Known as the Cradle of Our Nation, the community of Annapolis Royal lies within the western part of the lush Annapolis Valley.
It is about a two-hour drive from Halifax but with no agenda or time constraints, I stopped to take pictures and explore some attractions along the way, including a quick trip into the Gaspereau Winery to pick up some of their product before heading back on Highway 101.
Annapolis Royal is on the south bank of the Annapolis River facing the Annapolis Basin. The first thing you notice as you drive into town is the sweet strip of St. George Street which boasts colourful storefronts, cafés, restaurants and gift shops. The town has a charming waterfront area where you can stroll or sit. If you visit on a Saturday from May to October, hit up the local farmers’ market in the heart of town, across from the King’s Theatre.
Whenever I visit the town, I like to stop into a shop called The Crooked Floor on Victoria Street which offers whimsical and unique gifts sure to make you smile. There are other shops along the strip that feature local art and crafts as well, including The Lucky Rabbit on Church Street which has unique handcrafted pottery.
One little place that caught my eye was a vibrant little store that offered something I simply couldn’t resist: ice cream!
1 Scoop 2 Scoop is the newest addition to St. George Street and is a charming shop reminiscent of an old-fashioned ice cream parlour. Owners Maureen and Annette are behind the counter and serve up delicious cones as well as ice cream floats. But these treats aren’t the only cool items in the store. The window is filled with many birdhouses which are just as colourful as the shop itself. These houses are hand-made by Annette, using repurposed materials like licence plates and old kitchen tools.
Once you finally decide on a flavour (not an easy decision) you can head across the street to the Fort Anne National Historic site. The Fort offers visitors an opportunity to explore the exhibits and discover 400 years of history of the area. It also presents an expansive grounds on which you can sit to relax or even enjoy a picnic (or eat a rapidly melting ice cream cone). Enjoy a view of the Annapolis River and Basin from bright red Adirondack chairs on the hill.
If you want to stop for a bite, check out Bistro East. It sits on the corner of St. George and St. James. A table by the window gives you a view of the river and the menu features a variety of meals including handmade pasta, salads, pizza, soup and a seafood chowder with haddock, lobster, scallops and potatoes simmered in a light cream sauce.
While in Annapolis Royal, make sure to visit the Historical Gardens. Linger among the flowers, herbs, and trees which are all linked by paths accented with fountains and garden art. There are 17 acres in total, featuring some historically themed areas, with heritage plants. The showstopper of this delightful oasis is the rose collection. The sight and smells of thousands of blooms are colourful and fragrant. It’s a wonderful way to immerse yourself in nature in a calm and peaceful setting.
One of the striking things about the town is the architecture. Saunter through the streets and you will see various heritage properties showcasing different styles, including Victorian, Italianate, Greek Revival, Georgian and Neoclassical. If you want to stay over, Annapolis Royal offers some historic bed and breakfast inns. Hillsdale House, Queen Anne Inn, Garrison House, At The Turret Bed and Breakfast are samples of beautiful, grand homes that have been renovated into Inns.
Annapolis Royal is an important part of Nova Scotia’s history, as well as the history of Canada. Originally a strong Mi’kmaq community, it also became home to our earliest European settlers. It is well preserved, integrating the past and present and offering activities for all ages. Voted one of five of Canada’s cultural capitals, it should be on your bucket list of places to visit for the first time or again.