Downtown Amherst is compact (just a few blocks, really), though attractive in a brick-and-sandstone way. A half-dozen or so buildings are rough gems of classical architecture, nicely offset by the trees -- including a few elms that continue to soldier on despite Dutch elm disease. Notice the elaborately pedimented 1888 courthouse at the corner of Victoria and Church; a short stroll north from here is the sandstone Amherst First Baptist Church, with its pair of prominent turrets. Farther north are the stoutly proportioned Doric columns announcing the 1935 Dominion Public Building.
Heading east on Route 6 from the center, you'll also glimpse homes dating from the past 150 years or so. They display an eclectic range of architectural styles and materials.
Those seeking more information on Amherst's history can visit the Cumberland County Museum, 150 Church St. (tel. 902/667-2561), located in the 1836 home of R. B. Dickey, one of the Fathers of Canadian Confederation. (Amazing historical footnote: No fewer than four of said Fathers hailed from Amherst.) This museum is especially strong in documenting details of local industry and labor -- it's big on rugs, fabrics, and knitting. There are also tons of local census records, oral histories, and other ephemera. The museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 9am to 5pm and Saturdays from noon to 5pm. Admission costs C$3 per adult or C$5 per family.
While this isn't really a town to linger in before heading into such a lovely province, a Frommer's reader tipped me off to the extremely authentic Old Germany Restaurant (tel. 902/667-2868) at 80 Church St. The owners cook traditional German cuisine and fantastic desserts. It's in a strange location that looks like it once housed a fast-food joint, but never mind: The meat and beer here are very good, plus there's a kids' menu. Owners Heidi Renner-Dembour and Holger Renner, as you might have already guessed, are originally from Germany. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner 5 days a week (closed Mon-Tues).
Pugwash & Tatamagouche
This region is home to a number of picnic parks, as well as local and provincial beaches. Signs along Route 6 point the way; most require a detour of a few miles. Pack a picnic and make an afternoon of it.
Pugwash, which comes from the Mi'kmaq word pagweak, meaning deep waters, has a slightly industrial feel, with its factory and a midsize cargo port on the Pugwash River. Seagull Pewter (tel. 888/955-5551 or 902/243-3850) is well known throughout the province and is made in a factory on the east side of town; look for the retail store (which also stocks antiques) on the other side of town, just west of the Pugwash River bridge on Route 6. It's open 7 days a week in the summer.
Between Pugwash and Tatamagouche you'll drive through the scenic village of Wallace (town motto: "A Friendly Place") as the road winds along the water and takes in fine views of the forested shores on the far side of Wallace Bay. Or should it be Wallaces? Last time through, I counted about eight villages with "Wallace" in their name. They're all tiny. East of the "main" Wallace, watch for the remains of ancient Acadian dikes in the marshes -- they were built to reclaim the land here for farming (and signs point the dikes out). Also look for the famous Jost Vineyards in the area.
Tatamagouche is a pleasant fishing village with a cameo on TV (the CBC miniseries The Week the Women Went is based there) and a surprisingly large annual Oktoberfest of German beer and dancing, held at the local recreation center. For details on the festival, visit the event's website at www.nsoktoberfest.ca. The town is also home to the Fraser Cultural Centre, 362 Main St. (tel. 902/657-3285), a former hospital and rest home which strives to preserve the region's cultural heritage through ongoing exhibits and arts and crafts-related activities. It's open daily from June through September, and admission is free.
You can even go craft shopping here. Sara Bonnyman Pottery (tel. 902/657-3215) has a studio and shop just outside town, where you'll find rustic country-style plates, mugs, and more in a speckled pattern embellished with blueberries, sunflowers, and other pleasing country motifs. The shop is located out on Route 246, about a mile from the post office.
Days of Wine and Rosé -- Near the hamlet of Malagash, which is midway between Wallace and Tatamagouche, look for the highway signs crafted of casks along the road; these will direct you to Jost Vineyards (tel. 800/565-4567; www.jostwine.com), which produce wines you might have sipped in Halifax's better restaurants. The vineyards' success is an instructive story of persistence. The winemaking Jost family emigrated here from Germany in 1970 and began growing grapes in the local soil 8 years later; finally, in 1985, Jost's first wines were bottled and sold. Today, they're highly regarded throughout Canada.
You can take a free tour of the winery -- in a lovely rambling red farmhouse with a great bay view -- enjoy a picnic (a deli opens on the premises during the summer), or sample wines produced here and stock up on the ones that impress you most. Don't miss the "ice wine," a world-famous Canadian specialty made from naturally frozen grapes. It's usually associated with the province of Ontario; Jost's Vidal ice wine, however, again licked all contenders in a 2009 competition. At C$40 per 375-ml. bottle, it's not cheap, but good stuff never is. Impress your friends. In summer, the vineyard is open daily from 9am to 6pm; off-season, it's closed Sundays from Christmas through May 1st and closes an hour earlier every day from mid-September through mid-June. The tours are offered twice daily, at noon and 3pm, from mid-June through mid-September. (Note that the wine cellars are difficult to get down to and back up from for someone with mobility issues.)
To visit the vineyards, simply follow Route 6 from Tatamagouche to Malagash, turning right at the wine barrel and then following grape signs to the vineyard. Got to love that.
Pictou is a historic harborside town, with lots of interesting buildings. It's debatable whether it's worth an overnight visit, though: There's not a whole lot to do, and the town isn't terribly outward-looking in terms of welcoming visitors. Still, it does have architecture. There are so many sandstone edifices adorned with five-sided dormers here that you might feel at times like you've wandered into an Edinburgh side street by mistake. Water Street is especially pleasing to the eye, with a few boutiques, casual restaurants, and pubs filling the storefronts.
The harbor is well protected and suitable for novices who want to explore by sea kayak or canoe. Also look in on the Hector Heritage Quay Visitor's Marina (tel. 902/485-6960) on the waterfront at 37 Caladh Ave., with its twice-weekly live music in summer and a variety of other events. It's open from May through October.
Look for the headquarters and factory outlet of Grohmann Knives at 116 Water St. (tel. 888/756-4837 or 902/485-4224), too. Located in a 1950s-mod building with a large knife piercing one corner, you'll find a good selection of quality knives (each with a lifetime guarantee) at marked-down prices. It's open daily; free half-hour factory tours are offered on weekdays between 9am and 3:30pm -- but only if you can get four people together to take one.
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.