Exploring Nova Scotia's Eastern Shore: A travel diary
“Oh really? You never hear of people going out that way. What’s there?”
The car rental agent hung the question and our keys over the counter after we told him about our plan to explore Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore. Boyfriend and I didn’t know what awaited on our three-day getaway from the city, other than a chance to unplug and decompress. We shrugged and told him we’d share what we found when we dropped the car off.
It had started out a few days before as a familiar scene: Boyfriend and I on our couch, talking about how we needed a break. Our budget didn’t allow for a tropical island to reset us, but that didn’t mean we had to settle for feeling fried.
Glorious, globe-trotting adventures that result in foreign cultural exchanges are amazing, but when they’re off the table that doesn’t mean your suitcase needs to collect dust.
Before a generation that was able to make annual pilgrimages to sun-soaked resorts began berating youth for their appetite for avocado toast, the word ‘vacation’ looked a lot different for many of us.
It looked like camping in a national park, renting a rustic cabin, or overnighting in a small town built around peddling attractions to short-haul travellers.
It looked like a week or weekend that costed a couple of hundred (not a few thousand) and maybe even happened in the same area code.
[Above: 1. The view from our AirBnB cottage, 2. Brunch at nearby café The Rose and Rooster]
Seaside regions from northern England to the New England states are awash with examples of faded towns and shoreline-hugging resorts that catered to city-dwellers like us looking for reprise decades ago.
Nova Scotia, itself a narrow finger of North America dipping into the Atlantic Ocean, is rife with idle beach towns and clapboard cottages. Though we may overlook these sweet spots when planning time away, Boyfriend and I were reminded of their value when faced with a getaway that was more modest in funds and time.
Nova Scotia’s South Shore is possibly the province’s most famous destination of this kind. But, deciding on Wednesday we’d be leaving that Friday meant we were forced to widen our scope to more off-the-beaten-track options for what I called our “retro weekend.”
The idea was simple: Find a quaint cottage and spend our days exploring the area (and the outdoors) while our nights would be about wine, reading and rest. Bonus points if we landed a place where there was limited internet and unlimited wilderness.
What we found more than fit the bill. We snagged an adorable AirBnB cottage that had a clean, Scandinavian style and was so close to the ocean its roar was our alarm clock. Mornings were spent watching the water (and butterflies) as we sipped coffee. Cups drained, we’d drive along the coastline, the highway unspooling alongside the ocean like an asphalt ribbon, to explore.
And, we quickly discovered some local gems: We found an old-fashioned general store, housed in what looked like an old barn, offering vegetarian breakfast hash and dreamy ice cream. Our AirBnB hosts had a nearby café offering strong espressos and sophisticated eats.
One afternoon, we visited the nearby wildlife sanctuary Hope For Wildlife. The by-donation tour (solo or guided) let us see local rehabilitation efforts. The centre’s twin beavers play-fighting in their enclosure were so cute my heart almost stopped.
The real answer to Car Rental Guy’s question, though? Beaches. Big, small, sandy, rocky, crowded, deserted: The Eastern Shore had them all, from the rocky shores and wild tides of Lawrencetown Beach, a local surf haven, to white sand and turquoise waters of Clam Harbour Beach.
[Above: The superb, stunning Martinique Beach]
We gladly spent most of our time trying to see as much of them as possible.
My favourite of them of all, though? Martinique Beach. The drive there from our AirBnB was on the long-ish side (about an hour) but worthwhile in its own right, with the highway’s twists and turns surrendering jaw-dropping ocean views.
When we arrived at the remote strip of sand, it felt like we’d arrived at the edge of the earth: there was nothing left between us and the cold, clean Atlantic. We ran at the waves like kids. We swam. We walked the shoreline. We read and rested on towels as the salt water dried our hair in soft textures.
Hours later, we began the drive home. My hair was windswept and my head refreshed after days away from the internet. Now-full sketchbooks and recently-read books slid around the trunk as we prepared to return the rental.
When we handed over the car keys, Car Rental Guy commented on how refreshed (and mildly sunburnt) we looked. We didn’t tell him that our retro weekend felt like a complete success, that we’d totally reset ourselves and felt like we had a real taste of summer. All I said was: “Hey, have you ever been to Martinique Beach? You should really go.” —because I know I’ll be going back every chance I can get.