3 Day Fleur de Lis and Marconi Trail Road Trip

3 Day Fleur de Lis and Marconi Trail Road Trip

Fleur de Lis and Marconi Trail Road Trip featured image

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Cape Breton Island may be small but there’s so much to see and so many road trip possibilities packed onto one tiny island!  One of my favourite Cape Breton road trips is a combination of two routes: The Fleur de Lis Trail and the Marconi Trail.  This road trip combines rugged scenery and outdoor adventure with a vibrant mix of culture and history. 

From the city of Sydney, take Grand Lake Road (Sydney-Glace Bay Highway) to Glace Bay.  If you are departing straight from the airport, just turn right from the airport road and drive straight into the town. 

Day 1 – Beaches, a Bit of History, and a Dash of Culture

Once in Glace Bay, follow the signs to the Miner’s Museum.  This is where you’ll start your journey.  Mining was once a thriving industry in Cape Breton and it shaped the history and culture of the island and its people.  At the museum, you’ll not only learn about the history of coal mining, you’ll also join a retired coal miner and go underground in a real coal mine to see for yourself what it was like to spend your working life underground.

When you leave the museum, head towards Donkin and Port Morien.  Drive for about five minutes on Tower Rd. and when you get to the gas station on the left, keep going straight.  The road to the right is not as scenic but both roads end in the same place.  If you like beaches, take a little detour down the gravel road next to the gas station and visit Big Glace Bay Beach. This sandy stretch is perfect for a leisurely walk or refreshing dip in the ocean.

As you continue along the main road, you’ll eventually find yourself driving along rugged coastline through the village of Donkin.  Bald eagles are commonly spotted here and if you look closely, you may see some whales offshore of seals bobbing just past the surf.  This windy road eventually ends at another intersection.  Don’t go right or you will end up back at the gas station! Go to the left and enter the pretty village of Port Morien.  A scenic look-off is situated on the left at the end of the village and there is a nice little sandy beach below the parking lot. 

Keep driving straight along the coast towards Mira Gut. At The Gut, as it’s locally known, there’s another sandy beach.  As of this writing, the bridge that used to cross the Mira River is non-existent.  It’s due to be rebuilt in the future but as of February 2020, you can’t access the other side.  The section of beach you will be able to access is one of the most popular swimming beaches on the island.  After you’ve stretched your legs or dipped your toes in the clear, refreshing waters, turn up Horne’s Road and drive until you reach the Sydney-Louisbourg Highway.  Turn left at the intersection and drive until you arrive in the town of Louisbourg.  The road ends here so this is where you will stay the night. In the morning, you will tour one of North America’s greatest reconstructed fortifications. 

It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, it’s almost always cool and foggy in Louisbourg so dig out some warm clothes and spend the rest of the day exploring the town.  The first attraction is the lighthouse which is located on Havenside Rd.  The first lighthouse at this site was built in 1734 and was the first lighthouse in Canada.  While some of the original stonework is still visible today, this first lighthouse was destroyed in the 1758 siege.  A second lighthouse was built in 1842 and was destroyed by fire but some of the original foundations can still be seen near the lighthouse that stands today which was built in 1923.  There’s a hiking trail near the parking area if you would like to stretch your legs and take in some of the rugged coastal scenery. 

The downtown area of Louisbourg has some nice shops and restaurants and there’s a little park with a boardwalk near the fishing docks.  During your wanderings, you’ll also come across the Louisbourg Playhouse which was built by Walt Disney Studios to be used in the motion picture Squanto: A Warrior’s Tale. After completion of the film, it was donated to the town and is now one of the top venues on the island. 

Kennington Cove is another popular, sandy beach in Cape Breton. During the drive on the long, gravel road to this beach, you may spot some deer and other wildlife.  It might be too cold or too late to take a dip in the ocean, but you can appreciate the wild surf and huge waves this beach is known for.  General Wolfe and his British army landed at this site and launched an attack on the fortress in 1758. 

Day 2 – A Mighty Fortress and Into the Wilderness

The Fortress of Louisbourg is one of the top attractions in all of Nova Scotia.  You don’t need to be a history buff to appreciate it but if you are, you will certainly appreciate it even more.  You can’t drive right into the fortress so you’ll need to drive to the visitors’ centre where you’ll catch a bus that will take you to the entrance of the fortress.  While you’re at the visitor’s centre, make sure to take a walk around and visit the exhibits and watch the short film that provides an introduction. Don’t worry, you won’t miss the bus as it comes and goes every few minutes. 

So what can you expect to see during your tour of this French fortress? First of all, you’ll be welcomed by costumed guides who go to great lengths to make your visit as authentic as possible. In other words, once you pass through the gates, you’ll think you’re in the 18th century. You have the option to take a guided tour or explore on your own.  Or you can do both depending on how much free time you have.  While outside the buildings, you can witness cannon and musket firings, marches and the everyday activities of an 18th-century French Fortress.  Inside the buildings, you will see many exhibits, literature and original artefacts and some of them have staff in period clothes acting out the daily chores.  There’s a Governor’s House, a bakery, a jail and a chapel. There’s even an 18th century restaurant selling meals similar to the ones the soldiers and their families would have eaten. 

When you leave the fortress, you’ll backtrack through the town and back onto the Sydney-Louisbourg Highway.  This time, you’ll drive for about 15 minutes before turning left at Trout Brook Road.  Drive for another 15 minutes or so and turn left at Marion Bridge. 

When you reach the fork in the road, go to the left. This long stretch of road is mostly through forest until you reach the coastal village of Gabarus. At this little village, you will find a rocky beach and the Gull Cove trailhead.

