Scenery and Celtic influence abound at Cape Breton Island

Canada’s Maritime region has long been on my destination dream list so when the Princess Cruise Line put Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island on its list of summer excursions my husband and I said “Aye Aye.”

Canada's Maritime provinces were as beautiful as we had heard

Canada's Maritime provinces were as beautiful as we had heard

However, what was supposed to be our “vacation” (this was not a complimentary travel trip) soon turned into my search as a travel writer for tips on what to do and how to make the most of time in port and in the two provinces.

When we stopped at Sydney on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, we went directly out into the country. At Prince Edward Island, we saw the town. At Hallifax when back in Nova Scotia, we did both town and country.

First, let’s look at Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Second in the series on seeing two of Canada’s Atlantic provinces will explore  Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island.

We hooked up with Nova Scotia resident Peter Steele, a Cape Breton graphic designer whom we heard also offers excellent one-on-one tours. Steele can be reached at besteele@eastlink.ca

A cruise schedule allows barely enough time to get more than at tantalizing taste of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

If lucky enough to return to stay on the island we would follow the Cabot Trail around Cape Breton Highland National Park and along the island’s eastern and western coasts.

But given the few hours we had in port we found that touring with a native meant having a driver who knew short cuts such as a ferry, knew the island’s historic ethnic background and knew how to squeeze in scenic drives around St. Andrew’s Channel, St. Patrick’s Channel and the Great Bras D’Or  (gold arm).

We were quickly whisked away from Sydney to a drive along St. Andrew’s Channel. Our first destination was Highland Village, a Gaelic collection of historic structures on a high hill in Iona with a spectacular overlook of the Barramens Strait on the Bras D’Or Lakes.

The Highland Village at Iona has spectacular views of Cape Breton's waterways from

The Highland Village at Iona has spectacular views of Cape Breton's waterways

The combination of dark fir trees framing watery vistas, alone, was worth the drive.

But learning about the island’s Gaelic heritage and why so many signs along the way were in English and Gaelic was fascinating.

The village is a living museum that includes costumed volunteers such as the blacksmith in his shop and a weaver in her building.

Tips: if planning a trip to Cape Breton, try to arrive at the Highland Village during a music festival or special event. The church is known for its choir and acoustics. The museum’s shop has an extensive collection of Gaelic literature.

A costumed blacksmith works his trade at Highland Village

A costumed blacksmith works his trade at Highland Village

From Iona, we then drove to Baddeck, a picturesque village where Alexander Graham Bell , and now his descendents, have a large home.

Here we learned that the name Baddeck is based on the word “Abadak” which means “place with island near” that was given the area by Cape Breton’s Mi’kmaq members of the Wabenaki First Nation.

We would have liked to stay awhile but we did tour the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site of Canada, where we learned that the phone inventor also invented several other gadgets, vehicles and constructed kites.

Alexander Graham Bell and his wife relax on a Baddeck seaside bench where they could see their home in the hills across the harbour

Alexander Graham Bell and his wife relax on a Baddeck seaside bench where they could see their home in the hills across the harbour

Tips: Baddeck is a summer resort base. The area has charming inns, lodges, B and B’s and restaurants that specialize in lobster boils and other seafood choices.  Sailing, golf and hiking are popular vacation activities.

All too soon we left Baddeck to head back to Sydney on a northern Highlands route that would take us  along St. Anne’s Harbour and across the Great Bras D’Or to North Sydney, then down along the Northwest Arm of the two-pronged Sydney Harbour to the Sydney’s port on the South Arm.

Driving beautiful Cape Breton roads back to Sydney, first the highlands rose on our left and water vistas were seldom out of sight as they accompanied us on our right, than left

Driving beautiful Cape Breton roads back to Sydney, first the highlands rose on our left and water vistas were seldom out of sight as they accompanied us on our right, than left

Back on board the boat, the Caribbean Princess, passengers who stayed just in town said the stop was disappointing. I was sorry they had not at least taken a tour the Princess offered to the Highland Village.

If we had not arranged for  a guide on our own we would have booked a Princess tour into Cape Breton’s scenic countryside.

(Photos by Jodie Jacobs)

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