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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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).