A short hop over the water to the northwest of the main Nova Scotia peninsula is Cape Breton Island. Together, these two land masses make up the great Canadian province of Nova Scotia, and while the former is well worth exploring, it’s the latter that sequesters one of the best driving roads on the planet.
Quite simply, the Cabot Trail has it all. Think breathtaking coastal views, charming and diverse cultural landmarks and architecture, buckets of options for outdoor adventure and – of course – mile after mile of exquisitely meandering and undulating open highway.
If you’ve flown into the province capital Halifax, which is situated on the main peninsula, you can hire a car, then access Cape Breton Island via the Canso Causeway bridge to Port Hastings. From there, you can either join the trail at Margaree Forks and go clockwise, or head to Nyanza for the anticlockwise route. Whichever direction you fancy taking, here’s a flavour of what awaits you when you switch the engine off.
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The great outdoors
As fun as it is to cruise the Cabot Trail in a nippy hot hatch or a comfortable saloon as it hugs the majestic North Atlantic coastline, outside is where it’s at in this part of the world. Hikers flock to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, with 26 trails ranging from easy strolls to challenging hikes. If you’re in search of the perfect photo, the Skyline Trail near Pleasant Bay is known for its spectacular sunsets.
If you’re not quite ready to leave wheels behind, the northern sections of the Cabot Trail are made for cycling. South Harbour, meanwhile, is best experienced from the water. You can explore the saltwater marshes and pristine barrier beaches via kayak, paddleboard or canoe, which are available to hire for two hours or up to a full day. If you want to catch sight of some of the extraordinary marine life, there are numerous options for boat tours where you can spot whales, eagles, seals and seabirds at locations such as Bay St. Lawrence at the top of Cape Breton.
Crammed with culture
You can trace the traditions of the region’s Gaelic and Acadian-French settlers throughout the Cabot Trail and Cape Breton Island. If you’re in the mood for a jig, there are ceilidhs aplenty and lots more opportunities to immerse yourself in Gaelic culture at the Highland Village Museum. You can also try your hand at rug hooking like a true Acadian at Les Trois Pignons in Chéticamp.
To learn about the indigenous Mi’kmaq people, take a detour from the trail and head east to Goat Island. There you’ll be guided by a dedicated Mi’kmaq interpreter through a memorable and unique cultural trail. You can learn more about the people at the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site, where you can also discover the remarkable story of Marie Marguerite Rose. After 19 years of slavery, she went on to open an inn and tavern in Louisbourg, becoming the first free Black businesswoman on record in Canada’s history.
And if you’re soul’s craving some artistic inspiration, you can find it on the Cabot Trail’s Artisans Loop. Drawn by the area’s natural beauty, several artists, sculptors, glass blowers and potters alike display their work in studios. You might even find the perfect souvenir.Advertisement - Page continues below
All this adventure sounds like hungry work, so if you love fresh seafood from cold, crystalline waters, you’ve come to the right place. The lobster in Nova Scotia is legendary, so much so there’s a dedicated Lobster Trail designed to give you a taste of all the good stuff. The trail comprises 26 of the best restaurants in the province, and on Cape Breton Island, Inverary Resort and Chanterelle Restaurant are the real standouts.
Seafood chowder is another celebrated local speciality. Each restaurant has its own twist on this classic dish, but you can expect an enticing mix of each day’s catch, which could include haddock, mussels, prawns, clams, scallops and, yes, lobster, along with corn, potatoes and onion, in a satisfyingly savoury and warming broth. You’ll also find plenty of bars and pubs serving local ales, single malt whiskies and the finest drops from Nova Scotia’s fêted wine country. A crisp, dry glass of Tidal Bay white after a long day’s exploration is just about as good as it gets.
Ready to plot your way round the Cabot Trail? It’s only a six-hour flight away.
Do more in Nova Scotia
Dial a Flight
Explore Nova Scotia with Dial a Flight
Travel as part of Dial a Flight’s ‘Complete Nova Scotia - Fly Drive’ between 1 May 2024 – 30 June 2024.
From: £1,975 per person, including 14 nights accommodation, flights and car hire.
Reservations team number: 020 7962 9933 | www.dialaflight.com