PEI on a Whim

This story appeared on everythingzoomer.com last summer and has been updated to include a video of culinary superstar, Chef Michael Smith, explaining the concept of his interactive dining experience, FireWorks, held nightly at his 5-star country inn. The Inn at Bay Fortune recently opened for its second season and is one of the many reasons you simply have to visit PEI.

If you had told me earlier this summer that I’d be visiting Prince Edward Island (never mind hanging out with islander Chef Michael Smith) I would have told you no way, my intentions were to stay close to home. But when the opportunity for a PEI junket arose, I felt a sudden yearning to escape the city and take in the wind and the sea. I threw a few things in my carry-on and was off.

According to Charlottetown psychologist, Dr. Christine Beck, spontaneous travel can be a good thing. “The idea of traveling on a whim can mean you are following your heart, listening to your internal need for fun and relaxation. It could mean moving into your parasympathetic nervous system.”

By this, Beck is referring to the rest-and-digest state most people don’t spend enough time in. Regrettably, we more often operate in a sympathetic state, the fight-or-flight mode that takes over when we are problem solving, which includes planning a big trip. “Sometimes you are so busy planning your pre-frontal cortex is in overdrive and you miss the actual experience,” she says.

These days, spur-of-the-moment travel is relatively easy. With a few taps of my smartphone app, Booking Now, developed by Booking.com, I was instantly delivered a list of accommodation suggestions based on my personal preferences. My choice, Charlottetown’s Holman Grand, turned out to be a lovely place to hang my sunhat, but I have to admit I spent most of my time out-and-about, exploring the island in my rental Jeep.

Happily, it’s hard to get lost on PEI as almost all roads lead to the ocean. In no time, I went from carefully following a map, to simply glancing at my route and then heading out. My daily road-trips were pleasurable and stress-free. With classic-rock tunes cranked, I steered with one hand and sang into my microphone fist, the other. Do you … YOU! … feel like I do?

Food-wise, I encountered no wrong-turns as I gobbled up the namesake delights of the many eateries that dot the coastline from Rick’s Fish ‘n Chips in St. Peter’s Bay to The Blue Mussel Café located in North Rustico Harbour to Malpeque Oyster Barn in Malpeque Harbour.

The highlight, however, was a 4-hour feast, offered nightly at Chef Michael Smith’s recently acquired Inn at Bay Fortune. Here, the inn’s guests, tourists and locals sit down together at long tables to enjoy a communal meal. Michael graciously gave me a tour of his property enthusing about his farm-fire-feast concept.

“We grow all of our own vegetables here, we have over 200 different things in the ground. Tonight’s house salad alone will feature 40-plus of them.” The culinary superstar went on to explain that “every type of live fire known to man” is used from a smokehouse to a hearth to a wood-burning oven. The feast, he said, is all about connecting with friends, but also with folks you don’t know.

Sure enough, as we all made our way through dish after dazzling dish, laughter and lively conversation filled the air.

Interesting, on an island with less than 150,000 inhabitants, I ran into several entrepreneurs. Moonshine-maker, Ken Mill, co-owner of Myriad View Distillery, explained that because PEI experienced Canada’s longest period of Prohibition (1901to 1948), pretty much everyone has someone in their family who knows how to make moonshine. “We just figured out a way to make it legal,” he laughed.

Steve Arnold, co-owner of Around the Sea, operates to his knowledge, the only rotating inn in the world.  Guests who stay in one of his four suites are treated to an ever-changing view, including staggering beach vistas.

Although the island beckons lazy days at a red-sand shore, everywhere I went I spotted joggers and cyclists, paddlers and adventurists. One morning I took a 90-minute hike along a trail at Greenwich PEI National Park, which is famous for its rare and fragile parabolic dunes. The next day, having taken up kiteboarding this summer, I spent a few hours with David Macneill, instructor and owner of PEI Kiteboarding. Despite, what in my limited experience was a very strong wind, he patiently helped me overcome my fear of suddenly flying away.

Tethered to a kite, that is. On a plane? I’m happy to fly away in a heartbeat.