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The Acadian Coast

The Acadian Coast (called the "French Shore" by English-speaking locals) runs roughly from Salmon River to St. Bernard. This hardscrabble coast, where the fields were once littered with glacial rocks and boulders, was one of the few areas where Acadians were allowed to resettle after their 1755 expulsion from English Canada.

Today, you'll find abundant evidence of the robust Acadian culture, from the ubiquitous Stella Maris (the Acadian tricolor flag, with its prominent star -- you'll get what I mean as soon as you get here) to the towering Catholic church around which each town seems to cluster. This region is more populous and developed than much of the rest of the Nova Scotia coast, and thus lacks somewhat the wild aesthetic that travelers often seek. It has also failed to put its best foot forward touristically; there's little to no PR seeping out of this stretch of coast, and few accommodations or fine-dining experiences to be found. On the other hand, of course, that's what makes it so charming: it is what it is, and won't change just to make a buck.

Essentials

Getting There -- The Acadian Coast is traversed by Route 1. Speedy Route 101 runs parallel, but some distance inland; take any exit from 28 to 32 and follow Route 1 to your heart's content.

Visitor Information -- It's best to collect information in the major towns bracketing either end of this stretch; that means heading to either the Yarmouth Visitor Centre at 228 Main St. or Digby's information center on Route 303.

Exploring the Acadian Coast

A drive along this seaside route offers a pleasant detour, in both pace and culture. You can drive its whole length, or pick up segments by exiting from Route 101 and heading shoreward. What follows is a selected sampling of attractions along the coast, from north to south.

  • St. Mary's Church, Church Point. Many towns along the Acadian coast are proud of their impressive churches, but none is quite so amazing as St. Mary's. You can't miss it; it's adjacent to the campus of Université Sainte-Anne, the sole French-speaking university in Nova Scotia. The imposing, gray-shingled church has the feel of a European cathedral made of stone -- yet St. Mary's, which was built between 1903 and 1905, is made entirely of wood. It's said to be the tallest and biggest wooden building on the entire continent. How this tiny village afforded it is beyond me. Outside, the church is impressive enough -- a steeple rises some 56m (184 ft.) above the grounds, with some 40 tons of rock helping to provide stability in the wind. Inside, though, it's even more extraordinary -- entire tree trunks serve as columns (they're covered in plaster to lend a more traditional appearance), for instance, and there are plenty of windows and arches to give architectural weight to the place. A small museum in the rear offers glimpses of church history. Admission is by donation; leave one.
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  • Rapure Acadienne Ltd. (tel. 902/769-2172), Church Point. Rappie pie is an Acadian whole-meal pie, typically made with beef or chicken. The main ingredient is grated potatoes, from which the moisture has been extracted and replaced with chicken broth. The full and formal name is "pâté a la rapure," but look for signs for "rapure" or "rappie pie" along Route 1 on the Acadian Coast. Locals argue over which kitchen does it best, but as far as I'm concerned, one place is just good as the next -- except this one, an unassuming shop on Route 1 just south of Church Point. You can pick up a freshly baked beef or chicken rappie pie here for about C$5. (It costs about a dollar more for a clam pie.) Commandeer an outdoor picnic table to enjoy your meal, or take it to the shady campus of Université Sainte-Anne, a few minutes' drive north. The shop is open daily year-round, usually from around 8am.
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  • La Vieille Maison (tel. 902/645-2389), Meteghan. This small historical museum displays artifacts of Acadian life in the 19th century. Look for the scrap of original French wallpaper uncovered during restoration of the summer bedroom. Open daily in summer. Admission is free.
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  • Smuggler's Cove, Meteghan. This small provincial picnic area a few minutes south of town has a set of steps running steeply down to a cobblestone cove. From here, you'll have a view of a tidal cave across the way. Rum runners were said to have used this cave -- about 5m (16 ft.) high and 18m (59 ft.) deep -- as a hideout during the Prohibition era. Truth or tourism-boosting legend? Who knows? Nobody's talking. But admission's free.
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  • Mavillette Beach, Mavillette. This beautiful crescent beach has nearly all the ingredients for a pleasant summer afternoon -- lots of sand, grassy dunes, changing stalls, a nearby snack bar with ice cream, and views across the water to scenic Cape Mary. All that's lacking are picnic tables and an ocean warm enough to actually swim in; it's seriously frigid here, though some hardy souls do give it a try. The beach, managed as a provincial park, is 1km (2/3 mile) off Route 1, and the turnoff is well marked. It's open mid-May through mid-October. Admission is free.
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  • Port Maitland Beach, Port Maitland. Another provincial park beach -- and a very long one at that -- Port Maitland Beach is near the breakwater and town wharf. It isn't as scenic or pristine as Mavillette Beach; it's closer to Yarmouth and attracts larger crowds, principally families. But I really enjoy it anyway, because you can walk for miles in solitude here. This makes a good first stroll in the province if you're just off the overnight ferry. They have picnic tables, too. Signs direct you to the beach from the village center.

Where to Stay

Accommodations are pretty thin on the ground here; most are small, unpretentious B&Bs offering varying degrees of comfort. They are quite affordable, however; you could pay as little as C$50 for a night in a double room here. It all depends on what you want. Push onward to the Annapolis Valley if you want a fancy inn, or backtrack to Yarmouth for a family motel or chain hotel if you'll be leaving the province by ferry or heading for the South Shore next. Traipse inland to Kejimkujik National Park if you're longing to camp in the woods.

If you're determined to stay in the land of Evangeline, no sweat. There's a good B&B, A la Maison D'Amitie (tel. 902/645-2601; www.houseoffriendship.ca), on a cliff top down a dirt road in Mavillette, with two oceanfront suites for C$175 in peak season and a much more expansive, ground-floor suite with vanity sinks and a Jacuzzi for C$350 per night. (Rates are a bit lower off season.) The home boasts an impressive 152m (500 ft.) of ocean frontage in addition to its views, and should be very welcoming -- the name is French for "House of Friendship." You might also try L'Auberge au Havre du Capitaine (tel. 902/769-2001; http://havreducapitaine.itgo.com) on Route 1 in Meteghan River, a regular motel with 18 rooms at rates ranging from about C$75 to C$119 per night; a few even have air-jetted Jacuzzi tubs. As a bonus, there's a local Acadian-cuisine restaurant on the premises.

Still stuck? The log Trout Point Lodge Wilderness Resort is also an option. It's covered below in the Yarmouth section, but it's actually inland from the French Shore rather than part of it.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.