Go wild about Green Gables; William and Katie are jetting off to Nova Scotia for their first official overseas tour. MARGARET O'REILLY beats them to it.
IHAD been drawn to Prince Edward Island - a magical place of wild-looking red sand beaches and lush green countryside - by a book I had read when I was eight years old.
And several decades after I first picked up Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables I finally had the chance to discover that The Gentle Island, as it's known by the locals, really is a special place for the soul.
It is found in the Gulf of St Lawrence, a 30-minute hop by air from Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the smallest and greenest of Canada's provinces.
Hundreds of Anne fans make the journey each year to visit the places where the trouble-prone, flame-haired heroine spent her childhood, plaits flying as she ran home from school to Martha and Matthew, the elderly couple who adopted her despite really wanting a boy to do the farm work.
They can visit the white clapperboard house with its dark green gables where the author based her story, see the tiny house where Lucy herself grew up and walk down the same stairs the author took on her wedding day.
In fact, the home she was married in is now used for weddings by Japanese fans desperate to capture the Anne magic on their own special day.
But even if you've never read Anne's story, PEI will get under your skin.
This is a place of dramatic and deserted beaches eroded from the deep red sandstone cliffs and fringed with wild grasses, watched over by more than 50 pictureperfect red and white wooden lighthouses.
The countryside is lush and unspoiled, and the driving easy along straight and virtually deserted roads. You're never far from the calming influence of water, whether it be a windswept beach or tranquil bay under which prime oysters grow.
The pace of life is slow; the people so chilled out you can almost feel your blood pressure dropping.
Be prepared for complete strangers to stop you in the street for a chat. Ask the way to a bank and you'll find they take you all the way to the cash point and explain how to use it.
And don't loiter within six feet of a kerb unless you want to cross the road because polite drivers will put on their brakes to let you pass.
The capital Charlottetown is quaint with its tree-lined streets, attractive wooden houses and some fine restaurants showcasing the island's fabulous seafood, prime beef and main industry - the potato.
It's a sleepy capital with just a couple of main shopping streets where tourists can buy everything from chocolate-covered potato crisps (one bag is probably enough) to Anne-style straw boaters complete with red nylon plaits.
We stayed at the Great George Hotel, which proved quirky, extremely comfortable and created within the shells of 15 of Charlottetown's heritage buildings.
Breakfast is a rather surreal experience taken in the genteel lobby and eaten off fold-up wooden, TV dinner-style tables.
It summed up the unspoilt capital's feeling of old-fashioned, homespun quaintness.
On our first day we followed the Anne trail, my favourite bit of which was not Green Gables itself but the Anne museum overlooking the water on the North Shore.
It was very poignant to stand in the room where Lucy Maud Montgomery was married and read one of her last letters to a friend.
Her own life was a sorry tale of how she ended up sad, lonely and broke after spending the money from her books trying to save her son from prison.
For lunch we stopped off at the Prince Edward Island Preserve Company where, after trying out some of the wonderful jams and pickles made on the premises, we sampled traditional PEI dishes overlooking the water at New Glasgow.
Time travel While some put on bibs to tackle lobster, I tried the signature potato pie baked in a bacon crust and served with maple cream.
Meanwhile, some of our party had gone off for a morning's fishing with Tranquillity Cove Adventures who will custommake a trip to suit you.
The island is a great place for an active holiday, whether it's trying your hand at being a lobster fisherman, whale watching, golfing, coastal walking or cycling the Confederation Trail which follows the path of the island's former railway and takes you the full length of the island.
Bikes can be hired and you can branch off to follow coastal roads overlooking the island's remarkable red cliffs.
Back in Charlottetown we visited Founders Hall, the birthplace of Canada where in 1864 the basis of the confederation was thrashed out by 23 delegates at the Charlottetown Conference. It's a tale brought to life with a tour through an imaginative time travel tunnel.
One of the high spots of our trip was a morning spent at the home of Pam Raper of Curiosity Cooks.
After taking us to a local farmers' market to pick up supplies it was back to her kitchen for a glass of wine and a masterclass in tackling a lobster.
As her partner dispatched the beasts in a giant cauldron of boiling water in the garden we donned our aprons, before discovering how to dismember them, extract every precious scrap of meat and turn them into delicious dishes including a lobster martini!
That's a martini glass filled with creamy potato, topped with succulent lobster and dressed with sherry cream sauce.
Our visit ended with us eating what we had helped prepare. It was great fun and a wonderful chance to spend time in the home of an islander. Courses range in price between pounds 95 to pounds 160.
Food is vital to the island's economy and the Culinary Institute of Canada, based in Charlottetown, not only trains future generations of chefs but also runs a commercial arm, Canada's Smartest Kitchens.
This provides help for the island's big producers of potatoes and shellfish on developing new products for supermarkets across Canada, from oven chips to frozen Oysters Rockerfeller.
Visitors can also sign up for a day long culinary boot camp costing between pounds 95 to pounds 160.
But our hosts had saved the best until last. On our final night we spent an unforgettable evening in a waterside home close to the North Shore with local folk musicians playing the night away.
We watched as the affable John Bill - three times World Oyster Shucking Champion - produced a simple feast of oysters straight from the bay, spanking fresh fish and vegetables newly pulled from the ground. As the sun went down and turned the bay gold, I knew this was an island I would want to return to.
The Gentle Island had certainly worked its magic on me. Wills and Kate will be right royally entranced.
FACTFILE Air Canada flies from Heathrow to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Return flights cost around pounds 600. From there it is a short 30-minute hop by plane to PEI, or a two-hour, 40-minute drive crossing the Confederation Bridge.
The Great George Hotel, an historic boutique hotel, has a package for two including bottle of wine, dinner voucher worth approximately pounds 50 and breakfast for around pounds 150 next month. Visit www.thegreatgeorge.com.
For general tourism, advice, and details of local attractions, head for www.peiplay.com
CHILDREN'S PARADISE: Step back in time to the world of Anne of Green Gables on Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia.
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|Publication:||Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)|
|Date:||May 29, 2011|
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