Photo of the day: Our annual Flavour Shack family portrait

Back in 2014 when we visited PEI for the first time, one of our favourite stops was Chef Michael Smith’s Flavour Shack on Souris Beach. We met a passel of lovely women who all seemed to work for Chef Michael in some form or another, and one of them was a photographer named Loretta. She was kind enough to use my camera to take a family portrait of us at the Flavour Shack – and it was also them who encouraged us to visit Basin Head for the first time.

In 2015, of COURSE we stopped by the Flavour Shack again, and we happened to find our friend Loretta there and willing to take an updated family portrait for us. The only small disappointment was that in a few visits, we never managed to see Chef Michael himself.

This year, our cottage was just outside of Souris, so we passed by the Flavour Shack each time we set off on an adventure elsewhere on the Island, and each time we drove past, we craned our necks to see if anyone standing six inches taller than the rest of the crowd happened to be in the Flavour Shack. (The “world’s tallest freestanding chef” is rather easy to pick out of a crowd!) Alas, no luck. But we did, on the very last day of our PEI adventure, stop by for a visit to the Flavour Shack. And to our delight, Miss Loretta was there! And to our dismay, she told us that we had JUST MISSED Chef Michael, who had been in the Flavour Shack that very morning with his family.

We did, however, manage to caputre this terrific treasure: our third annual PEI Flavour Shack family portrait!

Flavour Shack family portrait 2016

It’s fun to see the changes. Here’s 2015:

Family portrait

And 2014:

Flavour Shack family portrait previous

I guess we’ll just have to keep going back to PEI to get our family photos updated every year!

Photo of the day: “Joy is to fun what the deep sea is to a puddle. It’s a feeling inside that can hardly be contained.” ~ Terry Pratchett

Only time for a quick photo today. This is from Basin Head – of course.

“Joy is to fun what the deep sea is to a puddle. It’s a feeling inside that can hardly be contained.” ~ Terry Pratchett

“Joy is to fun what the deep sea is to a puddle. It’s a feeling inside that can hardly be contained.”  ~ Terry Pratchett

I love this quote and how well it goes with this photo. It’s from Hat Full of Sky, a wonderful Terry Pratchett novel featuring the debut of the Nac Mac Feegles. You should read it! And, you should dance joyfully in the sea, whenever you can.

Rediscovering Basin Head

Basin Head beach was our first favourite place on Prince Edward Island. Clearly, lots of other people agree with us: Basin Head was recently named by Chatelaine as one of Canada’s Best Beaches. One of the main reasons I chose our current cottage is because it’s perfectly situated on the same coastal area as Basin Head, just outside of Souris.

Yesterday, we went on a free Eco-Tour (yes, FREE!) of Basin Head, courtesy of the PEI Wildlife Federation, and it made us fall in love with our old favourite all over again. If you get a chance to attend one of these tours, I highly recommend it!

We started off at the Basin Head Fisheries Museum and learned some local history about the Mi’kmaq who lived here for 2,000 years, then the French, British, Scottish and Irish settlers who came in the 1700s and 1800s. We learned a little bit about the history of the fishing industry, and then about some of the reasons why Basin Head is a provincially and federally protected area, including a strain of Irish Moss that doesn’t grow anywhere else in the world.

Then we moved to the beach. Oh how I love this beach!

Basin Head Eco Tour

But seriously, it’s 10 am on a perfect July day in mid-tourism season and there is NOBODY except us on the beach. How is that even possible? We had the crashing waves and the quirky singing sands (to me, they sound more like a seal bark than a song!) all to ourselves.

Basin Head Eco Tour

Have you been to Basin Head? Did you know that on the other side of the dunes is a stunning meadow full of moss and lichens that looks like an Alpine meadow and will take your breath away?

Basin Head Eco Tour

Basin Head Eco Tour

Basin Head Eco Tour

These pictures do not even come close to doing it justice. There are four kinds of moss growing, the only one of which I remember is Reindeer moss. (Ha, wonder why I remembered that one?) But you have to be careful where you step, because you will kill the moss if you walk on it, and you also need to step carefully around the tall fronds of Marram grass that help anchor the dunes and keep the sand from eroding away.

