Come visit beautiful Prince Edward Island and discover why families flock to this little known isle of tranquility each summer.
The first thing you notice are the red clay cliffs gently sloping to the ocean, actually the Northumberland Strait. As the small Air Alliance plane banks slightly in its approach, the whole of Prince Edward Island (PEI) comes into view. In the spring and summer it’s as green as Ireland, and as golden as Vermont on a crisp autumn day.
There are no formalities at the airport, so the trip to the capital, Charlottetown, is swift and easy. All the Canadian Maritime provinces- Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and PEI- are easily accessible to visitors from the States.
Charlottetown and the Green Gables
As a capital city, Charlottetown is about as laid back as it gets. The people are incorrigibly friendly and the shops range from the absolute charming to the ordinary. A couple of stately hotels line the street along with striking B&B’s, and several small outdoor cafÃ©s with their colorful umbrellas dotting the walkways.
In 1864, Charlottetown hosted what, by all accounts, was a wild party that gave birth to the confederation of the various provinces of Canada (then only Ontario and QuÃ©bec), uniting them into the Canada of today. Locals still wonder if the confederation came into being as a result of patriotism or the strong rum and brandy served at the fÃªte.
The town is a surprisingly rich venue for performing and visual arts, including of course, the venerable, never-ending story of Anne of Green Gables. Lucy Maude Montgomery’s feisty red-headed heroine is a national treasure (and likely a vast contributor to the local economy.) The irrepressible Anne stares out at visitors everywhere, and perhaps among no other people is she so appreciated as by the Japanese. The signs in PEI are often in Japanese and many Japanese come to get married in front of Green Gables. I’ve seen Japanese brides decked out in Anne of Green Gables’ outfits, including the freckles and red pigtails! The fascination began in school when Japanese students used the Anne stories as their own version of Dick and Jane. And in a supreme example of marketing ingenuity, the island married its two biggest exports- Anne and potatoes; creating, yes, Anne of Green Gables potato chips! They’re very tasty; I recommend them.
Touring a Gentle Landscape
Getting out and into the island is a special experience. I headed east, along the shore route. The winding roads were empty. No cars, no billboards, no used car lots, no fast food joints, no going-out-of-business sales or grocery stores. Nothing, except sad-faced cows, green rolling fields and the vivid lupines standing like multicolored sentinels, punctuating the deep green with purples, reds and other greens. “Gentle” is the one word I’d use to describe the Prince Edward Island experience. Gentle beaches, sloping cliffs and dunes, gentle roads, meadows and especially gentle people. Because life on the island is challenging (the Maritimes’ economies are stagnant), the people compensate by emphasizing cooperation, not competition. Everyone is a jack-of-all-trades. Each helps the other according to ability and need. And it shows in the stores, from the waiters and waitresses, and the gas station attendants to the cop on the corner and most everywhere.
On and Beyond Bayberry Cliff
Bayberry Cliff Inn ( 902-962-3395), in Little Sands, near the Woods Island Ferry to Nova Scotia, is a special study in great meals and imaginative decor. Nancy and Don Perkins transformed a potato field by the sea into a fantasy inn using flowers, twigs and vines to design rooms and magical, hidden places to sit and read or watch the ocean a few feet away.
They’ve hired a new chef, and the meals are some of the best on the island. Intimate and relaxing, in the middle of nowhere with the sounds of the sea for company, Bayberry Cliff makes guests feel like they’ve fallen off the edge of the earth and landed on a tiny piece of heaven.
Making the loop, heading east and north a few miles from Bayberry, stop for a taste of PEI wine from Rossignol Vineyards (902-962-4193). Lynn and John Rossignol wrested from the sea, the wind and winter a thriving winery, again attesting to the ingenuity of the islanders. Its Seyval Blanc is a winner, as is the panoramic view of the Northumberland Strait.
Literally in the middle of the woods, midway between East Point on the northern tip and the town of Cavendish, is the Carousel restaurant (902-687-4100). Kumari Campbell, the chef and owner, is a heady mixture of Sri Lankan and Scottish genes. This round, glass restaurant is made partly of natural wood with carousel accents: small figures and colorful masks. The food is natural, too: homemade Feta cheese, breads and organic fruits and vegatables.
