Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley is a 93-mile-long Canadian valley. It runs along the Minas Basin, an estuary that is separated from the body of the Bay of Fundy by the mountainous Cape Blomidon.
Its geology and microclimate makes it Nova Scotia’s most productive agricultural regions. It is especially suited to growing fruit from the 17th century.
Explore some of the highlights of Annappolis Valley highlights with us.
The Largest Tidal Variations in the World
The Minas Basin is the site of some of the largest tidal variations (up to 12 meters between low and high tides) in the world. This creates a surge so powerful that within a single 12.5 hour tidal cycle, more water is forced into and out of the bay than by all the world’s rivers and streams combined. For a more in-depth discussion on tidal flows, see our separate blog on “Experiencing Bay of Fundy Tides”. It is a sight to behold.
With one of the largest scallop fishing fleets in the world, it is no wonder that Digby is known for them, It is also one of the primary destinations of American Loyalists who fled America during and after the Revolution. While the city’s sights are generally limited to Fisherman’s Wharf, its tidal variations and its Old Loyalists Graveyard, the surrounding coastline, particularly along Digby Neck (a sliver of land between Saint Mary’s Bay and the Bay of Fundy) and south along coastal Route 1, are some of the most scenic in the province.
While we found some pretty views down Digby Neck, it wasn’t even close to being worth the time required to drive there. Perhaps we took the wrong roads or didn’t drive far enough. But whatever the reason, we do not share the enthusiasm of the guide books.
Annapolis Royal was founded as a French Fort (Forte Anne) about 1630. The British captured and expanded it. And for a short while, it even served as the capital of Nova Scotia.
Both the French and the British, however, were plagued by fear of invasion from each other as well as from the Mi’Kmaq people who were being displaced from their lands. Adding to their problems, both had limited European supplies and reinforcements. And both had issues with the shifting, situational relationships with both the native clans and the French Acadian farmers–both of whom proved adept in cooperating with whichever side of the French/British rivalry that was in command of the fort and the western side of the island. That, however, was until war broke out between the French and British in Europe and Nova Scotia’s British governor expelled the Acadian settlers (many of whom ended up in southern Louisiana).
Although tiny (about 500 people), Annapolis Royal has a number of historic sites.
St. George Street
St. George Street, and especially Lower St. George, has numerous renovated, historic (from 1784) buildings, views and small, historic museums.
A 45 minute walk takes you on the French Basin Trail through Ducks Unlimited wetlands and the Annapolis River boardwalk.
for its surviving ramparts, bastions and storage buildings and its reconstructed officers’ quarters. These quarters now include a museum with an interesting, although overly long and repetitive recitation of the region’s complex, ever-changing political and social power structures among the local Mi’ kmoq people, the private French Acadian settlers and the French and British militaries. A four-panel Heritage Tapestry, meanwhile, visually portrays the 400-year history of the region;
Port-Royal was once the capital of Acadia. Today its has a National Historic Site with an amazing reconstruction of the 1605 French settlement that Champlain founded as Canada’s first European settlement and as one of the oldest French settlements in North America. While the initial 25-man settlement was intended to be expanded to include families, living conditions in France during that period were sufficiently good, even for the lower-classes, as to discourage most from even attempting the difficult voyage and hardships of wilderness living.
The British destroyed the original settlement in 1613. However before its destruction, Port-Royal, in its short life, it established friendly, cooperative relations with the Mi’ kmoq people, had successfully grown crops, built one of Canada’s first water mills, and even established the country’s first social club which wrote and produced the new country’s first European play. The community appeared to be well on the road to success before its destruction.
The reconstruction portrays the rooms and furnishing of the village as Champlain designed them—from palisade, dormitory-like and quasi-private (four-man) bedrooms, large dining room, chapel, infirmary, sail loft to the critical blacksmith shop and defensive cannon platform. Costumed guides demonstrate the daily work of the early settlers and explain the operation of the roughly 25-man community.
The main stop here is for its Historic Gardens. It has acres of themed gardens and the French-built dikes that still protect the land from the tides.
Grand Pré was the center of a farming community formed by Acadians in the 1680s. They created a complex system of dikes and floodgates that allowed them to capitalize on the Basin’s nutrient-rich alluvial sediment. Today it is home to a historic site and World Heritage Site dedicated to the Acadians who were deported from their New World home when the British took control of the region after create a sustainable community, productive farms and a unique culture.
