The Prettiest Place You’ve Never Heard Of

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Alexander Graham Bell once said, I have travelled around the globe. I have seen the Canadian and American Rockies, the Andes, the Alps and the Highlands of Scotland, but for simple beauty, Cape Breton outrivals them all.”

I'll admit that I was a bit skeptical of this quote upon first reading it. I mean, the Rockies, the Alps, the Scottish Highlands… those are all pretty impressive and beautiful things. Could a sparsely-populated island in the Canadian Maritimes really compare?

Well, the truth is that it kind of can.

Margaree Harbour, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada

When my family found out we were stopping in Sydney, Nova Scotia, on our last shore day of a family cruise, we were a bit perplexed. Everything I was reading said there wasn't much to see/do in Sydney apart from a giant fiddle and some historic houses. How would we fill 8 hours?

The trick, we discovered, is to get out of Sydney and explore the rest of Cape Breton Island. Because, as Bell asserted, the beauty of this place will surprise you.

Cabot Trail, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada

A DIY Cape Breton shore excursion

When we got to Sydney, we rented a car and immediately took to the famous Cabot Trail, a scenic route that skirts the coastline of Cape Breton Island and takes you through Cape Breton Highlands National Park. We didn't have time to drive the whole trail since we had a ship to catch, but we did drive a few hours into the Cape Breton wilderness.

At our halfway point, we stopped in a sleepy little fishing village that I have now dubbed The Prettiest Place You've Never Heard Of.

This is Margaree Harbour.

Margaree Harbour, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada

Margaree Harbour, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada

Margaree Harbour, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada

The Wikipedia page for this town consists of one sentence; the town itself consists of a small collection of houses and cottages; and the only living things we saw at the harbor were sea birds.

Margaree Harbour, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada

On such a warm, sun-kissed day, Margaree Harbour absolutely took my breath away.

Margaree Harbour, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada

Margaree Harbour, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada

Margaree Harbour, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada

I now understand completely what Alexander Graham Bell meant.

It just goes to show you that sometimes it's the unexpected places that end up sneaking up on you to steal your heart.

And Cape Breton Island? Most definitely a place I need to return to!

What do you think? Can Cape Breton compete with those other scenic places?


"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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  1. It’s one of the prettiest places that I have ever been. We spent 5 nights in nearby Baddeck a few years ago and loved it!!

      We stopped briefly in Baddeck on our way up the Cabot Trail. It seemed like a cool town!

        You need to return and keep going. You didn’t see half of the Trail and believe me, you need more time.

          Agreed! I definitely need to go back and see more.

      I grew up in Cape Breton. Purchased a summer home on the Bras D’Or. Dont use it as much as I would like, but god willing, will spend my retirement summers there. Love it.

    I agree it can compare 🙂 you should see it in the Fall

      Oh my gosh, I can’t even imagine how gorgeous it must be when all the leaves are changing! I will definitely have to come back in the fall sometime.

        You’re absolutely right about visiting Cape Breton in the fall. It. Was. Amazing.

        When I was planning my overland trip from North America to the Chilean Patagonia, I thought to start from Alaska and make my way down. Because of timing reasons, I chose instead to go all the way to the northermost part of CB, Meat Cove, and make my way down.

        Best decision ever. Here’s where my CB leg of the trip started:

        If you ever go to Margaree, you have to stop by The Dancing Goat. The have the best soups and delicious freshly-baked cinammon rolls. Great sandwiches too.

        If I had gobs of money, I’d buy me a little cottage in CB and live there during the fall months.

        Good post!


          A fall cottage in Cape Breton would be amazing!

          And we actually did notice the Dancing Goat, but didn’t have time to stop in.

            If you go in autumn you should time your trip around the “Celtic Colours” music festival.

          Went there 27 years ago,and never forgot it , Five years ago we returned to buy a cottage on the Cabot Trail. Now every summer this is our home – the beauty of this place is unmatched, there are gems all over this island-beautiful hidden beaches and small harbor towns, the national park and rolling interior farmlands. The Margaree area is our special summer place. And if you are a music lover, it has the the added bonus of having some of the best traditional music in the world. The people, the dancing, warm-enough water to swim and a rich musical night life. There is nothing not to love about Cape Breton, wild, remote and beautiful!

            where at in margare I am from there my mom and dad still live there on the Cabot trail.

