The Annapolis Valley, about an hour’s drive from Halifax and situated along the Bay of Fundy, was home to some of the very first European settlements in Nova Scotia and all of North America on account of its fertile lands and rich fisheries that keep its communities thriving to this day. History tells us that the French founded Port-Royal in 1605 with help from the Mi’kmaq and a chieftain named Membertou. The settlers and First Nations created a thriving partnership based on a license for a fur monopoly that the French Government had issued the new Acadians, which gave them all they needed to brave the first few bitter winters in their newfound home. They even put on theatre productions and enshrined their tradition of eating, drinking, and being merry with the creation of the “Society of Good Cheer.” It’s no coincidence that many, many stops along the modern Good Cheer Trail can be found in the Annapolis Valley, where breweries, cideries, wineries, and distilleries offer tasting and tours galore.
Steeped in history, the Annapolis Valley is home to several National Historic Sites of Canada, including the country’s very first at Fort Anne and one that also boasts a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation at Grand-Pré. But go back even further in time to find the “land where fairies abound” at Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site, an expanse of abundant natural beauty home to old growth forests, island-dotted lakes, and traditional Mi’kmaq waterways. The M’ikmaw a have used the canoe routes through these lands for centuries, leaving petroglyphs on slate outcroppings along the shore that you can still see today. Camp here and when the sun goes down, you’ll see thousands of stars light the sky in Canada’s first dark sky preserve.
This is the Annapolis Valley, land of legends and lush wine country.
What to See
Port-Royal National Historic Site
The site of the first European settlement north of Florida, Port-Royal has been reconstructed to reflect the architecture and layout of the original plan, which included a closed-in quadrangle known as the Habitation. Built in a beautiful spot along the Annapolis River, you can inspect the inside of the carefully designed buildings and get an impression of what it might have been like to settle here, with the help with knowledgeable historical interpreters in period dress for full immersion.
Fort Anne National Historic Site
What became the first National Historic Site in Canada was once known as Nme’juaqnek, or “place of bountiful fish” to the Mi’kmaq. Through the visual history depicted on a rich tapestry inside the fort, you’ll come to understand the relations between the many people who at various times called this stretch of Nova Scotia home or tried to claim it. This area passed from Mi’kmaq and French hands to Scotch and English, who eventually turned it into Fort Anne as known today.
Grand-Pré National Historic Site
When the British were trying in earnest to settle their American colonies and this part of Atlantic Canada, they expelled many of the Acadians who had formed a society in the northern part of Nova Scotia and subsumed much of their infrastructure. The story of Grand-Pré is one of a fertile marshland where Acadians first settled in the 1680s, creating dykes that converted it into arable land for crops. You will learn firsthand why the Acadians named this place “great meadow” for the astonishing natural beauty of its ponds, willows, and fields, but also why this site became the heart of their ancestral homeland through tragedy. The now-famous statue of Evangeline at the foot of the Memorial Church is an ode to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem of the same name, which details a love story through turmoil of the Acadian deportation and made the story famous in the English-speaking world, drawing the first tourists here.
Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site
The crown jewel of Nova Scotia’s natural beauty, “Keji” — as it’s affectionately known — is the perfect place to immerse yourself in both the splendor and the legends of the region. Take your pick of ways to experience the landscape: you can fish, kayak, bike, hike, or camp in the sprawling 381 acres of land protected by the national park. Opt for a classic A-frame cabin, an o’Tentik that will sleep beautifully and fit just as well on your Insta feed, or hit the backcountry to camp where the only light you have is from the stars. Your choice!
What to Eat & Drink
Good Cheer Trail
The homeland of Nova Scotia’s “good cheer” can more than provide you with it. Tidal Bay is Nova Scotia’s signature appellation wine and can be found at over a dozen wineries, most of which are located in the Annapolis Valley In addition to the dozens of wineries and vineyards that produce unique grape varieties like L’Acadie Blanc, Seyval Blanc and New York Muscat, the Annapolis Valley is also overflowing with breweries and cideries. In the lush farmland around Grand-Pré, Luckett Vineyards offer delicious food and equally delectable views to complement their popular selection of wines. Their wines are especially sweet and refreshing, from a crisp riesling to a fizzy rosé that almost matches the color of their iconic red telephone booth that resides in a row of their vineyards.
The Grand-Pré/Wolfville region is also home to Lightfoot and Wolfville Vineyards, who offer a playful selection of bubbly and brut. The fun doesn’t stop there, because when you enter Wolfville proper you’ll have your pick of cideries and brewpubs, from Annapolis Cider Company to the much-beloved double-billing of Paddy’s Brewpub & Rosie’s Restaurant. The Annapolis cider lineup includes brews that capture the classic taste of apple cider and others that are a little more “out there,” like gingerbread cider and Muscat-infused cider. The wine and champagne-inspired brews continue at Paddy’s, where traditional beers like Irish reds and stouts are joined by a bone-dry Brut IPA. They’ve also got amazing pan-fried haddock and market fresh lobster.
Other notable mentions across the Annapolis Valley include Roof Hound Brewing Co. in Kingston, Lunn’s Mill Brewing Company in Lawrencetown, Annapolis Brewing Company in Annapolis Royal, and Founders House Dining & Drinks, also in Annapolis Royal. Of course, for the full list of Good Cheer recommendations and where to get your fill of lobster, check out the Good Cheer Trail and Lobster Trail.
Where to Stay
The Annapolis Valley, like much of Nova Scotia, is home to elegant and welcoming bed & breakfasts as well as sprawling campgrounds and unique lodgings that will help you get off the grid. If you’re after cozy digs while you explore the historic sites of Port-Royal and Fort Anne, with easy access to the quaint town of Annapolis Royal, opt for somewhere like the Grand Oak Manor Bed & Breakfast in Granville Ferry. With a house built in 1790, breathtaking views of the river harbor, and great hosts who go the extra mile to prepare their breakfast spreads, you’re sure to feel relaxed and right at home here. Bicycles are provided for guests, too!
If camping on a lake with a few friends and building fires in the quiet of night sounds like the retreat you’re after, check out The Old Ten Spot on Zwickers Lake. Their cottages and tiny vintage boler trailer are very popular on AirBnB, but also provide huge bang-for-your-buck. The lake is home to awesome wildlife, and is usually quite warm in the summer to make it perfect for swimming. Leave your screen door open at night to listen out for the animals, and take in some glorious sunsets during the duration of your stay.
Just an hour from Halifax, experience the elegance of a 19th Century sea captain’s estate at The Blomidon Inn. The Inn features a wide range of accommodations, each uniquely furnished in the Victorian style. The accommodations are complimented by a delightful gourmet dining room with a menu featuring fresh fare from the valley and the sea. It is complemented with an extensive wine list that has received a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. The Inn boasts one of the most exceptional gardens in the province, with three ponds, a cascading brook and a carved statue of Rufus Burgess, who built the original inn.