Talking Travel Destination Canada Colleen Fliedner Nova Scotia Annapolis Valley

The Colors of Fall in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley
by Colleen Fliedner

Close your eyes and picture a place that’s so beautiful, so full of fall colors that it takes your breath away. Imagine lakes and rivers that look like a Paul Bunyan-sized painter dipped his giant brushes in them – crimson, orange, gold, and green, swirled by currents and rippled by the wind, melding them into an exquisite artist’s palate.


I went to Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley in early October because I was told that the fall in this part of Canada was especially picturesque ; and I was not disappointed! This region of Canada’s Atlantic province is where the harvest season is celebrated with dozens of special events and festivals. Quaint towns separated by countless miles of fields, an amazing array of some of North America’s oldest historical sites, rustic fishing villages, gorgeous inns, wineries, and excellent restaurants bring visitors to the region year-round. But during the fall months, add to that appealing assortment of attractions the splendor of vibrantly colored leaves and a plethora of pumpkin fests, and you have a perfect holiday in northwest Nova Scotia. But would I find my ideal autumn backdrop in this delightful area?

I arrived in Halifax on a rainy day in early October packed for cold weather. By the next morning, the sky was clear and the temperature had warmed to the high sixties (about 18 Celsius). After walking around the waterfront, I joined friends for lunch at Salty’s, a lovely waterfront restaurant with sweeping views of Halifax Harbor.

This was my second trip to Nova Scotia. Peeling off my jacket as I walked back to my rented car, I remembered that it had been comfortably warm here three years earlier when I came on vacation in late October. Not that it doesn’t rain in Nova Scotia this time of the year. Bring an umbrella and warm jacket to be on the safe side.


The locals say that you’re never far from the sea, no matter where you are in Nova Scotia. It’s no wonder, then, that fishing has played such a tremendous role in the local heritage, culture, and economy. Seafood is abundant, both in restaurants and markets throughout Canada’s “Seacoast province”; and its lobster meat is famous for its delicate flavor because of the cold ocean temperatures.

Heading northwest from Halifax, only a slight detour from my final destination in the Annapolis Valley, I was determined to visit a genuine fishing village. Less than an hour later, I was at Hall’s Harbour, a seaport community of about 40 residents on the Bay of Fundy Coast. At the Lobster Pound and Restaurant overlooking the water, a brief lesson in all-things-lobsters is given to visitors: how and where they’re caught, how they’re cooked, and how to identify fresh versus pre-frozen lobsters. There’s a fish-themed gift shop, and the restaurant features all sorts of seafood, though lobster sandwiches — the tail meat, sauce, and lettuce on a big hoagie roll, remains the favorite. Tourists from the cruise ships come by the busload to dine at the rustic, knotty pine walled seaside eatery.

Besides the Lobster Pound and Restaurant, Hall’s Harbour Village has several artists’ studios, a small nautical museum, and a quaint general store. A half-dozen fishing boats are tied up at the wooden docks, their crews making necessary repairs before their next stint at sea.

The Bay of Fundy is truly one of the wonders of the natural world, as this is where the highest tides on Earth are found. When the tide is coming in, the water can rise as fast as an inch a minute, reaching a depth of over 50 feet in a relatively short time. When the tide is out, fishing boats in places like Hall's Harbour lie on their sides on the muddy bottom until the water returns. It’s truly an amazing natural phenomenon.


My stomach filled with lobster and French fries, I headed west. My next stop was Windsor, called the “little town of big firsts,” located about 45 minutes from the heart of Halifax. It was in Windsor that hockey was reportedly born more than 200 years ago. There’s a fun museum dedicated to the fast-paced sport, where visitors can learn everything about hockey’s beginnings, and as Canada's national sport.

In October, Windsor is a sleepy and community-oriented village that definitely gets into the Halloween mood. Houses and businesses are decorated with pumpkins, strings of orange lights, and most amazingly, with pumpkin lanterns for street lights. Locally grown giant pumpkins are carved and displayed in the business district. White church steeples poke above a forest of green, yellow and orange trees. This is the quintessential postcard town that I had hoped to find. Passing by neighborhoods of historic houses — Victorians, clapboard, and small mansions once owned by sea captains, identifiable because of the “widow’s walk” architecture — I was reminded of how few really architecturally and hnd historically significant homes are left in Southern California where I live. These weren’t the mass produced, tract-style houses I’d grown up with. Each was beautifully crafted, with immaculately manicured gardens and bursts of marigolds in the planters. Pumpkins, cornstalks, and hay bales decorated the front steps and the porches.

This was Canada’s Thanksgiving weekend, and the Halloween goblins and witches would join the fall decorations once Thanksgiving was over. With so many amenities and less than an hour's drive to Halifax, it’s no wonder that people from all over North America are retiring to Windsor, or at least, buying second homes there.

