Adventures on food island
Learn to dig for clams and shuck oysters, sample the world's best lobster and then work it all off with a beachside bike ride
There's an age-old appeal that islands, by their very nature, hold. Separation from the mainland brings a kind of tranquillity. In Prince Edward Island, there's the added bonus of a rich cuisine anchored in the abundance of fresh seafood and the lure of active coastal adventures. The combination makes for the ideal weekend getaway on Canada's food island.
The Rodd Charlottetown hotel serves as a good base camp for exploring the island, located within easy walking distance of most of the attractions of the city's downtown. I check in, drop my bags and head out. I'm on a seafood safari, and the first stop is the waterfront. That's where you'll find Dave's Lobster – a small "resto" that makes the best lobster rolls – In. The. World. – with a soft butter-toasted bun and a lightly dressed filling that must contain a whole lobster.
Post-lobster roll, I scope out the social scene at the Brickhouse and Marc's Lounge, just over on Sydney Street, which features live music and locally brewed beers such as Beach Chair Lager from PEI Brewing Co.
On the walk back to the Rodd, I can't resist stopping at Cows Creamery, voted the best ice cream shop in Canada. I recommend the Gooey Mooey.
Next day's breakfast is a flat white coffee and hash browns with PEI potatoes and fresh tomato jam at the Kettle Black on Queen Street. It's a cozy place, but I don't linger long. There's too much to do and see, and an appetite to work up. The Bookmark Inc, a reader-friendly independent book store requires some time. Historic Province House, the birthplace of Confederation, is closed for renovations at the moment, but I walk through the grounds and admire the grand neoclassical style.
Next door, at the Confederation Centre of the Arts, I am able to see recreations of some of the important rooms from Province House, and several important artifacts. The Confederation Centre Art Gallery's current exhibition, Gretzky is Everywhere, runs until Sept. 24 and shows a different side of No. 99. Who knew Andy Warhol had painted a portrait of our hockey legend?
I breeze through the bustling Saturday farmers' market to pick up some of local superstar Al Pickett's Eureka black garlic and a couple of jars of local jam. I think I've worked up an appetite for lunch. Convinced that there can't be too much seafood, I go for a lesson on shucking oysters and a chance to enjoy a variety of fresh PEI bivalves – Raspberry Point, Malpeque, Colville Bay – at Peakes Quay on the waterfront.
The restaurant does a pretty good lobster roll, too, and I am told by a local that there's another option. "If your lobster hunger is still on, you could trot over to the Water Prince Corner Shop to sample their lobster rolls." Next time.
After lunch brings a drive out to Greenwich in Prince Edward Island National Park, about a 45-minute trip (63 kilometres) to see the famous parabolic dunes and to hike along the floating boardwalk to Greenwich Beach, with its red sand, green marram grass and blue water.
Those who feel the need to work off more of that seafood can opt for an extra-active tour by renting hybrid bikes from MacQueen's Bike Shop & Island Tours on Queen Street. The return beach loop meanders 62 kilometres through rolling farmland, along the seacoast and past several lovely beaches.
Dinner back in Charlottetown is a casual affair at the Hopyard on Kent Street, a friendly, funky place dedicated to local craft beers and vintage vinyl. It's a short walk from there to The Guild for the requisite visit with the island's favourite girl, Anne (with an "e"). I watch an exceptional performance of Anne & Gilbert – so touching I am in tears at the end. The hard-nosed lawyer sitting next to me has to borrow my Kleenex.
Sunday is a deep dive into more seafood. In Georgetown Harbour, I meet handsome fisherman Perry Gotell, owner and captain of Tranquility Cove Adventures, who takes me out on a deep-sea fishing adventure, to catch mackerel – sadly, they aren't biting this day – and to haul up a lobster trap, a rock crab pot and a mussel sock.
I have to bypass the traditional lobster supper served with big bibs, pots of melted butter and platters of freshly steamed lobsters in New Glasgow. I have a date with some Belle River crab cakes at Local 343 back in Charlottetown, followed by a walk along the waterfront and a sunset cocktail on the rooftop patio at the Rodd.
Monday starts with a lazy coffee at Receiver Coffee Co. and a saunter along Victoria Row to take in the architecture and shops, and burn off some calories, before heading to the airport and home. Save time to pick up some lobsters to take home with you, maybe from the Water Prince Corner Shop, which will supply fresh or frozen lobsters. No need to face the pain of lobster withdrawal.
And that's a long weekend, done right, island style – seafood indulgence balanced with fresh Atlantic Ocean breezes, long walks and a bit of exercise.
As the locals say, "Go way with ya," which, paradoxically, translates as, "You don't say! Come closer and tell me more!"
If you go
Flights from Halifax to Charlottetown are short and frequent (a 35-minute flight, with three flights a day) and rental cars can be picked up at the airport.
If you have time and you like weirdness, walk along to Victoria Park to watch the crows – they stream in by the hundreds and hundreds to roost at sunset, a local phenomenon.
The Prince Edward Island International Shellfish Festival runs from Sept. 14-17 and includes chef demos, live culinary competitions and entertainment. And lobster.