At first it’s the visual beauty that captivates you—cliff-backed beaches; forested headlands studded with lighthouses. But the sounds of Cape Breton will have you falling in love. Just off Nova Scotia, with an island culture that commingles Scottish, Acadian, Irish, African, and native Mi’kmaq influences, Cape Breton is fueled by music. Celtic-style fiddling is played in parish halls and casual venues such as the Thursday night ceilidh (kay-lee)—a dance gathering that also incorporates bagpipes, whistles, mandolins, and singing—at Rollie’s Wharf, in the main port of North Sydney. In October, the Celtic Colours International Festival consumes the island. Hotels take advantage of the island’s physical allure: at Castle Moffett—a turreted inn on 200 acres overlooking the Bras d’Or Lakes—rooms have fireplaces and four-poster beds. Cape Breton restaurants emphasize local ingredients, often betraying the island’s British roots; among Sydney’s standouts, Allegro Grill & Deli serves a mean shepherd’s pie. Taking a dip here needn’t be chilly, especially in summer: Lifeguard Beach in Port Hood, on the Gulf of St. Lawrence, is protected by breakwaters, its shallows heated by the sun.
Cape Breton Active Tip: The island’s best hiking trails are in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. After taking in the panoramic views of the coastline, cool off at Black Brook beach, flanked by a spectacular headland, or Ingonish Beach, which also has a freshwater lake. 16648 Cabot Trail Rd., Chéticamp; 902/224-2306.
Cape Breton, Nova Scotia:
World’s Best Scorecard
No. 3 island overall
No. 1 island in Continental United States + Canada
Allegro Grill & Deli 222 Charlotte St., Sydney; 902/562-1623; lunch for two $30.
Great Value Castle Moffett 11980 Hwy. 105, Bucklaw, Baddeck; 902/756-9070; castlemoffett.com; doubles from $199.
Celtic Colours International Festival 877/285-2321 or 902/562-6700; celtic-colours.com; October 7–15, 2011.
Lifeguard Beach Port Hood; 902/787-3050; porthood.ca.
Rollie’s Wharf 411 Purves St., North Sydney; 902/794-7774; drinks for two $10.