The Canadian province of Prince Edward Island (PEI) promotes itself as the "Gentle Island," but its popular claim to fame lies in its ties to the famous fictional character of the 1908 children's classic, "Anne of Green Gables." One hundred years ago, PEI author Lucy Maud Montgomery drew inspiration for the setting of her classic novel from the island where she grew up during the late Victorian Era. The story has been translated into 15 languages and adapted for film, stage and television. When venturing around the island, you can easily see where her inspiration came from: quiet agricultural communities, lush green landscapes, fishing villages, lighthouses that dot the coastline, red sandstone cliffs and, of course, green-gabled houses.
Prince Edward Island is located north of the province of Nova Scotia and is connected to the province of New Brunswick on the west by the 13-kilometer (9-mile) Confederation Bridge. The island's largest urban area, with 35,000 residents, is Charlottetown, situated centrally on PEI's southern shore and on the Northumberland Strait. On the north side of the island is PEI's National Park and the Cavendish area, which is home to many Anne-related attractions.
Before PEI was all about Anne, the island province hosted the Charlottetown Conference in 1864 -- the first meeting in the creation of Canada, which resulted in the Confederation of Canada in 1867. As for the economy, agriculture is still the number-one industry in PEI, with 30 percent of the nation's potatoes grown on the island in the unique red-hued earth. (There's even a Potato Museum on the island.) Tourism comes in second on PEI, and it's continually growing.
Upon arriving in Charlottetown by cruise ship, passengers are met by sounds of fiddling and Islanders (a nickname collectively referring to the residents) dressed in Celtic costumes performing traditional step dancing. These performances are a reflection of the ethnic makeup of the island, as more than 60 percent of the residents are of Scottish or Irish descent. From the terminal building, a winding boardwalk wraps around the harbor adjacent to many of the shops and restaurants on Peake's Wharf. The self-guided Historic Walk, mapped out by PEI Tourism, highlights 19th-century architecture, and the stroll takes you from the Wharf, up Great George Street, by Victoria Row on Richmond Street, and then up West Street to end by the foot of Victoria Park at Kent Street.
Of course, no visit to PEI would be complete without a sampling of the fares of the land and sea. Dining musts include PEI's potatoes and local seafood like Malpeque Bay oysters, PEI lobsters or cultured blue mussels, all served fresh.
Directly in front of the cruise terminal is Founders' Hall (Canada's Birthplace Pavilion) and the Charlottetown Visitor Centre, where visitors can pick up maps and brochures. Also on the waterfront is Peake's Wharf Historic Waterfront Merchants for souvenir shopping, homemade ice cream and fresh seafood. You'll also find live music there in the summer. Keep walking, and you'll also come upon the Prince Edward Island Convention Centre. All of these are connected by a lovely boardwalk that's ideal for a stroll along the water.
Founders' Hall: Located in front of the cruise terminal building, it's where visitors can learn about the story of Canada. A multidimensional video and media presentation describes the Charlottetown Conference of 1864 and how it led to the Birthplace of Confederation.
Beaconsfield Historic House: Situated in a cove with a commanding view of Charlottetown harbor, Beaconsfield Historic House was built in 1877 for a wealthy shipbuilder. This grand 25-room house is an enduring symbol of Victorian elegance, but it was also one of the first homes on the island to have running water, gas lights and central heating. It features eight fireplaces, imported chandeliers, plaster moldings and stained glass. (2 Kent Street; 902-368-6603; hours vary seasonally)
Confederation Centre of the Arts: The place where you can catch a performance of "Anne of Green Gables -- The Musical." The curtain was raised in 1964, making it Canada's longest running musical. (Victoria Row and Queen Street; 800-565-0278; 130 Queen Street)
Avonlea Village: Located in the Cavendish area, about 35 minutes outside of Charlottetown, the interactive village (named after Anne of Green Gables' hometown) offers visitors the chance to step back in time to 1908 and relive some pages of Lucy Maud Montgomery's classic novel. Costumed actors guide visitors around miniature houses while kids and adults can dress up in period costumes, enjoy a hay wagon ride, watch puppet shows and taste freshly made sweets from the chocolate factory. (8779, Route #6 Cavendish; 902-963-3050; open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, June 20 to September 13)
PEI National Park: Miles of sand dunes, beaches, sandstone cliffs and walking trails make up the park, which is also the home of the Green Gables house. Green Gables is the farm that inspired the setting of "Anne of Green Gables." The park is located in Cavendish, about a 35-minute drive from Charlottetown.
