water-Prince Corner Shop and Lobster Pound. It’s always bustling and customers queue up in long lines for a table, or to pick up live lobsters. Their Island blue mussels in white wine, carrots and celery are divine. Island hand-cut frites are another delicacy, and I completed my Belgian-style trilogy with PEI Brewing Company’s Beach Chair lager – a refreshing accompaniment to my mussels.
By the end of the week we still didn’t read Gaelic, but we were sated and relaxed – a common condition in Canada’s welcoming Maritimes.
If you go
For places mentioned in this story, see:
www.sites.stfx.ca/conference_services/planning/accommodations (St. Francis Xavier University’s immaculate conference facilities offer well-located Antigonish accommodations)