You can listen to Cape Breton's signature sound island-wide. The richest choices, however, are along this driving route, which extends up the scenic western shore from the Canso Causeway to the Cabot Trail. Mabou, sitting at about the halfway point, is the epicentre of the 107-kilometre trail.
Celtic Music Interpretive Centre
Judique; 902-787-2708; celticmusiccentre.com
CMIC's mission is "to collect, preserve and promote the traditional Celtic music of Cape Breton." Well, mission accomplished. Interactive exhibits, demos, workshops and live shows offer a crash course in local culture.
Doryman Pub & Grill
This unpretentious beverage room in an Acadian enclave above the Ceilidh Trail is the place to be on Saturday afternoons. Insiders say the Doryman's "matinee really started it all" - and with a mix of new and known artists, it still strikes the right chord. Cover is usually $6.
At The Normaway Inn, Margaree Valley; 800-565-9463; thenormawayinn.com
A who's who of musicians packs this place to the rafters during Three Fiddler events held Wednesdays in summer, Fridays in September and October. Tickets start at $10, and are good for both the 8 p.m. concert and 10 p.m. dance.
Inverness County Ceilidhs and Square Dances
The format for the ceilidhs varies widely but the square dances generally run from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. and cost $6. (Note: Some dances are family oriented, others for guests 19 and over only.) The county website breaks down all the options.
Red Shoe Pub
Mabou; 902-945-2996; redshoepub.com
Owned by the renowned Rankin sisters, the former general store serves terrific pub grub with a side order of traditional music nightly June through mid-October. Suppertime sessions are free for diners, as are some evening sets. Otherwise, expect to pay a $6-to-$8 cover.
Where to stay and eat
Glenora Inn & Distillery
Glenville; 800-839-0491; glenoradistillery.com; rooms from $120, chalets from $175.
This whitewashed complex near Mabou has a restaurant serving regional delicacies (think salmon marinated in maple sugar and its own Glen Breton Rare whisky), a pub with live music, plus free distillery tours. Standard rooms are in the main building; handsome log chalets occupy the steep hill behind.
The Normaway Inn
Margaree Valley; 800-565-9463; thenormawayinn.com; rooms from $139, cabins and chalets from $159.
Set on 500 acres, it's a Cape Breton institution with rooms available in both the inn and bucolic outbuildings. Dining-room menus change seasonally, but local lamb and seafood are regularly featured; and entertainment is offered nightly in either the Barn or more intimate Living Room.
Special to The Globe and Mail