Sometimes it’s the little things about a vacation that you remember most, and here is one of mine: Nova Scotia blueberries, right off the bush.
There are few things as delicious as freshly picked blueberries — something I’d never tasted until a recent visit to this far-eastern Canadian province.
I’m embarrassed to admit I’d never even seen a blueberry bush until the day my husband and I drove through the Annapolis Valley on Nova Scotia’s northwest shore. Designated the Harvest Highway to recognize agriculture’s contribution to the economy, Highway 101 is flanked by small farms, orchards, produce stands, vineyards and wineries. Lucky for us, a light rain ceased just as we whizzed past the “U-pick blueberries” sign, so we made a quick U-turn. The friendly caretaker gave us the Blueberry 101 course, including where to find the fat ones. Then we took our bucket into the bushes and began plucking.
At $1.59 a pound, it was hard to restrain ourselves, but with no way to store the berries, we held to 2.5 pounds. Once in the car, we put a dent in our harvest. Later, we bought bowls of vanilla ice cream, dumped on the berries and voila! An exquisite treat we savored because we knew it may never come along again.
For our three-day stay in the Annapolis Valley, we headquartered in Annapolis Royal at the Hillsdale House Inn, the town’s longest-serving inn (built in 1859; www.hillsdalehouseinn.ca). Owners Paul and Val Stackhouse are completing their fifth season with the bed and breakfast, and it is obvious that their focus is on detail and personal service.
“We want to make this your home away from home,” Paul said. “We want to be at your disposal but in the background.”
This they have accomplished.
Each room is uniquely decorated with antiques and artwork, but not overdone. Three of the 12 acres of their property are manicured, and the storybook garden begs to be enjoyed. There are comfortable parlors for hosting such events like the impromptu jam session that evolved one evening. Local bluegrass musicians entertained for several hours and chatted with the “audience” in between numbers.
You won’t go hungry at breakfast the next morning. There are two choices on the menu and the Stackhouses, who do the cooking, use only fresh ingredients that are obtained as locally as possible. (Note: They happily accommodate those needing a gluten-free meal.)
So many of Annapolis Royal’s 444 residents are engaged in the preservation of the town’s stately and brightly hued Victorian homes and the promulgation of its history (www.tourannapolis.com). One of the chief cheerleaders is historian/docent/entertainer Alan Melanson, a 10th generation Acadian whose family’s original home was unearthed nearby. He stages the Candlelight Graveyard Tour (www.tourannapolisroyal.com/graveyard.html) several times a week. Dressed in 19th century mourning attire, he guided our group of 20-plus (it was off-season, midweek and threatened rain, but still they came) around the cemetery and related the town’s story through the tales of some of the graveyard’s 2,000 residents. All living guests get candle lanterns that not only add to the feeling of authenticity, but help in avoiding encounters with ancient grave markers.
The Annapolis Valley is rich in good food, friendly folks, beautiful scenery, picturesque historic towns and Acadian history. The area was settled in 1604 by French immigrants whose more than 6,000 ancestors were deported between 1755 and 1762 — literally sent out to sea — by the British because they wouldn’t swear allegiance to England’s king. This sad and fascinating tale is recounted in story, dioramas, artifacts and film at the Grand Pre National Historic Site. The massive weeping willows, sweeping lawns and gardens that are still in high bloom even in mid-September, offer a quiet place for a stroll or meditation. After visiting, I understood for the first time how Louisiana because an Acadian sanctuary and the story behind Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s first epic poem “Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie.”
There are plenty of other things to see and do in and around the Annapolis Valley and Annapolis Royal. The area has a cluster of wineries, and don’t miss learning about ice wine, an Acadian creation. Also, take a tour through the Fort Anne National Historic Site, which played a key role in the struggle for the area between England and France.
E’Louise Ondash is a veteran, award-winning journalist who was an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist for the Times Advocate and the North County Times. She has written travel features for The Coast News since 2003.