The trim Victorian village of Wolfville (pop. 3,800) has a distinctively New England feel to it, both in its handsome architecture and its compact layout -- a small commercial downtown just 6 blocks long is surrounded by shady neighborhoods of elegant homes. And it's not hard to trace that sensibility back to its source: The area was largely populated in the wake of the American Revolution by transplanted New Englanders, who forced off the original Acadian settlers.
The town's mainstay these days is handsome Acadia University, which has nearly as many full-time students as there are residents of Wolfville. The university's presence gives the small village an edgier, more youthful air. Don't miss the university's Art Gallery (tel. 902/585-1373; http://gallery.acadiau.ca), which showcases both contemporary and historic Nova Scotian art; it's located at 10 Highland Ave. (at the corner of Main St.) and is open Tuesday through Sunday from noon to 4pm, year-round. Admission is free.
Strolling through the village is a good way to spend a half-day; the towering elms and maples that shade the extravagant Victorian architecture make for an ideal walk. Begin at the Wolfville Tourist Bureau (tel. 877/999-7117 or 902/542-7000) at 11 Willow Ave. (in Willow Park) on the northern edge of the downtown area; it's open daily from mid-April through October. Also be sure to check out the local tourism website at www.wolfville.info. For a good printable map of Wolfville's downtown area, go to www.downtownwolfville.com and click on "Maps & Guides."
Cape Split, the hook of land that extends far into the Bay of Fundy north of Wolfville, is home to several walking trails through rugged landscapes and intriguing geological formations.
At Blomidon Provincial Park (tel. 902/584-2332), 24km (15 miles) north of Route 101 (exit 11), some 14km (8.7 miles) of trail take walkers through forest and along the coast. Among the most dramatic trails is the 6km (3.7-mile) Jodrey Trail, which follows towering cliffs that offer broad views over the Minas Basin. It's open from mid-May through early October.
For a more demanding adventure, head north of Wolfville about 25 minutes on Route 358 and park off the side of the road near the beginning of the Cape Split Trail. This 16km (10-mile) trail offers some of the more breathtaking vistas in Nova Scotia, specifically cresting oceanside cliffs that approach 122m (400 ft.) in height. Allow most of a day to truly enjoy this in-and-back excursion.
One of the more intriguing sights in Wolfville occurs on summer nights at dusk, in a simple park just off Main Street known as Robie Swift Park. Here a single abandoned chimney (from a long-gone dairy plant) rises straight up like a stumpy finger pointed at the skies. Around sunset, groups of chimney swifts -- sometimes large groups -- flit around, then descend into the chimney for a night's sleep. The swifts have been declining in number, ever since predatory merlins began nesting nearby. But you'll still learn a lot about them by browsing the informational plaques posted here. My favorite tidbit about the birds: No one even knew where swifts migrated to in winter until 1943, when explorers in the Peruvian jungle found natives wearing necklaces adorned with small aluminum rings. Yep, you guessed it: They were tracking bands placed on North American swifts by ornithologists. Mystery solved.
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