This spring, the drive between New England and Nova Scotia just got a lot more pleasant. After a four-year hiatus, the overnight ferry from Yarmouth, N.S. to Portland, Me., is back in business. The new ship, Nova Star, comes complete with spa, casino, four restaurants, art gallery and private cabins to pass the 10-hour ride.
However, travellers arriving or departing from the seaport on the southwestern shore of Nova Scotia shouldn't just speed through town to catch the ferry. There's plenty to do in and around Yarmouth, and you'll not regret taking the time to explore it.
What to see
Built on the fishing industry, the town of Yarmouth has a gorgeous heritage district populated with charming ex-sea captains' mansions with elaborately painted wood features, widow's walks and glass-walled turrets. There, you'll find the surprisingly excellent Yarmouth County Museum, a treasure trove of interesting artifacts, including a hearse from the 1870s, creepy dolls in a room representing a historical childhood, and some rather tragic-looking taxidermy (as well as really good displays of the area's nautical history).
Visit the satellite branch of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia on Main Street and check out the Maud Lewis exhibition. The highly collectable folk artist was born in Yarmouth, and until September you'll see 11 "Maudified" small houses painted by local artists and set up around and outside town.
Wander around downtown and you'll come across galleries and some great antiques stores: Wooden Buoy is a warehouse full of distinctive, reasonably priced trinkets with lots of nautical and traditional Canadian finds, such as birch bark canoes and salt-cod packaging.
Where to eat
Be sure to stop for coffee and a sandwich at the Old World Bakery, where they smoke and roast their own meats. There's also a micro-record store selling old vinyl on site.
Head down the hill to Water Street and you'll find Rudders Seafood Restaurant and Brewpub for a beer sampler – you'll want to try them all. Hungry? The Digby scallop burger and mussels were excellent. Or head over to the much-loved-by-locals Red Shed food truck, also on Water Street, for tasty fish tacos or excellent fish and chips.
For a view, head out to the Cape Forchu Lightstation and grab a cup of tea and some homemade bread pudding with caramel sauce at the Mug Up Tea Room in what used to be the lightkeeper's living room.
On your way out of town
Head north to visit the picturesque Acadian shore, driving past spectacular and deserted beaches, such as the 1.5 kilometres of white sand at Mavillette Beach Provincial Park. Search out one of the world's smallest working drawbridges at Sandford, and drive through tiny towns where you can pick up beachfront property for less than $50,000. And make a point of trying traditional Acadian fare, such as rappi pie (meat and grated potato) and chicken fricot (stew and dumplings).
Staying the night?
In Yarmouth, the MacKinnon-Cann Inn offers seven fun decade-decoratred suites, such as the 1940 Mommy Dearest or the 1920 Roaring Queen. All rooms offer comfy beds, free WiFi and a full breakfast. From $128 a night. 27 Willow St., 866-698-3142; mackinnoncanninn.com
For ferry times and prices, visit novastarcruises.com.
The writer was a guest of the Nova Scotia Tourism Agency. It did not review or approve the story.