Sleeping in Wine Barrels, Yurts, and Art Museums: PEI

Have you ever wanted to sleep in a wine barrel? Most would say “no, thanks,” but if your wine barrel is air conditioned, docked on a harbor, has a king size bed with panoramic window, deck-side Tiki hut and BBQ grill for seafood-inspired, sunset dinners, you could be convinced. I was, while on a trip to beach-heavy Prince Edward Island, and it was like being on a reality show, minus the Kardashians.

“Cal has some fresh lobster, mussels, and scallops off the boat,” Jen, one of the owners of Nellie’s Harbour Marina, says to us. “You want some?” Cal, her lobstering husband, nods his head.

“Sure,” Brian and I reply. We’ve just checked into their “Merlot Wine Barrel” and are loading some bags and bicycles onto the deck of our barrel barge. Another couple, renting a houseboat, wave to us.

“Here’s a pot. Take it to the Harbourview Restaurant and grab some chowder, too,” Jen suggests and so I start the short stroll over a bridge, pot in hand, to the local hangout. Two guitar-and-fiddle picking musicians play some tunes on the porch. A couple dances on the sidewalk. Murray Harbour is an eclectic town on the uncrowded side of PEI, and everyone is friendly. Especially when I tell them that I’m staying in the “Merlot.”

“Jen just called,” the cashier says, filling my pot with chowder. “She wants the fresh pie, too. I’ll bring it over later.”

And so, the night begins. Brian and I share some local PEI wines found at nearby wineries as we dine on fresh lobster, chowder, scallops, mussels, and of course, pie, with Jen and Cal at their harborside picnic table. The local harbormaster, a couple of neighbors, the other wine barrel/barge/houseboat guests, come over at night, once Cal lights the firepit. After a rollicking good time singing, we sleep in our barrel, rocked by the incoming and outgoing tides. In the morning, after a shower in the “neat as a pin” communal washroom, Jen brings us fresh coffee and egg sandwiches for a Tiki Hut breakfast.

After leaving the “Merlot,” we cycle over rolling backroads to Cape Bear Lighthouse, situated on Murray Head. Gliding along secluded red sand beaches, and over pine-laden ledges, we spy seals floating in the tides as a group of plein air artists set up easels for a morning of sketches and watercolors by Guernsey Cove. We continue over to Panmure Island Beach for a late morning swim and grab lunch at the beach’s snack shop: fish and chips and homemade ice cream. The beach is wide and empty, the water is warm, and the Phare de Panmure Head Lighthouse sits like a red and whitewashed jewel on an island offshore. For the afternoon, we kayak the tributaries near Montague with Paddles and Pints Kayak and then dock ourselves at Bogside Brewing for pizzas, local greens, and excellent IPA’s. That night, we check into our next adventure: Nature Space Resort.

“Here, help yourself to some strawberries outside of your yurt,” Heather, one of owners, suggests, as we unload our gear at the Kingfisher Yurt. “You can eat them in your hot tub,” she adds. Mongolian in design and built in the center of a moss and pine forest, the yurt has a wood burning fireplace, couches, benches, and a pillow-strewn bed with rooftop “sky window” to view the stars and moon. Heather shows us the yoga yurt for morning stretching and “the hive,” where we’ll cook communal breakfast of local eggs, bacon, fresh roasted coffee, and homemade bread and jam. I feel like we’re in a seaside summer camp.

For sunset, we bike a mile to St. Peter’s Lighthouse Beach that is like Cape Cod National Park without any crowds, in fact, with no one else but Brian and I and a lighthouse. As we float in the sea, the sky glows pink, to purple, and after the swim, we sit on driftwood and toast the evening with a local Isle Saint Jean White, before the bicycle ride back to the hot tub.

The next morning, after a communally made breakfast in “the hive,” Brian and I cycle off to Greenwich PEI National Park on the Confederation Rail Trail. This crushed gravel path hugs St. Peter’s Harbor, and passes over bridges in Dingwell, meadows near Midgell River, and merges onto the coastal Rt. 113. We pick up sandwiches and cookies at the Black and White Café before hitting the country lanes to the national park.

“How cool is this?” I say, as we cycle along the trails blooming with fireweed until we park the bikes to hike over floating boardwalks to the sea. Parabolic sand dunes rise around us, and sea grasses are filled with sandpiper as geese and eider float in Bowley Pond and surrounding marshes. We picnic on the beach before cycling back to the Kingfisher Yurt.

That night, we treat ourselves to The Inn at Bay Fortune’s famous Fireworks Feast, which is a gourmet farm-to-sea-to-elegant-table lit up by candlelight spectacular in multiple courses. Think PEI farmers, foragers, fisherfolk, and fantasia culinary food artists and you’ve got this meadow and seaside picnic, paired with fine wines. We begin the extravaganza with “oyster hour” of never-ending PEI oysters on the half-shell, which is held in wildflower fields, then we toast to the sunset with champagne, and join other revelers in the rusticated dining room for shared bread trees, smokehouse pates, and house-made cheeses. We start with chowders made of clam, lobster, mussels, scallops, and halibut and then, dive into artwork salads of multicolored tomato, edible flower, pea shoots, greens, and herbs. Next, it’s courses of grilled salmon for me, and fire-grilled flank steak and brisket for Brian. Wines are paired with each course and plentiful. To finish: berry tarts with homemade ice cream and then some s’mores around a campfire to end the night.

After a morning in the Yoga Yurt, Brian and I decide to beach it that day, all along Stanhope Bayshore, bicycling between Cove Head Harbor, and Brackley beaches. That afternoon, after checking into the museum-worthy, art-gallery of an inn, The Barachois, we shower the sand off, and head to The Mill, in quaint New Glascow, for crab cakes, local brews, chickpea and spinach burgers, and homemade chocolate chip cookies. Back at the Barachois, we sit on the wraparound porch, and watch stars fill a dark sky and the only sound is the distant hooting of an owl.

“A perfect trip,” Brian says.

I have to agree.