Million-Acre Farm (aka Prince Edward Island) Hosts Autumn Food Festivals
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
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
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
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
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.
With its pretty Victorian mansions, flower-filled gardens and tree-shaded squares, Charlottetown
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