Cape Breton is a spectacular island in NS with beautiful coast and scenery, friendly people, and lots to do. We took a long weekend and saw some great scenery and historic sites.
by tvordj on September 29, 2008
The Baddeck Heritage House is run by an older couple. They offer a continental breakfast, cereals and toast, fruit, yogurt and cheese as well as coffee, tea and juice. The bedroom we had was on the main floor and was quite large. It was furnished with antiques and the large bathroom had a jacuzzi tub and large shower stall. The owner carves lots of folk art figures which are scattered around the property. There is a lounge but there is no television in the building aside from a small one that is only hooked to a dvd player. The B&B is on Twining street. When you drive into town, you will reach an intersection by the visitor centre. Turn up Twining street and it's just up the hill a short way, on the left. They also have an outdoor hot tub and sauna available. Off season rates are possible for May and September. Is not open during the winter months.
The Ocean View site has a six unit motel strip with large rooms and mini kitchen facilities. Some rooms have a king size bed and some are Queen. There are two luxury units with jacuzzis as well and there are a dozen housekeeping chalet units. The site is on the north end of the village of Cheticamp, just a few miles before the entrance to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park and the Cabot Trail. They don't provide breakfast but we were offered freshly baked muffins when we checked out in the morning. There are barbeques available and picnic tables if you want to eat outside. The site is right on the water overlooking a small bay that leads out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The sunsets were spectacular! As I mentioned, no breakfast offered. You can make something in your room, there is a mini fridge and a microwave and coffee maker. There is also a little diner right next door that do a really great full breakfast. We had our brekkie there and were quite satisfied. I'd definitely stay here again.
We chose the Stacey House B&B from the Nova Scotia tourism book. Rates seemed reasonable and the pictures online showed an old house decorated with lots of antiques and indeed the house is beautifully done up. The breakfast was great as well. You can have cereal but they also do a hot dish and there are usually homemade goodies as well. The room we had, number 1, had a queen sized bed. The room was not large but not too tiny though the bathroom was quite small, having been fitted in to a corner of the room. Still, it had everything you needed including a shower stall. The only problem we had was that we found the bed quite hard. It appeared to be an older mattress and box spring so as to fit the antique bed so was not very thick. Location wise, it is on the main street through Louisbourg, near the beginning of the town just past the railway museum. Not difficult to find. Walking distance to most restaurants and the playhouse. You could walk to the Fortress visitor centre but it's a bit of a way. Best to drive and park up there.
Grubstake is a lovely little restaurant on the main street of Louisbourg. It's been there over 20 years and has a nice, comfortable atmosphere. The main reason we chose this is because nothing on the menu is fried, everything is baked, grilled or poached. Instead of french fries, you'll get roasted potatoes. They specialize in fresh seafood but they also do wraps, salads, steaks, soup and creamy seafood chowder. I had the chowder which was wonderful and made exactly as it should have been, with a milky broth, not a thick creamy sauce. I also had the haddock. My partner had a wrap with a side of garlicky garlic bread. It wasn't cheap but it wasn't hugely expensive either.
This restaurant is on the main road through the village of Cheticamp. It has a lounge/bar on one side and a dining room on the other. I think it can also cater to bus tour groups. The menu carries most standard pub grub and lots of fresh seafood as well. Soups, salads, steaks, seafod, (fish, lobster, crab, scallops), burgers. They also do a couple of Acadian regional dishes, a Fricot which is a hearty soup/stew, fishcakes served with beans, and a meat pie. I had the Fricot and it was delicious. My partner had the burger and was very satisfied. We didn't have room for dessert but it looked yummy. Prices were average, not cheap. Easy to spot it, look for the lighthouse! They also do entertainment on some evenings. Check the website for schedule. There are billiards tables on the lounge side. http://legabriel.com/
The Hometown Kitchen was next door to the motel where we stayed and we had our breakfast there in the morning. The restaurant is no-frills, with plastic patio chairs and basic tables covered with print vinyl table coverings. The menu isn't fancy but it covers all the basics. There are a number of choices for breakfast from cold to hot and hearty cooked ones. It is a full service licensed establishment and the owner decorates for the seasons. It was done up for Halloween when we were there. Apparently they go all out for Christmas :) It also seemed like a place the locals ate and that's always a good sign. It's right on the water and they do have an outdoor screened in patio. I can't vouch for their lunch and dinner menu items as we didn't eat there in the evening but if the breakfast was anything to go by, it would be great! It's open all year round though not until 11:00 in winter. Open at 7:00 in summer for breakfast. Most definitely worth eating here.
