“What happens on the lobster boat stays on the lobster boat.” Crustacean tough talk? Something about swimming with the fishes? No, the credo of ruddy Prince Edward Island lobstermen who police themselves and do unspoken things to those who exceed catch limits. They set a million traps every year and many of the lobsters end up on tables in PEI alongside a bounty of other seafood that was just swimming and legumes that were just in the ground. I devoted eight hours to eating one day!
I didn’t travel to Prince Edward Island expecting a gastronomical Xanadu, the plan being to play some golf, partake of the outdoors, and see for myself if in the Canadian Maritime Provinces, PEI is to Nova Scotia what Nantucket is to Martha’s Vineyard. Short answer: yes. It’s a quainter than quaint small and lightly populated island with beaches you have to yourself and water almost always in view.
Prince Edward Island may be the smallest province in Canada, but it is one of the great golf destinations in the world. There are nearly 30 courses available for play on the island, all located within a 90-minute drive of Charlottetown, the capital and focal point of the province. A few highlights include The Links at Crowbush Cove overlooking the north shore dunes. It was designed by Canadian architect Tom McBroom in 1993 and is always ranked as one of the best courses in North America. Dundarave, by award winning architects Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry, meanders along the tranquil Brudenell River through some of the most stunning beauty that PEI has to offer. And Green Gables, another gem that was designed originally in 1939 by world renowned Scottish architect Stanley Thompson, has everything a seaside course could want, including views of the famous sand dunes at Cavendish, Anne of Green Gables House, and wonderful ocean vistas.
Almost all of Prince Edward Island is farms. Visitors will see waves of bright yellow canola, the white flowers of blooming potato plants, and endless berry patches with their attendant roadside stands. It’s nice to be reminded what a real strawberry tastes like. As for spuds, the potato salad at the Red Door Oyster Co. is spectacular (also their coleslaw with seaweed and strawberry shortcake), and I had world class French fries at the Water Prince Corner Shop in Charlottetown. (Yes I keep coming back to the food but even intrepid golfers stop to eat, and how often do you get to rave about French fries).
If you are not seeing produce or cows, you are probably in one of the glorious parks abutting the Gulf of St. Lawrence. At Greenwich PEI National Park, I was greeted by majestic dunes, waterfowl and wild flowers, and I took more photographs than I’ve ever taken in one place. The sand is perfect. Equally magnificent is Cabot Beach Provincial Park with its iron-rich red cliffs and pristine beach.
But allow me to talk about food. I had one of the great meals of my life at celebrity chef Michael Smith’s Inn at Bay Fortune, a paradigm of farm to table cuisine with the exclamation point being the three happy resident pigs who eat all the leftovers. Everything is grown on-site, everything is cooked over wood (including the lettuce, but excluding the mint and pea shoot ice cream), and Mr. Smith doesn’t call it “The Feast” for nothing. Very very advance reservations are required.
Honorable mention to two more traditional eateries: Sims Corner Steakhouse for its divine fish chowder and Terre Rouge Bistro Marche for just about anything on the menu.
Prince Edward Island oozes romance, but it also fits the bill for a family vacation. Top Notch Charters took me and a bunch of youngsters out on a working fishing boat where Captain Mike not only regaled us with stories about catching 800 pound tuna, he introduced us to “Larry”, the very much alive 10 pound lobster. At Raspberry Point Oyster Co., I learned how it takes years to cultivate an oyster, and none are any fresher than on PEI.
A few notes: Everyone will enjoy kayaking in Rustico, and Outside Expeditions provides visitors with both equipment and an expert guide. Folks of all ages were enjoying a hands-on class of how to prepare a gourmet meal at the Table Culinary Studio in New London. And last but not least (and keeping with the theme), the ice cream at Cows is renowned and will satisfy even the most intense craving.
Prince Edward Island. Small island. Big memories.