Cycle Part of the Confederation Trail: The island's conversion of old railroad tracks to pathways for biking has resulted in close to 300 kilometers of trails through the rural heartland. The best limited-time excursion is at St. Peter's Bay. Drive 25 minutes from Charlottetown, and rent bikes from St. Peter's Bay Craft and Giftware (15465 Northside Road, St. Peters Bay; 902-367-7900).
Golf: The island has more than 30 courses, all within a 45-minute drive of Charlottetown. One of the most well-known is the Links at Crowbush Cove, which was recognized by Golf Digest. It's just a 25-minute drive from Charlottetown. (710 Lakeside Road (Route 350), Lakeside; 800-235-8909)
Driving Tour: Prince Edward Island is eminently suitable for driving tours. The tourism office has them mapped out, and you can mix and match (based on proximity) trips to evocatively named regions, such as "North Cape Coastal Drive," "Green Gables Shore," "Red Sands Shore," "Charlottetown," and "Points East Coastal Drive" -- all taking you through different sections of Prince Edward Island.
The Dunes Studio Gallery: This gallery, about 20 minutes outside of Charlottetown by car, features breathtaking works by local artists and crafters. You'll find unique furniture, clothing, sculptures, glass items, jewelry, woodwork and more -- all for sale. Take your time browsing the collection, which includes an outdoor sculpture garden, before grabbing a bite to eat at the onsite cafe. (3622 Brackley Point Road, Brackley Beach; 902-672-2586; open daily, May to October, from 9 a.m.; call 902-672-1883 for cafe information)
On Foot: Since the ship docks right in the heart of town, many attractions are within a few blocks of each other. This is one of the most pedestrian friendly cities we've cruised to, and you can spend a whole day strolling the small city, visiting historic attractions and even taking in a theatrical performance.
By Bike: Go Wheelin' (877-286-6532) offers bike rentals for $20 for a half day or $30 for a full day. They are located at the Charlottetown Visitor Centre on the Historic Waterfront.
By Taxi: Co-op Taxi Line (902-892-1111 or 902-628-8200) has cars waiting at the pier. You can take a local ride, or arrange for an island tour for a per-car hourly rate.
By Rental Car: National Car (800-227-7368) has a kiosk in Founders' Hall. Rates include unlimited mileage.
It's said that no matter where you are on the island, you're never more than 15 minutes away from a beach. The island has beaches for every purpose, from supervised swimming beaches for families to deserted coastlines for solitary walks or clam digging.
Most Popular Beach: Cavendish beach, part of Prince Edward Island National Park, is staffed by lifeguards and located about 35 minutes from downtown Charlottetown. It's probably the region's busiest beach since the waters of the Northumberland Strait are the warmest sea waters north of the Carolinas. It's also a great place to view the red sandstone cliffs for which PEI is famous. (Toss in the surrounding green grass and blue water, and it's easy to see why it's said the island comprises rubies, emeralds and sapphires.) During the second weekend in July, you can enjoy big names at the Cavendish Music Festival. Past performers include Keith Urban, Taylor Swift, Blake Shelton and Lady Antebellum, among others.
Most Interesting Beach: Basin Head Provincial Park is known for its "singing sands." Nobody's really sure why the phenomenon occurs, but when you walk on the sand, it makes a noise akin to singing. This beach, staffed with lifeguards, can be found about an hour and 15 minutes outside of Charlottetown.
Most Family-Friendly Beach: The campground at Red Point Provincial Park, about an hour and 15 minutes' drive from Charlottetown, offers playground facilities, children's activities and lifeguard supervision.
Most Scenic Beach: Brackley Beach, found roughly 20 minutes from Charlottetown in Prince Edward Island National Park, offers long stretches of unbroken coastline, as well as pristine dunes. It's also staffed by lifeguards.
Because of its proximity to the ocean, Prince Edward Island is a great place to find fresh seafood dishes. Clams, mussels and lobster are popular; you'll never go wrong with local beer or ice cream, either, and you'll find both in spades. The island has a clear Scottish influence, as well, so you can enjoy everything from classic fish 'n' chips to delicious shortbread.
Piatto: This upscale pizzeria offers gourmet Neapolitan wood-fired pies with a number of mouthwatering toppings like mozzarella cheese, caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, olives, pepperoni, Italian sausage, mushrooms, basil, extra-virgin olive oil and more. You'll also find tasty salads, calzones and desserts on the menu. (45 Queen Street; 902-892-0909; open Monday to Saturday from 11:30 a.m.)
