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Summer Travel in Canada: A Golf Trip in Cape Breton

Nova Scotia wasn’t initially in our travel books this year; however, a few good friends were planning an adults-only golf trip to Cape Breton and needed an extra player, so my husband obliged. 

Up to a couple of months ago, I was skeptical as to whether this trip would actually happen, given how the strict the Atlantic provinces have been with their travel restrictions. 

That all changed when Nova Scotia officially opened its borders to the rest of Canada on June 30, 2021. Their decision to reopen could not have been more timely.

In this post, I’ll review my experience of entering Nova Scotia and our short three-day itinerary, including a short review of our stays at the Halifax Marriott Harbourfront Hotel and Cabot Links Golf Resort, home to Canada’s top golf course. 

Entering Nova Scotia 

Anyone can now enter Nova Scotia regardless of their reason for travel; however, the requirement to self-isolate or not will be based on one’s vaccination status. The full details of entry requirements can be found on the Nova Scotia provincial website

Having been fully vaccinated more than 14 days prior to arriving, we did not have to self-isolate upon arrival. We weren’t travelling with our kids this time, but if you are, they must following the isolation requirements of the least vaccinated adult (19 or older) in the group.

Prior to arrival, you need to “apply for travel”, which essentially means you complete Nova Scotia’s Safe Check-in Form. On the form, they ask for your contact details, your arrival information, where you will be staying in Nova Scotia, your vaccination status, and proof of vaccination. 

Upon submitting the form, you are given a Safe Check-In confirmation number and emailed a copy of the same: 

Once we arrived at Halifax Stanfield International Airport, the exiting procedure was quick and painless. After you pick up your luggage, there are two separate lines to exit: one for those who have completed the form, and one for those who have not.

For those who have completed the form, you show the email with your confirmation number to an agent, and off you go.

Car Rental

Much like the car rental situation in many airports now, the availability of cars at Halifax Stanfield is limited, so book early. We didn’t book our car until a month out and the prices were astronomical. 

Luckily, Hertz once again pulled through for me. Using the American Express Platinum Card code CDP 633306, I was able to secure the Manager’s Special for $235.27 for a three-day rental. This is in comparison to over $400 at other competitors. 

All I knew about the Manager’s Special is that it would have four doors and five seats. Upon arrival, Hertz gave us a brand new Chevrolet Equinox SUV, which easily fit Jon’s golf clubs, which was my only concern. I was advised this was an upgrade due to our President’s Circle elite status with Hertz.

Marriott Halifax Harbourfront

We had one night in Halifax and we made the most of it. We’ve been to Halifax before, but it was our friends’ first visit.

Marriott Halifax Harbourfront

Accommodation: Marriott Halifax Harbourfront

Price: $113 CAA rate for a standard room with one king bed, upgraded to a harbour view room. 

The hotel is conveniently located right on the waterfront and downtown district. The lobby and public areas including gym and pool were bland and dated, but the room did look renovated. Our room had a harbour view, but the window facing it was quite small, so I wouldn’t pay extra for the view. 

Breakfast is served on the main floor, at the Harbourstone Pour House. They seemed to be quite generous as to how an elite breakfast voucher is used. Our waitress actually advised us to order a main dish, a couple of drinks and a couple of “sides”. The menu didn’t actually have sides, so I asked to add on an order of a kids’ pancake and they had no issues covering that. 

This hotel made for a comfortable stay, but if you are travelling towards the end of this year, keep an eye out for The Muir, Autograph Collection, Marriott’s new property that is set to open in November. It looks like it’ll be stunning.

Our fellow team member Alex will be making a Nova Scotia trip soon as well, and will be staying at the Marriott Halifax Harbourfront with a more detailed review, so look out for that soon. 

One Day in Halifax: What To Do

There’s plenty to do and see for a few days in and around Halifax. With only a day, we just stayed by the waterfront. I’d highly recommend a visit to the following to get one started.

Alexander Keith’s. This brewery is over 200 years old and has a good reputation for its beers. They recently restarted their brewery tours again, which have always been a popular attraction. You’ll get a tour of their facility, including plenty of beer sampling along the way.

Alexander Keith’s brewery

Maritime Museum. Currently offering free admission for this summer, it features interpretive displays of significant maritime events pertaining to Halifax and the East Coast.

It has a section devoted to the tragic story of the Titanic, which struck an iceberg just near Newfoundland. Many of the salvaged bodies were brought to and laid to rest in Halifax. 