            I am from north east Margaree just two minutes from the dancing goat bakery( great food).the owner went to school with our mom and brother still live there I live in northern Ontario but try to get home at least once a year.not often enough.didn,t really notice how pretty it was until I went back for holidays.people seem to live longer there. …….no stress could have something to do with it.

            It’s great that you can appreciate it now. 🙂

          You said: If I had gobs of money, I’d buy me a little cottage in CB and live there during the fall months.

          I Say: Do it!! Property is so bloody cheap in the Maritimes compared to the rest of Canada. I’m from that neck of the woods so I know. I also know that Germans are slowly buying up all the good plots, so strike while the iron is hot! 🙂

          I agree that Cape Breton is a magnificent place to travel through.
          But please do not dismiss Sydney so glibly. The Historic North End is more than just a bunch of old houses. Check out the History behind them. The two stone churches … ST Patricks on the Esplanade and ST Georges on Charlotte ST. Both churches were made from the stone rubble at the Fortress of Louisbourg.
          You will also find a people friendly park with walking trails, outdoor exercise equipment, football field, tennis courts, children’s playground and baseball field, where once stood the biggest eco disaster “The Tar Ponds” and the Sydney Steel Plant. This park is an amazing accomplishment and the city is to be congratulated for the enormous undertaking. I have visited the city for the last three summers. I used it as a home base to see the rest. Oh…. Don’t forget to visit the Fortress of Louisbourg. Something different every week. Time period … French controlled fortress set in 1775. Life as it was. Much to see and do … enjoy “The Island”

          I’m actually from around the area of Meat Cove. My Dad was born and raised there. Its truly a place you have to visit to experience the beauty within! Glad you enjoyed yourself!

    I have to find more about this area. Have to confess I don’t know a lot about it. A cruise seems like the perfect way to visit the Canadian Maritimes.

      I didn’t know much about this part of the world, either, and was pleasantly surprised! I really enjoyed it.

      @Ruth: If you ever do a cruise up to Canada, you HAVE TO visit Quebec City. I saw cruise ships docking there.

      Best “European” city in the American continent!


    Being from Nova Scotia, I’m biased, but I’ve been to a lot of beautiful places in this world and Cape Breton (and Nova Scotia) can stand up there with the rest of them.

      You’re allowed to be biased; you come from a beautiful province! I’d really love to go back and see more of it.

      Yup! I agree. Although Guatemala will give it run for it’s money (google Lake Atitlan).


    You’re quite right about the beauty and there is some astounding beach glass to be found on the some of the shores of Cape Breton. It’s a great place to visit in October during the Celtic Colours music festival. Incredible!

      Ooo a Celtic music festival sounds like tons of fun!

    I love discovering places that I had no idea would be beautiful or that I would fall in love with. Gorgeous pics!

      It’s always a great feeling, isn’t it? One of the things I love most about travel!

    Wow! Such a beautiful scenery! Thanks for sharing the story and photos!

    Looks beautiful, to me it’s the secret of the location that makes it all the more magical!

      Oh, I totally agree! If we hadn’t stumbled upon it accidentally, it wouldn’t have been as special.

    Cape Breton is one of my favourite places in the world! The fiddle tunes, the people, the scenery, oh my… It’s damn pretty. 🙂

      It’s gorgeous. (And the sunny weather definitely helped!)

    I’ve been here before! When I was younger I had an international choir festival in Sydney, Nova Scotia and we followed the same trail. It IS breathtaking. I love Nova Scotia though with all its coastal beauty. I need to head back East sometime soon!

      The coastlines and lakes and all the TREES! It certainly is beautiful.

    I was born in Cape Breton yet never think of it as the prettiest place, maybe because tourists see it in the summer but I know what its like in the winter.

      Hahaha, totally understandable! I’m sure I’d have a different attitude, too, if I had grown up there.

