Last week, I extolled the virtues (and a few of the vices) of Canada’s “Garden of the Gulf,” Prince Edward Island (PEI). Touring PEI by automobile in the month of June is a sublime pleasure: early enough to avoid the summer crowds, yet warm and sunny enough for shirtsleeves. Best of all, it’s the time of year when colorful fields of lupine and other wildflowers line the roads and byways.
Author enjoys the warm waters off a sandy northshore beach.
PEI lies off the eastern coast of continental Canada. Its tourism bureau has conveniently divided the island into six touring regions and three scenic drives, each of which encompasses two of the touring regions. Last week, I discussed the shortest and most popular drive, Blue Heron, which encircles the central part of the island, including Anne’s Land, the northcentral touring region, and Charlotte’s Shore, the southcentral region. This week, I’ll describe some of the features of the other two scenic drives and their respective touring regions.
Lady’s Slipper: Oysters And History
To the west of Blue Heron Scenic Drive is Lady’s Slipper Scenic Drive. Where the former is named for a bird likely to be seen along the way, the latter takes its name from the delicate pink orchid that grows wild here. Where Blue Heron is more of a circle, 287-kilometers (178 miles), Lady’s Slipper is more of a figure eight. One lobe encircles the touring region known as Ship to Shore (immediately west of the central regions) and the other lobe encircles Sunsets to Seascapes, the island’s westernmost touring region. It makes sense to divide the drive into two days, taking one “lobe” at a time.
Storybook vistas like these are commonplace in pastoral PEI.
The area known as Ship to Shore includes the town of Summerside, the island’s second largest community at about 15,000 residents. Visit shops and art galleries, take a walking tour of historic homes, or rent a bicycle and take a spin on the Confederation Trail. As you leave Summerside and travel north, you will pass through areas with a strong Acadian heritage. This is a special year for Acadians, or any Canadians of French descent, for 2004 marks the 400th anniversary of the French coming to Canada. To learn about this culture, check out The Acadian Museum in Miscouche. History buffs who want to learn about other aspects of the island will also appreciate the Shipbuilding Museum in Port Hill and the native Canadian perspectives offered at the Mi’kmaq Centre on Lennox Island. On the north side of the Ship to Shore region, Malpeque Bay is the source of some of the world’s sweetest oysters; make it a point to try some.
On another day, get really rural and tour the westernmost part of the island, Sunsets to Seascapes. Most casual visitors don’t make it this far, but you’ll be rewarded for your journey. Tourist magnets include the (I kid you not) Potato Museum at O’Leary, the cultural center and St. Jude’s Church at Tignish, and a number of craft shops. But the real reason to come this far west is the scenery. PEI’s red-rock cliffs and seascapes are at their best here. Bring or rent a kayak and get intimate with the sunset side of the island.
King’s Byway: Ocean Access And Open Spaces
The longest drive of all, King’s Byway traces a 367-kilometer (228 miles) route around the rugged eastern end of the island. It encircles the touring regions known as Hills and Harbours and Bays and Dunes.
Scenic harbors dot the PEI coastline.
Visitors arriving by ferry from Nova Scotia land on the southern side of the Hills and Harbours region at the town of Woods Island. Driving north, towns worth visiting include Montague, with its scenic waterfront and seal-watching tours, and Georgetown, with its walkable streets and heritage homes. The region’s Scottish heritage is evident in towns such as Culloden, Iona, and Uigg. Keep your ears open for the sounds of bagpipes! Many small towns have summer entertainment at their churches or other meeting halls, and many harbor communities offer on-the-water tours and activities of various types.
North of Hills and Harbours lies the touring region of Bays and Dunes, where the name pretty much sums it up. The bays are given to commercial fishing, and the dunes separate the scattered small coastal communities. The town of Souris is the main commercial center on the northeast part of the island, offering fishing charters and the ferry service to the Iles-de-la-Madeleine. Leg-stretching opportunities in this region include the railway museum at Elmira, the lighthouse at East Point, and the ecological interpretive center at Greenwich. My personal favorite stop is the restaurant at Mount Stewart. Situated on the Confederation Trail (which stretches tip-to-tip across the entire island), the humble little restaurant caters to bicyclists and the active crowd. Its clam chowder is out of this world, and I would personally vouch for any dessert on the menu.
With three great scenic drives (each worthy of at least two days) and six distinct touring regions, it’s easy to spend a full week on PEI, if not two. Bikes and/or kayaks add a great deal to one’s touring experience here, but both are easily rented if you don’t want to haul your own. Venture out and away from the two or three tourist magnets and you’ll find a friendly, rural, scenic garden island waiting to be “discovered.”
Sally O’Neal Coates is a travel writer who lives and writes in Washington State. Her stay on Prince Edward Island was enhanced by wonderful lodgings at http://www.peiwaterfrontcottage.com. She writes weekly for sportsmansguide.com.