The Malagash Peninsula, which juts out into protected Tatamagouche Bay, is a low-key, bucolic loop for a drive or bike ride. Taste local wines, go beachcombing or take a peek in some interesting museums found just inland. Tatamagouche is the largest town on the Northumberland Shore coast west of Pictou and makes a great base for exploring the region.
The highlands meet the lowlands in Baddeck, an aging resort town in a pastoral setting on the northern shore of Bras d'Or Lake – a veritable inland saltwater sea, where eagles nest and puffins play. At 1099 sq km, the lake is the biggest in Nova Scotia and all but cleaves Cape Breton Island in two. Just south of Baddeck, Wagmatcook First Nation (www.wagmatcook.
Many people stop in Pictou for a side trip or as a stopover via the ferry from Prince Edward Island, but it's also an enjoyable base for exploring Northumberland Strait. Water St, the main street, is lined with interesting shops and beautiful old stone buildings (but unfortunately the sea views are blighted by a giant smoking mill in the distance).
Beautiful beaches and hiking possibilities north of town could easily keep you busy for a couple of days, but Antigonish town itself is lively enough and has some great places to eat. Catholic Scots settled and established St Francis Xavier University and today the university still dominates the ambience of the town.
Established in 1759, the town of Chester has today become a choice spot for well-to-do Americans and Haligonians to have a summer home. It's had a colorful history as the haunt of pirates and Prohibition-era bathtub-gin smugglers and it keeps its color today via the many artists' studios about town. There's a large regatta in the tranquil harbor in mid-August.
Shelburne's historic waterfront area bobs with sailboats and has 17 homes that were built pre-1800 – it feels like a historical re-creation, but it's real. The wonderfully maintained, low-in-the-earth buildings once housed Loyalists who retreated here from the American Revolution.
Several major highways converge here, along with a VIA Rail line, so it's no wonder Truro is known as the hub of Nova Scotia. While the town does look somewhat like an aging shopping mall, it's exceptionally well serviced and can make a good stop to pick up that nagging item you need or just to stock up on food.
The Far North
North of Ingonish, the first village outside Cape Breton Highlands National Park is Neil's Harbour, the nicest of the area's remote outposts. Continuing on via New Haven Road, you'll come to White Point. Both are simple, hard-working communities where fishing boats outnumber houses.
Peggy’s Cove is one of the most visited fishing villages in Canada, and for good reason: the rolling granite cove, highlighted by a perfect red-and-white lighthouse, exudes a dreamy seaside calm, even through the parading tour buses. Most visitors hop off their air-con bus, snap a few selfies, then get right back on.
Bear River is a delightful riverside enclave popular with artists and those who moved here from larger centers for a 'tree change'. There's a strong Mi'kmaq presence mixed in with Scottish roots, giving Bear River a unique vibe. Some buildings near the river are on stilts, while other historic homes nestle on the steep hills of the valley.