        I grew up here & have lived here for most of my life & my attitude’s not at all like Ayngelina’s. I have rarely vacationed outside of Cape Breton in summer. I am always commenting on what a beautiful place we live in – you’ve gotten only a small taste. It so happens I’ll be driving part of the Cabot Trail tomorrow to overnight at a beautiful resort (Island Sunset) in Belle Cote, just a few miles beyond Margaree Harbor. The resort is aptly named as the sunsets are spectacular.

      I too grew up there and I have travelled the world but there is no where in the world as BEAUTIFUL as MARGAREE HARBOUR even in the middle of winter!!!!!!

      Blue sky puffy white clouds and sparkling blue/green sea on white landscape can be just as beautiful
      as summer or fall! Cape Breton is beautiful all year long! There are stormy days all over the world!

    That’s a big sky…

    Kinda eerie how much it looks like Orkney. And for that reason, I’m totally sold.

      Big sky indeed. One of the reasons why I loved it so much, I think!

    Having spend every summer vacation of my life here (my Dad was born in Ingonish, Cape Breton), it was the only choice for a honeymoon destination when my hubby and I got married. After returning to Ontario at the end of the trip, my husband agreed with my feelings about this place: we HAVE TO return! Well, 5 years after that trip, we handed in our resignations, packed our belongings and moved east. We’ve been living a dream here in Ingonish, Cape Breton for the past 12 years now! Do we miss the crazy, noisy, hectic, crowded city life? NO WAY! We fall asleep to the sound of the surf each night and wake to a postcard-perfect view of the coast every morning. If you want to see more reasons why it’s easy to fall in love with Cape Breton Island, visit this website: . And come play on OUR island!! 😀

      What an awesome story, Lori! I can definitely understand the appeal of dropping everything and moving to Cape Breton. Do you still love it as much in the winter?

    I love unexpected places like this! Your pictures are beautiful and depict a lovely town that looks so peaceful. Makes me want to visit!

      It’s definitely convinced me that I need to spend more time in Cape Breton! Such an unexpectedly pretty part of the world.

    I can’t agree with “it outrivals them all” statement. Yes it is beautiful, but you can’t compare with Rockies as it totally different landscape.

      Yeah, it definitely isn’t snow-capped mountains. But it IS very beautiful!

        Yes, I don’t want to argue about beauty. East of Canada is on my list to visit.

    I’ve been to Nova Scotia, but not to Cape Breton. My parents were just there a couple months ago, drove the cabot trail. My mom said it was beautiful, definitely another reason (of many) for me to go back to Nova Scotia.

      After having been there so briefly, I definitely want to go back, too!

    Wow Amanda, stunning photos! I’ve always wanted to check out Nova Scotia (mainly for the Viking myths and scenery) but now this is added on my list! I’ll definitely have to check it out while back stateside, looks like the most peaceful place ever!

    The body of water at the mouth of the river is Margaree Harbour on the right side but the pics are of the Belle Cote side to be exact! Walk 4 minutes up that beach and climb a cliff and that’s my mom’s, so I’d know 🙂

    What a beautiful place! I have indeed never heard of it! The 3rd photo from the bottom, with those deep blue water and gorgeous mountains captivated me. Now I want to go there too!

      I had never heard of it either before this trip! I mean I vaguely knew of Cape Breton Island, but I had no clue it would hold this kind of prettiness!

    Oh my gosh! This is my place! This is my home! You were taking pictures right outside of ‘my’ beach! When I’m home, that’s where I go, that’s where I breathe and take in all of the gorgeous beauty God has blessed me to grow up with!
    I’m so honored that you wrote this and I love that Margaree Harbour, Cape Breton stole a piece of your heart!
    Please, visit us again and if you do, write me up, I’ll show you the hidden nooks of our place!