The boys may have found the first part of the tour a little heavy on the talking, even if they did seem to be mostly paying attention and engaged with the tour (they were the youngest participants by far in our group.) But Lucas especially loved the next part of the tour when we moved to the river and the tour guides dragged a net for a few meters to bring some of the sea life up close for us to interact with.

Basin Head Eco Tour

I was astonished by the sheer number of critters and creatures they caught in the net. Rock crabs, Green crabs, a hermit crab, sand shrimp, flounder, hake, and a whole bunch of others that I’ll never remember. Only the kids seemed to be particularly interested in getting up close and getting their hands wet!

Basin Head Eco Tour

One fish in particular they seemed pleased to have caught: a pipe fish is a relative of the seahorse (it looks like a straightened-out version) and like the seahorse, the male tends to the babies until they hatch. Lucas held the flounder and the pipe fish, as well as a few others, but declined the crab angrily waving his claws.

Basin Head Eco Tour

This is how you create a marine biologist or an environmental scientists, right here. What a great morning out!

Basin Head Eco Tour

This sealed the deal for me. Basin Head is my forever favourite beach!

Tip to tip: To the other side of PEI and back

Did you know that if you visit both the East Point lighthouse and the North Cape lighthouse on Prince Edward Island, you earn a “tip to tip” certificate? I wasn’t entirely sure that a certificate alone would be enough to induce the boys into agreeing to the 2.5 hour drive across the province, but I was pretty sure that the water slides at Mill River, not too far from North Cape, would be enough to seal the deal. (How much do I love that you can drive across an ENTIRE PROVINCE in the time it takes to finish an extra large takeout coffee?)

The East Point lighthouse is not too far from where we are staying, so we popped over there a few days ago to get our East Point ribbons. We packed a picnic lunch, stopped for some Robin’s Eggs (our favourite Island road-trip treat) and headed out early.

If you’re looking for a scenic drive that will make your inner photographer weep with covetousness of the shots not taken because if you stopped the car its occupants would throw you off the nearest seaside cliff, you could do worse than the rolling, pastoral countryside around Kensington, PEI. Beautiful farmland bordered by careful lines of towering pines, rolling off into the distance. (The hills, not the pines.) As we drove, the morning fog burned off, rolled back in, burned off again. By the time we reached Mill River Park and its water slides, it was just before noon and fully fogged in again. We made the executive decision to push on through Tignish and to the North Cape in order to circle back to the water park after the day warmed up a bit.

The fog was breaking up again 25 or so minutes later when we pulled into the parking lot at the North Cape lighthouse, on the most north-western point of the Island.

Exploring North Cape PEI

Don’t they look full of the victory of having driven the full breadth of the Island? Trophy photo acquired, we were about to go into the gift shop and collect our certificates when Lucas saw something he wanted to explore.

Exploring North Cape PEI-2

That’s how we stumbled upon one of the most beautiful open secrets on PEI: dozens and dozens of Inuksuit built on the seaside.

Exploring North Cape PEI-6

It’s an enchanting sight that took our breath away. So! Many! Inuksuk! (Did you know the plural of Inuksuk is Inuksuit? Now you do!)

Exploring North Cape PEI-7

So of course, we were on a mission. I had to photograph them, and the boys had to make them. The fog burned off, the sun came out, and everyone was happy!

Exploring North Cape PEI-8

Exploring North Cape PEI-12

Exploring North Cape PEI-3

Tristan is like a cat in more ways than one. He likes to find his way to the highest perch to survey the world.

Exploring North Cape PEI-9

And when I saw how amazing the light was with that red sand cliff against a bright blue sky, I needed to get everyone else in the photo, too.

Exploring North Cape PEI-11

And when I say everyone needed to be in the photo, I mean EVERYONE! Here’s to makeshift tripods made out of rocks and a purse, and a mad dash across the rocks while the self-timer counts down. My bum had barely landed on the rock when the shutter clicked on this one!

Exploring North Cape PEI-10

I was not expecting the cape itself to be such an interesting destination, and I could have spent another couple of hours there just playing among the rocks. Promises had been made, though, so we enjoyed our picnic lunch at the base of the lighthouse and headed back to the water park.

