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Travel

Canada's scrummy lobster pot

By Sian Lloyd, The Mail On Sunday


We've all heard of it, but who could find Nova Scotia on a map? Even our global forecasting veteran meteorologist at the ITV Weather Studio vaguely described it as 'the finger bit that sticks out of Canada'.


To be precise, it's on the east coast border with the USA and, with direct six-hour flights from London, a lot easier to get to than you might think.


In fact, my husband Jonathan and I didn't actually take the direct flight. We flew to Halifax via the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal. And after Formula 1-mad Montreal, it was a relief to be winding down the roads of the Bluenose Coast in our Ford Escape.


There are scores of colourful working fishing villages snuggled along these shores. And who can resist the romance and beauty of a lighthouse? There are more than 50 of them to explore.


We mailed several postcards from the world's only post office in a lighthouse - at Peggy's Cove - and ran from the rain to the aptly named Sou'Wester Restaurant, where we shared a plate of warm gingerbread and cream.


'Shared' because we had dinner reservations that night at the Fleur de Sel in Lunenburg.


This has not only been voted one of Canada's best restaurants, it also boasts Canada's campest and surely most considerate waiter. We had top seafood and top entertainment.


Lunenburg is an extremely pretty Unesco World Heritage Site and an outstanding example of a planned European colonial settlement. It's also the home of Bluenose II, Canada's most famous tall ship, a sort of North American equivalent of the Cutty Sark.


We'd planned a leisurely stroll around the churches and specialist stores with Eric Croft, of Lunenburg Town Walking Tours, but the relentless rain turned it into a brisk march.


Next day, hoping to escape the rain, we decided to head west to Kejimkujik National Park, armed with a bag of complimentary rhubarb muffins from the charming, Victorian-style Lunenburg Inn where we'd stayed. It proved a good call. As we left the colourful seaside houses, the sun started shining through the drizzle.


Nicknamed 'Keji', these 94,000 acres of protected landscape lie in the centre of traditional canoe routes between the Bay of Fundy and the Atlantic coast. Canoeing is a big deal, but there's also hiking, cycling and swimming.


We walked among the ancient hemlocks - conifers - cycled the lovely River Trail and had a ball.


Overnight was at the friendly Mersey River chalets and nature retreat, very convenient for Keji.


The aim was to spend a day exploring the Annapolis Valley, the breadbasket of Nova Scotia.


It opens out into the Bay of Fundy which, with record-breaking high tides, is considered one of the great natural wonders of the world.


This natural energy is being harnessed at the Annapolis Royal tidal power plant (visitors welcome), the only such facility in North America.


Annapolis Royal's history is unparalleled in Canada - it was a pivotal player in the struggle for Empire between the English and the French.


We strolled along the perimeter path of Fort Anne - the most attacked site in Canadian history - while enjoying lovely views of the Annapolis Basin.


Ambling down the main street is like strolling through the centuries. Every building is an important heritage site, from the historic inns to the courthouse.


We could have done with more time to explore but a lobster lunch beckoned - the Bay of Fundy's lobsters are claimed to be the best in the world. We were told that Hall's Harbour offered the best setting for 'lobster in the rough'. It's a snug little fishing port that works to the ever-changing rhythm of the 40ft tides, and fresh seafood cooked wharfside is a dining experience and a half. As I tucked into my carefully chosen succulent lobster, gleaming with garlic butter, my taste buds thanked me.


That night we stayed at the Digby Pines resort. In truth, the description of a Norman-style chateau and Gothic-style pool didn't totally inspire me. But don't judge a place by its website. We enjoyed our one-night stay. The staff were friendly, especially in the dining room, and my roast salmon with ginger and maple syrup sauce was delicious.


Colourful: Lunenburg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site


I'd heard of the Grand-Pré National Historic Site, due to Longfellow's narrative poem Evangeline, but I remained a bit hazy as to the history of the Acadian settlers. The brand-new visitor centre soon put us right. The story of the 17th Century French colonists deported by the British in the 1755 Great Expulsion is a tale of pioneering lives, tragedy and triumphant survival.


A mile down the road, there's a magical place called Tangled Garden, an oasis of aromas and blossoms where the owners make jellies and vinegars with herbs from their beautiful garden, as well as liqueurs with fruit from nearby orchards.


We bought lemon rosemary and basil wine jellies, lavender honey and rose-petal jam and spent a happy half-hour wandering around the garden, eating ginger lime ice cream.


Such is the reputation of Tangled Garden's shimmering jellies and jewel-like jams that even the Customs lady at Halifax Airport just couldn't bring herself to confiscate my precious purchases.


Overnight was at the nearby delightful Blomidon Inn in Wolfville. We ate local scallops and mussels at the renowned Tempest restaurant. Its menu leaps from cuisine to cuisine - we enjoyed Thai and Italian dishes using local ingredients.


Our next stop was Cape Breton. Squint and you might think Nova Scotia looks like a giant lobster. If so, the island of Cape Breton represents the claws - the sweetest part.


Life here is lived to a soundtrack - and we were surprised to find distinctly different cultures just a few miles apart.


On the Atlantic side you hear the lively Celtic tunes of Scottish immigrants (after all, this is New Scotland), while on the Gulf side French-speaking towns such as Cheticamp still celebrate their historical Acadian music.


Indeed, that very night we found ourselves at a concert and ceilidh in The Barn, a live music venue attached to the cosy Normaway Inn in the Margaree Valley.


The fiddle-playing was first-rate, almost as good as the Eggs Hughie D for breakfast next morning - a local creation of poached eggs on toasted porridge bread, Canadian back bacon with a tomato and cheese sauce and fresh fruit.


The Cape Breton national park alone is a good enough reason to make the trip to Nova Scotia. This magnificent highlands and coastal wilderness stretches across the northern tip of the island, between the Gulf of St Lawrence and the Atlantic, and has some of the most scenic sections of the Cabot Trail, named for the explorer John Cabot.


The lighthouse at Peggy's Cove, and Sian with hubby Jonathan


The wilderness is home to moose, black bears and bald eagles. Within two minutes of entering the park we saw a bear lolloping across the road a few feet in front of our vehicle.


We were bowled over. Ditto the many sightings of whales from a boat cruise at Pleasant Bay later that day.


In the rest of Nova Scotia the landscape is fairly gentle, so much so that the scale of the scenery in the Highlands is overwhelming.


We followed the Cabot Trail, skirting the edge of the park, stopping to soak up the views from the many roadside look-offs.


Lunch was at the Rusty Anchor, a stone-and-log building with killer ocean views and first-rate toasted lobster rolls.


A glorious sunset and scores of sweeping turns later, we arrived at our final destination in Cape Breton - the lovely Keltic Lodge and spa, perched high a cliff overlooking the Atlantic.


We spent three happy days walking, cycling, indulging in spa treatments and enjoying romantic candlelit dinners - the perfect end to perfect days.


All too soon, it was time to head for Halifax and then home. Our farewell meal was at the Five Fishermen restaurant in an old schoolhouse bought by Anna Leonowens, the governess who inspired The King And I.


Later, it was the mortuary for the Titanic victims. Supposedly, their ghosts still haunt the building ...


Travel Facts


Tailor Made Travel (0845 456 8050, www.tailormade.co.uk) offers holidays to Nova Scotia.


A seven-night self-drive trip costs from £919 per person. This includes return Air Canada flights, car hire, B& B accommodation, Halifax city tour, entrance fees to national parks, a half-day's canoeing and a whale-watching cruise.


For further information on Nova Scotia visit www.novascotia.com