After enjoying a blueberry beer at the Spit Fire Arms British Pub, I drove to a rural area to visit the home and pumpkin farm belonging to Howard Dill, the man who has become synonymous with growing the giant orange gourds. He was the first farmer to perfect the art of raising pumpkins to gargantuan sizes, winning competitions with 400+ pound pumpkins for years — another first claimed by this rural community. Seeds from Dill’s monstrous pumpkins are sold around the world. Not only can visitors see the pumpkins growing in the patches, there’s a delightful gift shop where pumpkin products and even seeds are sold.

This part of the Annapolis Valley is home to the annual Windsor-West Hants Pumpkin Weigh-Off, a popular festival held in early October that includes live entertainment, music, and lots of contests. For instance, there’s a competition for pumpkin carving, pumpkin painting, and pumpkin desserts. (The latter is my personal favorite!). The highlight of the festival is the weigh-off and awards presentation.

And what, I wondered, do they do with all of those huge pumpkins after the Weigh-Off? Howard Dill explained that the following weekend, the pumpkins are cut into globular boats and hauled to a nearby lake for…what else? An annual pumpkin regatta! Not surprising is that there’s even more celebrating going on, with music, dancing, crafts, a parade, a scavenger hunt for the kids, and, of course, the race itself, when contestants hear the famous words, “Gentlemen and Ladies. Start Your Pumpkins!”

The Pumpkin Festival and its wide-ranging array of events continues throughout the month, ending with Halloween.


As much as I hated to leave Windsor, it was time to move onto my next stop: Wolfville, a charming town situated in the middle of a patchwork of green and gold fields. Apples, blueberries, pumpkins, and wine grapes grow abundantly in this fertile agricultural region of Nova Scotia. A trip to one of the many farmers’ markets is a great addition to the day. This is the home of Acadia University, founded in 1838. The town is filled with historic properties, and a walking tour map is available from the local Tourism Bureau (or by visiting the town’s website).

It’s easy to see why Wolfville is a popular weekend getaway for residents of Halifax. For the rest of us who are just visiting the area, it’s a great place to spend a few days. In fact, it’s location makes it ideal as a hub for day trips to the Annapolis Valley.


And speaking of day trips, a short drive from Wolfville is the historic site of Grand Pré. Between 1682 and 1755, this area was a large Acadian settlement. (The Acadians were the first and original settlers in what was then La Nouvelle France, a French Colony in North America.) The Grand Pré Museum chronicles the lives of the Acadian people and their expulsion from Nova Scotia by the English from 1755 to 1762, an extremely poignant story and one of the skeletons in the cipboard of Canadian history. I had heard about the Cajuns of Louisiana — love the music and the food — but I didn’t realize that their ancestors were among the Acadians deported from this part of Nova Scotia.

The next stop was at Fox Hill Cheese House, a family-owned and operated farm that raises its own cows and produces its own delicious brand of cheese. It’s a small operation with a tasting room, where their cheeses and yogurts can be sampled and purchased. Unfortunately, they don’t mass produce their products, nor do they ship them to the United States! I bought a small block of my favorite flavor, sundried tomato and herbs fused into white cheddar, munching on it until it was time for lunch.

There was one more stop to make before proceeding to a well-known restaurant, Between the Bushes, which is literally situated smack in the middle of blueberry fields that stretched as far as I could see. I had read about a wonderful sweet apple wine that was available at Domaine de Grand Pré, a winery owned and operated by a family of Swiss immigrants. I had to check it out. It was fall, after all, and apple wine somehow seemed appropriate for the season. After tasting numerous types of the Domaine de Grand Pré’s wine, it was their ice wines and that “apple pie in a bottle,” produced only by this winery, that were my favorites.

Before returning to the inn to rest, I drove to the historic Prescott House Museum, named for Charles Prescott, who was responsible for bringing over 100 varieties of apple to the province. Remarkably, many of his groves still exist. Museum staff and volunteers busily prepared for the big Halloween party that was to be held that evening at the house.

On my way back to the Blomidon Inn, the striking historic mansion where I stayed for several nights (see Inns below), I saw a sign for “The Tangled Garden.” I simply had to check it out! The Tangled Garden is a lovely art gallery, herb garden, and gift shop, where you can purchase jellies, vinegars, oils, and other products that have been fused with the herbs grown in owners’ gardens. It’s well worth a visit.


This area celebrates the Annapolis Valley’s Pumpkin Festival by creating “Pumpkin People.” There were a couple dozen displays scattered around town during my visit, though it was still early in October and others were likely to pop up throughout the month. The Pumpkin People are literally that: scarecrow-like, stuffed clothing with carved pumpkins for heads. Some are quite elaborate, like a wedding scene on the lawn of one large home. The local park has an elaborately “dressed” group of Pumpkin People marching in a parade, complete with “horses” and a band.

