Pillowy macarons or dreamy chocolate lime ripples? Spicy orange bonbons or Atlantic sea salt caramel truffles?
My task is simple: Choosing chocolates to bring home for the kids. But as I stand in Adorable Chocolat, in the lobster fishing and tourist town of Shediac, gazing at tempting display cases and heaping plates of heavenly pastries, all made in-house by a chocolatier originally from France, it’s all calling — and, oh, am I listening!
To say this town of 7,000 souls in the southeastern corner of New Brunswick is blowing my proverbial socks off, is a bit of an understatement. Stumbling upon unexpected gems like this patisserie, known for its quality and French authenticity, reminds me why I’m such a big fan of the province — you never know what awaits around the next turn.
Lovable discoveries are ready for you when you take a road trip from Shediac to the port city of Saint John. The easy coastal drive that takes less than two hours links a pair of cool, very different experiences. Shediac, with its Acadian vibe, is famed for lobsters and warm seashores. Saint John, on the Bay of Fundy, is Canada’s oldest incorporated city, dating to 1785. It’s influenced by Irish and English roots — and an exciting vibe in recent years as an increasing number of entrepreneurs are opening shop in the Uptown.
The Shediac-to-Saint John route ranks among the Vacay.ca 20 Best Places to Travel in Canada for 2021, a survey sponsored by the travel-trivia mobile game, Trippzy, and compiled by the travel writers and editors of the digital magazine.
Hit the Road in Eastern New Brunswick
At one end of the trip stands Shediac, just 15 minutes outside Moncton, rocking a beach-town vibe thanks to a glorious three-kilometre (1.9-mile) stretch of sand that’s arguably one of New Brunswick’s most popular shores. Parlee Beach is a beacon for those wanting to bask in the sun, to swim, build sandcastles, and play beach volleyball. Shediac’s also very much a fishing town, billing itself as the “lobster capital of the world”. Indeed, taking a selfie at the kitschy, oversize, 90-tonne lobster sculpture found at the town’s entrance, and trying to eat your weight in lobster, are de rigeur. Plus, you can learn all about the crustacean at the informative Homarus Eco-centre and on the water aboard Shediac Bay Cruises, deep diving into the fishing industry and sitting down to an onboard feast.
It’s well worth spending a day or two in Shediac, watching movies al fresco at the Neptune Drive-In Theatre, trying tasty Acadian fare like fricot (a chicken soup with potatoes, carrots, and summer savoury) at local eateries, and taking time to sit on the wharf, watching boats in the bay. From cottage rentals to camping to B&Bs, like Le Griffon Bed and Breakfast, a Victorian villa with full breakfasts, the town has plenty of accommodation options.
Getting from Shediac to Saint John can be done a few ways — each replete with road-trip gold. The most direct route, at just over an hour and a half, is jumping on the Trans-Canada Highway, or Highway 2, and following it to just past Salisbury, then changing to Highway 1 and driving it all the way past Sussex to Saint John.
For a great itinerary, plan to pit stop in Sussex, and then detour onto Highway 121 to bliss out following the back roads to Saint John.
Sussex has a strong dairy farming heritage and it’s a fun town to explore, filled as it is with 26 painted murals and about 16 of New Brunswick’s “kissing” covered bridges within about a 10-minute drive of downtown. Sussex also hosts one of the region’s largest flea markets in August and the Atlantic Balloon Fiesta in September. Added attractions include a craft brewery and a distillery in Sussex Ale Works and Sussex Craft Distillery, some great restaurants, and hiking trails surrounding the region.
Leaving Sussex, meander through the Lower River Valley/Hampton area, following Belleisle and Kennebecasis bays. A friend tipped me off to this drive — one of her favourites in the province. It’s not a direct route, to be sure, but it’s worth the detour to discover the crafters, small towns, and unincorporated areas, farmlands, and river ferries that harken to a simpler time. For added colour, drivers can even follow the appealing Quilt Barn Tour. Participants on the Quilt Barn Tour can follow a route seeking out painted quilt block installations that are found on barns, but also appear in church yards, markets, and wineries.
