There is a myth that Canada is boring. Don’t believe a word. I have known the country’s spectacular scenery for a long time, but it took me 75 years to discover how exciting it is.
It was finding a battered copy of Anne Of Green Gables that sparked my discovery, giving me the impetus to spend two weeks on the country’s Atlantic border.
Eastern Canada is less well known than Western Canada, where Vancouver and the Rocky Mountains are the main attractions. But it was impossible to resist the lure of my favorite childhood book.
Finding Anne: Esther Rantzen visited New Brunswick and Nova Scotia on the east coast of Canada
A Story Told: Esther Visited Anne Of Green Gables – Quiet Prince Edward Island
Written in 1908, this is the story of Anne Shirley, an orphan adopted by mistake by a couple who wanted a boy to help them on their farm in Prince Edward Island province, surrounded by the ocean.
It’s a touching story: the heroine, red-haired and brave, has to overcome all sorts of adversities.
But there is also a magic in the way author LM Montgomery describes the campaign with such eloquence. “The birches in the hollows have turned golden as the sun,” he wrote.
“And the maples behind the orchard were royal crimson, and the wild cherry trees along the path took on the most beautiful shades of bronze red and green.”
I was looking forward to seeing them.
Craggy: Hopewell Rocks, a dramatic group of cliffs that plunge into the Bay of Fundy, are well worth a break
The journey was easy: a direct flight, only six and a half hours from Heathrow to Halifax in Nova Scotia.
From there I drove to the nearby province of New Brunswick, admiring its huge rolling forests.
I also noticed a moose in the midst of this glorious mix of larch and fir. Hopewell Rocks, a dramatic group of cliffs plunging into the Bay of Fundy, washed by high tides, with the chocolate-colored sea swelling and swelling, is worth a stop.
Then you can drive to Cape Enrage, with its lovingly restored red and white lighthouse. I recommend you try lunch at the tiny cafe, with its magnificent views and menu with lobster poutine and violin heads.
Poutine, for those unfamiliar with it, is a Canadian version of chips and gravy, while fiddleheads are fresh fern buds, so called because the fronds are rolled up and look like a violin’s head.
Guardian: You can drive to Cape Enrage, with its lovingly restored red and white lighthouse overlooking the sea
Adventurous tourists can test their stamina along the Fundy Trail, which offers four days of nature trekking.
For those who love postcard perfection, there’s St Andrews, with its log houses and whitewashed wedding cake churches.
And if you love gardens and great food, Alex Haun, the chef of the Savor, in the city’s Kingsbrae Garden, deserves a Michelin star for his dishes.
I don’t usually trust B & Bs – my years as a TV documentary researcher have left me with bad memories of dirty sheets and poor food.
But in Fredericton, the capital of New Brunswick, you can find a real five-star B&B at Quartermain House.
Small Packages: Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province, is a place of calm and slow pace
Imagine a boutique hotel with plush rooms and a hearty breakfast of grilled pineapple with organic blueberries in maple syrup.
The city is typically Canadian: safe, clean, lively with soft lawns and tree-lined streets.
Then I crossed the causeway to Prince Edward Island, my journey framed by a sunset that Anne herself saw on the way to Green Gables.
I can almost quote the words without seeing the book: “The air was filled with a purplish twilight, and far ahead a glimpse of the sky painted at sunset shone like a large rose window at the end of a cathedral nave.”
LM Montgomery, like so many great children’s book writers, experienced tragedy in his formative years.
Raised by strict grandparents following the death of her mother and the departure of her father, she spent most of her childhood alone.
When Anne described what it feels like not to be loved, Montgomery was writing from her painful memories.
Delicious: Poutine is a Canadian version of chips and salsa and can be served with lobster and green onion
Not that they are reflected in the house the island created to bring Green Gables to life.
Constructed of white clapboard with green shutters, it contains a faithful recreation of Anne’s bedroom, complete with her dress hanging from the closet door (“a lovely soft brown glory with all the sheen of silk”).
Anne is very real to the thousands of tourists who flock here. Curiously, many are from Japan, where the book is a normal English textbook.
In the story, Anne wanders along a path she calls Lovers’ Lane. Prince Edward Island is dotted with trails like this: “Scenic Heritage Roads”, covered in red earth, which make their way through the fields.
Anne is enchanted by them. “I’ve always heard that Prince Edward Island was the prettiest place in the world,” he says. It looks just like that in the sun.
Carina: For those who love postcard perfection, there is St Andrews, with its wooden houses and churches
A ferry takes you back to the mainland in Nova Scotia (literally Nova Scotia). Here is a splendid province, glorious in spring and summer, but also in autumn.
You could certainly consider visiting in October for Cape Breton’s Celtic Color Festival, when the falling golden leaves are serenaded by exuberant jigs, reels and arias played in cafes and churches, on pipes and violins.
In Baddeck, I found beautiful quilts sewn by the local guild and ate sweet, buttery lobster.
I urge you to discover Atlantic Canada. Just four hours away from the UK, there’s little jet lag and the people are delightful.
And if, like me, you’ve once fallen in love with a girl named Anne, you’ll find she’s alive and well.