Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, offers top class experiences for the traveler – step back into history at the Fortress of Louisbourg, enjoy a round of golf at the renowned Cabot Links, explore the rugged coast on the Cabot Trail, hike along the Celtic Trail, enjoy a meal and Celtic entertainment at the Red Shoe Pub and sail the inland sea at Baddeck.
There is so much to enjoy and memories to make all over the island: hiking, winding roads with spectacular views, small villages, local artists and artisans, history, Celtic music, delicious lobster and seafood chowder, golf, kayaking, fishing, whale watching, beach combing, and heart-stopping beauty of nature.
Step back into 1744 and explore life in the Fortress of Louisbourg. Hear stories from soldiers on the battlement, bakers at their ovens, the blacksmith at his forge, and get behind the scenes tours of homes and gardens. Learn about life in Louisbourg in the 18th century, one of the busiest harbors in North America with a thriving fishing industry and major trading center with France. Plan on spending at least half a day and wear good walking shoes.
Stay and enjoy a delicious breakfast at the Cranberry Cove Inn, a Victorian era home, or at the Point of View Suites with a sweeping view of the fortress across the bay. The Lobster Kettle restaurant serves a tasty lobster creatively presented and you have a terrific view on the patio overlooking the harbor and the fortress.
The Louisbourg Lighthouse Trail winds along the coast through Acadian forest, grasslands and with spectacular ocean views. This historical trail starts at the lighthouse built in 1734 and has interpretive signs along the way on history, geology and plant life. The craggy cliffs, rocky beaches and cormorants are a wonderful way to experience the coastline.
The Cabot Links is a golfer’s delight. The 18 hole course follows along the seacoast in the town of Inverness on the western coast of Cape Breton. Built in 2012 it has become a premiere destination for golfers and is the only true links golf course in Canada and has won numerous awards. Following along the coastline, there are spectacular views of the beach, dunes and rolling hills. The course was built on lands above the coal mines that closed early in the 1900s.
Stay at the Cabot Links Lodge and dine at the Panorama Restaurant where the view matches its name and features fresh local ingredients. Explore the town of Inverness with its “company houses” lining the main street of town. These houses were built in the early 1900s for the miners. Learn more about the history at the Miner’s Museum housed in the old railway station on Lower Railway Street. This is also a great spot to view the golfers on the Cabot Links and access to the boardwalk heading down to the two mile long sandy Inverness Beach. Sunsets are spectacular and there are lots of trails to explore.
The Cabot Trail is a 950 km (590 mi) drive winding around the northern part of Cape Breton Island with awesome views of the ocean, mountains and the highlands plateau. The communities along the trail each have their own culture and charm and you will want to spend a couple of days to really enjoy it fully. It encompasses the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
Enjoy the many hiking trails following along rivers, hills and streams. The dramatic Skyline Trail is on the Eastern coast, just north of Ingonish. The trail overlooks the rugged Cape Breton Coast with a series of boardwalks and stairs.
Whale watching tours are available in many communities including Pleasant Bay, Neil’s Harbour, Ingonish, Chéticamp and Margaree. Each community has its wharf and fishing boats always great to explore. Spend time to experience the unique culture and traditions of each of the communities. Chéticamp is an Acadian French community famous for its hooked rugs. Visit L’Eglise St Pierre (St Peter’s Church) built in 1893.
For a feeling of remoteness, take a side trip and visit Meat Cove at the extreme northern tip of Cape Breton. This tiny community is surrounded by cliffs and spectacular views. Explore the walking trails and pebbled beach. Check out the community centre for photos and stories of the fascinating history of the area.
Artists and artisans along the way create their distinctive crafts: hooked rugs, quilts, handmade soaps and skin products, leather items, pottery, wooden carvings, paintings and more.
In Ingonish, the Highland Links Golf Course, stunning sandy beach, local waterfalls and many trails in the area make this a favorite place to stay on the Cabot Trail. Cape Smokey, just south of Ingonish will take your breath away with its steep incline and views.
Celtic Shores Coastal Trail
The well-maintained trail runs along the bed of the old railway track for 94 km (58 mi) along the western coast of Cape Breton from the Canso Causeway to Inverness. Hikers, bikers, snow shoe, cross country ski and outdoor enthusiasts enjoy the ever changing ocean views, farmlands, meadows, woods and marshes. Each season has its delights with spring blossoms, wild apples and berries to pick in summer and the spectacular colors of fall.
Highway 19, the Ceilidh Trail has many access points to the trail with parking areas and interpretive signs describing the history, points of interest and lives of people in the area. Directional signage along the way show turn offs for food, accommodations, cultural activities and nearby communities.
Enjoy a noontime ceilidh (traditional Cape Breton music) and lunch at the Judique Celtic Music Centre. The Exhibit Room gives you a taste of the history of Cape Breton music. You can even take a step dancing or fiddle lesson.
Visit the Village of Baddeck on the shores of the Bras D’Or Lake which is actually an inland sea of salt and freshwater. This large inland sea is popular with sailors and visitors. Sail on The Amoeba – a schooner that takes sailing tours along the Baddeck shoreline where you will likely see bald eagles and sights of Beinn Breagh, Baddeck Lighthouse, Kidston Island and Spectacle Island Bird Sanctuary.
The Alexander Graham Bell Museum is a must see. Alexander Graham Bell was an inventor and scientist who built his estate, Beinn Breagh in 1886, he was inventor of the telephone, and tested his kites and Silver Dart airplane on the frozen Bras D’Or Lake. The museum houses his experiments and research activities. Museum interpretation programs include White Glove Tours, guided tours, children’s dress-up tours, slide shows, kite making, experiments and more.
The UNESCO designated Bras d’Or Lake Biosphere Reserve has an exhibit at the museum featuring information about the people, wildlife, economy and environment of the Bras d’Or Lake watershed area.
Baddeck has something for everyone. Shop for local handicrafts and art. Take a ferry boat from the wharf across to Kidston Island and stroll to the light house or go for a swim. Enjoy a round of golf at the Bell Bay Golf Club.
There’s lots of choice of restaurants and accommodations in Baddeck. The Highwheeler is a great place for a casual meal or to pick up a picnic lunch. The Telegraph House Motel has charming rooms and an excellent restaurant. Be sure to try the local oat cakes. Check out the local events calendar for ceilidhs and live entertainment featuring local musicians.
If you go:
Fortress of Louisbourg www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/ns/louisbourg
Louisbourg Town www.louisbourg.ca
Cabot Links www.cabotlinks.com
Celtic Shores Coastal Trail www.celticshores.ca
Judique Celtic Music Centre www.celticmusiccentre.com
Cabot Trail www.cbisland.com/the-island/cabot-trail
Denise Davies grew up on Cape Breton Island and enjoys exploring its charms. Denise is a travel writer, photographer and videographer living in Antigonish Nova Scotia. Her Out and About Nova Scotia blog www.outandaboutns.com