    So glad you took the road ‘less traveled’ and found Margaree Harbour. I have spent summers there for almost 15 years, and still become speechless at first sight of the harbor, where the Margaree River flows into the sea. FYI, the River is the border between the Acadian French settlements in the North of Cape Breton and the Scottish villages in the South. Most of your photos look upon the small village of Belle Cote, which is on the French side, with the ships berthed in the Belle Cote Harbor. After visitors breakfast or lunch at the Dancing Goat, try dinner and Tuesday music at the Island Sunset Resort, pictured in your 7th photo – the long grey building on the water. The Cape Breton fiddlers are unreal!!

      Thanks for the suggestions! It certainly is a gorgeous spot.

    Home is where the heart is!!! I have lived in the Rocky Mountains for 30 yrs & Belle Cote will always be where my heart is!! In my teenage years – I would take my books & study at the beach (both Belle Cote & Margaree Harbour side) or even just take a leisurely walk to the beach to watch the sun set! Truly breathtaking and cherished memories! Thank you for capturing my childhood memories!!!

      You are very very welcome! Glad I could bring back some good memories.

    I wanted to find a new photo of Margaree for my desktop and clicking on your blog made me smile! My cottage is diagonal to the Lawrences General Store where I spent every summer of my childhood. To see it called the ‘Prettiest Place You’ve Never Heard Of’ is great! Except people need to hear about it 🙂 Also, beautiful photos!

      Though maybe it’s better if it’s kept a bit of a secret. 😉

    It’s definitely a beautiful place, but i’ll take the Andes every time

      Mountains hold a special place in my heart, too. 🙂

    Cape Breton definitely seems like it can compete with all those other places! Gorgeous photos!

      It’s really really pretty in that rugged coastal kind of way.

    I’m also a born and raised Cape Bretoner. It is definitely a hidden wonder. I’ve travelled a bit myself, but Cape Breton will always be my #1. I’m very glad that year after year, people from far and wide get the chance to expierence our culture and land. We often forget to stop and take a look around us, but when we do, we remember why we can’t stay away for long.

    You’ll have to come back and enjoy the rest of the island! St. Peter’s, Baddeck, Mabou, etc. – all the villages are spectacular in thier own right! Not to mention the house parties 🙂

      It’s awesome to hear from locals how much they love their home. Based on my brief visit, I can definitely understand why!

        I am from north east Margaree and born and lived there for 48 years till no work had to take me to the west of Canada to make a living.I go home very summer for 3 weeks and every year it gets harder to leave but we all have to make a living. Love seeing your pictures and the good memories of home . Don’t like the idea of getting old but cant wait to retire and go home for good, Calgary is where we live but its just not home for us. thanks again

          Glad to have brought back some good memories for you, Leonard. This is definitely a lovely place to consider “home”.

    Shhhhh…..everyone will find out!!! We came in 94 and ‘discovered’ the area by accident, (we came inland because of fog along the coast), and now we are one.

    However, being Canucks, we don’t brag about it. (:->) What would happen if everyone knew!!!!?????

      You’re right – it needs to be kept somewhat secret!

    I am blessed to be able to say beautiful Cape Breton is my home . I so enjoyed your photos. I live right on the River Denys Basin and overlook beautiful Iona, in central Cape Breton. The water stretches around the front of our home including full view in two bedrooms, including a small beach. Cape Breton is breathaking, and the fall colors are gorgeous, and there is always local talent and cultural events taking place. Celtic Colors Festival begins in October each year. We have the Louisbourg Fortress, the world renown Cabot Trail, and many other cultural events taking place all through the tourist seasons. Please come back and visit with us again. You won’t be disappointed.

      Sounds like you are very blessed indeed. I would LOVE to see Cape Breton in the fall!

    Cape Breton is the place I have called home all of my life and no matter where I travel it will always be my “home”. It is an Amazing place with such beauty that it is hard to describe to someone just how breathtaking it can be ( during all 4 seasons )……not just along the trail but the entire Island offers places that you would never read about in a travel magazine or by researching Cape Breton, but to see them you would fall in love over and over again…..the only way to completely appreciate the beauty is to come and see the spectacular sites for yourself….even pictures don’t always do it justice. Not to mention the music, food, festivals and most importantly, the people…….the most amazing people you will find anywhere in the world….”salt of the earth”, genuine friendly people who will assist you in your travels and entertain you until the minute you leave this precious Island!!!