Kentville is just over an hour from Halifax and has become the province’s most populated town. And for good reason! Not only is it gorgeous country, the houses that sprawl across the town’s hills are beautiful. Kentville celebrates the Autumn Festival with numerous events that can be found at The Valley Pumpkin Fest.


About an hour west of Wolfville is Annapolis Royal, the earliest permanent settlement in North America. The town was established over 400 years ago by French colonists, who built Port Royal, a fur trading colony on the Bay of Fundy coast. Costumed interpreters, some of whom are direct descendants of the first settlers, explain the area’s fascinating history and lead tours of the Habitation, a re-construction of the settlement established in the area by Samule de Champlain.

Located at the water’s edge in the heart of town, Fort Anne is Canada’s oldest national historical site. Fort Anne is located in the downtown district and within easy walking distance of most of the inns. There are tours of the building and grounds, where numerous battles between the French and British took place during the 17th and 18th centuries.

I thoroughly enjoyed the night time cemetery walk at the adjacent Garrison Graveyard, the oldest English cemetery in Canada . Under the light of the waning moon, I joined a group of about 50 men, women, children, and a half dozen leashed dogs. Our guide, Alan Melanson, was dressed in a black cape and French felt cap. He began the tour with dramatic flair. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” he said, opening his hand to reveal a dark gray mound. A boy in the front row, approximately 12 years of age, gasped. “Those aren’t some dead guy’s ashes, are they?” he asked, his eyes wide with worry. The crowd roared with laughter, as the guide reassured him that they weren’t. Then Alan added in a dire tone that all of us eventually succumb to the earth. With that, we silently followed him for the short walk to the cemetery, carrying lanterns to illuminate the way. This wasn’t a ghost walk by any means; nor was it scary. It was simply a way for the guide to share stories of the people buried there. Of course, it was the Halloween season, and imaginations can run wild. More than one person in the crowd swore they saw or felt something strange going on.

The Historical Association of Annapolis Royal offers walking tours of the town. There are historical museums, theaters, historic mansions, an old lighthouse, and more to hear about on these excursions. This organization has done a phenomenal job saving historical properties, and a stroll around Annapolis Royal is evidence. In a community of just over 500 residents, there are 131 historical buildings.

With so much to see and do in this area, it’s difficult to pick and choose when you’re on a tight schedule. But the Historic Gardens are wonderful, and I highly recommend allowing at least an hour to walk through the 17-acre botanical collection. Don’t miss the snack shop, the rose maze, and the ponds. The interpretive center contains displays showing how the Acadian people constructed massive dykes out of materials, including chunks of soil and roots from the Salt Marshes, to reclaim the land from the sea. Then take the “Dykewalk” along Allain’s River salt marshes, surrounded by remnants of old Acadian dykes. In spite of the fact that it was October, there were still quite a few flowers in bloom.


By now, the weather was a glorious 75 degrees (about 22 Celsius); perfect for a hike. While I had seen countless landscapes that were beautiful, I was still hoping to find that perfect place that I had imagined. My “ah ha” moment came at Kejimkujik National Park (nicknamed Keji for obvious reasons), which is about a 30-minute drive from Annapolis Royal and a must-see for anyone in the area. The Mersey River winds through the area, tumbling over piles of granite rocks, creating small waterfalls.

As I walked along the trail that skirts the river, I was suddenly swept back into my daydream. The images I had envisioned of autumn in Nova Scotia were real, right there in the Kejimkujik National Park. The changing leaves — brilliant red, gold, and carrot-orange — reflected on the ponds and across the pools of water at the head of the waterfalls. It was too late in the season for the usual groups of canoers and kayakers, so the dark green water was undisturbed, except for the ripples created by the cool morning breeze. I snapped countless photos, pictures that would hopefully capture at least a smidgen of the beauty that spread out before me in a glorious carpet of color. This was a place where one could sit and contemplate; picnic; write poetry or a novel; or spend a day with loved ones in the utter quiet of nature. This was truly beautiful Nova Scotia.

On the edge of the National Park, the Mersey River Chalets offer cabins and teepees (yes, the “Indian” kind) for rent in a beautiful setting. And each cabin — in fact, the entire resort — is set up to accommodate people in wheelchairs. Not only are the cabins and their bathrooms wheelchair accessible (they have wheel-in showers), there’s a dining room overlooking the river for those who prefer not to cook their own meals.

There were plenty of campers throughout the park. Most amazing were the Halloween decorations at each camp site, an annual contest sponsored by the Friends of the National Park. But it was time to leave this piece of paradise and head back to Annapolis Royal.

