A trip to Prince Edward Island Life that’s packed with flavour and character is almost like unearthing a hidden gem
By Namita Gupta
Nothing in the world can compare to the peaceful feeling of standing on the shore of a beach and living in the moment. It’s these times when you will see real beauty that surpasses anything you have ever seen before. Prince Edward Island is just one of those islands that may not be as big in size as other provinces of Canada, it is nevertheless alluring, exotic, and charming and surprisingly abundant in adventure and activities. Infact, it is Canada’s smallest province. It was named after Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, who was commander in chief of British forces in the area. His daughter grew up to become Queen Victoria, who reigned over the United Kingdom for 63 years. Prince Edward Island is sometimes referred to as the Cradle of Confederation. Charlottetown is known as the “Birthplace of Canada” as it was here that delegates from across British North America met and discussed a union of their colonies. As a result, the birth of a nation took place when Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario united to form the Dominion of Canada. PEI did not join this union until 1873 when it needed the nation’s financial assistance to build a railroad.
After a long flight, I landed at the Charlottetown Airport and checked in to Rodd Charlottetown hotel for a peaceful night at the oldest yet elegant hotel on the island. I woke up fresh to explore it’s hidden treasures. Although the sun sets late during the summer months in PEI, it’s more of an early-to-bed and early-to-rise kind of place. While you get your time to relax and unwind with panoramic picturesque views all around you, you also have incredible experiences to indulge in (like kayaking, paddle board, scuba diving, bike rentals, boat tours, bus tours, brewery tours, lobster tours) and create memories for a lifetime. If you can’t get smitten by its quirky and classic character and its unspoilt landscape, then we don’t know what else can thrill you.
Here are 10 must-see, must-do handpicked things-to-do from my trip to the beautiful island.
1 Top Notch Charters – Smell the salt air, feel the gentle breeze against your face, enjoy the thrill of taking a lobster right out of a trap, and savour the experience of a traditional Prince Edward Island lobster supper while aboard the 45-foot fishing boat. I hopped on-board Top Notch Charters and learnt how to fish for lobster with captain Mark Jenkins. He’s the best when it comes to anything you want to know about marine life and only once you’ve experienced the PEI lobster tour with him, you’ll know why it’s the real deal.
Mark comes with a rich legacy and has a family background in fishing around these islands that date back many generations. My up, close and personal tryst with the lobster will always be cherished. The Top Notch Charters tour with Mark was not only pleasurable and riveting, but also extremely informative. After the tour take a walk around Charlottetown waterfront and soak in the island vibe.
2. Green Gables Heritage Place – Drive to Cavendish and step back in time to the days of Lucy Maud Montgomery and what inspired her to write Anne of Green Gables. As you enter, take a walk around the state of the art Visitor Centre and gaze at the awe-inspiring exhibit full of fascinating facts, sights and sounds and then step out to stroll around haunted woods or Lovers Lane.
Anne of Green Gables, penned by island author has found its way into the hearts of millions of readers, who travel the distance to visit her house and grounds that has been carefully restored and decorated in exquisite detail to transport you straight into the world of Montgomery as described in her novel. You can also play dress up in Anne’s costumes, replete with a wig and other accessories and click memorable photographs.
3. Red Sands – Enjoy the scenic drive through PEI National Park from Cavendish to the vibrant fishing village of North Rustico. The 37-mile Prince Edward Island National Park is home to several picturesque white and red-sand beaches, but Cavendish Beach is probably the most popular. The coastal drive from North Rustico to Cavendish is particularly scenic and you must stop on your drive and just walk down to see how the rusty red sand line the shores of this beautiful Canadian province.
If there was ever a spot straight out of a post card, this is it. The unique and distinctive bloody hue of red comes from an abundance of iron and it is so soft that it is a delight to walk on it. Carry a mat and just plonk yourself in the red sand, soak up the sun or go for a long walk and enjoy jaw-droppingly beautiful views of the red cliffs on one side and the waves hitting the shore on the other.
4. Greenwich PEI National Park – Don’t we all love to get back to nature? Two best ways to experience one of Canada’s unique natural treasures on PEI’s north shore are by hiking or biking. Hike the Greenwich Dunes Trail, which includes a walk over a pond on an extensive floating boardwalk out to one of the Island’s most fabulous beaches where you can view the spectacular parabolic dune system rising above white sand beaches. This trail features diverse natural features found along the Greenwich peninsula.
What makes Greenwhich National Park unique is the seamless shift between different landscapes; you enter a lush green forest and then a small pond leads you to an extensive floating boardwalk. Learn how natural forces and thousands of years of human settlement have made Greenwich a must see. There’s also wildlife in this area, as it’s an abandoned farm. Besides fur, maples, birches you’ll be surrounded by purple fireweed flowers all around. The Park has 14 hiking trails varying in length. Beach walking is also an excellent way to explore the Park.
5. Culinary Haven – Think freshly caught lobster, oysters, snow crabs, mussels, halibut, haddock and the likes and the first name that will ever pop up in my mind will have to be Prince Edward Island. The aroma of good food teases your nostrils and tantalises your palate everywhere in this true foodie haven. The culinary experience on PEI is not just about world class ingredients and highly skilled chefs; it’s about the love of the land and water that all the Islanders share. I traversed across PEI, experiencing island life though small towns, coastal beauty and coastal cuisine. Some of the must have diners here include Peakes Quay, Point Prim Chowder House, The Wheelhouse, The Inn at St. Peters, Blue Mussel Café, Lobster Barn Pub & Eatery and Terre Rouge Bistro Marche. Peakes Quay on the Charlottetown Waterfront, is where I rediscovered my ardent love for seafood. Point Prim Chowder House is one place you just cannot give a miss. Located on a spacious stunning oceanfront property, the restaurant serves locally sourced sustainable seafood and other island produced goods, prepared with authentic East Coast style.
