The Cabot Trail follows a rugged Atlantic coast in the Cape Breton Highlands of Nova Scotia, Canada. Most travel the 298 kilometre (185 mile) route in summer but we traveled it in early September. If you like fall colours, try the Cabot Trail in mid October. We were told that’s when Nova Scotia’s colours generally peak, a good two weeks after other parts of Canada, including Quebec and most of Ontario.
More first impressions…
The strength of Nova Scotia’s Acadian culture
It still thrives along the eastern portion of the Cabot Trail. The dead giveaway is the distinctive red, white and blue Acadian flag which you see everywhere. Le Co-op in Chéticamp is one of many places where you can find traditional Acadian fare. I ordered a fish soup and freshly-made molasses bread before heading to the little craft shop next door. Hooked rugs are a Chéticamp tradition. A sweet little one made by an 86 year old local made it home with me.
In the 1740s Louisbourg was an important French fishing port and the third largest port in North America after Boston and New York. It was also the centre of Acadian culture. Although not on the Cabot Trail, it is close enough and worth a visit. I could not believe the massive size of present-day Louisbourg but Parks Canada staff who operate the national historic site told us it’s a fraction of what the original walled port was. The quality of craftsmanship is extraordinary and so is the interpretation. If you go, take a guided “Touching History” tour for a look at some of the port’s archeological finds. Point of View Suites is on the water in the little town of Louisbourg with a view of the fortress. It operates a Beggars Banquet – an 18th century style dinner theatre – on the property, so this is where we ended our day.
The Ceilidh Trail (pronounced “Kay-Lee”) extends the reach of the Cabot Trail down the western shores of Cape Breton. The Gaelic culture in Nova Scotia is far beyond what I imagined. Music seems to ooze out of every soul here. Even in the smallest of towns you can find a Ceilidh or social gathering with Gaelic folk music and dancing. The Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in the tiny village of Judique serves a good lunch accompanied by a noon-hour Ceilidh. It’s also interactive. I took a fiddle lesson and even tried a jig. Nova Scotia’s Gaelic College is another good stop. This is the base for the Celtic Colours International Festival in October, when hundreds of musicians descend on the island to play and party. It’s also where you can order a hand-sewn kilt, custom-made. Canadian comedian Rick Mercer covered these “nine days of celtic madness” awhile back.
We’re not talking Rockies, but the Cape Breton Highlands are definitely mountains, especially in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Unfortunately, we had a major downpour when we drove through the park so no hiking. Next time. And when it comes, the Skyline Trail with its spectacular vistas will be our first trail.
Nova Scotia single malt whisky
We wrote about Glen Breton Single Malt awhile back when we paired it with some delish New Brunswick smoked salmon. On this trip I got to see the Glenora distillery and drink its spring water, which is what makes this single malt so smooth. We had a good dinner here and I just might be back to stay in one of the distillery’s hillside chalets come fall when colours are at their peak.
The Gulf of the St. Lawrence and pilot whales
One, I didn’t realize one side of the Cabot Trail is on the Gulf of the St. Lawrence and two, I had never seen pilot whales before. We saw a couple of pods feeding on mackerel close to shore. We also saw a molly (NOT the aquarium variety) which our Captain said was rare. These massive sunfish usually prefer warmer waters.
Good food and lodging
The best oatcakes I think I’ve had anywhere are served at Inverary Resort in Baddeck. The dinner at Pictou Lodge in Pictou, our last meal, was exceptional. I also loved the Highland Sitting Room at the Keltic Lodge.
The Skyline Sunset Hike in Cape Breton Highlands National Park is one of the Canadian Tourism Commission’s Canadian Signature Experiences.