      It’s great to get comments like this – it definitely says something about a place when the locals are so in love with it. 🙂

    The little white Cottage from where you took the pictures of Margaree Harbour belongs to my mom. She was born and raised there and bought the post office and turned it into the cottage. Her brother lives in the old homestead behind and another brother lives just to the right of the stop sign as you leave the Harbour. I was there on Saturday Sept.21 visiting from Calgary where I live. My family has always known the beauty and will cherish it forever.

      A very beautiful spot indeed – your family is very lucky!

    Home…. how I miss it…

    I live in Ottawa now, but I wish I could go back… Margaree Harbour beach was our playground and we took it for granted growing up… Life is at a different pace there, with friendly, generous folks…

    I try to go back as often as I can, to show my kids where Daddy grew up… it simply is not often enough…

      It sounds like a place that never really leaves you, even if you leave it.

    Some 13 years ago I fell into real estate sales. I was trying to find a way we could stay and raise our family in Cape Breton, Inverness to be exact. Now I have my own brokerage and we actually have a few gorgeous listings right in Margaree Harbour. We consider Margaree Harbour to be one of our most desirable neighbourhoods. Check out to learn more. Inverness is in the running too. Check out to see why. I wish more people would move here and stay full time …..not too many but some. Oh, and Inverness got its own Dancing Goat this summer too!!! Yippee!!!

    Ever since moving to PEI, I have heard about Cape Breton! I can’t wait to go visit one day. Your photos are beautiful and it looks so peaceful there.

      You should definitely make your way to Cape Breton soon!

    How’s she goin’ bye?! I love reading your article, looking at the pics and reading all the comments. I grew up I cape Breton and luckily still live in NS , albeit the mainland, but memories are fond , when we were kids my mom was involved in theatre so we got to spend the entire miners vacation, this is the 2 weeks in the summer when the pits (coal mines) would shut down, travelling the highlands we would stop in every small village from Iona to cheticamp to margaree and my mom was usually in a play or skit or parade in the local festival. Yup we went to them all and even as a kid I knew this was special memory making right there. Thanks for your blog and kind words now all we need is more tourism to come to our beautiful island!

      I really love all the comments on this post, too! It makes me really happy to see so many people who really love where they come from!

    Awesome story! I am a Cape Bretoner and NEVER take this island for granted. I work the Port of Sydney (where your cruise ship arrived) in a Kilt just so I get to talk to passengers and tell them about our island. And most often I tell those who are not going outside of the city..they are missing the best part……and you said just that…come back again,I say! My grandmother grew up on a farm not far from the Dancing Goat in Margaree and we have a “cabin” still there which we spend most of the summer there. I recently took visitors on the exact tour of Margaree Harbour you took and they have all the same pictures. And if you golf we have some of the very best golfing in the World(I am biased of course). And Celtic music…eating fresh hot Lobster…there is just so much…Thanks for the nice words and please do come back again…

      I would LOVE to come back to your lovely island again – and really hope that I get to!

    My dad was born in Donkin Cape Breton about half an hour from Sydney, but has lived in Aberdeen Scotland for about 79 years and my brother lives just outside Donkin, we were over 7 years ago and did the whole route of the trail and went to Alexander Graham Bells museum too as you say it’s the most beautiful place you can find

    Yes indeed, as in our unofficial anthem “THE HOME OF OUR HEARTS – CAPE BRETON”, it will always be home. I find it very heartwarming to read all the comments. I too never appreciated the awesome beauty of our island until, like many, I left the small village of Belle Cote and came back home every summer. A note worth adding, the entrance to the National Park, just past Cheticamp, always takes my breath away. Thank you for sharing.

      I’ve really enjoyed all the comments on this post too. 🙂

    I went over the Cabot Trail many moons ago with a 14ft. trailer in tow. Would not advise this. Beautiful scenery everywhwere. Should have left the trailer at the beginning.

    Were these photos really taken on an Olympus EP-2? They are BEAUTIFUL. I am about to go travelling in Canada and didn’t want a DSLR so this looks like a brilliant alternative! Do you edit them in any software?

