Update June 30, 2012: The Grand Pré Landscape has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
A trip through Nova Scotia is incomplete without a visit to my other home, the Annapolis Valley. Best known as the agricultural heartland of the province and the centre of Nova Scotia’s rapidly-growing wine industry, there is easily many days’ worth of adventure to be had. When given another perfect sunny Saturday by the spring weather gods, I recruited my friend Trish (a knowledgeable wine enthusiast and road trip fan) to join me in another official Operation Hometown Traveler trip. We had a vague plan, some targets to hit, but above all, wanted to pack in as much fun as possible.
Our first stop was kind of a wrong turn down a rough road that may or may not have been mostly washed away (sorry, car rental folks!) to look for access to a nearby walking trail. We never found it, however, we did find this spectacular view of Blomidon as the morning fog burned off.
The wines of Domaine de Grand Pré
Our first proper stop was Domain de Grand Pré, timing our arrival to coincide with one of three daily tours. It was a perfect day for a wine tour (or three), and we learned a lot from our friendly and knowledgeable guides, particularly about the different kinds of grapes that fare the best in our climate to eventually become wine.
The tour was part of a $7 package, which included a tasting of six of Grand Pré’s wines: 2010 Seyval, 2011 Tidal Bay (read more about Nova Scotia’s new signature appellation), 2011 Rosé, 2009 Pete Luckett Leon Millot, 2010 Castel, and Pomme d’Or, Grand Pré’s unique dessert wine offering, made entirely from Annapolis Valley apples.
Domaine de Grand Pré is also a part of the Économusée, a network of artisanal heritage destinations across Atlantic Canada. In the museum section of the winery, there is a scent station, which let you test your nose against the various scents you discover in Grand Pré’s offerings.
Rediscovering my Acadian heritage at Grand Pré
In addition to improving our minds with knowledge about Nova Scotia wines, we took advantage of the nearby location to improve knowledge of Nova Scotia history at Grand Pre National Historic Site. Grand Pré shares the story of daily life of Nova Scotia’s Acadian community prior to its expulsion by the British in 1755, the deportation (le grand dérangement), and the modern impact. Full disclosure: I had been there before on a school trip, but it is definitely time to get closer to my Acadian roots. My grandmother was Acadian, and while my Acadian French is mostly awful, I love the Acadian people, their resilience, and their food.
We took our time going through the impressive interpretive displays, describing the history and struggles of the Acadian people and the ingenuity of their farming practices on rich land that remains the breadbasket of the province. The site is currently under consideration for a World Heritage Site designation by UNESCO, which would be an exciting development for the region and the community that has developed around the site.
It was such a beautiful day, we had to get out and spend some time wandering around the well-maintained gardens. I used to live in the Valley, and speaking from past experience, we were well into summer on this particular day, with virtually-cloudless skies, bright sun, high temperatures, and no wind.
The focal point of the grounds is the Memorial Church, approached through a series of well-cultivated paths, passing a sculpture of Evangeline, the heroine of Longfellow’s epic poem about the Acadian deportation.
Back out in the garden, we got to see the full force of spring with some of my favourite flowers, poppies, and lupins, which should be Nova Scotia’s signature road trip flower, since the sides of our roads and highways are practically blanketed in them this time of year.
A blacksmith shop and small working garden round out the site. The potager kitchen garden was a staple of Acadian farm life, and while many of the vegetables are still in progress, the herbs were up and ready to use.
Finding the Deportation Cross
Funny coincidence, when we got lost earlier in the day looking for the walking trail, we were basically on the road to the Deportation Cross, commemorating the point at which Acadians were loaded onto boats and sent off to other parts of North America. The cross is at the end of a country road, so we parked the car and walked in, along a herd of particularly curious cows. One was far more interested in us than her million-dollar view.
The cross itself is a simple tribute, along the peaceful river. It certainly wasn’t a long visit, but it helps complete the story of le grand dérangement that starts over at Grand Pré.
Phonebox in a vineyard at Luckett Vineyards
After a quick bite to eat, we made our way to Luckett Vineyards, one of Nova Scotia’s newest wineries. On the approach, you cannot miss a most unique feature: a red British phonebox among the vines.
Upon further inspection, I found Luckett’s wines literally calling to us. The phonebox holds a working retro-style payphone from the era of Maritime Telegraph & Telephone (long gone). The best part? You can make a call gratis to anywhere in North America! I called my parents, who live on the other side of the Valley, to tell them I was in a field. It was completely charming and exactly the kind of unexpected experience I hoped to find.
Inside the shop, we became better acquainted with Luckett’s extensive range of wines and fruit wines. The shop is, in fact, where the winemaking happens, and it was interesting to see both sides of the business coexisting in the space.
For the tasting, we took advantage of Luckett’s “5 tastings for $7” offer. It was my first experience with Luckett wines and I found some new favourites. Despite the order in the image below, we did drink them in proper tasting order, from white to red to dessert.
For the loveliness of its surroundings, Gaspereau Vineyards is one my favourite Nova Scotia wineries. Situated on the “floor” of the Gaspereau River valley, the vines extend across the grounds and up the hill. For future travel reference, if the stars align and the conditions are right, you can rent an inner tube from any number of local entrepreneurs and go “tubing“, spending the afternoon floating down the Gaspereau River. Be sure to stop in for a bottle of wine when you’re done for the day!
Low tide at Halls Harbour
Halls Harbour is a little oove at the end of a lovely drive. Before our visit, we consulted the tide table to plan our visit around low tide. Since the harbour is on the Bay of Fundy, it sees dramatic fluctuations in water level between high and low tides every six hours or so. Low tide is amusing, because the water drains out of the harbour. The boats end up sitting on dry ground, tethered to the wharf to keep from falling over, until the tide returns and they’re bobbing in 10 metre-deep (approximately 40 ft) water again.
If you’re hankering for a seafood feast, head to the lobster pound, where you can pick out, and subsequently eat, the lobster of your choice.
There is an amazing wealth of things to do with a day in the Valley. We spent the whole day seeing the sights and drinking some fine wine, missing several other items that were a part of our vague itinerary. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to return!
Wines of Nova Scotia’s Passport to Wine Country
What’s travel without a passport? I have fallen hard for the Wines of Nova Scotia‘s passport program. So much so, one of my top goals of the summer is to visit the twelve member wineries and obtain all of the passport stamps. So far, so good, three down, nine to go and it’s only mid-June!
Experience it for yourself:
Domaine de Grand Pré: 11611 Highway #1 (Exit 10 off Highway 101)
Grand Pré National Historic Site: Exit 10 at Highway 101
Deportation Cross: Exit 10 at Highway 101
Luckett Vineyards: 1293 Grand Pré Road, Gaspereau (Exit 9 off Highway 101)
Halls Harbour: Route 359 outside of Kentville (Exit 12 off Highway 101)