NOVA SCOTIA, Canada – This year, Nova Scotia will be more accessible for American travelers, especially those on the Eastern Seaboard. From May 1 to October 31, 2014, Nova Star Cruises will offer daily sailings from Portland, Maine to Yarmouth in Nova Scotia. The 1,215-passenger Nova Star will feature three restaurants, three bars, a casino gambling room, a fitness center and a duty-free shop.
Departing Portland at 9:00 PM, the ferry will arrive in Yarmouth at 8:00 AM local time. The return trip will leave Yarmouth at 10:00 AM, arriving back in Portland at 7:00 PM local time. Nova Scotia is an hour ahead of Eastern Standard Time. The Nova Star is expected to carry 100,000 passengers in its first year of service.
The new ferry will allow more Americans to explore this beautiful Atlantic Canadian province, which borders the Bay of Fundy and its huge tides on its eastern side and has Cape Breton on its northernmost tip, regularly cited as one of the world’s top 10 islands. The province’s s southwest region has a spectacular coastline with a wealth of birds and marine life and a rich maritime heritage, layered with Loyalist history and Acadian culture.
At the southwestern tip of the province, Yarmouth was once the center of a shipbuilding empire ranked as the fourth largest port of registry in the world during Canada’s Great Age of Sail. At the Laurence Sweeney Fisheries Museum, visitors can learn about Yarmouth’s fishing and lobstering industries. Atlantic Canada’s only firefighter museum is here, and the Yarmouth County Museum boasts Canada’s largest collection of ship portraits. Speaking of lobster, Stanley Lobster offers freshly caught lobster right on the beach. Nearby, the 75-foot-high Cape Forchu Light Station guards the harbor and is one of the most photogenic lighthouses in Nova Scotia. At the southern tip of its site, the Leif Ericsson Park has walking paths with dramatic views of the water.
Yarmouth is the perfect starting point for two of the province’s scenic trailways. The Lighthouse Route runs northeast up the Southern Shore to Halifax, while the Evangeline Trail runs parallel to the Bay of Fundy – crossing through the fertile Annapolis Valley – before it ends on the outskirts of Halifax. This valley is Canada’s up-and-coming wine destination with 11 wineries producing indigenous varietals such as Marechal Foch and L’Acadie Blanc.
The Evangeline Trail also passes through villages with some of North America’s earliest European history such as Church Point and Annapolis Royal. In fact, there are 29 Acadian heritage sites that visitors can explore over 62 miles in southwestern Nova Scotia.
The world’s largest scallop fleet is based in Digby, which is definitely worth a stop, if only for those delicious “fruits of the sea.” The town’s rich history dating back to the arrival of the Loyalists in 1783 can be appreciated at the Admiral Digby Museum housed in a mid-1800s Georgian mansion.
Digby Neck – a long narrow peninsula running some 50 miles from the port – offers excellent whale watching and birding. A bit off the beaten path, at its tip, Long Island and Brier Island are surrounded by the plankton-rich waters of the Bay of Fundy that attract whales, porpoises, seals and seabirds.
East of Yarmouth, the French-speaking village of Pubnico, the world’s oldest Acadian community dates back more than 400 years. Here, at the 17-acre Village Historique Acadien, visitors can wander through historic clapboard houses at this recreated Acadian village, listen to interpreters talk about fishing and farming traditions and hear Acadian being spoken.
Heading east is Shelburne, which was North America’s fourth largest city after the Revolutionary War, when 3,000 Loyalists fled there and the population quickly swelled to 10,000. Nearby, Birchtown became Canada’s first free black settlement.
Continuing along the Lighthouse Route, travelers come to Lunenburg with its colorful wooden houses and brightly painted fishing boats. Lunenburg is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the iconic stops in Nova Scotia. The port is home to Nova Scotia’s sailing ambassador, the Bluenose II and the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic.
Heading north, Mahone Bay was originally known for its pirates and privateers and later as a thriving shipbuilding center. Today, visitors can kayak around the bay’s hidden coves, paddle over to Oak Island or browse through galleries and the studios of the many artists that live here. One of Nova Scotia’s most visited spots, Peggy’s Cove, is about an hour south of Halifax. Sitting on massive granite boulders with waves smashing around it, the 1915 lighthouse is one of Nova Scotia’s 160 lighthouses. Visitors can stroll through the tiny hamlet of wooden houses, still a working fishing village, and perhaps the most photographed one in Canada.