As midnight approaches, I’m looking up through a clear plastic dome in the centre of a yurt and see a sky full of stars. As I keep gazing upwards, I feel giddy as a kid—as if the heavens are staging a show just for me. I’m spending the night here, in one of two new yurts that are available for rent in Church Point, on the coast of Nova Scotia between Yarmouth and Digby.
Bright and spacious, the yurts are tucked into the woods mere feet from the ocean which is part of Baie Sainte-Marie—arguably the best place in Nova Scotia to watch the sun set. On this particular evening, minutes before the stars made their appearance the sky was splattered with zany streaks of gold, pewter, and numerous shades of mauve. It felt as if I was standing in the middle of a painting and the master artist was having a jolly good time playing with colours. These yurts are part of “Le Petit Bois Trail Network.”
Le Petit Bois (which translates to Little Woodland or Little Forest) was created years ago by the Eudist priests who founded what is now Université Sainte-Anne. This “little woodland” is where the priests could walk, contemplate and commune with nature.
Over the years, the paths multiplied, and spread behind the church and campus. Today, it’s a network of coastal and wooded trails which are stunning in their diversity. It’s not uncommon to wind your way through a pristine Acadian forest only to find a gazebo on the shoreline or a meandering boardwalk over a boggy marsh. (Oh! The fireflies!)
The trails are maintained by the staff and students of Université Sainte-Anne’s spring and summer immersion programs, and it’s obvious they take great pride in keeping everything ship-shape. You can download the map here .
Click here for more information about the yurts and pricing.
Still More Than Meets the Eye
The yurts and the trails are just part of Le Petit Bois Interpretive Trail Project—a partnership between Clare Tourism, the University, and Rendez-vous de la Baie Visitor Centre. The visitor centre is located less than a kilometre from the yurts, and houses everything from a gallery, theatre, and small café (serving basic soups, sandwiches, coffee and pastries), to one small but amazing Acadian interpretive centre and museum.
On the other side of the oldest building on campus (and worth venturing in) you’ll find Église Sainte-Marie. She’s one grand dame, and the largest wooden church in North America. Leo Melanson, a local Acadian, was the mastermind behind the church although he could not read nor write! Over 1500 volunteers helped build the church between 1903 and 1905. I never tire of wandering inside this church. The 70-foot columns that hold the church up are really Norwegian Red Spruce trees covered in plaster; the walls are covered in painted canvas sails; and two rooms to the side and back of the altar feature several artefacts which are quite weird and wonderful.
For a walk on the wild side, sign up for a Stella nigh hike with Paul Lalonde. More information can be found at Rendezvous-de-la-Baie or visit the region’s tourism site (hint: click on the Visitors Guide booklet and flip to page 49.)
Paul is both a field naturalist and a stargazing guru. Just remember to bring fly dope as the mosquitoes here get hungry around 9 p.m.
A few housekeeping things about staying at the yurts: each one has electricity; three doors; a wood stove with lots of wood; five bunk beds; a table and chairs. Large double washrooms are only feet away, and include showers with hot water. Where to eat? Not to worry. You can buy meals as part of your package, and eat at the campus cafeteria. We had breakfast there—a veritable smorgasbord which included bacon, sausages, eggs, pancakes, oatmeal, a variety of fresh fruit, dry cereals, toast, pastries, juices and hot beverages. It’s a steal at $7.