In the last week, I embarked on a seven-day journey through Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in Canada’s Maritimes. Armed with a rental car, I drove over 1,000 kilometres to cover five resorts and seven different cities. I went on a 10-kilometre hike through the wilderness, rode a bicycle in a kilt, proved I really do stink at golf, and even had my very first facial spa treatment.

An evocative Maritimes scene, painted and on-display at the Westin Nova Scotian in Halifax. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

An evocative Maritime scene, painted by Nova Scotian artist Joseph Purcell and on-display at the Westin Nova Scotian in Halifax. This was his first commissioned piece; he would later go on to win international acclaim and recognition. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

And I discovered everything I thought I knew about these two Provinces was very wrong indeed. The full report:

Here’s the embarrassing bit: despite having traveled to Halifax and Saint John on three separate occasions, I’d never heard of or had been to any of these places. And I’m Canadian. I should know what travel gems lie within my own country.

The peaceful serenity of the 18-hole Golf Course at the Keltic Lodge in Cape Breton. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The peaceful serenity of the 18-hole Golf Course at the Keltic Lodge in Cape Breton. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

But just as the eastern seaboard of the United States has an entirely different feel to it that, say, California, Canada’s Maritime Provinces are also wholly unique from the rest of the country. The history is older, the tales are taller. In some ways, places like Cape Breton have far more in common with Europe than with, say, Vancouver. There are loads of friendly little neighbourhood pubs – what the English would call ‘locals’ – where the West Coast would be littered with shops and bars that are so hip it hurts.

The pretty town of Baddeck is home to the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic site. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The pretty town of Baddeck is home to the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic site. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Driving throughout the two Provinces was also deceptively easy. In fact, in seven days and over a thousand kilometres driven, not a single person cut me off. Not one! I discovered my “big city” driving habits were causing me to be the jackass. And – with so many of Nova Scotia’s picturesque highways sparsely travelled – I learned to lay off the gas and just enjoy the drive.

The Halifax Public Gardens are strikingly picturesque. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The Halifax Public Gardens are strikingly picturesque. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

A word to the wise for those who are making the drive from Halifax to the Keltic Lodge up in Cape Breton: you will pull over every five minutes, no matter how much you tell yourself you won’t. Because around the bend, there’s always another picturesque inlet, ancient church, or magnificent view of the Atlantic Ocean.

Prepare to be late getting where you’re going!

Sunsets in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick can be shockingly beautiful. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Sunsets in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick can be shockingly beautiful. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Nova Scotia also does beer and wine like no one else. My mouth still waters for a pint of the Big Spruce Brewing Company’s ales (on-tap at the Keltic!) – and this small but adventurous company has only been in operation since April.

Interestingly, this entire trip started out solely as an opportunity to see the renovations in-progress to the Algonquin Resort in the gorgeous town of St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick. But a ten-hour flight on two different airplanes is a long way to go for just a two-day jaunt. So why not do something bigger?

With multi million-dollar refits recently completed, each of the properties I visited sparkled. Pictured above is the Keltic Lodge. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

With multi million-dollar refits recently completed, each of the properties I visited sparkled. Pictured above is the Keltic Lodge. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

My decision was a practical one, but it ended up being an absolute stroke of good luck.

The truth is, you too can do the exact same trip I did. Sure, I can recommend one hotel over the other depending on where your interests and tastes lie, but as I discovered, there is no substitute for seeing the remarkable contrast between the three regions of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

The Westin Nova Scotian – Halifax, Nova Scotia

Old Meets New at the Westin Nova Scotian. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Old Meets New at the Westin Nova Scotian. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

If you’ve cruised to Halifax before, you’ve likely seen the Westin Nova Scotian as you emerge into the sunlight from the Pier 21 cruise ship terminal. And while I’d definitely recommend popping into elements on hollis for a superb local meal (try the lobster – trust me!), or a drink in Roy’s (named for longtime-bartender Roy Clorey, who has worked at the hotel for 50 years and counting), to really see Halifax requires an overnight stay. Or two. Or three. All the typical Westin perks, like the Heavenly Beds and White Tea scents, are present here – but so are a number of atypical features that recall this property’s historic legacy. For me, the Westin Nova Scotian is my go-to hotel when in Halifax.