Maritime Museum

Waterfront boardwalk. Once you step outside the Marriott, you can walk along the waterfront boardwalk, which has restaurants, food stalls, and shops spread out along the way. If you bring the kids, there is also a small ship-themed play structure. The Maritime Museum is also located just off the boardwalk. 

Waterfront boardwalk

Because we only had a day here, we were limited in what we could see. If you have more time, it’s worth checking out the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site as well.

Halifax is also a great location from which to make day trips to the surrounding area, like Peggy’s Cove, the quaint fishing town of Lunenburg, and the new and upcoming wineries of Annapolis Valley.

When in Halifax, also don’t forget to try some lobster, donair, and their own Moon Mist ice cream! 

Inverness

Inverness is a small town in the northern part of Cape Breton. It was once a coal mining town, but now is known for its world-renowned golf courses. The drive from Halifax to Inverness is an easy one, but does take a solid 3.5 hours.  

Accommodation: Cabot Links Golf Resort

Cabot Links Golf Resort, Nova Scotia

Price: $1,500 per night in a four-bedroom golf villa, early season rate. My friends originally booked this place for last year, with travel dates during the low season.

With the pandemic and the closure of the Atlantic provinces to travellers, the resort allowed them to rebook for the same rate during peak season, which was a steal, as with current peak pricing, it would have other wise cost $2,700 per night! They even honoured their original off-peak golf fees.

  

The resort is located on the outskirts of the Cabot Links golf course, perched above the coastline of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It offers stunning views of the golf course, beaches, sand dunes and cliffs, with the ocean as its backdrop.

Driving into the resort, you see scattered dark grey buildings that are simple and minimalistic in design, with flat roofs and sharply angled architecture. There’s a definite Scandinavian design to the place which kind of reminded me of where we had stayed in Iceland.

Cabot Links Golf Resort – Golf villas

The four-bedroom villa was open-concept, modern, and clean, carrying on the Scandinavian theme. The four bedrooms were located at the four corners of the villa, with the kitchen and common areas in the middle. The layout was very conducive to having social gatherings.

Cabot Links Golf Resort – Four-bedroom golf villa
Cabot Links Golf Resort – Four-bedroom golf villas

The kitchen was fully stocked with dinnerware, cookware, and utensils, with plenty of counter space. A huge centre island with bar seating stretched out into a table that could seat eight.

Cabot Links Golf Resort – Four-bedroom golf villa kitchen
Cabot Links Golf Resort – Welcome amenity of rum & tonic

The dining area transitioned into the living room space which had a massive sectional sofa. 

Cabot Links Golf Resort – Four-bedroom golf villa living room

You could choose to enjoy the view of the golf course and sunset from in here, through the ceiling-to-floor glass doors, or venture beyond those doors and enjoy it from the comfort of your covered, heated, outdoor patio.

Cabot Links Golf Resort – Four-bedroom golf villa outdoor patio

The bedrooms were spacious and had a desk, TV and king bed. The two bedrooms in the front had larger windows, reaching to the ceiling, while the two in the back had smaller ones. There were no USB charging ports in the room, so pack your own.

Cabot Links Golf Resort – Golf villa bedroom

Each bedroom had its own ensuite with a shower. The master bedroom had a larger bathroom that had a tub as well. All bathrooms were stocked with L’Occitane toiletries.

Cabot Links Golf Resort – Golf villa ensuite bathroom

Considering a possible family trip back in the future, I did inquire about kids staying in the villa. The hotel said they are quite willing to allow a few kids to stay in addition to the maximum guest limit of their villas, which is quite accommodating, as most properties include children in their stated maximum number of guests.

This makes splitting the cost of villa more feasible with another family or two, thereby helping to lower the overall cost of the stay.

The resort is also not new to the idea of splitting payments for the villa. Instead of having just one bill for the entire villa, they were able to make separate bills for each couple, so no need to fight over who gets the points for the stay. 😉

Or conversely, it allows everyone to redeem their own fixed-value travel points like Scotia Rewards or TD Rewards to offset the accommodation cost. 

Dining

There are three restaurants on site:

  • Whit’s Public House, a casual bar/restaurant serving your typical pub food with both indoor and patio seating
  • Panorama Restaurant, a smart-casual fine dining restaurant on the second floor overlooking the golf course, serving dinner only
  • Cabot Bar, with a small patio and indoor space overlooking the golf course that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a more relaxed setting than Panorama

We dined out most of the time for dinner and cooked breakfast in our villa. I did get takeout from the Cabot Bar once and their fish tacos were pretty decent, although I found the portions a bit small.

