I am ashamed to admit that until very recently, I had never heard of Cape Breton before. Sadly, like a stereotypical American, I am pretty unfamiliar with Canada in general (pathetic really). I was asked to join a press trip to Cape Breton and happened to have some free time over the long Fourth of July weekend, so I decided to look into this elusive island.
After reading a National Geographic article, which compiled the top 20 places to see in 2013 and finding Cape Breton on this short list, I figured, how could I not go! In fact, as I continued my research I found that Travel and Leisure named it the third best island in the WORLD, following Santorini and Bali! Pretty good company to be in, huh? I sat back and wondered, how had I never heard of Cape Breton?
Well, if you can’t guess from the title of this article, I decided to go to Cape Breton. I am fresh off an incredible trip that was filled with fantastic experiences– and boy did I venture outside of my comfort zone. This girl even went fly-fishing! In addition to fun outdoorsy activities, there are all kinds of fantastic luxurious options all over this magical little island for the spoiled traveler like moi.
I am so excited to share my recommendations for what I think would make for a fantastically luxurious trip to Cape Breton. I don’t know how it’s flown under the radar thus far but I suspect that won’t be the case for long…
Introduction to Cape Breton
Cape Breton was originally settled by the Mi’kmaq and later by the Scots, which is apparent from both the accents and the immense popularity of Celtic music around the island. Today the island has a mingling of Canadian, French and Celtic culture, which is what makes it so special. When trying to describe it to a friend I said imagine an island with a mish mash of Maine’s nautical-ness and seafood, Scotland’s rich heritage, New Zealand’s greenery and Canada’s wonderful people. Not bad, eh? (That expression has grown on me!) There is something for every type of traveler. Whether you’re a family looking for fun or a couple looking for a romantic getaway, you can find–breathtaking scenic beauty, outdoor adventure, charming villages, outstanding cuisine and gorgeous accommodations.
What to Do
Well, it pretty much goes without saying that you need to spend a large portion of your trip to Cape Breton Island outside, enjoying the abundance of natural beauty that it has to offer. I recommend driving along the Cabot Trail, which will take you through many wonderful parts of the island, including Cape Breton Highlands National Park. This is nearly a 200-mile driving route that is consistently ranked as one of the best drives in the world. A drive along this route will bring you to different areas around the island where you can take part in the different activities each region offers. Here are a few of my favorite things I did around the island:
A trip to the Miners’ Museum is not to be missed. Learn firsthand from former miners what life was like working underground and rarely seeing sunlight.
The historical grounds of Louisbourg provide a unique experience similar to Colonial Williamsburg. Venture back in time to an 18th-century French fortress and visit the reconstructed buildings where employees, dressed in 18th century garb, take on the roles of traditional residents from back in the day and recreate life from Louisbourg’s glory days. Enjoy a traditional dance in a luxury home, visit the local blacksmith or bakery and learn what life was like here.
Enjoy a Whale Cruise in Pleasant Bay. Vessels are intimate, which ensures a greater likelihood of encountering these magnificent creatures. The boat ride itself is very relaxing and romantic and the whales are of course an added bonus!
Hike the Skyline Trail! This is absolutely not to be missed. This relatively easy hike will provide some of the best views that Cape Breton Island has to offer. Keep your eyes peeled! You may even see a moose along the way!
Visit Cheticamp, a gorgeous area of the island where a large population of natively-French speaking Acadians reside. While you’re here be sure to visit the Museum of Hooked Rugs & Home Life featuring the Elizabeth LeFort Gallery. I know you might think that I’ve lost my mind for recommending this but the artwork here is astonishing–think grand portraits made for U.S. presidents (and even one of Jackie-O) made entirely of hooked yarn. You have to see it to appreciate the craftsmanship.
If you’re feeling adventurous you can try your hand out at Fly Fishing. When in Cape Breton, right? I found this to be really fun and it definitely provided some fabulous Kodak moments! When I’m on vacation I always make sure to step outside my comfort zone for at least a little while.