The Wheelhouse is another destination restaurant in Georgetown that features local produce as well as fresh seafood from local fishermen. Lobster Melt is a unique and delicious twist on the classic lobster roll you’ll want to try! A meal at The Inn at St. Peters is a must for its picturesque views and great grub. The Blue Mussel Cafe is a seasonal seafood restaurant located in North Rustico Harbour, just off the beaten path, specialising in fresh seafood and food that is as local as possible, alongside delicious and wholesome meals. The Seafood Smoked Charcuterie Board that was devoured in no time at the Blue Mussel Café needs a special mention. The colourful and beautifully plated platter served cold smoked mackerel and salmon, house cured gravalax, local cheeses and meats, crostinis, candied pecans, seasonal fruits and pickled veggies. Also, most importantly, a breathtaking view that I will never forget!
Lobster Barn Pub & Eatery at Victoria by the Sea is another of PEI’s gems in a picturesque fishing village known for its best lobster rolls ever and potato fries. Terre Rouge Bistro Marche on Queen St, Charlottetown is for a very upmarket dining style right in the midst of all the action. If there’s something called the Seafood Sin, then I confess to have committed it right here.
If you want to grab a quick coffee try the Receiver Coffee or The Kettle Black. A quick stop at the Island Chocolate is also a must for a cup of factory hot chocolate, that is simply the best on the island. You can also see how they make handcrafted chocolates here. The way we stopped by, there was a slight drizzle for barely a few minutes, making the weather perfect for a cup of hot chocolate, that was simply divine. PEI is filled with culinary delights, and one cannot try them all in a few days. But one, you cannot leave PEI without is Cows, a local ice cream brand known to be Canada’s best ice cream brand. We spotted eager ice cream lovers queuing up for more while slurping on interesting flavours like Cownadian Maple, Udder Finger, Wowie Cowie, Gooey Mooey, besides many others. You can also do a quick tour of the Cows and see what goes behind the scenes.
6. The Lighthouses – The first mode of transportation for early settlers was the sea. Lighthouses were crucial to them for trade and commerce in those days and today while some of them are still active, some are simply stunning structures and a thing of beauty. There are over 63 lighhouses that flank the island. You can also stay in some of them or enjoy a sunset dinner. Some of the most Insta-worthy Lighhouses are West Point, Victoria Range Light, Wood Islands, Cape Bear, Point Prim, Panmure Head, East Point and Souris Lighthouse.
Cape Bear Lighthouse is where Thomas Bartlett heard the first distress signal from the Titanic. Even if you’re not in an adventurous mood to get inside, do visit the Point Prim Lighthouse, that was built in 1845 and was the first and oldest lighthouses on Prince Edward Island. It is not only picturesque, but also one of the only few round brick lighthouses in Canada.
7. Charlottetown Farmer’s Market – Be a part of the islander’s weekly ritual by mingling with them at the Charlottetown Farmer’s Market and discover why PEI is truly Canada’s food island. Farmers bring their fruits, vegetables and plants cultured from the red PEI soil; rural bakeries offer fresh baked bread and pastries; meat vendors sell Island-raised produce; fish vendors sell fresh fish and seafood; crafts people display one-of-a-kind handmade works of art; and food vendors offer a wide variety of International and Canadian dishes, home-made desserts, preserves, and artisanal products.
Eat in or take out from the broad selection of buying directly from the producers. This longstanding and deeply cherished tradition where locals and visitors go to eat, drink and mingle, should be on your itinerary for a Saturday morning. I picked my share of some of the freshest maple syrups from here.
8. Georgetown – Be surprised at how much there is to do and see in this small town. Georgetown might be small in size, but the friendliness of people and the character of the town is enormous. You can walk around this historic town on a self-guided tour, past all the brightly painted homes and shops and down to the waterfront to find baked goods that will knock your socks right off. Take a few minutes to walk through the town gardens before checking out the King’s Playhouse.
About 30 minute drive on the south shore is Skmaqn-Port-la-Joye—Fort Amherst National Historic Site of Canada. Originally established by the French in 1720, Port-la-Joye—Fort Amherst commemorates the first permanent European settlement on Île Saint-Jean (today Prince Edward Island). Today, there’s not much of the fort left, but the grassy ruins are extremely picture worthy too.
9. Montague – A picturesque town that will not disappoint! Often known as Montague the Beautiful, this cute little town built around the river is full of natural beauty. In the summer, this area is bustling with boats coming to and fro. Even though this town may seem small at first sight, there is an abundance of things to explore.
The Copper Bottom Brewing Company overlooking the Montague River, was recently opened by a young couple who wanted to create a space that will bring this small rural community together. The brewery also has a taproom where you can guzzle on pints and listen to some live music in a historic building in Montague, which was the first town hall in 1938 and has acted as the office space for the town newspaper for the past 40 years.
10. Hotels & Resorts – There are plenty of cozy bed & breakfast hotels in PEI. But the one that I would highly recommend for its undiminished charm and character would be the Rodd Brudenell River Resort. Rodd Brudenell River Resort is one of the best Cardigan luxury lodging choices in Canada. Wake up feeling excited every day in your cottage with impressive and idyllic views all around. The Holman Grand Hotel is another great find, if you want to be in the centre of town. It’s a short walk to everything and this urban hotel is situated with stunning views of the Charlottetown Harbour at the heart of PEI’s bustling capital.
Besides being an amalgamation of all things good, one bonus would be the incredibly friendly, warm, kind, gracious and hospitable people of PEI. I would go back to Prince Edward Island only for that. And of course, it’s unspoilt paradisal views.