Nova Scotia's easternmost provinces can perhaps best be described by what surrounds them: the sea. Miles and nautical miles of deep gray-blue sea. You're never far from the frigid North Atlantic when traveling in any of the four provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island (PEI), and Newfoundland and Labrador: All the major highways carry you alongside it, or to and from it. Nearly all of the major cities and hotels cozy up to it.

Indeed, this has long been a fisherman's paradise -- ever since native Canadian times -- and without those huge schools of fish that have historically thrived in the icy, deep waters of the Gulf of Maine (thanks to a fortuitous collision with the warm, northeastward-flowing Gulf Stream), these provinces would probably be emptier than the Dakotas today. Even so, the Maritimes remain a scrappy place to carve out a living thanks to the rough weather (summer is short, winter storm-tossed) and a geography that leaves the place feeling largely inaccessible from the rest of the free world.

So you have to appreciate those who have dug in here and made the place their own. The English, Scottish, Irish, and French colonists who came to North America were all well-suited for the task of fishing these waters; they'd had plenty of practice back home. For some reason, though, the Scots found this area more hospitable than the others, and it is they who stayed longest and have infused the region most strongly with their character. Whisky, mailboxes peppered with "Mac," and fish and chips: staples of Nova Scotia.

English influences are most strongly felt on the tranquil isle of Prince Edward; once a Royalist hideout, it's now nearly as prim and British a place as Kensington and an easy place to find a good game of golf. The French? They're here, too, in large pockets of New Brunswick and PEI, and to a lesser extent in Nova Scotia. (Try the Cheticamp area, for starters.) Newfoundland, though, is simply a land apart -- big, untamed, historic, at times jaw-droppingly scenic. Its denizens consist mostly of fishermen, escapist wilderness lovers, and/or eco-trekker types, most of whom love a good tipple and some live tunes. Think of it as an eastern Alaska (with better music).

While the fisheries have waned somewhat in recent years, creating deep concerns about the future of the Maritimes, the ocean is still the chief touristic draw. And if ever a place were built for ecotourism and quiet contemplation of nature, it's eastern Canada. Whale-watching, deep-sea fishing, and maritime-museum hopping are what you do here; in fact, some would argue they're all you can do here.

If you're looking for sun-splashed beaches, crazy nightlife, or a thousand tongues in the streets, you've come to the wrong corner of North America. Sail away on the next boat south. But if you're tiring of cities and keening for a pie of locally harvested berries, a kayak in quiet waters, an iceberg sighting, or a spot of spontaneous fiddle music at the local pub? Well, then, this is the best place in North America.

Kick off those shoes. They'll probably get wet anyway.

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.