Do plan a stop in the town of Hampton to explore the Kennebecasis River from a rented kayak or on a pontoon boat in summer, as well as to visit studios, to taste local flavours at year-round markets, cafés, and homestyle restaurants, and to just be, enjoying the riverside at the Lighthouse River Centre with its picnic area and wharf.
Explore Bay of Fundy and Hopewell Rocks
The second route from Shediac to Saint John follows Highway 15 into Moncton and then drivers simply follow the signs to Fundy National Park/Hopewell Rocks. This route zips along the coast all the way to St. Martin’s (renowned for its sea caves and covered bridges) and on to Saint John, bringing with it its share of heart-pumping adventure and natural wonders.
First up is provincial icon, the famed Hopewell Rocks where the world’s highest tides from the Bay of Fundy have crafted four-storey sculptures from the sea. Over 200 billion tonnes of sea water rush in and out twice a day. For a trippy experience, take a kayaking tour at high tide, then return 2.5 hours later to walk at low tide in the very place you kayaked.
Plan your next stop for Alma, at the Moncton end of the Fundy Trail, where locals will tell you no trip is complete without a sticky bun from Kelly’s. The town is small, but mighty. It’s the gateway to Fundy National Park (with all its camping, hiking, golfing, and kayaking fun), and it’s a working fishing village, meaning swoon-worthy seafood delicacies at local restaurants.
While in town, pull open the door to Holy Whale Brewery and Buddha Bear Coffee Roaster, a coffee shop and brewery in a converted church, serving local favourites like Skittles-flavoured beer, top-notch coffee, and the intriguing Fundy Trail Finish. Mind you, the latter does require some work. “If you stop by our café directly after the completion of the ‘Fundy Footpath’ — a 61 km slobberknocker of-a-trail — we’ll give you a complimentary beer, espresso shot, pickled egg, and a bar of soap, because you will definitely stink,” say the owners.
In 2020, Fundy Trail Parkway, a multi-use corridor along Fundy’s coastal clifftops, marked the opening of the eastern entrance to the Fundy Trail, allowing users to travel from one end to the other without turning back. The final section, giving direct access to Fundy National Park, is expected to open in 2021.
Another place to stretch the legs is Cape Enrage where the adventurous can zipline and rappel along the Fundy Coast, against the backdrop of a rocky fossil-filled beach, and a wind-whipped lighthouse. Equally fun is hiking trails in the surrounding woods, and a good onsite café. En route, it’s lovely to stop along the side of the road to picnic at a beach or just to enjoy the beauty.
The town of St. Martin’s at the Saint John end of the Fundy Trail is renowned for its sea caves you can explore by kayak at high tide, and on foot at low tide. A new way to experience the caves is by dining (yes, dining!) on the ocean floor at low tide by booking in with the Savour the Sea Caves experience with Red Rock Adventure.
Uptown Fun in Saint John
Saint John has much to recommend with the venerable Saint John City Market, a national historic site, with its roof, resembling an inverted ship’s keel, the Reversing Falls, and strolling the ever-popular Harbour Passage along the waterfront. But these days, one of the top reasons to visit is the city’s foodie finds. With more than 85 bars and restaurants in a 10-block radius, Uptown Saint John stands tall as a culinary powerhouse. Many restaurants are independently owned and housed in beautifully restored, brick-and-beam spaces. One of the city’s latest additions is Uncorked Tours‘ tasting room in the market.
Afterwards walk off all that good cheer by exploring the public art filling the city’s Uptown core, including a popular self-guided public art tour. From spring to early autumn, you can follow the Salmon Run trail throughout Uptown, visiting over 20, six-foot salmon sculptures painted by New Brunswick artists. Visitors can also create their own personal gallery hop in Uptown with over a dozen galleries to explore, such as Spicer Merrifield, Jones Gallery, Handworks Gallery, and TUCK.