We went softly down the hill, past the colour of Lunenburg’s wooden houses and on to the decked harbour. As seagulls wheeled overhead, the misty drizzle cleared, and there she lay – one of the most beautiful sailing ships ever built; Bluenose II, pride of Nova Scotia.

The ship and the harbour capture the essence of Atlantic Canada, of rugged, seafaring coast, a community built on fishing and the sea, farming and the forests. And lately, on a relaxed, welcoming tourism, that gives you time to breathe deep, clean air, unwind and enjoy the great outdoors at your own pace.

We took the smaller, working boat moored nearby, next to the Fisheries Museum. The Chris L, crewed by Barry and John, local men with deep local knowledge, headed us out into the bay to get a hands-on experience. We hauled in the lobster pots and spotted seals basking on the rocks, before heading in for – what else in this part of the world? – a lobster dinner, at the Tin Fish. The story goes that poor children of a generation ago would have to take lobster sandwiches to school and would hawk them around the playground, desperate for the luxury of a peanut butter and jelly swap.

Still, today, fast-food fries are no match in this abundant land for fresh, local produce, the basis of an excellent cuisine, a foodie’s delight. From mussels and “biscuits” in Mahone Bay to chicken-stuffed lobster at the Bare Bones Café in Parrsboro, and from beef medallions in maple syrup at the Blomidon Inn, to Honeycrisp apples, cider and homemade brownies at the Wolfville farmers’ market, the food was delicious and plentiful.

And it needed to be. We were all working up Canadian-size appetites.

The provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick may offer the chance to sit back, enjoy the peace and quiet of barely-touched national parks and chilled evenings on the porch of a friendly bar, watching the sun dip behind the Acadian forests, but we were enjoying a full-on, all-action adventure.

Cue moose trekking in the backwoods of the Miramichi valley; zip-lining through the tree tops of Mactaquac Provincial Park with TreesGo!, a gravity-defying,obstacle course 50ft above the ground; searching for fossils at Joggins Fossil Centre, the newest Unesco world heritage site, where Cambrian relics fall from the cliffs at your feet; and taking a speed boat out to the grey seals in Kouchibouguac National Park.

All that fresh air, sunshine and adventure put us in need of good food, wine and a sound night’s sleep.

Surprising as it may seem, Atlantic Canada is one of the oldest wine- producing regions of North America but the limited production means the distinctive wines are a well-kept secret.

We sampled some of the best at the award-winning Domaine de Grand Pre Winery. The provinces also have numerous micro- breweries, creating tasty, local ales such as Propellor, and distilleries producing decent malts, revealing the European heritage of this land.

That heritage is captured at Kings Landing, the recreation of a 19th century settlement, where people work, farm and play as did the early settlers. But history reaches back far beyond the arrival of Europeans as we discovered at Metepenagiag, New Brunswick’s oldest village and home to the Mi’kmaq people. The Mi’kmaq lived in harmony with nature for more than 3,000 years and envisage a future in which that continues for another 3,000 years. Coming from a small, crowded, over- developed island, that ideal still seems a possibility in the pristine expanse of Canada.

We got a real sense of the vast, silent, untouched land with a spot of geocaching, a worldwide craze allowing adventurers to search for “treasures”

hidden by other players after downloading GSP coordinates and clues from the web. On a deserted beach on Second Peninsula, we followed deer tracks along the sand to our cache, as cranes stood silently on the headland. Nature and wildlife are ever present.

We moved on to Pond’s Resort where we stayed in old-style, rustic riverside cabins and enjoyed salmon and fiddleheads, the plucked tips of ferns, a seasonal delicacy. In the morning we were wading, rod in hand, into the Miramichi, one of the finest fly-fishing rivers in the world, where I managed, quite literally, to fill my boots. But the water was warm and our guide, Donnie, showed a bemused patience as I flicked my hook into a tangled mess. He found us beaver and moose to watch in the backwoods, and untangled my line and changed my delicate fly in mid-flow despite having hands like the bears themselves.

After the great outdoors we finally headed into Fredricton, capital of New Brunswick. There we stayed at the swish Delta hotel, took in cocktails at the sophis-ticated Blue Door restaurant and admired modern British and Canadian art at the Beaverbrook gallery. Dali’s Santiago El Grande may be its stunning masterpiece but, in terms of artistic grace and beauty, it was no match for Bluenose II, slipping silently into the mist.

  • We travelled with Canadian Affair, which offers return flights from Gatwick to Halifax or Fredricton from £299, including taxes. Canadian Affair also offers hotels across Atlantic Canada from £35pp/pn (room only based on two sharing) and car hire from £19 per day. For further information and reservations, contact Canadian Affair on 0207 6169933 or visit www.canadianaffair.com.