Pretty sure the boys thought it was worth the drive, too!

slide collage

It’s a crazy wooden water slide. You sit on a sled thingy and shoot down the ridiculously steep slope and pretty much skip across the pond at the bottom. Wicked fun for kids and moms alike! Also fun, not pictured – bumper boats!

So if you’re looking for an unexpectedly delightful adventure on PEI, I’d say the trek out to the North Cape is well worth the drive. And now we can say that we’ve seen the Island from tip to tip. We’ve even got the certificates to prove it!

A perfectly unambitious day in PEI

I have a spreadsheet of things we can do while we’re on PEI, with events and ideas and links that I’ve collected over a couple of years of relentless PEI research. It’s a little bit hard to admit that I’m the sort of person who has a spreadsheet to plan her vacation, but then again, 20 years ago I was the only backpacker in Europe following a pre-planned and carefully printed itinerary. It’s mired in some weird sort of FOMO: in the moment, with my family looking expectantly at me for ideas, it’s a way to stave off the “what are we going to do today?” panic.

The most important part about having a spreadsheet full of vacation inspiration, though, is knowing when to ignore it. We’d had vague plans of packing up and heading to one of our favourite beaches, when I realized that we were having a lovely beachy sort of day on the amazing kilometer or so of beach adjacent to our cottage: poking around looking for sea glass (I’m sure we’re working on our second pound by now) or building inuksuks out of PEI sandstone or clambering up and over the massive boulders at either end of the beach. Um hello, perfect beach day — and literally steps away from the cottage with its clean bathrooms and cold drinks and, ahem, wifi.

PEI 2016 Day 2

fromwhereistand by the sea

I’m sitting on the wooden steps with my coffee, Beloved is beachcombing for sea glass, and Lucas is building an inuksuk – in his jammies. Hello, perfect morning at the cottage!



I love this photo because it’s a perfect moment in a lovely day. Beloved is holding up a piece of blue sea glass, because the blue ones are my favourite. Simon is photobombing, because Simon. Tristan is busily on task, hunting for treasure. And Lucas is not wearing pants, because when you’re treasure hunting on your perfect little private beach and your shorts are too long and keep getting wet, you just leave them on the sand somewhere to dry out.

PEI 2016 Day 2

I kid you not, we found more than a pound of sea glass just today. Here’s most, but not all of it.


We did make one small excursion. One of our favourite PEI discoveries from our first PEI trip in 2014 was Peter Llewellyn’s Shoreline Design workshop and studio. We found Peter charming and informative, and we came away with beautiful hammered silver rings for the boys and a cuff bracelet for me. Earlier this year, Simon’s ring broke when he got his hand caught in the car door (cringe) and the ring took the brunt of it. We brought it back to its maker, hoping it could be repaired. To our delight, it was an easy fix, and we found Peter to be as personable as ever. Since he wouldn’t take payment to repair the ring, we supported his business by purchasing a beautiful (and affordable) set of sea glass stud earrings (blue, of course!) for me, and a silver ring with a red stone inset that echoes my own white-gold-with-ruby ring.


And if a little rain must fall into every vacation, it’s still better than two solid weeks of rain – and even better when the Island gives you a pretty little rainbow over your private sea view to end a perfectly lovely, perfectly unscheduled day.

PEI 2016 Day 2

Photos of the day: Back to the Beach in Prince Edward Island

We’ve returned for our third annual trip to Prince Edward Island. This year, we’ve chosen a cottage with direct beach access and water views from almost every room in the cottage – quite an improvement from our cottage last year, where “water views” meant a postage-stamp-sized glimpse through some trees and a walk most of a kilometer through scrub and other cottages.

This is us discovering our semi-private beach after two long, hot days in the car.

PEI day one: exploring our private beach

PEI day one: exploring our private beach

PEI day one: exploring our private beach

PEI day one: exploring our private beach

PEI day one: exploring our private beach

PEI day one: exploring our private beach

Lucas at the top of the stairs leading from the beach to our wee cottage. You can’t quite see the cottage, but it’s just behind the flagpole up there. There are only three or four other cottages in the area, so this kilometer or so of heaven is pretty much our own private beach. Seriously amazing location!

PEI day one: exploring our private beach

Within the first 15 minutes on our little beach, I’d checked off more than half of my PEI to-do list: red sand, blue sea, toes in the water, rocks to climb on — and sea glass!