All good things must come to an end, and the next morning I had to drive back to Halifax. This time, I traveled along the Atlantic Coast, making a few brief stops at the ubiquitous Tim Horton’s dougnut shops for coffee and a snack. I’ll return to Nova Scotia again next year for the fall foliage, pumpkin fests, and wonderful food, but will allow more time to explore some of the wonderful seaside communities on Nova Scotia’s Atlantic Coast.



There are hundreds of inns throughout the Annapolis Valley. I stayed at three and highly recommend all of them. Be aware that B&B’s are smaller than inns and often don’t have their own bathrooms. Go to to find listings.

Halliburton House Inn, 5184 Morris Street, Halifax
Located in Halifax’s downtown only a block from the water’s edge, this lovely inn is convenient to the harbor area and many of the finest restaurants in the city. Speaking of restaurants, Stories, the small restaurant located inside the inn, is reportedly excellent, though it was closed by the time I checked in. By the way, the almond scones served for breakfast were terrific.

Blomidon Inn, Wolfville. (902) 542-2291
Built in the 1880s, the Blomidon Inn was once a privately-owned mansion. With the old-world charm of England, the Blomidon is furnished in period décor. Each room has a small television and a whirlpool bathtub. The restaurant is open for dinner, featuring specialties prepared by the owner’s son, award-winning chef, Sean Laceby. Jim Laceby, who owns the inn with his wife and sons, explained that the Blomidon is a “Signature Inn,” which means it has received top ratings for both the accommodations and the restaurant. The Laceby family is a very hands-on team, and they made my stay quite memorable.

Hillsdale House Inn, 519 St.George St., Annapolis Royal (902) 532-2345
This lovely old inn is remarkably big and conveniently located to the downtown district. It’s about a 5-minute walk to the Historic Gardens, and about 10 minutes to the heart of town. The rooms are beautifully furnished and include flat screen televisions, a modern touch that contrasts with the rest of the antique furnishings. The inn’s proprietors, Paul and Val, offer the best breakfasts I’ve had in a long time. Everything is homemade, including the breads and several types of jams. Val’s apple-sausage breakfast quiche is fabulous!


Between the Bushes, off of Highway 101 in the Annapolis Valley. (902) 582-3648
This Southern Californian has never had tastier quesadillas than the smoky chicken version of this Mexican dish served at Between the Bushes. The restaurant is literally in the middle of fields of blueberries. Needless to say, many of the offerings include blueberries, like the blueberry compote served with each lunch and the blueberry vinaigrette salad dressing that came with the quesadilla. Good food. Oh, and did I mention that blueberries are good for you?

Blomidon Inn, Wolfville, 1-800-565-2291
The food is excellent and includes gourmet dishes prepared seasonally. Pumpkins, blueberries, and apples are incorporated into sauces, dressings and delicious desserts. A must when visiting this region.

Garrison House Inn, 350 St. George St., Annapolis Royal (902) 532-5750
This historic inn has seven guest rooms and a lovely restaurant downstairs that’s open to the public. The food is excellent and incorporates seasonal produce and fish caught in local waters. I enjoyed the seared scallops: big, fresh, and tender in a delicious sauce. Eating in the historic surroundings provides an ambiance that’s like stepping back in time. Located directly across the street from Fort Anne, how about dining at the Garrison Inn, then going to the Graveyard Tour at the Fort? It’s a great way to spend the evening.

Hall’s Harbour Lobster Pound, 10 miles north of Kentville on Route 359 (902) 679-5299
A favorite stop for tourists and locals who want an excellent and reasonably priced seafood meal. The restaurant is closed during the winter.

Hillsdale House Inn, 519 St.George St., Annapolis Royal (902) 532-2345
While the Hillsdale doesn’t have a regular restaurant, be sure to check with them to see if they’re having one of their international dinners or other food-related events while you’re in town. The food is delicious, and Paul and Val regularly offer special evenings that include serving dinner.

M & W Restaurant (and Variety Store), Route 8, ¼ mile from Kejimkujik National Park
On the way back to Annapolis Royal from Kejimkujik National Park, I stopped for lunch at M & W Restaurant, a roadside diner and variety store that services campers who need groceries, firewood or other supplies in the nearby national park. The food was good, homemade, and includes a selection of vegetarian dishes. The African peanut soup was wonderful, as was the apple blueberry pie. Would you believe there were peanut butter and onion sandwiches on the menu? Hmmm….

Salty’s Restaurant, 1869 Upper Water St., Halifax (902) 423-6818
Waterfront dining at its finest. Sweeping views of Halifax Harbour, one of the deepest natural harbors in North America. Very good seafood of all types, and delicious desserts, too.

Tempest Restaurant, 117 Front St., Wolfville (902) 542-0588
This is the most upscale restaurant in the area, with a menu filled with the chef’s unique specialties. The menu included a great deal of fresh seafood caught in local waters. The food is excellent and well worth the slightly higher prices.