Most of Cape Breton’s 150,000 citizens live in or near the eastern port city of Sydney, a fishing and mining capital from way back. But it’s still small enough to retain that close-knit, slower-paced feel yet big enough to support some serious community infrastructure, especially along its waterfront, where several large special events come around every year. If your schedule allows, spend an extra day exploring its considerable charms.
PLAY — Many a Golf Cape Breton adventure will begin at The Lakes, the summertime centerpiece of a year-round resort area on Bras d’Or Lake in Ben Eion, an easy 20 minutes from the Sydney waterfront. The relatively new course by Graham Cooke meanders along and in between slopes that serve skiers in wintertime and bring the island’s natural beauty and sweeping water views into stunning clear focus. Other courses serving the Sydney region include Lingan Golf & Country Club, Seaview and Juniper Hollow.
STAY — Centrally located with quick access to Sydney’s business core, waterfront and airport is Cambridge Suites, a good choice for an extended visit since every room is a well-appointed suite with separate bedrooms and sitting rooms (each with its own flat-screen TV), spacious bathroom and small kitchenette with fridge and microwave. Delta Sydney is located right on the water and has optional junior suites as well, while all the major hotel chains also have a presence. Rather go the bed-and-breakfast route? Check out A Paradise Found on a quiet street in the heart of town or venture out to The Birches next to The Lakes in Ben Eion, where homestyle charm and comfort await with spacious rooms and tasty breakfast a quick walk from the golf course.
EAT — If you’re looking to get past all the requisite Tim Horton’s, the downtown eatery Flavor is getting strong reviews for its breakfast, lunch and brunch fare including a sizable selection of fresh seafood items such as Digby scallops. In the Delta Hotel, you’ll find the Highlands Mermaid while the Governor’s Pub & Eatery serves home-cooked fare and offers Ceilidh music on Tuesday nights.
GETTING THERE — JA Sydney Douglas McCurdy Airport is served by several regional flights from Halifax or Toronto daily via Air Canada and Westjet. Car rental is available through Avis or Hertz. If you’re driving in from Halifax, expect a five-hour jaunt that includes crossing the Canso Causeway.
DON’T MISS — Special events are probably Sydney’s chief tourism draw, especially when the days lengthen and summer sets in. Canadian music fans come from all over Nova Scotia and beyond to revel in ROCK THE DOCK, a three-night outdoor concert series that takes over the town’s picturesque waterfront, also home to a concert hall and other attractions. Ten bands took the arena stage when we attended in 2012, including blues rocker Matt Andersen, The Trews, The Privateers and YouTube sensation Walk Off the Earth. Food trucks and beer tents add to the fun.