This, along with a similar report for PEI, is the first trip report I'm posting on TripAdvisor. I'll try to outline what we did, how it worked out, etc.
We were traveling with our two dogs. We arrived at our hotel in Dartmouth, across the harbor from Halifax, late Sunday night, July 14. It was very warm, and the air conditioning in our room wasn't working; I'll post more details about that in a review of the hotel. Both of these problems - unexpected heat and inoperative/inadequate A/C - recurred later in our trip as well, on PEI. We had hoped to experience cool temperatures, as average high temperatures in July in NS are 72F/22C. Unfortunately, our first day, Monday, it was around 90F/32C and very humid, and temperatures were above average the next few days. So our hopes for relatively cool summer weather were not met. Maybe that's just a matter of bad luck, but don't make the mistake of thinking it never gets hot there. At least it enabled us to make jokes about the heat in "Hellifax". :)
Monday was our day in the city. Because it was so hot, we dismissed our plans for spending the day walking around Halifax, and instead spent much of the day touring in our air-conditioned car. We went to Point Pleasant Park for walking with our dogs, and it was indeed a pleasant place, with many Haligonians using it as a refuge in the heat. We drove around the city, including the drive around the Citadel overlooking the city. We got a feel for Halifax, which seemed like a city full of residents going about their business - a contrast with our later stops in Charlottetown and Quebec City, both of which seemed to be oriented more towards visitors from out of town.
We had dinner in downtown Halifax at the Press Gang, which was absolutely OUTSTANDING in every respect. The mussels steamed with dragon's breath blue cheese and leeks were wonderful, with an incredibly rich broth. The butter poached lobster was also unusually wonderful, a dish that always sounds superb but elsewhere often misses the mark. The braised short rib was a unique treatment, in a red curry sauce (similar to panang seasoning in Thai cooking), and the delicious beef played off the Thai overtones in a culinary symphony. And for dessert, we loved the "chef's lemon pie", a combination plate of lemon panna cotta, Italian meringue, and the terrific sable cookies. What a wonderful restaurant!
Tuesday was our day in the winery district around Wolfville, which was a relatively short drive, under an hour from Halifax/Dartmouth. This was a lot of fun. We planned their sequence by plotting them on a map to see which ones were on the way to others, and visited Domaine de Grand Pre, Luckett Vineyards, Gaspereau Vineyards, Blomidon Estates Winery, and on our way back, Sainte-Famille Wines. As is typical with wineries everywhere, they varied in style, ranging from Blomidon Estates Winery, with a small shop where we were the only visitors, to Luckett Vineyards, whose restaurant was doing a booming lunch business on its outdoor patio and had quite a crowd in the store as well. Our favorite reds and whites were at Sainte-Famille; our favorite ice wine was at Blomidon; and we spent the most at Gaspereau, helped in part by some interesting infused maple syrup.
We had originally planned to dine in Halifax for dinner Tuesday, but changed our minds about our previous plans, so we had no reservations. When we returned from wine country, we decided to go for something lower key, and found our way to the Chabaa Thai location in Dartmouth near our hotel. Our dinner there was very good, one of the better Thai restaurants we have experienced.
Wednesday we headed out for Cape Breton Island. Along the way, we took a detour to go to Sugar Moon in Earltown, based on a suggestion by TripAdvisor user graywolfpack here (which we greatly appreciate!). Sugar Moon Farm is a farm that produces and sells maple syrup, and they offer it for sale at their restaurant. The restaurant was recently named as one of the best places for pancakes in Canada, and they were indeed terrific! So the detour was worthwhile and we added some of their maple syrup to our previous wine purchases stashed away in our car.
When we arrived on the Cabot Trail, we stopped in Baddeck, which was nicely quaint, but a bit of a disappointment. I'm sure it's a nice place to stay if you're looking for a quaint little village, but as a place to spend time in interesting shops and walking around, maybe not so much. We enjoyed some of the standalone shops along the Cabot Trail more than anything we found in Baddeck.
