Settling in for dinner, these wise words are spoken by Earlene Busch, owner of Chanterelle Country Inn and Cottages on Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. I’m at Chanterelle with four other journalists, a pit stop on our Cabot Trail road trip. And we’re being served some unexpected food for thought with our meal, as Earlene shares the philosophy behind her eco-friendly boutique hotel’s 100-kilometre menu.
At Chantarelle, a small B&B-style resort in Baddeck, the food offerings change with the seasons. Earlene and her cooking staff tailor the menu to whatever is in bloom and can be found at local markets that morning. She frowns sheepishly while confessing that some of the menu don’t meet the 100-kilometre requirement — like the cheese we’ll be having is from neighbouring Prince Edward Island, a sliver of ocean away.
We laugh because it sounds silly to declare another maritime province too distant, especially when you’re in the second largest country in the world. For Canadians, it’s not unusual to eat British Columbia salmon in Toronto or Nova Scotia oysters in Calgary.But at some point, how far is too far? Earlene notes the popularity of New Zealand lamb, even here in Canada, literally around the globe from the source. “Those little legs have to walk really far,” she says.
Thankfully, Cape Breton is the kind of place that lends itself easily to eco-tourism and sustainable living, especially when it comes to food. The surrounding ocean offers a plethora of seafood, from lobsters to oysters to scallops. Some years, the sea’s harvest is so abundant that it’s not uncommon to find lobsters —that symbol of extravagant dining— selling locally for less than $5 a pound.
Meanwhile, on land, there’s bountiful produce, with naturally growing blueberries, strawberries, crab apples, fiddleheads, mushrooms and more. In fact, Chanterelle mushrooms (for which the inn is named) and other woodland edibles grow all over Chanterelle’s 100 acres, and Earlene leads mushroom foraging workshops in which guests learn to identify edible fungi before lending a hand in the kitchen to turn their pickings into dinner.
This commitment to local, organic food is an attitude that’s echoed across the island— not just at small hotels like Chanterelle, but also everywhere from high-end restaurants to waterfront cafés. After all, why import ingredients when there’s already so much at your front door?
Earlene isn’t a Cape Breton native. She moved to the island from Boulder, Colorado, after falling in love with the area’s pristine beauty and restorative powers. Burnt out from a career in IT and toxic city living, she opened up an entirely eco-friendly escape. The inn’s water (dubbed “Chanterelle Champagne” for its pure, clean taste) comes from a spring-fed deep well, the property is pesticide-free, all cleaning products are natural and fragrance-free, and the water and space heating systems are solar-powered.
Meanwhile, the décor and overall vibe feels more like a family cottage than a hotel, with a lobby of cozy couches and shelves of books for loan, as well as a communal dining room and screened-in porch (essential for mosquito season). For eco-conscious travellers (or those who just really enjoy a fine meal—the dining at Chanterelle is superb), the inn offers a charming base for exploring some of the other ways you can get back to nature on Cape Breton, like…
Highlands National Park is the gem of Cape Breton Island, 950 square kilometres of pristine wilderness at the northern tip of the island. There are 26 hiking trails throughout the park, but many visitors declare the Skyline Trail to be the park’s pièce de resistance. The nine-kilometre loop weaves you through wildlife-filled forest (watch for moose and bears), before landing at a dramatic bluff overlooking the Atlantic. From the lookout point, you can watch cars snake along the Cabot Trail in the distance or, if you’re really lucky, spot a whale in the waters far below.
Parks Canada recommends two to three hours to complete the round-trip hike, but be warned: you’ll probably want to spend most of your hiking time just sitting in silence at the lookout.
Cape Breton is perhaps known best of all for its music. Ceilidhs — traditional Gaelic gatherings of music and dancing, typically in kitchens but also in pubs—are a way of life on the island. At North River Kayak, that musical vibe comes outdoors, thanks to the charming talents of owner Angelo Spinazzola.
A professional musician, Angelo takes visitors on kayak trips ranging from half-day tours to five-day getaways — including an overnight songwriting tour in which he co-writes a tune with you (and records it for you to keep!). Talk about a souvenir to take home.
Letting Your Inner Fisher Fly
I confess I’m not much of a fisher; the sport requires a patience that I just don’t have (not to mention a willingness to rip hooks out of a wriggling fish’s mouth). But even I was smitten with an afternoon of fly fishing on the Margaree River.
With a thick Acadian accent and calm manner, hunting and fishing guide Eugene LeBlanc is teaches how to navigate the rocky river and the finer wrist flicks of fly fishing, as well as —after a few wrong steps by one of my travel mates— how to back out of a river’s current when your hip waders are in danger of filling up with water.
I only spent a week on Cape Breton but, like Earlene, I felt my urban toxicity dissipating. Everywhere I went and among everyone I met, from sweet Eugene to infectiously enthusiastic Angelo, I could sense a genuine love for the land and commitment to preserving it. It’s not eco-tourism, it’s eco-living. And when a place and its people are so naturally beautiful, you can’t help but feel healed.
HOW TO BOOK:
Got a craving for Nova Scotia? Get on it. It’s chock full of travel tips and suggestions on the Nova Scotia Tourism Board’s website.
If you’re hungry for Cape Breton Island, you can check out Destination Cape Breton’s website for a feast of ideas and itineraries.
The writer was a guest of the Nova Scotia Tourism Board. The tourism board did not review or approve this article.