Prince Edward Island, a storybook setting for romance Provincial Charm

March 26, 1995|By Carolyn Spencer Brown | Carolyn Spencer Brown,Special to The Sun

Prince Edward Island's pristine beaches, private coves, rolling green farmland and dense forests have made it a romantic haven for lovers from all over the world. The charm of Canada's smallest province, off the coasts of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia by the Gulf of St. Lawrence, is that it's still a land of fisherman and craftsmen, and of farmers and artists. Its villages are intact, as are its lighthouses, lonely country churches and sandy beaches.

Yet strangely enough, Prince Edward Island's tremendous appeal in the last 10 years as a romantic tourist destination has been credited to Anne of Green Gables, a spunky, red-haired fictional character created nearly 100 years ago by island author Lucy Maud Montgomery. Despite her youth, Anne's romantic nature, and her author's keen talent for describing the island's pastoral scenery, helped create awareness of PEI. The Anne of Green Gables series of books has sold millions of copies throughout the world, but it was a 1985 television version that captured the hearts and imaginations of lovers everywhere, from Japan and New Zealand to the United States and Canada. Tourism is now a major industry of PEI; fishing and farming are the others. The island may have just 130,000 residents, but it receives more than 700,000 visitors each year, mainly in the months of May through October.

Whether you are an Anne of Green Gables fan or not, part of the appeal of this island, which is just 40 miles wide at its widest point, is that many places look much as they did during the late 19th century.

One such place is the area around West Point Lighthouse. Perched on the edge of Egmont Bay in the Northumberland Strait, the 1875 lighthouse is in a remote, southwestern corner of the island. It's a place where the most strenuous activities are strolling on the beach, searching for multicolored shells or venturing down remote red dirt roads in search of private beaches.

'Country feeling'

"We considered Europe and the Bahamas for our honeymoon, but we liked the country feeling of Prince Edward Island," says Anita Burns, of St. Catherine, near Toronto. "Here, it really is like stepping into a time machine." Mrs. Burns and her husband, Michael, spent their honeymoon at the West Point Lighthouse, the only inn in a functioning lighthouse in Canada. It was transformed by Carol Livingstone, whose grandfather, "Lighthouse Willy," was the first keeper. Ms. Livingstone created high-ceilinged, canopy-draped honeymoon suites out of the original lighthouse, quirky rooms that incorporate some of the original rough edges.

Ms. Livingstone's lighthouse has an attraction that few standard honeymoon hotels can match: the Tower Room. The room, five stories high, boasts a round, glass-enclosed walkway with a 180-degree view of the coast and farmlands. At sunset, Ms. Livingstone says, this private spot "is the best place for kissing."

Across the island, PEI's east coast is a bit less remote. Murray Harbour offers gift and craft shops, but boating expeditions to see local flora, fauna and harbor seals are equally popular there.

Farther north, the village of Souris' contribution to romance is Matthew House, a Victorian bed-and-breakfast inn. What appeals to visitors in this far-off nook of Prince Edward Island, says Emma Cappelluzzo, the inn's co-owner, is "great beaches and a little privacy."

For the uninitiated, Ms. Cappelluzzo is quick to reveal her favorite romantic spot, the secluded Bothwell Beach. You won't find it on a map, but she's happy to give directions (take Route 2 past Souris. Look for a dirt road just before the Esso station. Follow the road to the beach).

Turning down Ms. Cappelluzzo's dirt road is like entering paradise. The gas station disappears quickly as you meander through flowering potato fields and a pine forest. Over a rise in the road, the Gulf of St. Lawrence sparkles in the sun. Grass-topped sand dunes shield the beach from the fields and forest.

It's so isolated that even in August, prime summer season in Prince Edward Island, there's not a soul on Bothwell Beach. There are also no parking lots (just leave the car wherever you want), admission fees or refreshment stands.

Of course, if crowds are your idea of romance, you can take advantage of PEI's north end, known as "The Land of Anne." Many of the monuments to Anne, such as the Green Gables Museum, a home that Miss Montgomery used as the character's first home, is on the north end.

Lines wait

The Green Gables Museum is PEI's single most popular attraction, drawing more than 350,000 visitors last year. It's so popular that lines of people waiting to visit the first floor of the house stretch around corners, and tour buses clog the parking lot. The adjacent gift shop offers a variety of wonders from bottles of the island's signature red soil to Green Gables toaster covers.

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