Back on the main road, you will now head towards Forchu, another little coastal village.  This rugged coastal area is known for off-the-beaten-track hiking.  Along this stretch, you will find Morrison Beach and despite its popularity among locals, there’s never more than a small handful of people on it.  The trails aren’t marked but mostly run along rugged beaches and old wood roads.  If you are someone who likes having a beach all to yourself or you prefer to spend time in nature alone, this is the place for you.  You can walk for miles and not see a soul except for maybe some deer. 

left gate When you reach the turn-off to Sterling, turn right and keep going straight until you find an old wood road on the left with the gate.  This is the site of the old Sterling Mine which closed decades ago.  Some of the old buildings and equipment are still on-site, mind you they’ve seen better days.  I always refer to this plot of land as the Cape Breton Desert.  For some reason, right in the middle of the forest, there is a large area of sand with no trees growing on it.  Walking to the edge of it and back is quite creepy for lack of a better word.  Just the way the wind howls across that open area bordered by tall spruce trees and how barren it is.  It’s also said to be haunted which makes all that more creepy. 

Next drive back to the main road where you started and instead of turning right, go straight down Crooked Lake Road.  At the end of this road is one of my favourite beaches and hiking trails in the area.  The best way to enjoy it is to hike along the beach alongside the steep cliffs to the right and return via the trail that runs along the top of the cliffs. 

When you reach the intersection in the Sterling once again, turn right onto the main road.  As you drive along this stretch, you’ll see a number of gravel roads on the left.  Most of these are not driveways but old roads passing through land that was once old homesteads.  All of them lead to the ocean where you will find some of the most beautiful and deserted beaches on the island including Capelin Cove, Blue Lake, Ferguson Beach and L’Archeveque. If you took along some fishing or kayaking gear, there are plenty of places around here to enjoy both!

Any of these beaches are perfect for setting up camp for the night but my personal favourite is Ferguson Beach.  The spot on top of the hill to the right overlooking the ocean…imagine waking up and seeing that view first thing in the morning! When you’ve finished exploring for the day, come back to camp, get a fire going and sit back and watch the night sky without the interference of street lights and skyscrapers.  It doesn’t get much better than this! 

Day 3 – The Scenic Drive to Historic St. Peters 

In the morning, after you enjoy your breakfast looking out over that spectacular view, head back to the main road and turn left.  At Grand River, watch for the bald eagles that perch on the poles near the bridge.

One of the things I love about this rural area is the old houses that lie abandoned in fields that were once plots of land.  When I find such a house looking so lonely and forgotten about, I like to imagine what it was like 150 years ago when a family made it their home. 

When you reach the turn at Grand River, turn left and pass through several scenic Acadian villages.  Along the way, you’ll also find Point Michaud Beach Provincial Park. This is one of the best beaches on the island and while it’s popular with swimmers and sunbathers, it’s mostly known as a top surfing beach in the region.

The rest of the drive passes through more coastal villages before arriving at the highway.  Turn left and head toward St. Peter’s.  St. Peter’s is a very small town with a lot to see and do!  Take a break and have a picnic at Battery Provincial Park before taking a hike on one of the nearby hiking trails. 

Before you head into town for dinner, you can’t miss the St. Peters Canal National Historic Site.  The canal, which is 800 metres long, connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Bras d’Or Lakes. You can learn more about the history of the canal and the town of St. Peter’s at the Nicholas Denys Museum and the Wallace MacAskill Museum which are both nearby. 

If you’ve been missing your coffee fix over the last few days, a Tim’s Horton’s coffee shop is situated right in the middle of town.  While there are several restaurants on the main street, I suggest grabbing a bite at MacBouch Beverage Room & Grill as there is often entertainment in the evenings. If take-out by the lake is more appealing to you, there are several take-out joints serving various greasy treats including Newfoundland Poutine, which is an Atlantic Canadian favourite featuring home fries doused in mozzarella cheese, dressing and gravy.  Yes, it’s as good as it sounds!

Reaching The End

This is the end of the road, at least for this three-day Fleur de Lis/Marconi Trail road trip.  You can spend the night camping at Battery Provincial Park or in one of the hotels in the area or drive back to Sydney via Route 4 which will take you through another scenic area of Cape Breton Island along the Bras d’Or Lakes through Johnstown, Big Pond, Ben Eoin and East Bay. 

More Highlights

Restaurants:

  • Miner’s Village Restaurant – Glace Bay
  • Riverbank Restaurant – Marion Bridge
  • Lobster Kettle Restaurant – Louisbourg
  • The Grubstake Restaurant – Louisbourg
  • The Beggar’s Banquet – Louisbourg
  • Louie’s Cosy Corner – St. Peter’s
  • MacBouch Beverage Room & Grill – St. Peter’s
  • Bras d’Or Lakes Inn – St. Peter’s
  • Jiggs Take-out – St. Peter’s
  • Diddle’s Cafe & Bakery – St. Peter’s
  • Campgrounds
  • Riverdale RV Park – Louisbourg
  • Battery Provincial Park – St. Peter’s
  • Other Noteworthy Attractions
  • Glad Tiding’s Christmas Shoppe – St. Peter’s
  • Dundee Resort and Golf Club – Dundee
  • Grand River Cottages – Grand River

Campgrounds:

  • Riverdale RV Park – Louisbourg
  • Battery Provincial Park – St. Peter’s

Other Noteworthy Attractions:

  • Glad Tiding’s Christmas Shoppe – St. Peter’s
  • Dundee Resort and Golf Club – Dundee
  • Grand River Cottages – Grand River

Let us know in the comments what you think of this road trip idea and if you plan on trying it out!

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