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Fall Festival Season in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

Cape Breton

For millennia, this rugged 3,970-square-mile island was part of what is now Scotland, until a continental drift sent it across the Atlantic. It looks much like its ancient parent—rocky shores, glacial valleys, and barren headlands—but never more so than in September and October, when music and cultural festivals turn the island into a celebration of Highland heritage, for many of its 18th-century settlers, like the island itself, came from Scotland.

What to Do

In the pint-size town of Mabou, the Féis Mhábu (Oct. 7-9; feismhabu.com; tickets from $10) glorifies all things Gaelic with traditional dances, workshops (learn to step-dance), and language classes (did you know that am foghar is Gaelic for "autumn"?). Don't miss next month's Celtic Colours International Festival (Oct. 5-13; 902/562-6700; celtic-colours.com; tickets from $15). Native fiddler Buddy MacMaster takes the stage, along with the Chieftains—a traditional Irish group.

Where to Eat

Siblings Heather, Raylene, and Cookie Rankin, of the well-known Celtic singing trio the Rankin Sisters, recently renovated Mabou's Red Shoe Pub (Rte. 19; 902/945-2996; dinner for two $50). The haute pub cuisine includes Acadian tourtière (meat pie) and fresh beer-battered haddock. At the Chanterelle Inn (48678 Cabot Trail, Baddeck; 866/277-0577; dinner for two $85), the weekend Fall Fungi Foray & Feast is a must for mushroom lovers. Chef-owner Earlene Busch will whip up a four-course meal, including a surprisingly good dessert of cheesecake with chanterelle sauce.

Where to Stay

Book a room at the two-story Castle Rock Country Inn (39339 Cabot Trail, Ingonish; 888/884-7625; doubles from $140) for the vertiginous view: the 15-room property sits on a cliff overlooking Ingonish Harbor.

Insider Tip

"For live music during the Celtic Colours Festival, the Art Centre, in Inverness [16080 Hwy. 19; 902/258-2533; invernessarts.ca], is your best bet," says Michael Rankin, the Rankin sisters' nephew, who tends bar at the Red Shoe Pub.

—Doug Cooper

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