A mere two-hour drive east of Toronto is the bucolic, polished island community of Prince Edward County. A year-round destination for city-dwellers, its pastoral bounty offers over 800 kilometres of shoreline and the region’s freshest, seasonal fare. One could easily spend a week here dining, taking yoga lessons, shopping, and visiting vineyards galore. Here, some favourite local haunts, as recently experienced on a beautiful summer weekend in the county.
Vineyards Abound: With 40-odd vineyards from which to choose, one can either craft a hit-list of must-visit wineries, or simply meander agenda-free. Either will lead to fine drinking; the area’s limestone-rich soils make the land particularly wine-worthy, lending the finished product a balanced minerality while the cool climate adds a food-friendly acidity. Karlo Estates, North America’s first vegan-certified winery, produces Triumvirate, a stunning signature red made with Old World techniques. Their 2013 vintage sees a combination of cabernet franc, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon, and their 2013 VanAlstine White Port, which won a gold medal at the 2012 InterVin International Wine Awards, is deliciously different—not too sweet, with a citrusy finish that lingers refreshingly on the palate. Norman Hardie Winery and Vineyard always draws crowds (the U.K.’s wine and spirits tastemaker Bibendum PLB Group recently purchased 200 cases of Norman Hardie’s wines, one of only two Canadian wines selected for U.K. sale—and it’s been great for business). Be prepared for line-ups.
Good Eating: Many big city chefs have decided to make the county their full-time home, bringing with them a culinary prowess to match—and local talent brings their A-game, too. For breakfast, the well-heeled convene at Tall Poppy Café, where piping-hot coffee paired with two poached eggs served atop house-made ciabatta with melted mozzarella—drenched in a fresh basil-flecked marinara sauce—makes for a hearty start to the day. For lunch, head to TerraCello Winery‘s terrazzo, where wood-fired oven pizzas are paired perfectly with the winery’s own selection. Order a classic Margherita with peppery arugula leaves and enjoy under a beautiful trellis while “Mambo Italiano” plays in the background.
Dinner and cocktails call for a trip to the Drake Devonshire Hotel in downtown Wellington. General manager Randall Reashore, who refers to the hotel as “Drake by the lake”, says Drake represents “food, art, and culture intersecting within a chic, rural retreat.” Featuring designer suites, rotating exhibits, a lakeside fire pit, and the Glass Box (a hybrid venue that can serve as a reception room, private dining room, or corporate retreat space), the former foundry building is reimagined with cheeky, rustic Canadiana touches. Head chef Matthew DeMille uses a farm-to-table approach to create everything from a smashed cucumber salad with baby kale, cilantro, crispy garlic, and lime, to the comfort-food-meets-upscale lobster nachos. His fish and chips are top notch, as would be expected when most things (breads, pastas, preserves) are made from scratch in-house. Enjoy a glass of the region’s wine (perhaps Keint-he Winery’s fantastic rosé), a craft beer, or a creative cocktail on the patio overlooking the beach. For dessert, try Slickers ice cream in nearby Bloomfield for a couple of scoops of their apple pie flavour. Three whole apple pies (crusts and all) go into every batch.
Day Tripping: Locals suggest heading to the North Beach Provincial Park, with its kilometre-wide sash of sand that shelters the waters, keeping them warmer than in the very large Lake Ontario, from which it feeds. This is the quieter, more relaxed version of the better-known Sandbanks nearby, and is a great place to grab a picnic and while the hours away.
Where to Stay: Apart from the Drake Devonshire, Angeline’s Inn in Bloomfield is recommended. The inn offers charming rooms, some of which are located in the beautifully restored Victorian main building, which brother and sister inn-keeping team, Alexandre and Melanie, have painstakingly maintained, giving it a modern edge. There are a number of detached log cabins on the property to suit your party’s size and needs, and their onside eatery, The Hubb, leaves guests feeling well-nourished after a long, enjoyable day exploring Prince Edward County.