My sister and I just returned from a week's stay at the Island Sunset Resort in Margaree Harbour, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Yes, the resort is technically in Margaree Harbour, not Cheticamp or any other hamlet listed among the various addresses we were given. The facility is relatively new, kept spanking clean and very comfortable. Unfortunately, our stay ended just a week or so before the real tourist season starts in July -- because of this, the resort's restaurant was open only for the one weekend we were there and spa services were limited. When we expressed our disappointment at not being informed of the resort's limited services when we made our reservations, we were told that the Canadian internet booking service was to have notified us and that several customers had similar complaints. Hopefully this problem will be rectified before the next off-season rolls around.
The buildings of the resort are located on a bluff at the water's edge, yielding an unobstructed view of the magnificent sunsets and beautiful vistas along the coast. The many shades of green and the riot of wild flowers at this time of the year invited photography and were very restful indeed. The suites are roomy and comfortable, with satellite TV and (erratic) wireless free internet access. (The office staff says the resort is switching to high speed broadband because of problems with the wireless system.) Note that the resort's website says the suites are air-conditioned -- this is true to a point, as the living area has an air conditioner but the bedroom does not. Still, it was pleasantly cool, even though the locals were commenting about the mid-70 degree heatwave! The kitchen area was limited in resources, with a small refrigerator (no freezer to speak of), microwave, toaster and 2 burner cooktop. Cooking utensils, dishes, pots and pans were also limited. We bought groceries to have breakfast and lunch in our room (because of the lack of restaurants) but were limited in what we could do because of lack of equipment. We also had to buy a styrofoam cooler and got bags of ice every couple of days. The office said we could get ice from the dining room but it was only open for two days while we were there...
With all due respect to the residents, Margaree Harbour is a village -- we found 3 open restaurants (limited hours) and one convenience store in the immediate area. For gas, groceries, souveniers and other needs, we had to drive to Margaree Forks, Grand Etang or (mostly) Cheticamp 15-25 minutes away. We got used to the idea that we'd have to leave the resort for dinner but that fact had to play a prominent role in our planning for each day.
Cheticamp is the local "town" and the closest place to pick up whale watching cruises and Acadian craftwork. For whale watching, we strongly suggest a Zodiac trip (the company is in the same area as Wabo's Pizza). The Zodiac is extremely stable and very solid-feeling. We had no problem running 6 miles out to get to the fin whales. The size and mobility of the craft are an advantage in that it was very easy to zoom over to wherever we saw spouts. We were able to get within 20 yards or so of the second largest creatures ever populating the Earth - the fin whales. We also took the Love Boat whale cruise; very nice and informative crew and a comfortable 42 foot boat but it was not as mobile as the Zodiak and we spent 2 hours chasing spouts and never got close to a whale.
I had been looking forward to having some spectacular fresh seafood, especially since lobster and snowcrab are trapped in the immediate area and Atlantic salmon can be caught in the local streams and rivers. Sadly, the seafood, while mostly fresh, ranged from just OK to badly overcooked. You can get a lobster dinner anywhere for $15-20 but the typical one-pounder I had was dry and had little taste. I will say that the only consistent exception to the culinary rule was the scallops, which were good to excellent everywhere I had them.
Looking back at the review above, it would seem that our vacation was one big disappointment. It certainly was not that! The scenery was spectacular, the people warm, and the resort was comfortable. The quality of the light throughout the day was so pure that picture-taking was a sheer joy! The gull colony in the harbour adjacent to the resort invited multiple trips to watch the chicks and observe the birds' behavior. And yes, it was a beautiful restful place to spend a week. I think the disappointments were simply from uninformed expectations. If you want a choice of activities and restaurants more typical of a town setting, you will be disappointed. (WARNING: there are no fast food restaurants within several hours drive of the area!) If you're looking for a place to relax and recharge, a chance to get reacquainted with nature, and lessons in both Scottish and Acadian culture, and you don't mind driving to get where you need to go, the NW coast of Cape Breton Island is the place to go and the Island Sunset Resort is a comfortable place in which to establish your home base. But don't come until July!
Lou and Laurie Romig
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.