Take a tour of the Glenora Distillery, learn about their single malt whiskeys and at the end even have a chance to try some! Be sure to grab a glass in the pub and enjoy some live music!
A sailing tour aboard the Ameoba in Baddeck is one of the most relaxing ways to pass an afternoon in Cape Breton. While aboard you’ll see Alexander Graham Bell’s former home (where his descendants still summer today) and you may even have the chance to see some eagles.
Baddeck is beautiful and this is why Alexander Graham Bell chose to make it the site of his summer home for 37 summers. He is quoted as saying, “I have seen the Canadian and American Rockies, the Andes, the Alps and the Highlands of Scotland but for simple beauty, Cape Breton outrivals them all.”
While in Baddeck be sure to check out the Alexander Graham Bell Museum for a cool, interactive history lesson of one of the world’s greatest inventors. For just a little bit extra, I think the White Glove Tour is an amazing experience. Seize the chance to hold AGB’s possessions with your very own (white-gloved) hands. View his own personal notebook chocked full of scribbles and notes to himself. Mind-blowing for any history buff that they allow you to do this!
If you’re in town for Celtic Colours, which takes place in October, you’re in for a real treat! This International Festival includes a mix of nearly 50 local, national and international musical artists and more than 200 cultural events.
Don’t miss the live music at Keltic Lodge in the Highland Sitting Room. This lively lounge is guaranteed to be a great time!
Play a round of golf at Cabot Links golf course, a traditionally Scottish and Irish oceanfront course.
Where to Stay
Although this island may have its fair share of rugged beauty, rest assured that if you’re looking to lay your head somewhere luxurious, there are definitely some great options.
Cabot Links gets everything right—from its spacious rooms, Frette linens, L’Occitane toiletries, Nespresso espresso machines, marble rain-showers and luxurious bathtubs. Every room has an ocean view and are all just a quick walk from the first hole. The restaurant is top-notch and serves up hearty portions of solid food.
Keltic Lodge is located right in the center of Cape Breton’s Highland National Park. It’s surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and is the perfect destination for a couple or family looking for lots of recreational facilities. There is a heated pool, Aveda Spa, hiking trails, swimming at Ingonish Beach and it’s just next to Highlands Links Golf Course.
Where to Eat
One of my favorite lunches I had while in Cape Breton was at the Oceanside restaurant, the Rusty Anchor, featured in National Geographic. The lobster roll here was divine and mayonnaise free—my favorite!
The best whole lobster I had on the island was at the Purple Thistle, which is located at the Keltic Lodge. This restaurant also boasts breathtaking views of the ocean and delicious scallops.
While the Normaway Inn itself may be a bit of a throwback to the days of Dirty Dancing, its restaurant is run by an extremely gifted chef that is keeping up with the hottest culinary trends, including the local food movement. The maple salmon and trout here are out of this world. And perhaps my favorite cocktail I’ve had all year was served here as well—a rhubarb martini! If you’re looking to party, there is also a weekly shin-dig with live music in the property’s big red barn, which attracts hundreds of locals and guests alike.
Enjoy a bit of live music and whiskey-inspired dishes at the Glenora Distillery Restaurant. The blueberry cobbler and the lobster salad here topped my list of favorites!
Panoramo at Cabot Links Hotel is one of the fanciest restaurants on the island and they nail just about every dish we tasted. The Lobster Ravioli is to die for as is the blueberry cobbler–and I don’t even like blueberry cobbler!
Bell Buoy serves fabulous lobster sandwiches. Take these to go and enjoy aboard the Amoeba sailing tour.
The Dancing Goat serves up fancy coffees and incredible cookies. I recommend the Peanut Butter Chocolate chip!
Stay tuned for many more articles about my experience in Cape Breton, including hotel reviews and plenty of pictures!
Have you ever been to Cape Breton? Have you at least heard of it? Let me know in the comments!
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