Golf

Let’s get to what this place is famous for, which are its golf courses, and there are three of them:

  • Cabot Links, located right at the resort and ranked #35 in the world on Golf Digest’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses
Cabot Links golf course
  • Cabot Cliffs. Located a a few minutes’ drive from the resort, this course ranks #1 in Canada and #11 in the world on Golf Digest’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses. The views from the course are breathtaking. You don’t need to be golfing to take a look around either. They have patio seating out in the middle of the course for anyone who wants to just enjoy a beer or snack while taking in the views.
Cabot Cliffs golf course
Cabot Cliffs golf course
  • The Nest, an easier 10-hole Par 3 course.

Playing a round of golf at Canada’s top course is no cheap affair during peak season. If you’re planning on staying off-site, be prepared to pay even more.

Other On-Site Activities

In the evening hours when the golfers are done, you can take a leisurely stroll around the golf course. There is a short boardwalk trail along the cliffs with stairs at specific access points to the beach below.

The beach is supervised by lifeguards. It is a sandy beach with small, smooth round stones scattered throughout, so it’s easy on the feet. When we were there, the water was quite cold, so I’m not sure how many people actually go for a swim.

Cabot Links beach

On the way to the beach from the resort is a small Miners’ Museum with interpretive displays depicting life as a miner back in the 19th century and beyond.

Located close to their Cabot Cliffs course, they also have newly built clay tennis courts. My husband was raving about them, as apparently they are quite a rarity.

Surprisingly, there is no pool or spa at this resort; however, this is currently in the works, with a plan to be completed in the coming year or so.

The resort also has an Activities and Transportation manager who can arrange tours and experiences, including catamaran tours, paddle board tours, salmon fishing, and lobster boils.

Alternative accommodations: If the Cabot Links Golf Resort above your budget, or you want to save some money for a round of golf, I also found this little gem close by: Cape Breton Villas. The property also offers two- and four-bedroom villas for less than a third of the cost of Cabot Links (for comparison, peak pricing of $799 for a four-bedroom villa).

Other Nearby Activities

Obviously, the main objective of this trip was to golf. However, between tee-off times, we ventured out a bit.

Glenora Inn & Distillery is located just an 11-minute drive from the resort and is well-known for its single malt whisky, Glen Breton Rare. There is a restaurant and pub on-site. In the summer, they offer daily tours of the distillery and have tasting experiences that can be booked.

One of my highlights was hiking the 8km Skyline Trail. It is located in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, and about an hour from the resort. You will need to purchase a park pass or pay an admission fee to access it.

Skyline Trail, Cape Breton Highlands National Park

The trail is flat terrain until you get to the main viewpoint, where there is a wooden boardwalk that descends to an area that offers gorgeous ocean views. There are quite a few steps here.

The whole trail took about an 1 hour and 45 minutes to power-walk (without kids). If you’re short on time, hike just the bottom part of the loop to get to the main lookout point, as there isn’t much to see on the top part of the loop.

Pre-COVID, you could also arrange for a lobster boil through the Cape Breton Highland National Park website. Hopefully they’ll bring this back soon.

Once you’re done the trail, drive another 15 minutes to Cheticamp, a small Acadian settlement where you can enjoy drinks and good food at L’abri cafe and restaurant.

If it’s not too late, be sure to check out the Aucoin Bakery which is quite famous for its home-baked goods in these parts.

Conclusion

So that wraps up our short trip to Nova Scotia. I’m glad they’ve reopened to the rest of Canada and I’m happy to report that the entry process was quite quick and simple.

Three days definitely was not enough time to fully enjoy all that Halifax and Cape Breton have to offer, as there are so many more trails and attractions to see, but it made for a nice introduction to this part of the East Coast.

Cabot Links Golf Resort is a beautiful property and a paradise for avid golfers, and for those who are just tagging along (like myself), the scenery alone is worth it. 

It’s a pricey property, but can still be reasonable in the shoulder seasons, especially if you’re able to split the cost among a few people. The resort is expanding with new amenities over the next year or two, so perhaps it’ll become more family-friendly at that point.

Hopefully, you also see the value of investing in fixed-value points programs like TD Rewards or Scotia Rewards, which can essentially transform any trip (even a golf trip), at any resort, into a possible points redemption. 

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