France colonized areas of Ile Royale, now known as Cape Breton Island, in the 17th century. In the early 18th century, a fortified walled town, called a Fortress, was built on the east coast on an ice-free harbour and was called Louisbourg, after King Louis XV. It took over 20 years to complete. The main source of revenue was the Grand Bank cod fishing industry which was extremely lucrative and the town prospered. Little wonder then, that the British laid seige to it in 1745. Louisbourg changed hands several times over the next several decades until the British finally captured it and kept it, but destroyed it in 1760. Canada designated the site as a National Historic site in the early 1960s and started to reconstruct the fortress as it would have been in 1744, before the British first attacked it. Now, the town buzzes with tourists and is populated during the day by locals dressed in period costume. They are all well versed in the history of the town and the area and can tell you about the families or people they represent, from ordinary citizens to soldiers to the town's engineer. There are many houses and buildings open filled with antiques from that period as well as faithful reproductions. There are free tours available that run several times during the day. They have military exhibitions and other acts played out such as a public punishment for someone that may have been caught stealing, for example. There are two restaurants and a takeaway coffee shop (with 2 or 3 tables if you want to sit). One restaurant is "working class" and all you get is a large pewter spoon and a big napkin/bib to use to wipe it off between courses. Food is comes in pewter dishes or ceramic cups and is served by costumed girls. There is another restaurant that was closed when we were there which is a bit more "refined", I believe. There is also an area near an on-site museum that has picnic tables. When you arrive, you are greeted by two "fishermen" who will tell you a little about the history of the fort, and show you into a cottage that is outside the gates of the city. The cottage would be similar to the kind the everyday fishermen would use and it has a sod roof. You enter the gates, where armed guards may challenge you and then you are free to roam around. There's a gift shop in a building near the entrance, as well. We arrived around noon and decided to find the restaurant first as we'd been driving all morning. Fortified, we then spent the rest of the afternoon tramping around, watching a military drill and cannon firing, a public punishment and chatting to some of the costumed staff in various buildlings. We saw a woman making a basket, another in an old kitchen where a lead weighted clockwork type mechanism turned a spit in front of the fire where a hunk of meat was sizzling. We talked to the woman who was an innkeeper in a tavern and showed us some of the games that might have been played including a 18th century cribbage board and cards. The engineer told us about his job as the third most important person in the settlement after the governor and Finance minister. He would have been the architect of the town and was living in a very fine house but not quite as fine as the governor's quarters in the Bastion where there was also a small jail cell, a lovely chapel and the soldiers' barracks. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day and we spent four hours in the town but you could easily spend all day there. I know there was a lot we didn't see and we totally failed to realize that there is also a museum by the Bastion. The fortress is accessed via the town of Louisbourg. The entrance is just past the town and there's plenty of free parking. You pay your fee at the visitor centre where there is also a gift shop and some exhibits detailing the history of the fortress. You must then board a bus that takes you to the entrance of the fortress itself, about a 5 minute ride. Busses run very frequently all day. The Fortess is open from mid may to mid October. Hours in July and August are 9:00 - 5:30, spring and fall hours are 9:30 to 5:00. The restaurants on site are open from June to the end of September. Although there are discounted entry fees in May and October, you don't get very much bang for your buck. It's hardly worth going then. Regular fees are not cheap but considering how much there is to see and take in, it's definitely worth it. Adult price is $17.60 (CAD) with senior, youth and family rates available. There are two buildings where there are washrooms and they are disabled accessible. Much of the site is accessible though the coffee shop has stairs. The two restaurants are ground level and many of the other buildings are as well or have ramps or just a couple of low stairs to get in. Inside the Bastion, however, the recreated barracks and governor's quarters are up stairs though I seem to recall the chapel is accessible. Busses are wheelchair accessible but you can also get a pass to take your own vehicle to the entrance. Official websiteWikipedia information
