Monthly Archives: August 2012
“The Beautiful Island” or in the indigenous, Mi’kmaq language, Abegweit for “the land cradled on the waves.” That’s how the locals refer to Prince Edward Island, Canada with its lush, rolling farmland and red sand shores. At first, I have to admit I was a little bit skeptical. There were moose crossing signs, locations that simply refused to show up on the GPS and a lack of consistent air conditioning in this foreign world. Not to mention the day I accidentally set off my resort’s smoke detector with my hot shower and raced into the hall, robe on and hair still foamy from shampoo to escape the nonexistent fire.
Yet one look at Dalvay by the Sea, the Victorian hotel located at the edge of a lake rimmed with spindly, coniferous trees and just a golf club shot away from the beach left me breathless. I knew that if Prince William and his new wife, Kate, had visited Dalvay for dragon boat racing when they toured the island last summer, then this must be the place to be. The scent of wood smoke, citrus and vanilla engulf you as you step into the lobby of the hotel and take in its wood paneling, large fireplace and reading room. The sticky date pudding with toffee sauce served at High Tea tastes rather like a delicious carrot cake brownie. And a handful of three-bedroom cabins hem in the lake shore where visitors can canoe or kayak to their heart’s content.
Right down the wide-open road (the lack of tailgaters is so refreshing) lies Stanhope Beach Resort where the ownership is the same, but the heated pool, yoga classes, massage services and complimentary continental breakfast offer a welcome change.
If you haven’t already guessed, P.E.I., located north of Maine and Nova Scotia in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, is a place where life moves slowly and serenely. Many have only heard of it because it serves as the setting of L.M. Montgomery’s famous novel, Anne of Green Gables. The story tells of a feisty, red-haired orphan who is mistakenly delivered to the home of Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert–they actually want a male farm hand to help the aging Matthew–in the fictional town of Avonlea. Although she is not what they originally had in mind, Anne’s contagious enthusiasm for life and deep love for the beautiful island landscape quickly endear her to the community. In fact, in Japanese classrooms, Anne’s hundred-year old story is still found on course curriculums.
It will not take long for visitors to P.E.I. to understand the appeal the place held for Montgomery as they take in the acres of corn and potato fields, dark woods, functioning light houses and almost-deserted beaches. Plus there is the quaint and compact city of Charlottetown, which feels like a seaside retreat right out of the Victorian Era with its pastel-colored homes, prominent arts community and easy access to boating. Nature-lovers will rejoice within the parameters of P.E.I.’s National Park, a stretch of forested land that runs along the length of the north shore beach and opens up a wide array of outdoor opportunities to sunbathe, bike, hike, fish and camp.
On P.E.I., the locals are friendly and easy to talk to about anything from the national health care plan to the French Acadian influence on island cuisine to The Hunger Games. You might, as I did, come across a church fundraising barbecue and decide that it is the perfect place to stop and partake in a hamburger for lunch. Local ceilidhs–gatherings where Irish or Scottish folk music is enjoyed and area musical talent is celebrated–are also famous on the island. The presence of larger-than-life white wind mills quickly alert you to P.E.I.’s commitment to sustainability while the bright yellow sunflower and purple iris fields can only be rivaled by a genuine English garden.
Of course, Anne aficionados will enjoy visiting Cavendish to see the old farmhouse that inspired Green Gables. Once there, many other options abound including touring Montgomery’s island home site and Anne of Green Gables Chocolates. The musical based on the novel is well worth the night out on the town. It has run uninterrupted in Charlottetown–while also making stops on Broadway and in London’s theatre district–for over 45 years. New for 2012 is the increase in intensive dance choreography that adds a modern twist to the old classic.
Charlottetown also boasts The Confederation Center for the Arts modern art museum right next to the theatre and St. Dunstan’s Basillica, a majestic church rebuilt in the early 1900s in the Gothic Revival style complete with towering pinnacles a few blocks away. On the western side of the island, history buffs in the crowd will learn a lot about the original French Acadians who settled the region until the British forced them out in a mass exodus in the 1700s at the Acadian Museum in Miscouche. Perhaps most interesting of all is the Bottle House exhibit nestled into the seashore just fifteen minutes from the Acadian Museum in Cap-Egmont. People flock there to see the three impressive structures–a chapel, bar and tiny house–that Edouard Arsenault constructed out of roughly 25,000 glass drinking bottles which beautifully sparkle in the sunlight.
Those who frequent seafood restaurants will recall seeing “P.E.I. mussels” on the menu at times, and the island certainly has its fair share of upscale dining where you can delight in goat cheese salads, scallops, salmon, lobster, mussels and the like. There are also plenty of ramshackle seafood shops near the water where families feast on baskets of fish and chips.
Perhaps what you really notice most on the island though is the peaceful quiet that blankets it. You feel far removed from the digital world of iPhones or the constant crush of highway traffic. It’s almost like going back in time to a state of being where watching the slow progress of a seagull as it shuffles along the shoreline is perfectly all right.