Digby Pines Resort is one of Atlantic Canada’s
finest vacation destinations

During a long-ago road trip to the Maritimes I sped through Digby, N.S. in a tight race to make the car ferry that takes passengers across the Bay Fundy to St. John, New Brunswick. There wasn’t a minute to spare–not even enough time to chow down on a serving of the town’s world-famous Digby scallops.

Last summer, however, a return visit to this north shore community that dates back to 1783 was a different story. In this instance there was plenty of time to savour scallops, explore the town and its surrounding attractions and, last but not least, discover the Digby Pines Resort and Spa, one of Atlantic Canada’s finest vacation properties.

The former Canadian Pacific Railway hotel now owned by the Nova Scotia government closes every year in late October and re-opens its doors in early May. Each spring, just as it has been for many decades, hotel staff throw open the windows, polish rich wooden furniture and stock the larder for another season of welcoming guests that began in the late 1920s.

It’s safe to say that Digby Pines isn’t just a hotel; rather it’s a vacation destination. I’ll admit I’m somewhat biased since there isn’t a former railway hotel across the country that I don’t adore. Almost all of them, including Digby Pines, feature grand European-style architecture evidenced by a string of castle-like establishments across Canada such as Quebec City’s Chateau Frontenac, Toronto’s Royal York, the Banff Springs Hotel in Banff and Victoria’s Empress Hotel. Emulating the design of an elegant French chateau, Digby Pines is no less impressive than its counterparts and to view it for the first time is nothing short of breathtaking. Rising from a hillside setting overlooking Digby harbour and the beautiful Annapolis Basin, with the Bay of Fundy beyond, the chateau looks like it was plucked from a forest in Normandy and transported to this similarly beautiful setting in Nova Scotia. A dominant feature on the area’s landscape, the Pine’s pure white exterior and crimson-coloured roof make a striking visual statement but despite its majestic appearance the tone of the hotel is casual, comfortable and welcoming.

The main chateau has 84 delightful rooms, many with waterfront views, and in spite of the building’s age all of them have modern amenities including internet service. I appreciate contemporary conveniences but I also like the way the hotel has managed to incorporate them without losing historical flavour. On the manicured grounds surrounding the main hotel there are 31 charming, well-equipped cottages featuring wood burning fireplaces and covered verandas.

The Pines has several eating spots including the Annapolis Room, the main dining room where large windows offer pleasing views of gardens, terraces and the harbour below. Terrific cuisine, including succulent Digby scallops, is a guaranteed given since the entire food operation is under the direction of executive chef and certified sommelier, Claude AuCoin, a seven-time gold medalist and manager of Nova Scotia’s Culinary Team. Although there’s a good selection of imported wines, the hotel’s wine cellar has an excellent stock of Nova Scotia vintages for which the province is gaining an exceptional reputation.

Moreover, Digby Pines offers many opportunities to work off any culinary indulgences. For golf buffs, the resort is blessed with one of the top-rated courses in the country. The Digby Pines Golf Course was designed by legendary Canadian architect, Stanley Thompson, who created other world-class layouts such as Highlands Links in Cape Breton and Alberta’s Banff Springs and Jasper Park courses. The remarkable thing about playing this 18-hole championship track is that its $63 peak-season greens fees are a phenomenal bargain.

Beyond golf, the resort offers a network of walking, hiking and biking trails, an outdoor heated swimming pool, fitness centre, two tennis courts, shuffleboard and a children’s playground. Also on property is a full-service, 2,500-sq.ft. Aveda spa that offers everything from stress busting massages, hydrotherapy and stone massages to a number of “body beautiful” treatments designed exclusively for men.

Off property, one of the most popular activities is whale watching. Several Digby outfitters offer tours in the Bay of Fundy where the most commonly observed species are Minke, humpback and fin whales. Occasionally sperm and blue whales are also seen together with seals, porpoise and dolphins. Minutes from the hotel, downtown Digby is small, friendly fishing community (population 2,311) where its streets contain a pleasant collection of souvenir shops, stores, restaurants, antique emporiums, a history museum and a waterfront boardwalk.

Among area attractions well worth seeing is nearby Annapolis Royal, the oldest established town in Canada founded by Samuel de Champlain in 1605. Today, its downtown streets are a designated National Historic District. Close to Annapolis Royal are two important attractions: Port-Royal Historic Site, a reconstructed 17th century French colonial settlement and Fort Anne, site of an 18th century French fort where there’s also a small on-site museum. Also close to Digby is Kejimkujik, Nova Scotia’s only inland National Park. Here visitors will find abundant opportunities for hiking, canoeing, biking and fishing.

Travel Planner

Getting there: Bay Ferries offer daily, scheduled car ferry service between St. John, N.B. and Digby. Ferry ride takes 7 hours totalling an 11 hour trip from Montreal. The same company also the option of The Cat, a high speed ferry that crosses from Bar Harbour in Maine to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia in just 2 ½ hours. (Digby is 1 hour and 15 minutes from Yarmouth.)

See www.bayferries.com or call 1-888-249-7245. The 13-hour drive from Montreal to Digby is a scenic option. Alternatively, West Jet recently launched an affordable, three times weekly service from Montreal to Halifax. The drive from Halifax to Digby takes 2.5 hours.

Information: For Digby Pines Resort details call 1-800-667-4637 or go online at www.signatureresorts.com