The park commemorates the site of a 17th-century Acadian settlement where inhabitants created dykes to allow them to plant more than 1,000 acres of tidal marsh. It starts with the story of the arrival of the first 50 families, from whom virtually all current Acadians are related. It discusses their agricultural accomplishments, and how the New Englanders who took over their confiscated land maintained their techniques.
The park not only discusses the achievements of the Acadian farmers but also dives into the forced deportation of more than 10,000 people—primarily children. It explains, the sufferings of the refugees, the burning of their villages, and the eventual return of a small percentage of these and the subsequent immigration of thousands of additional French citizens.
The grounds consist primarily of dykelands and panels that describe how they were built. The sluice gates allowed fresh water to flow from the fields while keeping saltwater out.
A number of memorials are also onsite. These include a memorial church (which explains the deportation and Acadian diaspora), a statue of the fictional Evangeline (who has come to become a symbol of the deportation and its impact on and perseverance of the children) and of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who wrote the epic poem that brought Evangeline to life.
Annapolis Valley Wines
If we are anywhere near a wine area, we have to try the wines. Annapolis Valley is no exception as it is Nova Scotia’s primary wine region. While wine grapes have been planted and wine made in Nova Scotia as early as 1611, the industry didn’t begin to develop until the mid-1990s when Jost Vineyards began making wine from Ontario Grapes. Grand Pré then became the first to grow and produce wine from their own grapes in 1997. Although the Valley is located at the same latitude as Bordeaux, its climate is more like Burgundy. Therefore, it focuses primarily on cooler climate grapes as those from Burgundy, Champagne, and Germany. Given the very short growing season (about 120 days), grape varieties are limited and tend to produce grapes with more acid and less sugar than we are accustomed to. And, since the grapes have so little hang time, the only way of getting deep colors and concentrated colors in the reds are to dry the grapes before pressing.
We got a high-level view of the characteristics of the wines made from these grape through a sampling of a few wines from two of the province’s 28 wineries. Most of the wineries also produce a Tidal Bay varietal which is a blend that each winery defines and creates themselves.
We tasted five wines alongside a lunch of delicious Newfoundland mussels (see Restaurant Section below). We were most impressed with the Champlain Brut sparking, the Tidal Bay (which for Grand Pré is a combination of multiple grapes—L’Acadie Blanc, Seyval blanc, Ortega, Vidal, and New York Muscat) and two of the four reds that we tried. Although we found little of interest in the herbaceous, acidic Baco Noir, we found the black cherry/blackberry-like Castel blend to be of moderate interest and the field blend to be rather simple and straightforward, but tasty. We also tasted one of the winery’s two Vidal Grape Ice Wines (which require 10 consecutive days of temperature below -10C). While interesting, and a little syrupy in texture, its residual sugar level was much lower than the Ontario and Okanogan Vidals that we enjoy.
The eight-generation agricultural family entered the wine industry by selling grapes to Ontario wineries. It began making its own wines about 20 years ago, and has grown to its current production of 20,000 cases. It is now fully organic and was the first Nova Scotian winery to be certified biodynamic. While the lovely, popular winery with its tasting room and casual restaurant typically offers pre-defined flights, we spread across flights to sample five wines determined by a combination of our guide’s recommendations and our own tastes. Of those we tasted, our preferences were the 2017 Chardonnay-based Brut sparkling wine and the 2020 unoaked, single-vineyard Terroir Series Chardonnay. Although not one of our favorites, we did find the earthy, herbaceous 2021 single-vineyard Terroir series Kékfrankos (the Austrian version of a grape that is also known as Blaufränkisch or Lemberger), which was aged in a 2,500 liter oak tank, to be of moderate interest.
We found three wines that we kind of enjoyed but wouldn’t necessarily rush out to buy. Its Tidal Bay white blend had a touch of sugar, finishing with grapefruit. The Triumphe red blend was dry and a bit gamey with cherry and licorice. The Geena late harvest dessert wine was made of Muscat and Tramonte grapes with pear, peach and about 4.5 percent residual sugar. Although not quite to our taste, the winery also offers a type of wine we had never tried–Buried Wine, which is aged in American Oak barrels that are buried (yes, actually buried) in the ground for aging. This imparts an earthy aroma and minerally taste. Again, not exactly our taste, but very interesting.