About 20 minutes south of the village of Cheticamp, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, on the Cabot Trail, is a weird and wonderful attraction. It's been there for 20 years and is mentioned in various tourism brochures but is not all that well known, it seems. Joe's Scarecrow Village has dozens of figures lined up across a field next to a small trailer. The figures are scarecrows and dressed in old clothes. Their faces are mainly masks. Some of the bodies are mannequins and many of the masks have mannequin heads behind them. Or something. A lot of them had "eyes" that you could detect behind the masks which made them look rather creepy, really. Some are known figures like Queen Elizabeth II, Maggie Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and other world leaders. The masks for these are from the "Spitting Image" satire series from back in the 1980s. There is a small gift shop on site though it wasn't open when we were there as it was fairly early in the morning. There is no fee but there are donation boxes and the donations go to keep the scarecrows clothed. We were there early so we were pretty much the only visitors but a bus load of people arrived just as we were leaving. It's easy to find. If you're driving the Cabot Trail, it's on the main road at Cap LeMoine which is close to St. Joseph des Moines and 20 minutes or so from Cheticamp on the east side of Cape Breton Island. It's very clever and quirky and something a little different!
by tvordj on October 1, 2008
I've been trying to get to Cape Breton for years and never seem to manage to make plans that work out so this year, I was determined. Graham was visiting for two weeks in September so we went ahead and booked. It would have been better to go in October when the fall colours were blazing but I had work committments so we made do with a beautiful sunny weekend instead. Our trip to Cape Breton included an overnight stop in Georgetown, Prince Edward Island to visit my cousin. We left on a Thursday in grey, overcast weather. We decided to take the ferry to PEI since Georgetown is on the east end of the island and not that far from Caribou where the ferry lands. First, though, a stop in the pretty town of Pictou. We were early for the 1 p.m. boat so we drove into the town centre to have a look around and a coffee. Pictou is known as the landing spot for the Hector, a sailing ship that brough a boat load of Scottish highlander immigrants in 1773. More and more Scots arrived as the Highlands were cleared out by the British after the Rising and thus, Nova Scotia's strong Scottish (and also Irish, many of whom arrived during the famines in Ireland in the 1800s) heritage was born. (There are more names that start with Mac and Mc in the telephone books here than the name Smith!)On the Pictou waterfront is a replica of the Hector and you can go on board but only if you pay $7 at the museum there, the Hector Heritage Quay Interpretive centre which isn't large but there are several other buildings and things to see such as a working blacksmith shop. We didn't actually go through the museum because of time constraints and just took pictures of the ship from the boardwalks along the waterfront but it would be quite interesting and worth a look. We did have a look into the gift shop where they had a lot of nice things. I bought myself a silver ring with a Celtic design and it looks like a miniature locket, that is, a little compartment that opens up. Too small for a photo but apparently it's modeled on rings that could hold a poison pellet! Hmmmm....The weather was getting a bit misty and we decided we might be ready for that hot drink now. Across the road from the Quay is a lovely little cafe and art studio called Carvers. Keith Matheson, the owner, has a studio in the back where he produces wonderful wood carvings and they even hold classes! The cafe has light lunches available and yummy desserts and the pub has a hearty menu. From there, we headed to the ferry, only we seemed to have got out of the town on the wrong road and took the back road all the way to the ferry. Luckily, we weren't late for the boat! You can travel to PEI on the ferry or by the bridge in New Brunswick for free but they make you pay on the way out and let's face it, it's an island, they've got a captive audience! On the PEI side, we took the East Coastal Route, the scenic drive around the shore. We made a couple of stops along the way, one to Cape Bear where there's a lighthouse. It wasn't open but we took pics and had our lunch sitting in the car. It was a bit too wet to sit at the picnic table there. Cape Bear lighthouse was the first one in Canada to receive a distress signal from the Titanic! Our other stop was Panmuir Island, accessed by a narrow causway. It's on the mouth of Georgetown bay and the lighthouse there is the oldest wooden one on the Island. We could see a few horses grazing in a field in front of it as we drove up. Makes for a nice photo! You can pay a small fee to go