After the dense forests and rugged, misty coastlines of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND (PEI) is a real surprise, a land of rich, red earth, gently rolling farmland and neat villages of Victorian homes. Visit in the summer and it really does seems like a rustic oasis, little changed since local-born novelist Lucy Maud Montgomery described the island floating “on the waves of the blue gulf, a green seclusion and haunt of ancient peace”. Even today, Canada’s smallest province remains thoroughly agricultural, with Islanders remarkably successful in controlling the pace of change. Fish and lobsters are still sold off fishing boats, doors remain unlocked and everyone seems to know everyone else; laws ban large billboards and there are no freeways. The French settled what they called Île-St-Jean in the 1720s, but the British turned them out in the 1760s and renamed the island in 1799.
Charlottetown, the graceful capital, sits on the south coast, its tree-lined streets, wide range of accommodation and fine restaurants making it the best base for exploring the island. On the north coast, Prince Edward Island National Park is the island’s busiest tourist attraction, with kilometres of magnificent sandy beach and a bewildering number of sights associated with Anne of Green Gables. PEI also has a growing reputation for cuisine; the island is home to organic farms, fine oysters, mussels and artisan producers of all kinds, from potato vodka and gouda cheese, to ice cream and home-made pickles. It remains best known for the excellence of its lobsters, which are trapped during May and June and again in late August and September; the catch is kept fresh in salt-water tanks to supply the peak tourist season (this careful management is one of the reasons the lobster population is flourishing). Look out for posters advertising lobster suppers, inexpensive set meals served in several church and community halls during the lobster season.