Photo: J.P. Ford
HOSPITALITY AND HISTORY ALONG THE NORTH ATLANTIC COAST
It’s impossible to avoid a meal with lobster in Canada’s Maritime Provinces and the State of Maine. A huge full-shell lobster dinner, lobster rolls and lobster chowder are all offered on most menus and marketed along the back roads of the North Atlantic coast.
But there is much more than delicious seafood to enjoy in this rugged seacoast realm. Let’s start with the historic French and British heritage that shaped the casual and friendly lifestyle that welcomes visitors. The Bay of Fundy that separates Nova Scotia from New Brunswick Provinces is an unusual shipping lane serving the inland settlements south of Halifax. The world-record daily tide change is 70 feet. It was also the area of French colonists who settled here in 1605 before the English colonies of Jamestown and Plymouth.
I explored both the north and south shores of the bay to learn more about the development of the Acadian culture that flourished here before the British took over Canada and exiled many of the French settlers. Most Acadians refused to swear allegiance to King George and to convert from Catholicism. Read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem “Evangeline” for this tragic example of racial cleansing, the first in North America.
Both coasts of the Bay of Fundy are lined with picturesque fishing villages where scallops, lobster, clams and fish flourish to enhance your meals. In between are forests of pine and maple (plenty of fall color) and green pastures reminding a traveler of Devon in England.
A three-hour ferry ride from St. John, New Brunswick to Digby, Nova Scotia saves a long mainland drive from Halifax if you enter Canada from Maine. At Annapolis Royale and Grand Pre you are in the heart of Acadian culture along the Evangeline Trail. French is spoken here in a bilingual mix of Acadian and Celtic cultures.
Did I mention regional food? Besides abundant fresh seafood, most restaurants feature country-French cuisine and rich desserts with local favorites such as blueberries and whoppie pie. Seek out the family-style cafés or resort hotel restaurants for delicious fresh meals that have European flair.
If time allows more travel after exploring the Bay of Fundy, stopover in Maine, just two hours from St. John, New Brunswick, to the U.S. port of entry at Calais. The rugged Maine coast provides new territory to explore. Stop at historic Campobello for a tour of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s summer home and cozy lunch at nearby Fireside Lodge. Continue on to Bar Harbor where the century-old resort town still draws a heavy tourist crowd and gigantic cruise ships. The waterfront promenade offers upscale shops, galleries and restaurants.
Acadia National Park wraps around Bar Harbor to encompass Mount Desert Island. The loop road takes you through prime forests to the rocky coast and up to viewpoints of the vast maritime area. The gravel Coach Road with 16 picturesque stone bridges is for exclusive use of horses, mountain bikes and hikers. The 57-mile scenic route was built by John D. Rockefeller Jr. to provide an exclusive horse and carriage course through the park.
I prefer the Maine coastline south of Bar Harbor with small fishing villages tucked in obscure inlets and pine forests of the archipelagos with views of offshore islands. Deer Isle is casual and Down-East friendly.
From a base here, Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor are accessible. A day trip to Castine for lunch at Dennet’s Wharf is another back-road adventure far from any maddening crowd. In Blue Hill, the Boatyard Grill serves the best lobster roll of the hundreds I have sampled. Matt, “the lobstah man” brings them in fresh daily. It really is a junkie boatyard, so don’t be put off by outside appearances. It’s a fun local’s hangout with a true fisherman flavor.
In Stonington on Deer Isle several cozy restaurants serve up gourmet fare with a focus on fresh local seafood. The most popular are upscale Aragusta (lobster in Italian) and the casual Fisherman’s Friend on the wharf. There is a wide range of B&B’s and country inns in Stonington, Maine as listed in the Island Guide available from http://www.deerisle.com.
Options for access to Nova Scotia are by air to Halifax or by auto from Maine, depending on travel time taken. Both areas need a week to 10 days, or stay over with a wide range of vacation rentals along the Maine Coast. The round-trip car ferry from St. John to Digby, Nova Scotia, is expensive but saves many driving hours.
While in Nova Scotia, there are two comfortable inns near the Digby ferry landing. The friendly Admiral Digby Inn and the more upscale Digby Pines Resort make a good home base for exploring the Evangeline Trail along the coast of the Bay of Fundy.
For the travelers that are hooked to their digital devices, be aware that cell phone service is spotty in most of rural Maine and not available in Canada except by special service connection. Wi-Fi is generally available in most accommodations. Just leave all that at home and enjoy the scenery.