Cape Breton … stunning natural beauty in a rugged coastal setting, untamed by habitation. Sure, there are small Acadian towns, fishing villages and the odd tent pitched along the way. But the land is vast and dramatic. Where is everybody? There is more than enough for everyone here.
The route winds over mist-laden mountain peaks and valleys, bestowing spectacular views of ocean or lake each and every which way you look. The Cabot Trail is a 298km scenic highway that loops around the island of Cape Breton, a forested plateau bordering the Atlantic. It passes through the Highlands National Park and follows the shoreline of this northernmost tip of Nova Scotia. Rolling out in front of us, the roadway changes from red to green to lavender.
A holiday here is a vacation in the truest sense of the word. There is a quality that engulfs the senses, a serenity that stirs the soul. If not by car, visitors travel by bike, kayak or on foot. Walking trails – 5, 10, 20km long – wind their way through forests and skirt the edge of actively eroding cliffs. The cool, maritime climate and rocky landscape allows for a blend of northern and temperate species of plants and habitats. We share wild berries with the wildlife – if we’re lucky to beat ‘em to it – and enjoy a bounty of fresh seafood at every meal. Gastronomes know how wonderfully scallops and halibut pair with the sweet local wines. There is no shame in admitting it: we’re eating & drinking our way through Nova Scotia.
And water is everywhere. Our Zodiac skims past caves and rock outcrops near the coastline, then fearlessly darts out to deep sea in search of whales. The wait is a short one. The vessel grinds to a halt upon tracking clusters of the migrating mammals. Left and right, we catch glimpses of their glistening skin slipping out from under the surface. Buzzing around us, some whales boldly approach close enough to touch but mostly we watch their breaching from afar, how they expose their fusiform-shaped bodies or slap their tails before submerging again. The numbers that I haven’t seen here in people I see in animals – a generous quota – which also includes dolphins, seals, turtles, eagles, puffins and other seabirds.
It is delightful to not be vacationing with the masses this summer. We have the road and beach to ourselves. Fine folk (like the P.E.I. sisters above) who too have chosen Nova Scotia as their retreat of choice stay in cottages and campgrounds sprinkled throughout the region while some of us prefer to slum it up in charming B&Bs and resorts. Like the motorcyclists travelling in packs, we choose the solitude of the open road. It’s all very civilized out here…