Keltic Lodge – Ingonish, Nova Scotia

The Keltic Lodge is a jewel-within-the-jewel that is Cape Breton. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The Keltic Lodge is a jewel-within-the-jewel that is Cape Breton. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

If I have to hitchhike back there from British Columbia, I will. Anything I can possibly say about this property seems somehow inadequate considering its magnificent setting on the Middle Head Peninsula. The location may sell itself, but it is the team at the Keltic Lodge that makes it such a worthwhile place to lay your head for a few days – or weeks. The service is on par with what I’d expect at high-end luxury hotel: staff that take a genuine interest in their guests, but in that friendly, inimitable Nova Scotian fashion. That the property has a sprawling 18-hole golf course and an AVEDA Concept Spa on-site certainly doesn’t hurt, either. My two days at the Keltic were quite possibly the best experience I’ve had at any property in Canada.

Liscombe Lodge – Liscombe Mills, Nova Scotia

Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Sure, Liscombe Lodge has standard guest rooms and spacious Cottages. But it’s the rustic yet comfortable Chalets that won me over. Note the real fireplace! Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Successful travel is all about expectations – so expect that your cellphone won’t work here, and you’ll do just fine. Sure, there’s complimentary Wi-Fi internet access available, but let’s be frank: who needs it? Even Nova Scotians admit that the Liscombe Lodge is in the middle of nowhere, and that’s how guests like it. As General Manager Karen Wenaus likes to say, “We’re a bit like the country cousin.”  I love them for that – and I’m far from the outdoorsy-type. But the two nights I spent in Chalet 4A in front of a real, honest-to-God roaring wood-fired fireplace were extremely memorable. How can you beat waking up and taking an early-morning stroll along the river, or enjoying a glass of wine by the fire in the evening?  This is the place you go to unwind. Twitter and Facebook beware: you’re not needed here.

The Digby Pines – Digby, Nova Scotia

The swank Digby Pines sparkles once again, thanks to an extensive refit. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The swank Digby Pines sparkles once again, thanks to an extensive refit. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

A beautifully historic – and extensively refitted – hotel if there ever was one. The town of Digby may not have made an enormous impression on me, but the hotel itself – and the Annapolis Valley – certainly did. Every bit as grand and imposing as the Banff Springs or Chateau Lake Louise, the Digby Pines is the place to go for those who like their hotels to have character. Sure, the main rooms are a little small – but you’ll feel like you’re sleeping in a palace. Plus, with so many inviting public rooms, this is a hotel that encourages guests to get out and mingle with each other. It’s not so different from the ships that guests would have disembarked from a century ago, just down the road.

The Algonquin Resort – St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick

New Brunswick's best-kept-secret, soon to reopen to the world. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

New Brunswick’s best-kept-secret, soon to reopen to the world. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

When I saw what was going on at the Algonquin Resort in St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, I nearly burst. Sure, I read the press releases. I saw how much the refit is costing, and how extensive it is, and what will be achieved when launch date approaches. But the reality is so much more amazing. This is no ordinary refit; this is like taking apart the beloved summer home piece-by-piece and meticulously restoring it to its former glory. What made me happier is that the Algonquin team isn’t just trying to live off the glories of the past; they’re hard at work creating an entirely new future for the resort, one that honours the past but at the same time allows it to grow and develop around a whole new generation of guests and staff. I have absolutely no qualms about saying it: this is the property to watch, because there’s going to be nothing else like it in Canada when they officially throw their doors open for the first time.

If you’ve been to the Maritimes, chances are good that I am preaching to the choir. If you haven’t? Well – as I discovered – you’re always welcome here.

The sun sets on St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The sun sets on St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Trip Report the Maritimes has sadly come to a close, but tune in for our next Live Voyage Report beginning this Saturday, as we make our way to Siem Reap, Cambodia to embark AmaWaterways’ AmaLotus for a trip down the mighty Mekong!  Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.

 

One Response to Canadian Maritimes Trip Recap

  1. […] year, I embarked on a fascinating road trip – think of it as a “land cruise” – to Canada’s Maritimes. Specifically, I was there to […]

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