A drive along the North Cape Coastal Drive lets travellers enjoy local culture, cuisine and maybe an invite to a Celtic kitchen party.
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Prince Edward Island is synonymous with bustling summer beaches, backed by red sandstone cliffs and a spunky, pig-tailed orphan named Anne who charms the crowds that pass through the gates at Green Gables.
Head to the west of this island province and you’ll experience a less-travelled, slower-paced route that is a nostalgic poke into the past, where friendly folks have time to stop and chat, and you might just trip across a lively Celtic-flavoured kitchen party, or ceilidh.
The North Cape Coastal Drive is a tranquil, traditional yet quirky route where the clock rolls back as you travel along its 300 km (186 mi). Start on the south shore with the old-world style of Summerside, the province’s second-largest city after Charlottetown, where you can stroll along a seaside boardwalk and see local treasures at the Eptek Art and Culture Centre. Summerside is also the site of the College of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts of Canada, whose bagpipers stoke the annual June Highland Storm that celebrates all things Celtic.
Follow a route of lobster rolls and strawberry socials along the Canadian Oyster Coast, where Malpeque Bay’s waters are sprinkled with fluorescent fishers’ floats. Tiny Tyne Valley is the epicentre of PEI’s legendary oysters, declared the world’s best at the 1900 Paris Exhibition. It’s a laid-back outpost until the national oyster-shucking competition comes to town in summer as part of the Valley Oyster Festival, stomping to the beat of Rock the Boat Music Fest. Join fishers “tonging” for oysters—harvesting as they did a century ago—or go lobster fishing with a local guide.
Carry on past rocky seashores where lobster traps are stacked alongside red shingle barns and sturdy draft horses drag rakes along beaches to harvest the edible seaweed delivered by storm surges. Then curve towards the south and tick off sleeping in a real lighthouse from your bucket list with a night at the West Point Lighthouse Inn.
Be sure to tune into Spud 102 FM radio on your way inland to O’Leary, capital of PEI’s famous potatoes, where the annual Miss PEI Potato Blossom pageant has been crowning local beauties for almost half a century. Strike a pose with the giant spud in front of the Canadian Potato Museum, then head down the road to the basement of the O’Leary Pharmacy for a look at a fine quilt gallery. Throughout the length of this coastal drive it’s possible to drop in and meet talented weavers, sculptors, basket makers, potters and folk artists in their homes or studios.
The final, southernmost, stretch of the North Cape Coastal Drive passes though the La Région Évangéline—PEI with a French accent. Home to Acadians descended from 18th-century French settlers, their brightly painted homes lead to the cultural hotspot of Abram-Village, where traditional lobster suppers can be savoured at the Centre Expo-Festival. Learn to cook Acadian dishes, check out the weaving and crafts, or step- dance to the rhythm of fiery fiddles that will have you tapping your toes all the way back to Summerside.
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