up in the lighthouse but we didn't. We did have a little chat with the woman working in the lighthouse which is a tiny gift shop and we walked around taking photos of the views, the lighthouse and the horses. By now, the weather gods were with us and it was clearing up. Another 20 minutes or so and we arrived in Georgetown, just before 5 o'clock. Gayle was still in her shop Shoreline Designs a few doors down the road from their house so we walked down to see her there and investigate the shop. This is the first summer it's been open. There's lots of lovely hand made crafts for sale, some of which are made by Gayle's husband, Peter (jewelry, sandstone carvings). They have also opened up a restaurant with a partner, called Clam Diggers. That's down at the other end of their street, overlooking the water. We had our dinner there later on and it was really *really* good! ! Peter doesn't do most of the cooking but he does do some of it when he has the time. He's not only busy crafting his silver jewelry and carving his sandstone, he's also the mayor of Georgetown! The sun has set and we're heading for bed after an impromptu Japanese karaoke session (Um, probably best not to ask!). Our visit this time is short but we'll come back again and spend more time on the Island and with Gayle and Peter.
Up early today. Peter is cooking breakfast but has invited us to the restaurant where he's using the facilities there. It's not open for breakfast, so it's just us for a private dining experience with our eggs and bac'. I was sure the eggs were different somehow, they tasted so good but I guess it's just like that when someone else cooks it for you. In butter. The sunrise was beautiful and the day was going to be sunny and clear with a little cool breeze. Perfect for traveling. Put in the tunes and away we go, taking the direct route back to the ferry which takes about 30 or 40 minutes tops. We made it with 13 mintues to spare, or so we thought. The boat was 9:30 not 9:00. Misread the brochure. Well it's better than missing it by a half hour! We paid our fare to return to the mainland and then headed left for Cape Breton up the Trans Canada Highway. We crossed the Canso Causeway but took the wrong turn off the rotary. We'd wanted to take the 19 all up the western shore but instead found ourselves on the 105 Highway. There didn't seem to be a way to cross over so we stayed there until Whycogomah where we stopped for gas and had lunch. We bought fresh made sandwiches at a Farmer's market (bakery and deli) which were the size of doorstops! From there we sorted out the correct turn off to go over to the scenic route.Mistake. There was construction in two separate sections and the road was a bit rough otherwise, too. The construction spots had us stopping to wait for a pickup truck that would escort us down the road to the other end of the sections. That was different! We finally got on our way and out of the worst of the roads, heading through the beautiful Margaree Valley and around the coast into the Cheticamp area. We spotted Joe's Scarecrow Village and Flora's, noted for later visits. We found our motel, the Ocean View Motel and Chalets, at the other end of the village, checked in and headed for the wharf. We were hoping to catch a whale watching cruise, you see, and were told there was a 5 o'clock cruise going out. Unfortunately we were out of luck, because it's off season and if they don't have 6 people, they don't go out. They didn't. We didn't. Instead, we drove back out of town to Flora's for a gander through the craft shop. There's all manner of hooked rugs, a local specialty, available in the shop from small things the size of bookmarks or coasters to large area rugs for the floor or to hang on a wall. There are lots of other nice things there too and we gathered up some items for gifts and souvenirs. We headed back into the busy town of Cheticamp and stopped at the 100+ year old stone church, Saint-Pierre. It was open so we went inside to looke at the sunny interior. The walls and ceilings are all white and the light through the stained glass makes it glow. Very pretty church and it's spire can be seen for miles around. Food was our next priority. There are quite a few places to eat and we chose what was probably a bit of a tourist trap, a restaurant (and pub) with a big lighthouse out front. They're large enough to cater to a bus group though it was mercifully quiet when we were there. The food was good, though our waitress had us a bit worried whether she would manage. She used a catering tray to hold on to as she walked around, with the drinks or the food on the tray. She was clearly a little unsteady but she was game to go! The service was, in fact, quite good! We had no room for dessert and headed back to the motel room. The motel offers dvds to borrow and play on the television so we looked through the list of titles and chose one. we had some snacks and settled in to relax and enjoy the movie. Tomorrow will be a long driving day around the Cabot Trail!
