I was probably the only adolescent girl who never read the “Anne of Green Gables” series, so when my husband and I scheduled a trip to Prince Edward Island, the capital of All Things Anne, I knew I’d better bone up.
I considered Cliffs Notes, but discovered the movie series, which encompasses most of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s books about the pigtailed, precocious pixie who won the hearts and minds of millions of readers.
I confess; I enjoyed the three turn-of-the-century films, which feature lovely vistas of Canada’s smallest province, and felt prepared for our September trip.
After visiting, I concluded that PEI has a love-hate relationship with Anne.
Between spring and autumn each year, she brings thousands of visitors and dollars, but when the first frost arrives and the last tourist leaves, I think there is a collective sigh of relief. For a few months, anyway, Islanders can forget about Anne of Green Gables dolls, books, dresses, stationery, jelly, chocolates, theme parks and straw hats with red-pigtail appendages etc. etc. etc.
But to visitors, I say go ahead; dive into Anne Country. It really is nothing less than delightful.
We arrived on PEI via the Confederation Bridge, which has a shockingly high toll — $42 per car — but thankfully you pay only when leaving. Canadians, however, feel it’s a deal. Before the bridge 8-mile bridge opened in 1997, (“the longest in the world over ice-covered water”), Islanders had only the ferry to carry them away for $68 per car.
We headquartered at Cavendish on the north shore and stayed at (what else?) the Shining Waters Country Inn & Cottages. It is a yellow Victorian with a wide covered porch, rimmed with utterly charming flower baskets that still bloomed. (We also could have stayed at the Anne Shirley Motel; Avonlea Cottages; Green Gables Bungalow Court; Windy Poplars; Bosom Buddies Cottages … well, you get the idea.)
Cavendish is Anne Central. Author Montgomery lived here for years and is buried across the street from Shining Waters. Just down the street in the other direction is the famed green-gabled home of her cousins, the inspiration for her book series. Now a National Historic Site, it buzzes with visitors, even in September, “but it’s not a crush,” one pigtailed docent told me.
We toured the lovely grounds and the fully furnished farm home, which closely resembles the movie set. We also walked a beautiful trail through the adjacent woods where autumn color was just making an appearance.
Two other Anne-related sites are a nearby post office/museum in what was a private home where Montgomery worked for a time for the postal service. It’s small museum contains a first edition of “Anne of Green Gables. You can also visit the site of the home where the author penned her books. The house is gone, but the grounds and gardens are worthy of photos.
In the All-Things-Not-Anne category, there is food and the scenery.
Being surrounded by water means lots of seafood in local restaurants. As you drive the island, signs beckon residents and visitors alike into weekly lobster feeds at local churches. Our schedule didn’t mesh with theirs, but we consumed a lot of other seafood — clams, haddock, salmon and mussels — sometimes in cozy restaurants sheltered from blustery winds and cacophonous rain. For a couple of Southern Californians, it was a real show.
Lighthouse hunters will want to drive east and west of Cavendish on the north shore where you’ll find beautiful coastline and a half-dozen lighthouses, all retired but well-preserved. The beaches are stunning, too, even if it’s too cold to swim.
We also drove south a few miles to New Glasgow, a scenic little burg that hugs an inlet of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It is home to the PEI Preserve Company, famous for gourmet jellies, jams, marmalades, coffees, mustards, maple syrup, honey and sauces. If you’re just window shopping, don’t miss the guys in kilts.
Nearby is the serene Gardens of Hope, replete with blossoms even in mid-September. We dodged the raindrops to enjoy the expansive grounds and view, and the sun made a few quick appearances just in time for photos.
E’Louise Ondash is a veteran, award-winning journalist who was an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist for the Times Advocate and the North County Times. She has written travel features for The Coast News since 2003.