We checked into our hotel in Sydney, which was very nice and thankfully had modern, effective air conditioning units. :) We then headed into North Sydney for dinner at the Lobster Pound. We knew we were in a different culture when the staff called us hon, honey, darling, sweetheart, and love. :) And oh, those lobsters! We each ordered the whole lobster, which was a huge 1.75-pound lobster and was wonderful. Note, the Lobster Pound is a very small restaurant, and reservations are essential. I had called for a reservation a couple of months beforehand, and was told it was too far out, to call again a couple of weeks beforehand, which I did. When we arrived, there was a sign on the door saying that they were fully booked that night! So if you plan to go there, make a reservation in advance.
Thursday was our primary day on the Cabot Trail. Unfortunately, the weather was misty after an overnight rain. We headed for the trail via the Englishtown Ferry, which we LOVED; the five-minute ride was truly fun! We then hit a succession of standalone stores along the Cabot Trail, including Piper Pewter, Glass Artisans Studio, and Leather Works by John C. Roberts, where we bought more items to stash away in the car. All three of these were in the initial stretch of the Cabot Trail, and were the best shopping places we visited along the trail. We continued driving along the trail, but the weather became foggy and rainy. We had a 3 pm reservation for a whale watching boat excursion from Pleasant Bay, but knew that the weather could be an issue, and indeed, when we arrived there, we found a sign that all tours that day had been cancelled due to weather. Oh well.
We decided to spend the remainder of the afternoon driving to Cheticamp and then back to Pleasant Bay, where we had our hotel reservation. The drive there from Pleasant Bay was quite dicey due to the fog and consequent lack of visibility, but it had cleared somewhat by the time we returned. Cheticamp itself was not really what we expected; the shops were spread out along the trail so it really wasn't the kind of place where you could stroll from shop to shop.
Our dinner Thursday evening was at the Rusty Anchor back in Pleasant Bay. This was another excellent (and value-priced) meal featuring fresh local seafood.
Friday was our last day in Nova Scotia. After breakfast at our hotel, we headed down the Cabot Trail. The visibility was better that morning, so we were able to take more photographs. We then took the Ceilidh Trail from the Margaree area to the Canso Causeway. This was an interesting drive, albeit without the mountainous vistas of the Cabot Trail. We found a lovely little shop called the Bellemeade Farm Shoppe in Mabou, where we bought some yarn to add to the stash of goods we were bringing home.
When we reached the Canso Causeway, we encountered a 15-minute delay there for a bridge inspection. Plus it was raining much of the way on the mainland. We were racing to make the 2:45 ferry sailing from Caribou to PEI, and we did. One of the concerns we had about the ferry was whether it might be full, since it was a Friday afternoon and we didn't have a reservation, but that wasn't a problem. It's a huge boat!
We enjoyed the Cabot Trail. In some ways, it was exactly what we expected, with spectacular scenery, reminiscent in some spots of California's famous Highway 1. We found that the shopping was much better at those standalone stops north of the Englishtown Ferry than in the towns themselves. We had been warned about the "crowds" in the "peak season", but this was never, ever an issue whatsoever. We were surprised at how little traffic and few people there were while we were there. Those warnings had us envisioning traffic crawling at 20 mph under the speed limit, but in fact, there were numerous times when we drove 10+ minutes without seeing another car.
Another thing people here had warned about regards how long to stay, with some posters claiming that a couple of days is not enough to see Halifax or Cape Breton. That also turned out to be a non-issue for us. Granted, the longer you stay in a place, the more sights (and sites) you can see, etc. But we felt that we got a nice feel for the areas we visited, and the time we spent in each was about right for our personal comfort level.
We really loved all of Nova Scotia - Halifax (despite the heat), Wolfville, and Cape Breton. We enjoyed the scenery, the shopping, and the food. Thanks to those here who provided helpful advice when we were planning our trip!