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Lighthouses, beaches and tasty spirits: a day on Prince Edward Island

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PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND – I love it. The first (well maybe not, but close enough) road sign I see on my first trip here in 16 years gives me the distance to the nearest town. Below that is a blue and white saying with an arrow pointing north and the words “Liquor Store, 13 km.”
Now THAT’s what I call a good tourism concept.
In all seriousness, I had a great first day on the island. I got an 8 a.m. ferry with Northumberland Ferries Ltd. and was heading to Montague, PEI by 9:45 or so.
It was windy as heck but probably 21 degrees on the day, so no real worries unless you wanted to be at the beach or on the golf course, either of which would be my choice assignment if given my druthers.
After checking out the lonely (and closed) Cape Bear lighthouse, I trundled up some quiet roads (they all are) to the town of Montague. There’s a cute main street with a small building on one side that has signs for Laurie’s Beauty Shop and Chester’s barber shop.
Montague sits on a river that empties into the sea, as do many other towns in this province that’s small as provinces but quite large as far as islands go. I don’t know for a fact but I suspect that after driving around a bit on my first day that it would take a good three to four hours to drive from the furthest west point of the island to the furthest east.
Anyway, they’ve got a tidy, pretty park along the Montague riverfront, complete with a poster/information board that talks about how they have a full 1,900 people in a town that’s “the hub of King’s County.” I love that sense of small town pride, I really do.
It’s very un-Canadian, but the bottom of the sign also says “Montague the Beautiful.” I love that, too. And they happen to be right.
I stopped for lunch in the town of Souris, which is pronounced Soarie and is where the ferries leave for the Ile de Madeleine. It’s a French-speaking part of the island but folks speak English, of course. At the recommendation of a new friend at the Inn at Bay Fortune, I went to 21 Breakwater for lunch.
It’s a pretty spot with a nice veranda and good views of the harbour. I ate inside due to the wind but had very tasty frites and local fish done Portuguese style, which in this case means only ever-so-slightly breaded. Very nice.
I asked my waitress is she thought I should drive out to East Point, where I’d heard there was a pretty lighthouse. I think she was 16 or maybe 18 but she looked at me and said, “I’ve never been out that far.”IMG_3680
It was only 25 minutes or so, but maybe she’s from somewhere else. It didn’t matter as I had a splendid time climbing the 67 steps to the top of the lighthouse and enjoyed excellent views of the island’s famous red rock coast. It’s a good 50-km away but I was able to see the outline of the hills of Cape Breton off to the east.
Along the way I stopped in at Basin Head beach, which is a long stretch of beautiful sand with a small playground and a lagoon and change rooms. It’s one of the best on the island but the wind made it tough so I didn’t stay long. I thought I’d pop into the little museum on site but it’s closed on Saturday in September. Odd.
I also popped into Campbell’s Cove, which bills itself as the Tuna capital of the world. A local skipper told me his clients that day had reeled in a couple of tuna weighing 1,000 pounds.
The currents and tides and ocean conditions are perfect for tuna in these parts, apparently. I was told the fatty stuff goes right to Japan, where they love it. The lean tuna goes to the U.S.
None of it, or hardly any, stays in Canada, the skipper told me. And, no, he hasn’t a clue why.
Just down the road a bit is Prince Edward Distillery, which sprang up a few years back and makes vodka from potatoes just like they do in Eastern Europe.
IMG_1101A pair of American women started the business and have now won awards for their blueberry vodka (made with grain, not potatoes) and other products, including a very crisp gin I bought to take home.
Worker Loretta Campbell, who bills herself a spirits ambassador, showed me the still and explained the workings of the place and how things are made.
Neither of the owners had a background in spirits but they figured that with all the potatoes around they could try potato vodka. I wasn’t thrilled with it but apparently it’s quite good with the right garnishes and makes a killer Caesar.
The blueberry vodka has only the faintest blueberry taste to it and is quite clean and refreshing. The gin has a great juniper kick and also tastes of eight or nine other secret spices they use to make the stuff.
They also have a rye with 99 per cent rye grain, a Bourbon-like whisky that they can’t call Bourbon because they’re not in Kentucky, and a new rum that was pretty tasty.
The two woman also own the Johnson Shore inn across the road, which is a beautiful, quiet spot right on the water with lovely views.IMG_1106
Oh, and if you were wondering, it takes 18 pounds of potatoes to make a bottle of potato vodka. And, in case you wondered about this, too, you do NOT have to peel the potatoes before the distillation process, something the owners found out only after peeling a few million tubers during their first go-round.
It’s $10 for a tasting and a tour, and well worth it.
I had just enough time to make it to Greenwich after that to see the beach. The wind had died down by then and there were some German tourists frolicking on the sand, so I took the liberty of snapping a few photos and enjoyed the view from the observation tower on site.
IMG_1130It’s a fabulous beach; long and inviting and soft.
On the way back to my hotel, the oh-so-fabulous Inn at Bay Fortune, I kept spotting homes with large boats on front or off to one side. I was thinking, “they probably use them but I bet some folks just like to show off their boats.”
I was later told at dinner that most folks fish for lobster in May and June and then put the boats up on their land for cleaning and maintenance. “But, yeah, some probably like to show off,” my waitress said with a smile.
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