A photo posted by Danielle Donders (@dani_girl) on

We’re so close to the sea that we could hear the waves crashing on the shore all night long, and though we’ve woken to rain this morning, the forecast is for an amazing week!

Planning for PEI 2016: Why we love the Points East Coastal Drive region

Yay! It’s time to start thinking about our next summer vacation on Prince Edward Island!

This will be our third trip to PEI. In 2014, we spent a week near Murray Harbour, and in 2015 we spent a generally wet and rainy but still happy two weeks near St Peters Bay. We’ve criss-crossed and explored most regions of the Island, save for the North Cape Coastal Drive region, and while we have favourite spots throughout the Island, we always come back to the Points East Coastal Drive region. In 2016, we’ve booked 10 days at a cottage right on the water (yay!) between two of our very favourite PEI places: Souris and Basin Head Provincial Park.

Souris and Basin Head PEI

If you’re planning your first PEI vacation, I’d suggest making a list of things that are important to you and your family. Being on the water was important to us, but we don’t mind a bit of driving (ha, my kids may say otherwise!) so being an hour outside of Charlottetown will be fine for us. We like small towns and pretty scenery and really couldn’t care less about golf or nightlife. Cost is (always) a factor, and we find you get more bang for your buck when you are away from heavily touristed areas like Cavendish Beach. Souris and Montague, the largest towns in the Points East region, are plenty big enough for most of what we’ll need (groceries, restaurants and Tim Hortons) and most of our favourite restaurants are on the eastern part of PEI as well.

PEI2Mostly, though, we just fell in love with the easy-going, laid back feeling of everyone we encountered in the Points East region of the Island. There’s a little something for everyone – world class dining, white and red sand beaches, arts and boutiques, and outdoor adventures, to name a few. Here’s five of our favourite attractions and activities in the Points East Coastal Drive region.

1. PEI National Park at Greenwich

PEI National Park at Greenwich

A beautiful beach, a boardwalk through world-famous parabolic dunes, and amazing hiking trails – PEI National Park at Greenwich is one of our very favourite parts of PEI all on its own, but if you go, try to take advantage of the interpretive programs like Beach Detective.

2. Chef Michael Smith’s FireWorks restaurant at the Inn at Bay Fortune

I have a giant celebrity crush on “the world’s tallest freestanding chef” and even though we didn’t get the chance to encounter himself, my birthday dinner at his incredible restaurant was one of the highlights of our trip last year. The most amazing restaurant meal we’ve ever had, and something even the boys enjoyed.

Dinner at the Inn at Bay Fortune

3. Orwell Corner

Orwell Corners, PEI

Orwell Corner is an agricultural village settled in the late 1850s and restored to that time period. On the day we were there, the boys made candles, we visited the blacksmith shop, we learned about a child’s school day in the 1850s, had afternoon tea, and the boys fed the farm animals. It was the perfect mix of education and entertainment.

4. Basin Head Provincial Park

Souris and Basin Head PEI

I think it’s safe to say that Basin Head beach is our favourite place on PEI. Each time we visit, we have a bit of a different experience. Some days we jump in the waves, some days we explore the rocks and boulders, some days we just dig a really big hole in the sand. This may be the year that I let the big boys jump off the bridge, a Basin Head tradition for many. From squeaky singing sands to ice cream, I love everything about Basin Head. Conveniently, we’re just a few kilometers away this year!

5. Everything else

I need to tell you about the Lighthouses at Panmure and East Point and St Peters Bay. No wait, you need to know about the the ceilidhs. Oh and I really need to mention the restaurants like the Shipwreck Cafe and Red’s Corners and Brehauts. And the train rides at the Elmira Railway Museum. Oh, and the artisans like Peter Llewellyn’ Shoreline Designs and Teri Hall’s Fire and Ice Creations. And the simple joy of driving along a twisty coastal road admiring lupins and even rows of freshly planted potatos and the endless blue sea. And every kind of beach you could imagine – white, red, rocky, sandy, calm, fierce, playful…

Sigh. Is it July yet?

If you’re planning a PEI vacation, check out the Points East Coastal Drive website for accommodations, attractions and ideas.

Disclosure: Points East Coastal Drive is a sponsor of the blog, but I’m working with them because we are so enamoured with the region.