MOST people who visit Prince Edward Island are already familiar with its famous fictional resident, ``Anne of Green Gables.'' For here in Cavendish, Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote the much-loved novel about the red-haired, freckle-faced heroine. No trip to P.E.I. is complete without a visit to the Green Gables house, the setting of the book published in 1908 and translated into 16 languages.
Though Anne is not nearly as prevalent here as, say, Elvis is in Memphis, she does show up quite a bit - in gift stores, on stage, and in advertisements. As a Fodor's guidebook explains, ``After potatoes and lobsters, Anne is the island's most important product.''
Like Montgomery, visitors to this island will delight in its natural beauty, where rolling hills and green fields meet the ocean at red-clay cliffs. The Indians named it Abegweit - ``land cradled on the waves.''
For a friend and me, mid-July proved the perfect time to visit P.E.I., as we escaped humid 90-degree weather in Boston. Our dilly-dally drive took about 14 hours. We wended our way through Maine and New Brunswick (the landscape was covered with beautiful wild lupines), camped overnight in Shediac, Canada's lobster capital, and took an early-morning ferry from Cape Tormentine, New Brunswick, to Borden, P.E.I. Once on the island, we drove straight north, following the suggestion of a bookstore owner we had talked to in Maine.
Since we had only two days on P.E.I., we concentrated on the north-central part of the island affectionately known as the ``Land of Anne.'' We set up camp in Cavendish National Park - on the north shore at the Gulf of Lawrence. The park has sheltered kitchens, laundry facilities, full bathrooms, and telephones. Our campsite was 100 yards from giant sand dunes and a lovely stretch of beach. Our fellow campers were mostly families, French- and English-speaking.
In addition to Green Gables, P.E.I. boasts many attractions, some quirky (a house made of bottles and ``Canada's Only Potato Museum''), some adventurous (whale watching, sea kayaking, and amusement parks), and many quaint (old shops, fishing villages, lighthouses, and art galleries).
Still, the main attraction is the island's natural beauty. Anyone who has enjoyed Cape Cod or coastal Maine would see similarities here, though Prince Edward Island is much less built-up and a bit more primitive. The tourist board is fond of pointing out that, because of the Gulf Stream, P.E.I.'s waters are warmer than any in the Atlantic north of the Carolinas. But don't expect bath water.
Each year, nearly 700,000 people visit the island, which is 2,195 square miles (a little larger than Delaware) and has a population of only 130,000. Ethnic influences include Scottish, Irish, French, and Micmac Indian. Tourist information, as everywhere in Canada, is in both English and French. But it may also be in Japanese. (The Japanese, it seems, love Anne.)
Our first day out, we toured the Green Gables house and walked around the wooded grounds, marked by signs bearing Montgomery quotes. Then we drove to the capital, Charlottetown, and had lunch at waterfront Victoria Park, which was recently revamped. The city is home to many historic homes and buildings, including Province House, St. Paul's Anglican Church, and St. Peter's Cathedral, as well as the University of Prince Edward Island. On the way back to camp, we snapped several photos of farm scenes and stopped at Brackley Beach near Rustico for a dip.
The best part about driving around Prince Edward Island is cruising the rolling hills - seeing the lush farmland with grazing cows and unusually picturesque haystacks - and then coming up on an ocean view. Back at camp we witnessed a gorgeous sunset that lit the sky pink and blue.
On our second day, we got in some beach time before catching the ferry back. The same Maine bookstore-owner had recommended ``Woodleigh'' - a once-private estate that features replicas of famous British buildings. We didn't know quite what to expect, and the estate seemed to be situated in the middle of nowhere. But we were pleasantly surprised.
These accurate models made of stone and concrete were the creations of Lt. Col E.W. Johnston, who was fascinated by his British heritage. The grounds feature more than 20 replicas: The Tower of London, Scotland's Dunvegan Castle, York Minster Cathedral (with chimes and stained-glass windows), and Shakespeare's home, to name a few. Some of the structures are large enough to walk in, while others are barely a few feet tall. The grounds are meticulously manicured, including a lovely English garden. The hedge maze and playground - not to mention the miniature buildings and delicious ice cream - make Woodleigh a great place for kids.
* Two ferries can get you (and your car) from the mainland to Prince Edward Island, one from New Brunswick and one from Nova Scotia. You can also fly in to Charlottetown. For information on P.E.I., call 800-463-4734 (463-4PEI). Ask for a free visitors guide; it's extremely helpful. For information on Woodleigh, call (902) 836-3401.