Our real destination on this recent Canada trip was Prince Edward Island, a place that had always seemed so far away from home. Yet, we had family that had come from there, so we’d always wanted to see this“ gentle isle.”
Well, it was very far away. I didn’t add up the miles, but what I remember the most is not the miles, but the multitude of pine trees we passed. Those of you who have driven up in Canada will know what I mean. At least the pinal monotony leaves your memory quite soon.
We drove from New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island over the Confederation Bridge, (new in 1997) through the fog of the Northumberland Strait, and there it was – just as I expected: square green fields, hay colored oblongs, geometric shapes bordered by dark pointed firs, and then neatly painted white and yellow houses, some with red roofs, surrounded by wildly colored flower gardens, rolling hills, and miles and miles of red dirt roads.
The gigantic Visitors’ Center at the end of the bridge was a turnoff! It seemed they had taken every possible cliché of this storied island and put it all together in a Disneyland setting. It really had everything! – everything you don’t want, (at least not just then,) including a liquor store. In truth, there was a lot of good information to be gotten, so we passed by the shopping center part and forgave the island fathers for trying to keep the economy going.
It doesn’t take long to drive anywhere on PEI, so we got to our destination fairly quickly. We were staying on the north shore at Dalvay, a storied Canadian inn, formerly the mansion of a wealthy family.
We were staying in a two-bedroom cottage on the grounds, a fairly new, well-appointed little house, facing the freshwater lake on the premises. Dalvay is very close to the sea, to the dunes and a wide empty beach. Wide empty beaches are a staple of PEI, and one of the big draws. I was surprised to see swimmer off to the beach. I inquired and learned that there is some kind of current here that is supposed to make the waters warmer. I did not test this theory.
One of the things which made a great impression on me is the “green” nature of this resort and of just about everything that is now being built in or near PEI. These fragile lands are way ahead of us.
Because our first day was a bit overcast, we decided to head for Charlottetown, the biggest city on PEI. On the way, we stopped at The Dunes, expecting the usual large gift/craft shop idiom. But Luke, the bellboy at Dalvay, touted it so much, that we thought we owed it to him to have a look. We were very surprised at the quality of the paintings, furniture, clothing, and even the restaurant. Definitely a cut above! I’ve not seen the like of this quality in any gift shops I can remember. (Even the husbands got in to it) The restaurant menu and the place settings (each one different, and very imaginative) were very enticing, and they faced a most unusual garden, complete with interesting Oriental statuary. Above it all, on the third floor, was a balcony with a staggering view over the flat marshes to the dunes and the sea beyond.
Once in Charlottetown, we found Confederation Center without much trouble. It covers a whole city block – with a complete underground public area that includes a restaurant and a gift shop, in addition to convention like space. This again is one of those ubiquitous spaces found in Canada, where we all know what the winters are like. In these centers, one can drive in, park underground, and spend a very pleasant day in the museum, the library, be entertained, and dine, without ever going out of doors.
At the museum upstairs, there was an exhibit of the work of Charles Comfort, clearly a major Canadian artist, and clearly one we should all know about. His landscapes spanned all of Canada, but especially the Maritime Provinces. His works in World War II, during which he was the official painter of the Canadian government, are engagingly haunting and beautifully evocative.
The absolute best thing we found in Charlottetown was a restaurant called Flex Mussels. Set in a little white house on Peake’s Quay, and very sophisticated; here is a place where you can have mussels thirteen ways, (or was it seventeen?) We figured we’d have to have several lunches to try them all!! I tried the Citron (lemon and vodka) mussels; others tried the Traditional, the Provencal, and the Bombay. The Bombay won out, hands down, due to the mild but delicious curry flavor. Who knew? The frites were excellent, almost as good as those of Herve at Les Baux.
We had a nice walk around town after enjoying the mussels, the frites and an elegant Sauvignon blanc from Chile. Among the charming sights was a wedding at the local cathedral, with a huge crowd of guests and onlookers.
We drove around the island looking at the bucolic views and sampled a few lighthouses for which PEI is famous, stopping for photo ops at Point Prim.
Back at Dalvay, we realized we were really at the end of the season. (The last High Tea is served there on September 1, and the first fire in the giant fireplace in the lounge is on September 1.)
Our other excellent meal was enjoyed at a place in Rustico called DayBoat, which has recently been named as the third best restaurant in Canada. We loved the food and Tony, the waiter from Quebec. Among the dishes we sampled were: scallop and mussel chowder, Malpeque oysters, cioppino, and a napoleon composed of smoked salmon, lobster, mango, avocado and shrimp salad. It was a masterful combination of delightful tastes. It got my vote for the most memorable meal.
We skipped the whole Anne of Green Gables thing, as it is too touristy, but is a must for families with young teenaged girls, and would probably have been fun if we had some of them on our trip.
It was a gentle experience on the gentle isle, away from the tourist destinations – a wrinkle in time.