Travel

Million-Acre Farm (aka Prince Edward Island) Hosts Autumn Food Festivals

Saturday Aug 25, 2012
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PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND, Atlantic Canada - A bucolic isle in Atlantic Canada, Prince Edward Island is renowned for its mussels and oysters and is called the tuna fishing capital of the world. With its red earth and gentle rolling hills, the province is also referred to as the "million-acre farm," and its potatoes (a third of Canada’s production) and beef are much in demand.

As these islanders like to eat "straight from the farmer’s field and seafood still wiggling in the nets," visitors will find PEI is fast becoming a serious food destination. They can choose among some 80 hands-on experiences where local food and produce become the "heroes," such as tonging for oysters, harvesting Irish Moss or catch and release tuna fishing. To "live like islanders," visitors can dig for clams, pick potatoes or catch and cook lobsters right on the boat.

One of the best times for foodies to visit is September when PEI hosts two popular food festivals. The month-long Fall Flavours Festival features some 250 events - this year with seven of Canada’s "top celebrity chefs" including PEI’s own Chef Michael Smith. The 17th annual PEI International Shellfish Festival (September 13-16) offers chowder competitions and oyster shucking along with plenty of music and dance. And to work off that delicious food, visitors might opt for heading to the beach. PEI boasts 500 miles of coastline with 90 sandy beaches and the warmest water north of the Carolinas.

PEI has five regions - each with its own distinctive character and culture - and the best way to explore them is to follow one of five coastal drives which showcase each region’s food, architectural heritage, cultural festivals and experiences, coastal and pastoral vistas, performing arts and art galleries, craft shops and artisan studios.

North Cape Coastal Drive

Starting in Summerside and encompassing the westernmost part of the island, visitors following the North Cape Coastal Drive will experience PEI’s rich Celtic and Acadian roots and hear the sounds of bagpipes and fiddles when they join in the kitchen parties and ceilidhs that occur throughout the season. Also called the "Canadian Oyster Coast, this is a sea-centric drive that leads to beaches like the red sand dunes of Skinners Pond, charming harbors such as Maximeville with its colorful Acadian fishing boats and seaside restaurants brimming with local bivalves. Throughout the summer, there are festivals celebrating the lobster, clam, oyster, potato blossom, blueberry and apple and in September, there’s PEI’s Atlantic Signature Beef to taste at Summerside’s Beef n’ Blues.


If visitors can tear themselves away from one of the North Cape’s 17 beaches, they can hike the Baywalk Coastal Trail; explore museums dedicated to the potato (in O’Leary), shipbuilding (in Port Hill), Irish Moss (in Miminegash) and the Acadians (in Miscouche) and see twelve lighthouses standing guard on the coast. Visitors can even spend the night at the only working one in Canada that accepts guests, the West Point Lighthouse. On Wednesdays through August, there are concerts - and homemade ice cream - at the Wyatt Heritage Properties’ Garden in Summerside. And for hands-on culinary fun, foodies can make potato fudge at the Potato Museum or try harvesting Irish Moss, and then enjoy a piece of seaweed pie.

Green Gables Shore

Between PEI’s dune-lined north coast and the red sand cliffs to the south, lies the charming pastoral landscape of Green Gables Shore . Visitors can spend several days enjoying the attractions in "Anne’s Land." Charming Cavendish is home to the green-and-white farmhouse and gardens of Green Gables where Montgomery lived as well as the Haunted Wood and Balsam Hollow walking trails.

In Avonlea, characters from the novel mingle with visitors in this storybook village amid heritage buildings, living history museums and the flowering Avonlea Gardens. Here, visitors can enjoy kitchen parties, horse and wagon rides and pig races while sampling homemade chocolate, the island’s famous Cows ice cream and for adults, raspberry cordial. Other highlights include: the Anne of Green Gables Museum in Park Corner and the Bideford Parsonage Museum.

At the PEI National Park, beach goers can relax on one of seven supervised stretches of sand including Cavendish Beach, Dalvay and Stanhope, while cyclists can follow the 11-mile Gulf Shore Way. Off North Rustico, more adventurous types will want to kayak or canoe. And wave conditions in PEI make it an up-and-coming stop on the kite-boarding circuit. Renowned for its lobster suppers, arguably PEI’s oldest and finest are at New Glasgow and Fisherman’s Wharf.

For deep sea fishing fans, there are 12 expert outfitters. Tonging for oysters is something that needs practice, Erskine and Brian Lewis will show you how on their "Tong and Shuck" experience. Through September 30, there are ceilidhs in Kensington, step dancing in Stanley Bridge and the Indian River Festival’s series of jazz, choral and maritime music concerts in the magnificent St. Mary’s Church. And at intermission, fresh oysters and wine are served. Art lovers can tour galleries and artists’ studios and later, attend an evening performance at Harmony House or the Montgomery Theatre.

