Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island is famed for its breathtaking scenery and music. A forested plateau resting on the Atlantic Ocean, the island is carved with craggy, steep cliffs and deep river canyons offering fantastic vistas. Cabot Trail, the scenic road around the island, has been voted one of the world’s most scenic byways.
An increasing number of visitors are traveling to the island and, not just for the incredible scenery. Thanks to the numerous Scots, French and Irish who settled the area, Cape Breton has become Canada’s hub for Celtic culture and music, particularly traditional fiddle music. In addition, a provincial educational system encourages the use of Gaelic so it’s the first language spoken by many locals. This gives the island a unique personality, found nowhere else in North America that is being noticed. In 2009, Travel + Leisure magazine World’s Best Awards ranked Cape Breton the number three island to visit (number one was Bali, number two was Galapagos).
Music remains an integral part of everyday life, and today the Ceilidh (Gaelic for social gathering) is a mainstay for most Cape Breton communities. During the summer, visitors flock to the many music festivals, particularly in the village of Judique. Known locally as “Bhaile nam Fonn” (Home of Celtic Music), this village hosts the Celtic Music Intrepretive Centre, which has concerts year round. In October, the Celtic Colours Festival spans the whole island, including the villages of Mabou, Membertou and Louisbourg and calls home its famous musicians to perform.
Pristine, wind-swept beaches are located all around Cape Breton, where it’s possible to swim, kayak, sail, or whale watch. Another popular tradition is the community lobster dinner served across the island from May through July when fresh lobster is caught daily. It’s a perfect venue to experience island hospitality. Cape Breton Highlands National Park is one of the largest protected wilderness areas in Nova Scotia with numerous hiking and biking rails through a blend of Acadian, Boreal and Taiga habitats leading to tree-covered mountains and lush valleys.
In short, Cape Breton is an intoxicating slice of Canada not to be missed.