Scenic Driving PEI: Part 1

Late spring and early summer are prime times to visit Canada’s “Garden of the Gulf,” Prince Edward Island (PEI). June is when the trademark lupine are in full bloom, lining the shores of the crescent-shaped island in profusion. Temperatures are mild and pleasant, ranging from about 8 degrees C (46 degrees F) to 22 degrees C (71 degrees F). In other words, days are perfect for strolling in shirtsleeves, but pack a jacket for the evenings. Best of all, the real tourist season doesn’t begin in earnest until July, so you’ll have a better chance of experiencing the laid-back, pastoral quietude that makes the island such a treasure.

Getting Your Bearings
PEI lies off the eastern coast of continental Canada. It connects to New Brunswick via the 13-mile Confederation Bridge and to Nova Scotia by ferry. The smallest of Canada’s provinces, the island is 224 kilometers long (about 139 miles) and comprises 5,660 sq. km (about 2,264 sq. mi.). Its livelihood stems largely from shellfish and potato farming with tourism playing an increasingly important role.

Author enjoys the warm waters off a sandy northshore beach.

The only real “city” on PEI is the capital, Charlottetown. With a population of 33,000, it is home to approximately 25 percent of the island’s year-round residents. The charming village of Summerside runs a distant second place at fewer than 15,000 residents. Beyond these two communities, you will mostly find hamlets of just a few dozen or a few hundred friendly souls.

Take To The Road
Touring PEI by car is fun, easy, and rewarding. It’s such a small island, you can get anywhere you need to go in a couple of hours. Throw bikes or kayaks on the car, and you’ll have an easy week’s outdoor entertainment.

To help you grasp the island, the tourism council has laid out six touring regions and three recommended scenic drives (each of which encompasses two of the touring regions). This week, I’ll describe the two central touring regions, Anne’s Land and Charlotte’s Shore, and the Blue Heron Scenic Drive that encircles them.

Anne’s Land/Charlotte’s Shore
The touring region known as Charlotte’s Shore is the place most folks will begin their visit to PEI because it is where the Confederation Bridge from New Brunswick terminates. At the foot of the bridge, Gateway Village is little more than a forgettable collection of tacky tourist shops, but it also has an excellent information center where you can obtain all the maps and other materials you will need for your stay, most of it complimentary. But Charlotte’s Shore is also home to Charlottetown. This is an attractive city of great historical significance to Canada as the birthplace of the Canadian Confederation. It also is home to the charming coastal village of Victoria-by-the Sea, neither of which should be missed.

North of Charlotte’s Shore is the touring region known as Anne’s Land. If you’re like me, you will find anything relating to the ubiquitous, red pig-tailed Anne of Green Gables absolutely obnoxious after your first 24 hours on PEI, if not sooner. Lucy Maud Montgomery’s prepubescent heroine probably makes fine reading for middle-schoolers, but she is not a deity, for God’s sake. Give it a rest!

Lupine lines the landscape in June and early July.

You can’t blame a little island for trying to capitalize on a famous resident (author L. M. Montgomery both lived on PEI and sited her fiction here), but enough is enough. Fortunately, by avoiding the northshore town of Cavendish, one can avoid most of the Anne hype as well as most of the tacky tourist activities and fast-food establishments on the island. Fortunately, just as Gateway Village doesn’t represent Charlotte’s Shore, Cavendish doesn’t represent Anne’s Land. This region is dotted with local craft showrooms and graced with exceptional white sand beaches and red rock cliffs.

Blue Heron Drive
The 191-kilometer (118-mile) Blue Heron Drive does a great job of hitting the high points of central PEI. Besides Victoria and Charlottetown (reserve a couple of hours for the former and at least half a day for the latter), this drive takes you alongside the north shore beaches to the weathered marina of North Rustico, and to the community of Kensington, where a lively Saturday market is held in season and the preserved railroad station is worth a quick tour and a snapshot. And don’t miss the Cheese Lady at North Winsloe; her various flavors of gouda should be a staple for any PEI picnic. Stanley Bridge has an excellent seafood store and a restaurant that specializes in afternoon tea.

Blue Heron is the shortest of the three scenic drives delineated by the tourism bureau, but is probably the most popular, and deservedly so. If you only have a few days to spend on PEI, you could easily spend them all within the central section of the island and within the circle of Blue Heron Drive. As with the other two drives (Lady’s Slipper and King’s Byway, which I will discuss next week), it makes more sense to break the drive up into at least two days, stopping along the way to enjoy the points of interest.

Please read more about my adventure in Part 2.

Sally O’Neal Coates is a travel writer based in Washington State. She has written her weekly “Trailside with Sally O’Neal Coates” column for Sportsman’s Guide for four years. Her books include “Great Bike Rides in Eastern Washington and Oregon” from Wilderness Press. Her stay on Prince Edward Island was enhanced by wonderful lodgings at http://www.peiwaterfrontcottage.com .

 

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