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A cape above the rest

The Keltic Lodge offers sweeping views. (Diane Goldie)

A coastal drive that will take your breath away. A slew of trails for both adventurous hikers and casual walkers. Wildlife from moose to whales to all kinds of birds. And a cultural richness that swings from French-speaking Cheticamp in the west to the Scottish-settled Ingonish in the east.

Cape Breton Island, poking into the Atlantic Ocean on the rugged northeastern tip of Nova Scotia, can engage travelers of all stripes. You’ll need at least a week to enjoy these highlights:

Day 1: Whiskey kick off
Assuming you’ve flown to Halifax, rented a car and driven the 175 miles, over the Canso Causeway that connects Cape Breton to the mainland, ride up the western coast to Mabou.

Take a tour of North America’s only single-malt whiskey producer, the Glenora Inn & Distillery, where the relative newcomers have been turning out the Glen Breton label since 1990. Spend a night in one of nine rooms or six chalets. Enjoy dinner at the adjoining restaurant where you can hear Celtic music or traditional storytelling called ceilidh (kay–lee).

Day 2: Beaches, valleys & rivers
The beach at Port Hood is a spectacular spot for a swim before driving up the coast to poke around the coastal towns of Inverness or Dunvegan. Later, head inland to the bucolic Margaree Valley. The Margaree River is renowned for salmon and fly fishing favored by the likes of legendary angler Lee Wulff and legendary baseball player Ted Williams.

Day 3: Cheticamp “hookers”
This western gateway to Cape Breton Highlands National Park is steeped in Acadian history and culture. It has a worldwide reputation for hooked rugs and you can catch many “hookers” happily working away in this tiny town’s shops. Want a bit more excitement? Spend a couple of hours on a zodiac boat getting a close-up look at whales.

Day 4: World-class drive
The 27-mile portion of the Cabot Trail, a twisting plunging road that hugs the coast, from Cheticamp to Pleasant Bay is a breathtakingly beautiful ride. Spend most of the day stopping to take in dramatic views of the mountains and ocean. You can also hike or bike one of the many trails. The Skyline Trail, for one, swings out over the bluffs for stunning vistas. There are no accommodations in the park, so press on to Inogonish.

Day 5: A bit o’ Scotland
Using the historic Keltic Lodge as a base, enjoy stunning views along the eastern part of the Cabot Trail. Take in the sweeping vistas from Cape Smokey or play a round at the Highland Links golf course.

The lodge is perched atop a cliff that juts into the ocean, providing amazing panoramas. The formal dining room is lovely and guests can enjoy traditional Celtic entertainment in the well-appointed bar.

Day 6: History calling
You can head east to tour the 18th Century French Fortress of Louisbourg or drive south to Baddeck, a lively town and a mecca for outdoor activities on Bras d’ Or Lake. Alexander Graham Bell’s summer mansion overlooks the lake and remains occupied by his descendents. You, however, only can visit the exhibit center.

Day 7: The road to Halifax
Get in a hike or a little kayaking on the lake before the four-hour drive back to Halifax.

Getting there:
Fly to Halifax and rent a car.

Glenora Inn & Distillery Distillery: Open May 21 – Oct. 15; the inn and restaurant opens in late June. For details: 800-839-0491 or Accommodations: $160 - $295.

Keltic Lodge: Open June 5th; features two restaurants, an outdoor pool, golf course, children’s program and an Aveda spa. Prices vary by package. or 800-565-0444

Insider’s Tip:
The roadside tourist offices that are useless in most parts of the world are amazingly efficient on Nova Scotia. The staff booked our hotels and excursions, and actually worked the phones to get excellent deals.

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