Red Sands Shore

Crossing the eight-mile-long Confederation Bridge, visitors are immediately greeted by a distinctive landscape with high red cliffs, distinctive red soil and red sandy beaches. Welcome to Red Sands Shore part of the Central Coastal Drive. This is a perfect region to take a road less traveled - many of them date from the 1800s. The Tryon Museum boasts a 10,600 year-old Paleo-Indian artifact. L.M. Montgomery taught at the recreated Lower Bedeque School in 1897.

Active travelers will find trails for cycling and mountain biking at Brookvale Provincial Park and some of the island’s most scenic kayaking. Other attractions include: Fort Amherst, the island’s first settlement; one of PEI’s oldest lighthouses and a one-room schoolhouse. On Sundays there are ceilidhs at New Dominion. The historic fishing village of Victoria-by-the-Sea has been revitalized and is now home to galleries, artists’ studios, a theatre, even a chocolate factory. Visitors can buy halibut right off the wharf and later, catch a performance such as, "On Golden Pond" at the Victoria Playhouse Festival, now it its 30th year.


Points East Coastal Drive

One of the highlights of the Points East Coastal Drive is the Greenwich - PEI National Park and its spectacular parabolic dunes that rise above a floating boardwalk part of an extensive trail system. Another 12 provincial parks are scattered about this region. The region’s 32 sandy beaches are never crowded and the 170-mile long Confederation Trail cuts through some of the prettiest parts of the Points East area. Visitors will feel transported to the 1700s at Roma at Three Rivers. Back in 1723, Jean Pierre Roma controlled the fisheries, traded internationally and built PEI’s first roads. Today, bread is baked here daily and a heritage lunch is served. Tours of the colonial garden explain which herbs and vegetables these settlers planted. At the Selkirk Settlement, visitors experience how 800 Scottish settlers lived back in 1803 with a replica of a croft house. Farm life in the 1890s is presented at the Orwell Corner Historic Village along with ice cream making.

And there are museums dedicated to the island’s railway and its fisheries. The Points East Drive has five of the province’s seven lighthouses open to the public, all dating from the 1800s, and there are two wineries and two distilleries - one making legal moonshine. Every week in the summer, there’s toe-tapping Celtic music at Orwell Corner and Monticello, while the 1874 St. Peters Bay Court House Theatre and the Kings Playhouse (in a replica of an 1897 town hall) present plays, concerts and story-telling shows. The eastern part of the island offers plenty of hands-on experiences. Four outfitters will take fishermen out for tuna. If you go out with the Happy Clammers, the Gillis family teaches you how to dig for clams and then steams them up, plus serves a delicious clam chowder as well. Perry Gottel, a third- generation lobsterman, will lead visitors on an "all you can eat lobster" adventure.

Charlottetown

With its pretty Victorian mansions, flower-filled gardens and tree-shaded squares, Charlottetown is a lovely place to begin or end a stay. Here in "Canada’s birthplace," visitors can take a walking tour with period costumed guides, go to the races or sail off on a cruise. After exploring the quaint boutiques, art galleries and craft shops along Victoria Row, they can sample PEI’s famed mussels with a glass of beer from Gahan’s, PEI’s only microbrewery. The country comes to the city every Wednesday and Saturday through October at the Farmer’s Market. Charlottetown offers a wealth of dining options from Lobster on the Wharf to cutting-edge cuisine at Lot 30 and Daniel Brenan Brickhouse.

Of course, the island’s shellfish takes center stage at The Claddagh Oyster House and Fishbones Oyster Bar & Seafood Grill. Food lovers can visit Cows Creamery to see how its award-winning cheeses and ice creams are made or sign up for Culinary Boot Camp at PEI’s Culinary Institute of Canada. At night, Charlottetown turns into one big concert stage. Celtic bands kick up their heels and local singers belt out folk songs in the pubs and lounges. At the Confederation Centre of the Arts, there are concerts, comedy acts and Anne of Green Gables - The Musical™, Canada’s longest running musical.

PEI has retained much of its charm since Lucy Maud Montgomery first wrote about her red-haired orphan more than a century ago. Winding country roads still lead through small farming communities to quaint fishing harbors and long sandy beaches.

The 170-mile-long Confederation Trail now provides hikers, cyclists and runners with a beautiful route through picturesque seascapes. Known as Canada’s top golf destination, the island has sixteen 18-hole courses. Visitors can also kayak along its picturesque coast from inn to charming inn.

For more information, go to www.tourismpei.com (1-800-463-4PEI).


This article is part of our "Winter 2013" series. Want to read more? Here's the full list»

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