We weren't lucky with the whale watching cruise so we took a little time and drove back to Joe's Scarecrow Village (see separate review). What an amazing and quirky attraction! Kind of creepy too. The one that really made the hair on my neck stand up was the one with the alien mask. The face with the over-sized open mouthed smile was unsettling as well. Definitely worth a stop if you are going by there anyway. We bought sandwiches at Tim Horton's to have for our lunch later and hit the trail. Another clear blue sky today! We're a couple of weeks too early to see the changing fall colours, unfortunately. There's a charge for entering the Cape Breton Highlands National Park that encompases the Cabot Trail but it's not that much and there are family/group rates if you've got a car full. We paid our dues and got a good map of just the park routes, lookoff spots, attractions and hiking trails which we found useful. The scenery was truly jaw dropping!! The road was at times twisty but almost always in decent condition. there were a couple of spots where the shoulder was narrow or the road at the shoulder was a bit rough but mainly it was in decent shape unless you went off the Trail. We made stopped at some lookoff points, a couple of gift shops, a cafe, and went off the main route to see a couple of little fishing villages, Bay St. Lawrence at the northern tip of Cape Breton and Neil's Harbour where there is a lighthouse on a very windy hill. We had our sandwiches in the car there as it was far too windy to sit at a picnic table and had a coffee at the little cafe beside the lighthouse. Places we could have stopped but decided against this time were the Lone Sheiling (a replica of a Scottish crofter's cottage) and the Giant MacAskill museum. Apparently we went right by it but the signage is pretty bad.We ended the day in Baddeck, a pretty town on the water, on the Bras D'or lakes. There's a lighthouse here too (how many did we see? I lost count!) Our bed and breakfast is just up from the main and only intersection by the visitor information centre. We got checked in then went out to walk around the village, down by the waterfront and up main street. Not much open past 5 o'clock on a Saturday! We did stop into the library and signed up to use the public internet computers but barely got logged in when the library closed! Fail! Where to go for our dinner? We asked the landlady at the B&B and she'd recommended a couple of places. One was in a hotel and was too full and too posh for our casual attire. The one we chose was called Yellow Cello. Food was good but we didn't have very good luck with the service. The young man didn't seem to be very experienced.The B&B was quiet, didn't have a television so we occupied our evening with games of cards and checking out the jacuzzi tub!
