The Best SMDs

By alison - August 18, 2005 (Updated: November 30, 2014)

Andrew and I are attempting to reinstate the Sunday Mystery Drive (or SMD). What is the SMD you ask? It’s one part exploration, lots of wandering, a bit of curiosity and usually, slightly lost.

Every Sunday, we hop in the car. We take turns choosing our destination. Sometimes it’s specific; sometimes it’s just a vague direction. Andrew drives and I navigate. With the slobbery Saint Bernard in the back, we set out.

We started the SMD way back when we bought our first car, as a way to escape the city. At that time we were living in an apartment and longed for greener spaces.

So, on Sundays, we would jump in the car and drive. We explored Nova Scotia from top to bottom in this way and learned a lot about our province in the process.

The SMD is in my blood: my father’s Mystery Drives are legendary … or was that infamous?

I would be bundled into the back of the car and off we would go through back-woods New Brunswick. I didn’t always appreciate them at the time, but those drives helped stoke the traveling fire that burns within me today.

One of the great things about the SMD is its flexibility.

You can start by opening a map and picking a destination, either at random or on purpose. You can even select a general route to get you there, as long as you avoid highways as much as possible. Or you can have a goal in mind.

Once, while a friend was visiting who had never been to Europe before, we decided to see how many countries we could visit in one day (five). Finally, there is our favored method; simply choosing a direction and driving.

The key to a great SMD is curiosity.

If you notice a little road and you wonder where it goes — find out. We have discovered many interesting sights that we never would have found otherwise in this manner; castles, parks, and simply beautiful views.

We stumbled across the lock at the Brussels-Charleroi canal this way. We’ve been on tiny dirt tracks surrounded by sheep and I’ve taken some of my best photos on these excursions.

As expats, the SMD is the perfect way to get acquainted with our new country. And it seems that Belgium was made for the SMD. There are little unmarked roads everywhere and the countryside is full of postcard views.

Belgium has a little bit of everything; coast line, rolling fields, forests and mountains and unlike in Canada, you don’t have to drive for a week to see them all.

By exploring the villages and back roads, we are seeing the authentic Belgium — the Belgium that many tourists miss. We see the sites that aren’t in the guidebooks and we meet Belgians who are just going about their days.

But what I love most about the Sunday Mystery Drive is that it gets to the heart of travel itself — it’s not the destination that’s important, it’s the journey.

I thought I would write here about some of my all time favorite drives. This was inspired by Renée, last week when she mentioned visiting the Rhine Valley. This drive is definitely on my list. So here are some of my favorites, in no particular order. These are all in relatively recent memory. I’m sure my parents can add some great ones we did when I was younger. I’m sure I’ll forget some so be sure to add your own in the comments section or on your own blog. I’d love to see them!

In Nova Scotia:

  • Route 3 from Tantallon to Lunenburg
  • The Cape Breton Highlands National Park loop (especially in the fall)
  • Route 1 through the Annapolis Valley (especially when the pumpkin people are out)

In New Brunswick:

  • The old road to Fredericton along the St. John River
  • Through and around Kouchibouguac National Park
  • Through Fundy National Park

Prince Edward Island:

  • In general PEI has great SMD potential. Lots of great small roads


  • The old costal road. (Best done in a bright yellow Mustang convertible!)


  • Through Amish country but not on the main road which is now way to touristy


  • Through the Everglades
  • Also much of the Gulf Coast side has beautiful SMD potential

The Netherlands:

  • Through the bulb fields in the spring
  • Some tiny little road in Groningen with lots of sheep


  • Through the Rhine Valley, the storybook highway

Europe in general:

While I don’t know route names or even exactly where we were, I remember many breathtaking views as we trundled through Europe on our bus tour, what seems like decades ago but was really in 2001. I remember the tunnels and mountains of Switzerland and northern Italy. I remember driving from Nice to Monaco along the coast. I remember fields of lavender and sunflowers in southern France. I also remember desperately wanting to get off the highways and explore…


While I don’t yet have a particular drive that stands out (I’m sure they will come) Belgium has fantastic SMD potential. All of the drives we’ve taken so far have lead to something interesting and I look forward to many more adventures!

Read more from


Big Cheese at CheeseWeb
Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
One of my biggest goals in coming back to my home province was to learn as much as I could about our First... - 7 days ago


  1. Comment by mare

    mare August 18, 2005 at 16:27

    one of the best drives i ever took in france was through the champagne region. ok, so i also went to verdun, and did the chemin des dames battlefields too (but that’s cause i’m obsessed with ww1) but the prettiest part by far was the champagne part. the landscape around epernay is gorgeous, go in october during tasting week. 🙂

  2. Pingback: Belgium’s Montaigle Castle Ruins in Wallonia | We Blog The World

  3. Pingback: Montaigle Castle Ruins, Falaën, Belgium | Expat Life in Belgium, Travel and Photography | CheeseWeb

Comments are closed.

Go top