Destination of the week: Prince Edward Island, Canada
Head to Canada's smallest province for lobster, bicycling and a certain house with green gables.
Mon, May 02, 2011 at 04:47 PM
Prince Edward Island is Canada's smallest province in terms of area, but it is one of the country's most prominent in terms of tourism and the environment. Many people are familiar with PEI as the setting for the “Anne of Green Gables” stories; written more than 100 years ago, they remain popular with school-age readers. Visitors to the province can find plenty of postcard-worthy scenes, from dunes and rugged coastline to grasslands and forests, all over the island. It also has a from-another-era charm that many visitors find attractive.
But the classic atmosphere is only part of the story. Prince Edward Island is progressive when it comes to conservation and renewable energy. Wind turbines are the island's main source of green power, and there are plans to increase the amount of renewable energy used on PEI from 15 percent to nearly 50 percent over the coming years. A series of provincial and national parks helps to keep the natural landscapes, the island's biggest asset, intact.
PEI's compact size, green ambitions and overall atmosphere make it a good eco-friendly vacation spot (even for non-“Green Gables” fans).
Because it is a small province, Prince Edward Island does not have a large public transportation network. It is possible to get around the main cities, such as Charlottetown, by bus. But to explore further afield, a car is necessary. PEI's tourism authorities promote “scenic drives” that pass through the most picturesque parts of the province. Green-minded travelers can either rent a low-emission vehicle (or bring their own) or wait for the summer so that they can comfortably bike around the island. The lengthy Confederation Trail stretches from one tip of the island to the other; it is the perfect option for pedaling sightseers. There are shorter “community” trails throughout the island as well. If cost and convenience are not issues, visitors may choose to go on guided horseback tours, offered by several stables in the province.
Fresh, locally caught seafood is the star of Prince Edward Island's eating scene. Lobster suppers are popular, and are especially fresh if eaten in restaurants in coastal fishing villages. This is as close to the source as you can get, with the shellfish often caught only a short distance from the shore. Family owned restaurants serve lobster suppers throughout the island, and some churches even hold regular lobster-centered events that are open to the public.
Vegetarians can eat well too, especially in Charlottetown. The reasonably priced Formosa Tea House, which has two locations in the city, has vegetarian options including several faux-meat dishes. It also has a large selection of teas and other beverages.
Another unique eating spot is Cafe Maplethorpe, an organic-centered eatery that is part of a bed-and-breakfast near the island's north coast. This modest venue offers organic eats and also hosts culinary-themed events including farm tours and chef-led master classes.
The Greenwich Dunes are one of the more remarkable natural areas on Prince Edward Island. The dunes stretch along the coastline and are protected as part of Prince Edward Island National Park. Aside from the unique landscape, the main attraction is the bird life. There are several dozen pairs of piping plovers, an internationally endangered shore bird that is known for its sandy color. The dunes also have important archeological sites, with some artifacts found over the past few decades dating to pre-Colombian times. PEI claims that more than 300 species of birds spend at least part of the year on the island, and bald eagles and blue herons are a common sight in the summer. Many of the birds are found in Prince Edward Island National Park. A long, floating boardwalk and miles of trails that run through diverse landscapes (including the dunes mentioned above) make this a convenient natural attraction. The park includes forests, wetlands, grassy meadows, beaches and farmlands in addition to the dunes.
Hikers and bikers will like the Confederation Trail, which runs from one end of the island to the other, with branches connecting major towns to the main trail. Bikers can embark on a multiple-day trip that passes through some of the island's most popular mainstream and natural attractions. Sections of the trail also have dedicated equestrian pathways for those who want to experience the island in the same manner as earlier inhabitants.
The shores of Prince Edward Island are a good place for seal watching, and several tour companies offer cruises that launch from inland rivers. Cruise Manada offers covered-boat tours, ideal for times when the weather is less than ideal. Saga Sailing Adventures has a wind-powered alternative for those who are more interested in getting on the water and less interested in seeing the wildlife. Wave Skills Sailing School, meanwhile, gives sailing novices an introduction to this eco-friendly water-sport. Both these sailing businesses are open only during the summer. Kayaking is another green and marine sightseeing option.
The island has 25 provincial parks, with a dozen of these offering camping. All of the parks give easy access to the natural attractions that make this one of Eastern Canada's most desirable vacation destinations. The landscapes and sizes of these protected areas vary, but most have interpretive programs during the warmer months. Naturalist-guided tours offer a more in-depth and informative look at area plants and animals.
The Green Gables house that inspired the internationally popular “Anne of Green Gables” books is open to the public and draws thousands of visitors each week during the summer. This is hardly a nature-centered vacation stop, but it is almost impossible to ignore given the amount of attention given by tourists and locals. In-depth, custom tours are available during the summer high season.
For visitors staying on the island for more than a few days, rentals are a good choice, from luxurious beach houses to modest cottages. They offer travelers a small-scale sleeping experience and control over the environmental impact of their vacation. Bed-and-breakfasts, usually family owned and operated, are another small-scale option.
There are hotels with the standard “green programs” throughout the island, especially in Charlottetown. Many of the hotels are housed in older buildings. The Rodd Charlottetown is a classic hotel in a historic building and has a rooftop garden. On the other end of the price spectrum is the HI Charlottetown, with its own version of classic décor and ambiance.
For those intent on seeking out the absolute lowest-impact sleeping spot, the island has many campgrounds. Most of these places are not crowded with RVs, making for a quieter, closer to nature experience.
Prince Edward Island deserves its reputation as a tourist hotspot for those seeking scenery and a sense of the past. However, Canada's smallest province is user-friendly for green-minded travelers and boasts plenty of chances to get off the tourist trail and closer to nature.
Related on MNN: Visit our other destinations of the week.