Annapolis Valley Restaurants
Restaurant Compose (Annapolis Royal)
A 2023 change in chefs resulted in very slow food deliveries. When our two main dishes arrived, the results were mixed. While Joyce’s pan-fried haddock (with shrimp on dill cream sauce, spätzle, sautéed vegetables) was dry and relatively tasteless, Tom’s Thai chili lobster with curry coconut sauce and pasta was quite good. After tasting and rejecting two Canadian wines that were available by the glass, we gambled (and generally won) on a bottle of 2021 Mission Hill Reserve Chardonnay from the Okanagan Valley which ended up working with both dishes. We followed up with a vanilla ice cream sundae with raspberry and Cointreau and a glass of semi-sweet Riesling from Ontario. All this with a lovely sunset view over the Annapolis River.
The Crow’s Nest (Digby)
The deck of this very popular casual restaurant provides sweeping views of the city pier and its fleet of scallop boats. The restaurant’s large menu focuses primarily on the region’s seafood—scallops included. The flexible combination menu allowed us to sample several dishes at dinner: pan-seared and lightly deep-fried scallops, pan-fried haddock, and lightly-fried clams. We enjoyed all four, particularly the haddock and pan-fried scallops. Our only disappointment was a side of onion rings which while nicely lightly fried, were almost all breading with very thin rings onion.
Grand Pré Wines (Grand Pré )
We had light lunch along side with our wine tasting describes above. We both opted for bowls of Newfoundland mussels in a white curry sauce with chills and lime. The mussels were plump, juicy, and tasty. The broth was so good that we had to finish every drop. Although we enjoyed some a few of their, we were more impressed by our food and the service than we were with the wine.
The Nook and Cranny (Truro)
We had dinner at the popular casual restaurant. From its limited menu, the pan-fried haddock with tartar sauce (with wild rice and steamed vegetables) which was quite good. The California burger (with guacamole, bacon, and cheese, greens and tomato) was overcooked for our tastes as it must be “cooked al the way through” in Canada. The wine list was “interesting”, having one wine apiece that represented each of the primary varietals (and perhaps a blend), each priced below $50 per bottle. After tasting of a few wines, we selected a wine called Pinot Pinot (2021) that they accurately self-described as “soft and fruity”. Although we tried to see where the grapes were grown and who made the wine, all such information was well hidden. The only hint, a mention of “North Macedonia”.
We also stopped here for a lunch on our return from Cape Breton to Halifax. We had a tasty blueberry maple salad with mixed greens, wild blueberries, apple, red onion and candied walnuts with maple vinaigrette and scallops and garlic white wine mussels with garlic focaccia.
Luckett Vineyards (Wolfville)
Along with tasting wine, we had lunch here starting with a rich and delicious seafood chowder (with poached haddock, bay scallops, shrimp and lobster). Since they were out of our chosen main course (shrimp, scallops and lobster salad rolls with tarragon aioli), we had to settle for two other less interesting and satisfying dishes (a smoked salmon plate and a steak and mushroom pie). Even so, the view was wonderful, especially with the quirky British telephone booth planted in the middle of a vineyard.
Blomidon Inn (Wolfville)
We had dinner at the lovely Victorian-style inn. Tom had a nicely prepared grilled tenderloin with mashed potatoes and asparagus, with a red wine jus and bourbon bacon butter–with a lobster tail on the side for good measure. Joyce had the restaurant specialty: linguini with lobster in a horseradish cream sauce. While both were good, they were nothing to write home about. This being said, the building is lovely, the service good and the food more than serviceable.
We’ve stayed in several hotels in the area.
Tattingstone Inn (Wolfville)
This small inn was run by extremely friendly and accommodating hosts. We were in room , While nothing special, it was clean and suited our needs. The pillows were a little firmer than we normally like, but we slept well. Breakfast was included but since we had to leave before breakfast started, we were given a box breakfast of homemade peanut butter and honey and peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and juice. A very nice treat (and also very good sandwiches and bread!).
Annapolis Royal Inn (Annapolis Royal)
This is a motel but it has been freshly dolled it up and was a lot better than what we expected. It was very comfortable with a nice buffet breakfast. While not directly in Annapolis Royal, it is only a few minutes drive outside.