Olde Dublin Pub: Located above the Claddagh Oyster House, you'll find this Irish pub, which offers everything from fish and chips to pasta, burgers and quesadillas, as well as seafood items at reasonable prices. (131 Sydney Street; 902-892-6992; open Monday to Saturday from 11 a.m.)
Lobster on the Wharf: This place is best for seafood in a casual atmosphere. (Prince Street Wharf; 902-894-9311; open daily from 11:30 a.m.)
The Gahan House Pub and Brewery: This upscale brewpub is located in a historic townhouse that serves fish and chips in brown bags. While you're there, sample some of their handcrafted ales, or take a brewery tour. (126 Sydney Street; 902-626-2337; open from 11:30 a.m.)
Fishbones Oyster Bar: This establishment features a raw bar with an array of island oysters and specialty sauces. (136 Richmond Street; 902-628-6569; open from 11 a.m.)
Lucy Maud Dining Room: This restaurant overlooks the entrance to the harbor. It's operated by students from the Culinary Institute of Canada under the guidance of world-class chef instructors. Try the PEI Mussel Linguine. (4 Sydney Street; 902-894-6868; open Tuesday to Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. between October 15 and May 14)
Dalvay by the Sea: Inside PEI National Park is a National Historic Site called Dalvay By The Sea. The elegant Victorian home was built by a Scottish-American oil tycoon, and now the property is run as a boutique hotel and restaurant. They use fresh local ingredients in such menu items as Island blue mussels and lobster croissant. (16 Cottage Crescent, Dalvay; 888-366-2955; open for afternoon tea; advance reservations required)
COWS Creamery: If you'd rather have a sweet treat than a full meal, head to COWS creamery, where you can try some delicious ice cream or cow chips (chocolate-covered potato chips) from a company that got its start on Prince Edward Island. (150 Queen Street; 902-892-6969; call for hours) You can also tour the company's headquarters to see how the ice cream is made and follow it up with some samples. (397 Capital Drive; 902-370-3155; tours daily, every half hour starting at 10 a.m., June through September)
Historic Charlottetown Seaport is located right downtown. After a recent $18 million investment to upgrade its cruise ship facilities, Charlottetown now has a lengthened berth to allow larger vessels to visit. There is also a Cruise Welcome Centre, which houses clean bathrooms, tour operator kiosks and souvenir stands operated by local vendors.
Dress in layers, as the weather can change suddenly. Beyond that, Prince Edward Island is beautiful, easy to navigate and inhabited by some of the nicest people you'll ever meet. Be careful, or you might find yourself not ever wanting to leave.
Many retailers will accept U.S. dollars, but not always at the official exchange rate. Canadian money comes in the same denominations as U.S. money, with the same names: quarter, dime and so forth. However, there is no paper Canadian one-dollar bill. Instead, there is a one-dollar coin, nicknamed the Loonie, and a two-dollar coin called the Toonie. The most convenient way to exchange money is to use your ATM card at a bank or kiosk. (The closest kiosk is in Founders' Hall by the cruise terminal.) Check www.xe.com for the latest exchange rates.
English is the primary language on PEI, although French may be spoken in certain regions.
Pick up authentic Anne of Green Gables merchandise -- books, dolls, costumes and even raspberry cordial -- at the Anne of Green Gables Store on the corner of Victoria Row and Queen Street. There's also a store in Cavendish. Northern Watters Knitwear (150 Richmond Street) makes durable sweaters, hats and other knitwear items; you can watch as they're made on antique Swiss looms. The Pilar Shephard Art Gallery (82 Great George Street) features original PEI landscapes and seascapes from native artists, as well as other Maritime artists.
Other great items include Canadian maple syrup, sea glass, preserves or tea from the Prince Edward Island Preserve Company (2841 New Glasgow Road, New Glasgow), soap from the Great Canadian Soap Company (4224 Portage Road (Route 6), Oyster Bed; 800-793-1644) and items from the PEI Dirt Shirt company (Peake's Quay; 902-894-3478), which are dyed with the island's famous red dirt.
In "Anne of Green Gables," Anne accidentally gives a friend some wine instead of the intended raspberry cordial. As such, the drink is kind of a big deal on the island. It's really just raspberry soda, but it's tasty, and you can find it at several stores in downtown Charlottetown, as well as in Avonlea Village and at Green Gables.
If you're seeking an adult beverage instead, try a Gahan ale. You can find it throughout the island or at The Gahan House, where brewery tours are also offered (126 Sydney Street; 902-626-2337).