At the top of the north coast is the town of North Rustico, a former Acadian stronghold. Those who remember their American literature classes will recall the torrid and heart-breaking tale of Longfellow’s Evangeline, and the expulsion of the Acadians by the British, an early example of “ethnic cleansing.” The Acadians fled as far south as New Orleans, where they became known as “Cajuns.” North Rustico was just one of those French-Acadian colonies.
By Sea or By Land
Today, there are no Acadian Stella Maris flags, just superb lobster and adventurous kayaking. I took a quick kayaking trip with river guide Byron Howard, who with his sister, Peggy Perry, runs Outside Expeditions (902/963-3366; 800/207-3899). They have a lot to offer, such as multi-day and one day coastal expeditions. They even offer programs that combine kayaking with other adventure sports such as biking or hiking. Howard is a very caring teacher and expert guide, so you’re in good hands.
Off the kayak and onto your bicycle, pedal up to The Trailside Inn Cafe (902/676-3130), strategically situated at the beginning of the nearly completed Confederation Trail, a 200 km stretch running west and east through the island, much of it winding through salt marshes and criss-crossing the migration paths of some very interesting birds like osprey and bald eagles. Doug Beacon rents bikes and canoes and conducts walking tours throughout the region. In the evening, Trailside hosts local folk talent and sing-alongs, which are pure fun after a day on the go. It’s a very casual place and very welcoming. Gourmet pizzas and seafood are Beacon’s specialties, and the rooms are clean and attractive.
The indigineous Mi’kmaq Indians called this favored island Abegweit, meaning “cradled on the waves.” And after painting the entire earth, the myth has it, their chief god, Glooskap, saved his best, most vivid colors for this gentle place, generously painting it as only a vivid god could.
To which we say, “Well done!”
When You Go!
Main Cities: Charlottetown, Summerside
Languages: English, French
Currency: Canadian dollar. Most retail outfits accept American money. Every U.S. dollar will buy about $1.20 in Canada (as of 7/30/07). American greenbacks can be exchanged at all banks at the rate of the day.
By Air: Air Canada (888/247-2262) offer three daily flights from Boston with connections in Halifax, Toronto or Montreal.
By Sea: Northumberland Ferries (888/249-SAIL) depart from Caribou, Nova Scotia to Prince Edward Island, on a schedule of about every hour and a half. The ferry does not operate from the end of December until May.
By Land: The Confederation Bridge, an 8-mile engineering marvel, connects New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island, and the state of Maine abuts New Brunswick. The bridge is open 24 hours a day, and tolls are collected only when leaving the island. Call toll-free for more information, 888/437-6565.
Distance: Charlottetown is approximately 1,000 miles from Toronto, 625 miles from MontrÃ©al, 650 miles from Boston, and 850 miles from New York City.
Proof of Citizenship: Americans need to be aware that a U.S. voter’s registration card is no longer sufficient proof of citizenship when crossing back to the States. You’ll need to show a passport or birth certificate.
Best Book to Buy: Prince Edward Island: A Color Guidebook, edited by Laurie Brinklow and Keith Vaughan, Formac Pub. Co. Ltd., 1996.
Best Film to See: Anne of Green Gables with Megan Follows, Tony Award-winner Colleen Dewhurst and Academy Award-nominee Richard Farnsworth.
Dress: Casual. Good walking shoes are a must. Bring a sweater, even in summer.
Meals: Cheap, basic fare, $6-$10; mid-range restaurants, $12-$18; formal dining, $20-$50.
Accommodations: A wide range of accommodations are available from hostels, college rooms and campgrounds at $15 – $40 (for the hardy), to budget motels at $40-$60, to mid-range inns and hotels, $100-$125, and luxury hotels, $150-$200.
Tipping: Tip 15 percent in restaurants and taxis. Tip porters one Canadian dollar per bag.
Useful Numbers: The Prince Edward Island Tourism Office is staffed with exceptionally friendly and helpful people. If inside North American, call them at 1-800/463-4734, or if outside of North American, call them at 902/368-6332.
A Minute of Praise for PEI
My video will give you a good idea of why I love this island.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.