Yet another sunny day! We had a continental breakfast and checked out. We stopped at the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic site first, before heading to Louisbourg. This is a really interesting site and we spent an hour or two looking at all the exhibits and photos. He did a lot of research and came up with a lot of inventions, a lot more than we realized. (see separate review). It was well worth the entrance fee and the time. Apparently you can drive somewhere handy and at least see where his house is but we didn't realize that.We left there, gassed up the gar, and then drove straight through to Louisbourg, mainly highway driving until just past Sydney where you turn off for Route 22. It's well marked so you can't miss it. Since it was not quite noon, we decided to drive straight to the Fortress rather than check in to the Bed and Breakfast. I've written about the Fortress in another review "Visiting the 18th century" so some details are there. We had a great time, chatting to the interpretors, walking around and looking in the buildings. We went up to the fort, or Bastion, to watch a rifle drill and cannon firing, all done to the beat of the drummer. I was surprised to see a couple of women dressed as soldiers. I know in this day and age, everything is open to anyone but to be truly representative of the 18th century, you would have to have all male soldiers. Still, it doesn't matter. I have to say, though the soldiers were fine, they weren't a crack drill team like the summer students in the Halifax Citadel, the 78th Highlanders. Their marching lines were a bit straggly and they didn't snap the rifles around sharply like real soldiers would. I know. Picky. I shouldn't be. The whole experience was wonderful, really. We talked to one woman at the Bastion who directed us upstairs to check out the Governor's quarters. Very posh! The jail cell was a bench with a mattress at one end. I expect several prisoners could be bedded on the long bench and there would be more then just the one thin mattress but there were also shackles on the bed platform too! We also witnessed a public punishment where a citizen was purported to have stolen a bottle of wine. This was proclaimed and he, with his hands roped together and a wooden sign around his neck stating he was a thief (in French, "Voleur") and he was marched through the town to the post where he would be placed in an iron collar for several hours. There is so much attention to detail here, with the costumes and items in the buildings. The actors know their history as well and enjoy playing the parts. One woman, who was weaving a basket, has worked there for 20 years. She grew up there and the Fortress was part of her history. The main thing we did miss was an on site museum that we didn't realize was there. I wouldn't mind at all going back again and taking one of the free tours as well. There are picnic tables available too if you don't want to eat at one of the restaurants. After four hours in the sun, we were ready to head to the Bed and Breakfast. This one, the Stacey House, is filled with antiques and floral prints and dark wood. Our room upstairs was mostly white and lace though, so it was brighter. Turned out to be not that great a choice because we found the bed quite uncomfortable. We ate our evening meal at Grubstake, a few blocks away. They don't serve any fried food there, everything is baked, broiled or poached. The food was quite nice, too, and the chowder i had was perfect! They also have a playhouse that was built by a movie company and left for the town. They offer entertainment, plays and music all summer long but the folk music on offer tonight didn't really appeal to us. After a restless night, we had a nice breakfast, at least. We're heading home today. Not quite as clear and sunny today but it's ok, for driving. we drove a scenic route, first along the Mira River and then along the lovely Bras D'Or lake, passing through Big Pond where we stopped at Rita MacNeil's famous tea room. Rita is a singer and while her music isn't my taste, she's quite well known in Canada and we thought we might as well stop there for our elevenses, tea and a scone. Lunch was at a pub in the town of St. Peter's. Food was good but the service was slow.From there, the drive was mainly unremarkable, hitting the highway when we got off Cape Breton Island and straight through to Halifax, other than a stop for the loo at a petrol station near New Glasgow. We had a lovely road trip but we were definitely glad to get out of the car!!!
Alexander Graham Bell did most of his famous telephone inventing in the US but he had a summer home in Baddeck where he lived most of the last part of his life, continuing his research and inventing, with the help of a team, loads of other things. We already knew he had done a lot of work with the deaf earlier in life. His father did as well. He invented a sort of written language for the deaf and there's even a typewriter that types the symbols. The museum has several sections, dealing with various aspects of his life and work. There are loads of photographs including one of him and his wife with Helen Keller and a touching one of him and his wife walking on the beach. There are examples of some of the aircraft and hydrofoil craft he worked on and there's a film that you can watch about the evolution of these inventions as well as other details about his life. There are lots of items on display from other of his inventions including an early camera and a phone that could work on light rays. The first cordless phone! The site is wheelchair accessible with ramps and a lift. There's a children's play and experiement section in the lower level and of course a gift shop. Fees are $7.80 per adult with discounts for seniors, children and groups. Lots of free parking. There's a cafe on the site as well, near one of the car parks.
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