SMITHS COVE COTTAGES – Affordable Community-Minded Lodging & Camping

Agnes and Ray have never shied away from adventure. Whether it’s travelling, camping in the great outdoors, or picking up their lives and heading east to start a business in rural Nova Scotia, they are ready to take on any challenges along the way. Agnes Direnzo shares how Smiths Cove Cottages came to be and how the couple continues to expand their business. With spectacular views, an abundance of amenities for guests to enjoy, and unique cottages to choose from, Agnes and Ray saw the potential their property had to offer and gave it a new life.

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Agnes Direnzo was born in Europe but immigrated to Canada at a very young age. She grew up in Ontario and met her husband, Ray. They worked as civil servants in the city of Toronto for many years, and Agnes also worked in bartending and management in the hospitality industry. As a people person, working with the public and being surrounded by people was fulfilling for Direnzo. Agnes and Ray both enjoy social interaction, being outdoors in nature, and travelling. When the time came close for Ray to retire, Direnzo said they discussed potentially opening a restaurant or buying a campground. They purchased a motorhome to travel around in comfort and realized during their travels that being outdoors and camping is what brings them the most joy. “Just the thought of doing what we enjoy, and how much joy it brings to people to let them get away from the chaos of everyday life, we decided to look for campgrounds,” Direnzo explained.

There were many beautiful campground sites in Ontario, but none of them were the right fit for Agnes and Ray. “We started searching outside of Ontario, which was a tough decision to make because we would move away from our family and friends,” Direnzo said. They began to narrow down their search for properties on the east coast. In 2021, Agnes and Ray chose to move to Smiths Cove, Nova Scotia, and begin their new business venture. “We’ve been to Nova Scotia numerous times and absolutely loved it here,” she said. Although cottages were not on Agnes and Ray’s list to buy, they adored the last property they went to view in Nova Scotia. Direnzo said they saw their future there almost instantly. “We fell in love with the property and the potential of what this property could offer. So, we decided to make that huge decision to buy Birch Villa Cottages, which is now Smiths Cove Cottages.”

One of the initial challenges Agnes and Ray faced in their new business journey was moving away from their support system. Not having their friends and family nearby consistently was hard for them. Direnzo explained that their families visited from Ontario whenever they could and helped as much as possible, which they were very grateful for. The property needed a lot of work when they first bought it. “We consistently had to put work in. The property was extremely overgrown when we took over the business in October 2021, after the season had ended” Direnzo described. They had many renovations to do outside on the property and inside the cottages. They also immediately had to learn the best way to winterize the cottages for the following season. “It gets easier every year because we learn more as we go along,” she said. Agnes and Ray continue to overcome every challenge put in front of them.

Some of the renovations they have completed inside the cottages include replacing the appliances and the old televisions, removing the carpets, painting, and updating the furniture. “I really wanted to brighten up this place,” Direnzo said as she described painting the decks and windows lime green. “I love it. And we’ve had nothing but compliments on the colour.” Agnes and Ray focused on upgrading and bringing Smiths Cove Cottages to its full potential since the day they moved to Nova Scotia. “We are happy with what we’ve accomplished,” she continued. After much maintenance on the grounds, the overgrown bushes and trees were taken out to showcase the view. “There is a spectacular view from the cottages. The view and location are really what brought us here.” They chose to rename the business to Smiths Cove Cottages to start fresh with the new ownership and new look. “Smiths Cove is such a beautiful village. It’s peaceful, very quiet, and not commonly seen,” Direnzo said. “We thought if we put the name of the area, we’re in, it will bring more exposure to the area and be easier for people to find us. We wanted to make it part of the community.”

When looking to book at Smiths Cove Cottages, guests will see there are thirteen cottages in total. One of the cottages is wheelchair accessible. Six of the cottages are similar in size and style. Four additional cottages can comfortably host eight people. They have full kitchens, are very spacious with various bed sizes. The other two cottages are similar in size, but they do not have a full kitchen. There is a fridge, a coffee maker, and a microwave for necessities and convenience for a short stay. The rest of the cottages are individual cottages with a unique layout and unique beauty. “That’s why when people call to make a reservation I ask them a lot of questions,” Direnzo laughed. “I want to make sure I’m giving them the right accommodation to meet their needs, rather than just putting them in a cottage.” She continued to explain that every cottage is different with its own unique view and is suited for different size groups and needs. Agnes and Ray are focused on service and value.  Keeping the cottages at a reasonable rate is important because as travellers themselves, they understand that many people are still trying to recover from lost wages and business closures from the pandemic, plus the overall economic struggle that many are finding themselves in with rising costs for everything. “Affordability needs to be there for people to be able to take their family on vacation and also enjoy it,” she said. “If we overcharged it wouldn’t bring me any joy. I want our guests to be happy and keep coming back.” Direnzo acknowledged that there may be a point in time when they will have to increase their rates, that is just an unfortunate part of business, we are very confident and trust that they will continue to be a reasonable and affordable lodging option for many years to come.

There are several amenities to keep guests coming back to Smiths Cove Cottages. One of them is the beautiful, heated pool. The pool was in place when Agnes and Ray took over the property, but the heat pump and new filter system are both recent upgrades they have made. “It’s nice to know you can get into a pool that isn’t ice cold,” she said. “Our next step is to do some exterior maintenance because it is a relatively older pool. But the view from the pool is spectacular,” she described. More amenities at Smiths Cove Cottages, particularly for families with young children, include two playgrounds. “One is best suited for small children and the other for older children,” Direnzo explained. The playground for older children does include a swing set. They also offer outdoor games for families to take part in, communal and private fire pits, and a trail at the back of the property. Smiths Cove Cottages is a dog-friendly place and offers an off-leash dog park, so the four-legged family members can enjoy the vacation as well.  Direnzo said they do encourage ATV and side-by-side enthusiasts to come to enjoy the old railway trail and other nearby trails close to the property as well.

Guests typically wish to explore the area during their stay. Agnes and Ray can relate as they love to travel and explore as well. “We love to travel in our free time and explore the different lighthouses and beaches so we can pass that knowledge on to our guests,” Direnzo explained. As Agnes and Ray are fairly new to the area, sometimes they learn from the guests instead. “When our guests have come across something super fun, they let us know. And then I can pass it on to future guests,” she said. The more Agnes and Ray learn about the area, the more they can provide information on the must-see places. They have enjoyed getting to know other local business owners since their arrival in 2021, and they will continue to give recommendations. “If we can expand their knowledge of where they can go, that’s a bonus for everybody,” she said.

In the upcoming future, Agnes, and Ray plan to continue to grow their business. “We want to expand and be more diverse in what we have to offer. We do have an additional four acres at the back of the property where the trail runs through now. That trail is actually part of a greater plan,” Direnzo hinted. They are looking into adding tent sites, washrooms, and laundry facilities plus even a few more cottages when the time comes. “I’m not sure what the timeline of that is going to be as we still have several renovations to do inside the cottages before we try to expand. But expanding is what we intend on doing,” she explained. 

We wish Agnes and Ray the best of luck in all their future projects as they continue to invest in the growth of Smiths Cove Cottages. To follow along with their journey or book a stay for the upcoming season, visit their website www.smithscovecottages.com. 

by Gabrielle Gamblin