Sometimes the city boy needs to rest and relax by escaping from the hustle and bustle and adventuring through a space and place where calm meets quiet and a vacation actually leaves you feeling refreshed. My four-day road trip through Canada’s prettiest isle, Prince Edward Island would be my first visit east of Quebec City. I was thrilled to finally tap into the nation’s quintessential East Coast hospitality, jaw dropping landscapes and seafood-centric culinary offerings.
In 2013 PEI was featured in Travel + Leisure’s annual World’s Best List and awarded Top Island in the Continental US & Canada. Dubbed Canada’s Gentle Island, it is the nations smallest province and also the easiest to explore. I zig-zagged through potato farm flanked rural roads and soared across harbours and petite bays where lobster fishermen eagerly hauled the days catch. Prince Edward Island may just be Canada’s perfect road trip, easily conquered in four days. While the big draws here are of course pigtailed Anne of Green Gables, epic lobster feasts and lighthouse dotted shoreline, it’s the warm welcome and country charm that will leave the most lasting impression.
Two of the hotels I stayed during my visit really stood out so be sure to book them into your itinerary. West Point Lighthouse Inn offers 13 rooms with fantastic views, two of which are located inside the historic Lighthouse. At 69 feet tall, it’s one of PEI’s tallest and the only offering on the island for those looking to spend the night sleeping in a historic lighthouse. Surrounded by pristine red sandy beaches and rolling Cedar Dunes, West Point Lighthouse stands among the Island’s most recognizable places.
Known throughout Canada for its “Farm to Table” philosophy and innovative use of PEI products, the Inn at Bay Fortune is both a boutique hotel and top notch restaurant. The property was home to the wildly successful TV cooking show “The Inn Chef,” which introduced celebrity Chef Michael Smith to Canadian audiences in the late 1990s. Walking up to the property one is greeted by lush gardens and a picturesque inn which features two sky-high towers where sumptuous suites offer weary travellers an enviable space to rest and relax.
Sips and Nibbles: Seafood lovers rave about PEI’s famed lobster and oyster filled feats. While you’re likely to encounter oceans bounty those who aren’t fans of the fish will find happiness in top notch local beef (they feed them potatoes here) and award winning cheese courtesy of Cows Creamery. Be sure to check out the creative lobster creations at Row House Lobster Co, iconic dinner in Charlottetown at Lobster on the Wharf, pretty views from The Catch Kitchen + Bar, rural decadence at The Inn at Bay Fortune and culinary whimsy at Lot 30.
French Influence: visit the petite Acadian Museum in Miscouche to get a better understanding of the islands French heritage. The permanent collection allows guests to discover the treasures of a people who have been present on PEI for almost three centuries. The museums five sections include a diorama, 25 text panels, 145 photographs/illustrations and 124 artifacts that represent the history and material culture of the Acadians of PEI from when they first arrived in 1720 to present day.
A Glass Village: No trip to PEI is complete without a visit to the Islands quirkiest museum. The Bottle Houses were created by Edouard Arsenault who after his retirement put his creative energy and sense of humour to good use. He embarked on an epic architectural project which would see him transform over 25,000 glass bottles into colourful souvenirs for tourists to admire. Edouard ingeniously cemented together these bottles to create three separate buildings made of bottles: a house, bar and church.
History of the Tater: Of course PEI has a museum entirely dedicated to its famed tuber! The Canadian Potato Museum is located in the community of O’Leary, surrounded by fertile potato growing fields where the humble potato has played an important role in the local economy for many years. Visitors to the museum learn about the importance of the potato both in Canada and abroad, adventure through a large warehouse featuring antique farming equipment and learn about the starchy vegetables rise to fame (what would we ever do without the french fry?) Be sure to stop at the museums cafe for a quick snack, the menu includes: potato skins, potato soup, poutine and chili cheese fries.
For the Love of Jam and Butterflies: if you’re looking to experience one of the Islands most famous restaurants look no further than Prince Edward Island Preserve Company. The place is packed in the peak summer months and lining up in the dining room for a seat is well worth the wait. The building was originally built in 1913 and used as a butter factory. In 1985 the current owners refurbished the space to include an artisan speciality food production kitchen, restaurant and gift shop. Fresh raspberry pie is perfectly paired with a piping hot cup of tea, a lovely pause in the day best enjoyed while staring out at the properties lush garden. Be sure to enjoy a short walk to the Butterfly House where hundreds of colourful wings flutter through tropical scented air.
Those Red Pig Tails: Go back in time 100 years and join the characters of Avonlea for a fun day of interactive experiences at Avonlea Village of Anne of Green Gables. Join Anne throughout the day via kitchen party, horse and wagon ride, oyster shucking, dance lesson and pig race while strolling through heritage buildings and a spectacular garden. Built in 1999 in Cavendish PEI, Avonlea was the fictitious name that Island author, Lucy Maud Montgomery gave to the wee town in her world famous novel, Anne of Green Gables. A visit to Avonlea is an essential stop for any “Anne Fan,” allowing star stuck children and smitten adults to chit chat with the novels most beloved characters.
Forget the Golf and Treat Yourself: While Crowbush Golf & Beach Resort might be best known for its 18 hole 4 1/2 Star Links Course its a visit to the properties petite spa that had me swooning. Relax and unwind at the Rodd Spa where a 60 minute relaxation massage featuring a line of aromatics from Aveda offers the rest and relaxation you need after a long day on the road.
My Lord It’s Moonshine!: PEI’s Strait Shine is the only distillery in Canada legally selling moonshine, coined originally by bootleggers smuggling illegal liquor back in the days of prohibition. The outlawed spirit of those original shine makers has been brought back, offering an over-proof signature version of modern moonshine. While “Shine” was the original inspiration behind the birth of the company, the folks at Strait Shine also produce artisan distilled vodka, rum and gin. Pop by the distillery and gift shop and you’ll notice lush grape vines growing in the front yard. I’m told they’ll be producing their first brandy this season! Be sure to enjoy a jolt via wee sample of Strait Lightening, a jaw dropping 75% alc/vol spirit!
Fishermen’s Delight: those looking to find their own food should book themselves on a deep sea fishing trip with Tranquility Cove Adventures. Guests are joined by a friendly captain who takes you out on the sun soaked Atlantic to fish for mackerel. The trip is short but sweet and includes hauling a lobster trap, a rock crab pot and a mussel sock. On my trip the group of us managed to catch over 20 fish which were filleted al fresco (with scraps thrown to an eager choir of seagulls) and cooked up on the BBQ just in time for lunch!
For the Love of Beer: PEI Brewing Company began in 1997 by Island entrepreneur and restaurateur Kevin Murphy. Today the Islands favourite craft beer can be found at pretty much every bar and restaurant on PEI. In May 2013 the brewery opened a world class facility in Charlottetown where visitors can hop on a brewery tour, sip through samples in a spacious tasting room and purchase cold beer and branded swag in the gift shop. Be sure to sample their signature Sir John A’s Honey Wheat Ale, 1772 India Pale Ale and Beach Chair Lager.
My visit to PEI was a press trip coordinated by Tourism PEI. Transportation, accommodation, restaurant visits and activities featured in this destination guide were complimentary.