There’s really very little “town” to talk about here, but that’s OK — the fishing village of Ingonish relies on its status as gateway to Cape Breton Highlands National Park, some of the island’s best whale watching and a certain famed golf course to attract its summertime tourist base. The place pretty much shuts down in winter, with one notable exception. Once you’re there, you might feel like you’re really in Scotland. Which is a good thing.
PLAY — Long before there was Cabot Links or any other high-profile resort course on Cape Breton Island, there was the beastly Highlands Links, still a perennial Top 10 pick as one of the best public layouts in Canada. Originally designed by the great Stanley Thompson in the late 1930s and opened in 1941, it’s the only course operated by Parks Canada, and now with a rejuvenation effort relying on Thompson’s original drawings, its stock on the world getaway market continues to rise. We love it.
STAY — The only area lodging facility to stay open year-round is Castle Rock Inn on the south side of Ingonish Bay, about 10 minutes from the park gate and Highlands Links. The place was nearing bankruptcy several years ago, but an American couple who had stopped in during their first Ingonish visit took it over and proceeded to sink their work and expertise into bringing it back in a big way. Now it’s a popular B&B serving fine wines and outstanding fusion, along with a bountiful lobster feed. The area’s largest hotel is the stately, historic Keltic Lodge with 32 main lodge rooms, two suites, cottages and a 40-room Inn.
EAT — Castle Rock Inn’s restaurant, Avalon, is a must no matter what kind of seafood you like —straightforward lobster mentioned or a big bowl of fresh mussels given a memorable and delicious Asian fusion twist. Keltic Lodge boasts two restaurants including the award-winning Purple Thistle and also operates the grill at Highlands Links for lunch and weekend breakfast.
GETTING THERE — Unless you’re coming in by boat or helicopter or on the back of a moose, the only way to get to Ingonish is via the Cabot Trail, usually from Baddeck or Sydney to the south. Both are about a two-hour jaunt away, and the views from either direction are killer, especially at Cape Smokey.
DON’T MISS — The Atlantic Ocean is obviously Cape Breton’s dominant feature, but just looking at it from a golf course or highway vista point might not be enough. That’s where KELTIC EXPRESS ZODIAC ADVENTURES comes in. Just minutes from Highlands Links’ first tee, the locally owned tour service offers thrilling Zodiac boat trips several miles into open sea where several species of whale, dolphin, porpoise and seabirds frolic. They’ll set you up with a waterproof suit, but it’s up to you to pop your motion-sickness pills and pack a camera.