      Actually these were taken on an Olympus E-PM1 (similar to the E-P2 but smaller and not as expensive). These sorts of in-between cameras are AMAZING! And the fact that you can still buy a variety of lenses for them is perfect. As far as editing goes, I just use iPhoto (which comes free on MacBooks).

    Great find! Will have to give this little gem a visit!

      If you’re ever driving the Cabot Trail, be sure to stop!

    Thanks for sharing this great finding. It’s always these little known places that surprise us. Most of the touristy places deserve their fame, but I guess they kinda lost their charm when there’s a huge crowd blocking our view or persistent vendors ruining the experience. Margaree Harbour looks peaceful and charming in its own way.

      I like visiting the touristy places, too (I mean, there’s usually a good reason that they’re so popular!), but it’s great to discover little hidden places like this, too.

    Iam from Cape breton and had to move to other parts of Canada to get a job, I love all areas I had to move and had fun and met great people but Iam back in Cape Breton because its the best and Im now trying to protect Cape Breton from loosing its charm I ask cape breton to tell your government that we do not want a statue in our National park or to loose a right of way through a worlds masterpiece

    I come from Cheticamp, 10 miles further. THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACE IN THE WORLD with the most beautiful and kind people, French Acadians ,mostly. Do come visit and taste the best lobster, snow crab and fell the traditional music flow to your feet. Come and vist, we would love to see you….

    Shhhhhh…..we’re trying to keep this place a secret! That rock outcrop at the end of the cape is called the monster. Even Google streetview blurred out its face. One of its hands is underwater on the beachside.

    I was born in Cape Breton a little big town called Glace Bay , No matter what street you walk or drive you can see the ocean and you get that feeling like there is just no place I would rather be . I once heard a Visiting friend refer to it as the Most beautiful and dangerous place I have ever loved . Referring to the coastline around Glace Bay areas . I have to agree it is so very beautiful and at the same time in the blink of an eye can become the most ominous and dangerous place you would care to be .

    By the way. I grew up in the ”Historic North End” of Sydney and played in some of those houses that are now Museums. Before the summer of 2012, it had been about 50 years since I had been back for any longer than a week or two. I still find it a most beautiful Island. Now I live on Vancouver Island and my heart is torn between the two. Both so rich and uniquely beautiful.

    The Cabot Trail is just one beautiful spot in Cape Breton. The south side of the island holds as much beauty Fleur de Lis Trail is a sight to behold. The scenic village of River Bourgeois is a must see. A boaters paradise just outside the small town of Saint peters. You can enjoy exploring the islands, and a quick Jonte into Saint peters through the canal will bring you to the beautiful Bras d’or Lakes. I have lived and I’m still in all of the beauty that surrounds me. I never take it for granted every time I take a drive along the scenic coastline it’s like I’m seeing it all again for the first time.

    I was born and raised in Belle Cote,we lived on a farm ,i will always remember walking to the beach ,we lived 2 or 3 miles from it ,skating on the margaree river near the margareeHarbour bridge,,married and live in Inverness about 45 minutes from Belle Cote ,and yes i cherish where we live ,small communities ,friendly people in every community always there to lend a helping hand when needed, beautiful sunsets, beautiful scenery every where you go.

    Mon pre – my field
    Madre – mother earth
    Isle Magre 1685 on map by Fr. Emmanuel Jumeau
    Margarento 1784 map by Antonio Zappta Baya Idiat for Margaree Harbour
    Margarie 1802 to 1884 some forgot to dot the “i”
    Margaree 1884 to 2016
    but will be forever MARGAREE.

    My story and I am sticking to it.

    Simon E. AuCoin, from Terre Noire

    The view of the boat harbour is the view from The Laurence House, where I gave summered fot the last eleven years.

    I use the link to this article to entice my guests, but it rarely takes much convincing.

    The recent publicity of Cape Breton as an escape from a Trump presidency in the US has brought the island much attention.

    As for me, I know whereI will move already, and it is to that beautiful village.

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