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Seaside Spirit: A Day in Halifax

Enjoy Exquisite Wine and Seafood in Nova Scotia

by Jessica Howell

Situated on a spoon shaped inlet of the vast Atlantic, Halifax, Nova Scotia is a maritime dream with small-town feel and big-city appeal. Founded in 1749, this historically-seeped locale has been linked to such tragedies as the Titantic's sinking (Halifax sent the first three ships which retrieved victims) and the great explosion of 1920 that killed over 1,700 people and left the entire harbor bruised but not broken. It may seem that Halifax has faced a streak of bad luck, but one trip to this coastal charm will leave you hungry for more. Literally.

Quickly becoming one of Canada's culinary meccas, Halifax offers the finest of dining, the freshest of seafood, and a vibrating energy that pulses through the city, intriguing a bevy of international visitors.
Halifax Harbour

My stay in Halifax was deep in the winter's blustery months. My suitcases were filled to the brim with turtlenecks, scarves, gloves and burly boots - and I was more than pleasantly surprised to find that most stayed tucked neatly away for the trip's duration. The air was brisk and small trails of condensation billowed with the breaths of those outside, but the sun was shining, the water was sparkling, and I was toasty traveling the city by foot.

Made up of tall shouldered buildings that line narrow streets, Halifax seems more 19th century than 21st. It has a quaintness that rarely exists in a city of its size or convenient location thanks to small turns, sought-after corners and intimate settings that make every nook and cranny warm and inviting.

The hotel which I called home, the Westin Nova Scotia, sits near the water. Each morning I woke up to glorious views of the harbor and George's Island, except on the last day when the fog was so thick that I could barely see the street from my 10th floor guest room. No matter; I was tucked into Westin's signature Heavenly bed - and so I slept in a bit, allowing a bit more time for the dense fog to dissipate.

The hotel is made up of 297 rooms, each of which is smaller in size but offers plenty in accommodation and amenity for the modern traveler like luxurious bedding, magnified mirrors and extended shower curtain bars in the bathroom. The lovely pool, lounge bar, Elements restaurant and Bellazio Spa are also at your fingertips, located on the hotel's ground floor.

It's not hard to grab a cab, but easier and more enjoyable to walk the city, whether day or night. I started my day with a walk along the water, stopping by Rum Runners to sample their unmatched Original Rum Cake and spicy Glen Breton Whiskey Cake. I called it breakfast, but you're guaranteed to enjoy it at any time of day. Walk through their newly renovated store and you'll learn the history of how Nova Scotia aided thirsty Americans during the 1920's Prohibition.
Nova Scotia Crystal

Keep walking and you'll pass lively boutique stores, quiet yet enthralling local art galleries and a large selection of waterfront dining. On George Street you'll find Nova Scotia Crystal - Canada's only mouth-blown crystal maker. Inside, you're treated to a window view of the quick and agile crystal makers, constantly spinning, blowing and carving the fiery liquid glass into delicate works of art. All pieces are completely handmade and designed to fit one of the store's collections, like Titanic, Annapolis and Windsor, which celebrate Canada's remarkable heritage.

If you're up for a forty-five minute drive (or willing to hop onto a Wine Valley Tour bus) you can visit Annapolis Valley itself, home to many of Nova Scotia's renowned vineyards. I spent the day sipping samples of Nova Scotia's iconic L'Acadie Blanc, Muskat and Maple wines. First stop was the Saint Famille Winery, a small family-run vineyard known for their annual Harvest Wine Fest and dry Muscat wine.

A bit further into the valley lies Domaine de Grand Pre Winery, owned by Swiss businessman Hanspeter Stutz. A must-see, this winery is host to gorgeous scenery, its own intimate restaurant and a vast selection of excellent wines. My favorite was the deep pink, bubbly, Blueberry Sparkling Wine made from Vidal Blanc grapes and bronze winner of the 2005 Canadian Wine Awards. Sipping is made easier when done in Grand Pre's wine shop where we stocked up on beautiful matted photographs (taken by a local photographer), wine and delicious Foxhill cheeses.

Our wine tour concluded at Gaspereau Vineyards, a quaint winery located on what once was an apple orchard. Here you'll find a bright red farmhouse styled wine shop, complete with all of Gaspereau's highly acclaimed wines. A visit is not complete until you've bought a bottle of sweet Nova Scotian Maple Wine - fortified with the poplar Canadian delicacy. Smooth, rich and enticingly decadent, it makes for perfect pairing with tamer desserts.

If you and your travel mates would rather stay in the city and relax, head over to Spirit Spa on Barrington Street, located on the third floor above UpCountry Furniture. After a day of tiresome winery hopping (torture, I know) I spent a tranquil and completely coma-inducing afternoon experiencing the "Urban Rainforest," a Vichy shower body treatment that uses seven pressure controlled jets to relax and warm every muscle in your tired body. It would be far too much work to rinse, rub and dry yourself, so during this 90-minute treatment a spa therapists pampers you by applying a gentle body polisher before rinsing, toning your skin and wrapping you in heat-trapping layers. She'll leave you in bliss by moisturizing your skin from head to toe. Believe me, you'll be talking about it for weeks.
Dining at the Five Fisherman

By the time dinner rolls around, you won't know what to do with yourself. Halifax is host to an amazing sampling of culinary delights - including the freshest seafood you'll find. The Five Fishermen Restaurant, famous for its mussel bar, is located in what used to be one of Nova Scotia's wealthy funeral homes. Ask waiters about the resident ghost - most have personal experiences that they're more than willing to share.

If ghosts and mussels aren't your thing, you can head down to The Press Gang Restaurant - a usual hang out for celebrities who are filming in town. Here, they serve amazing oysters in a cozy, casual, candlelit setting.

Halifax, home to more than one college, never goes to sleep early. If you have the energy, head over to The Economy Shoe Shop - a local bar that winds though three buildings, up and down staircases and through multiple doors to loads of sitting areas, dance floors and tiny stages for poetry reading.

Finish the night at what Halifax has coined "the last chance for romance," a corner dedicated to late night pizza - the best place in the city for food at 2:00 a.m. and as the name suggests, your last chance to steal a kiss or two before bidding goodnight.

If Halifax hasn't stolen your heart by the day's end, you've no heart to steal. Simplistic and intriguing, relaxing and energetic, historic and youthful - Halifax is a city rich in contrasts of the best kind. Whether you're opting for a tranquil weekend away or the exciting, eclectic vibe that accompanies a fresh find in your book, Halifax is worthy of exploration. And, of course, a drink of two.


If You Go:

Westin Nova Scotia
1181 Hollis Street
Halifax, NS B3H 2P6
(902) 421-1000

Rum Runners

Nova Scotian Crystal
5080 George Street
Halifax, NS Canada

Valley Wine Tours

Saint Famille Winery

Domaine de Grand Pre Winery

Gaspereau Vineyards

Five Fishermen Dining
1740 Argyle Street
Halifax, Nova Scotia
For reservations call: 902-422-4421

Spirit Spa