Miles of sandy beaches (many of which are local secrets), green pastoral hills, and red sand cliffs combine on this 139-mile-long island on Canada’s eastern coast. A farming community at its heart, in recent years the country’s smallest province has been embraced by celebrity chefs who recognize the value of its agricultural bounty. Atlantic breezes mix with heavy meals to slow your usual pace. So much so that you may not realize until you’re home how still you’d become. “It’s a hard thing to understand if you haven’t come here,” says local hotelier and eighth-generation islander Rob Shaw. “To have a vacation and to go back home not feeling like you still need a vacation is a rare thing in other places, but not here.”
When to Go: July to October you’ll find water warm enough to swim in; September, celebrate the fall harvest at the Food Network chef-led Fall Flavours festival and the oysterpalooza that is the PEI International Shellfish Festival.
How to Get Around: Anything outside of the capital city of Charlottetown will require a car to explore. Designated coastal routes around the province will help you decide which way to go. Car rentals are available in Charlottetown and Summerside and at the Charlottetown airport.
Where to Stay: Built in 1931, the Rodd Charlottetown hotel maintains its historic railway hotel feel. A grand lobby, vaulted ceiling, and marble floors help preserve the old-world charm. Just outside Charlottetown, the oldest family-owned hotel in the country offers a more personal historical perspective. Shaw’s Hotel in Brackley Beach, established in 1860, borders the national park and has cottages where back doors open up onto 1.7 miles of sand dunes and beachfront.
Where to Eat or Drink: In 2012, Zagat named PEI the second best foodie getaway in the world. Test the theory at any of the spots on the culinary trail, including a stop at the island’s first artisan distillery, which still sells the area’s once-famed moonshine. Leaving the island without sampling a Mooey Gooey cone from Cow’s Creamery is a recipe for regret.
What to Buy: The sample-then-buy jams at the PEI Preserve Company. From a simple strawberry jam to the savory lemon, ginger, and amaretto marmalade, you’ll find plenty of reasons to pack a few for home. Collectible pieces ranging from jewelry to paintings can be found on the Arts and Heritage Trail.
What to Read or Watch Before You Go: The Anne of Green Gables series of classic books by Prince Edward Island native L.M. Montgomery; Anne of Green Gables (1986) and Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel (1987), Emmy Award-winning Canadian television productions based on the books and filmed entirely on location in PEI.
Fun Fact: Abegweit, the Mi’kmaq word for Prince Edward Island, often is interpreted as “land cradled on the waves.” The name’s a perfect fit since nowhere on the island is farther than ten miles from the ocean.
Heather Greenwood Davis is an award-winning travel writer for the Toronto Star, Canadian Family, Parents Canada, and O, The Oprah Magazine.