I need to get away from the hustle and bustle of Toronto, which is why a big population drive few hours to their cottages or to a less populated province for some great relaxation period. I do not have a cottage nor do I have the patience nor energy to sit in a car for more than five hours to reach destination. Approximately three hours east of Toronto is Prince Edward County, where I spent a three days, two nights summer long weekend getaway.
Rule of thumb, leave your house early on Friday or Saturday of a long weekend if you want to avoid the traffic. I was dumb enough to leave at 11am for the county and stuck in the crazy slow traffic for two to three hours. Thank heavens I was not driving, but even as a passenger, I was quite frustrated and wished I had the right of way! There are couple ways you can drive to the county from Toronto.
- 2 hours 30 minutes: Highway 401 East. Exit Wooler Road / County Road 40 towards Trenton. When you get off the ramp, turn right onto County Road 40 South. Turn right onto Loyalist Parkway / County Road 33. Follow the signs to Picton or Taste Trail logos.
- 3 hours or the Lakeside Scenic Drive: Highway 401 East. Exit County Road 2 in Port Hope. When you get off the ramp, turn right to continue on County Road 2. Follow the County Road 2 signs and keep driving forward. You reach Prince Edward Street and keep going straight. The street then will be named County Road 64, keep driving forward. You will reach a fork, with Fort Kente Road, Gardenville Road and County Road 64. Turn left onto County Road 64. Turn right at the first cross street onto Loyalist Parkway / County Road 33. Follow signs to Picton or Taste Trail logos.
Prince Edward County is located southeast of Ontario, on the eastern end of Lake Ontario and west of the head of St. Lawrence River. It is comprised of three major populated towns – Wellington, Bloomfield and Picton, with some more smaller communities around.
I stayed in Downtown Piction, at Harrington Bed and Breakfast, which is a 5 minute walk from Main Street. The B&B was well kept, clean and convenient. The owners had great hospitality, ensured we ate our breakfast, gave us local maps and recommended routes, restaurants or activities that should be done. They were very nice, passionate with the county and great to chat with.
It was here in Picton that Sir John A. MacDonald managed a law office for his uncle. It was also in Picton, a No 31 Bombing and Gunnery School, that the British trained thousand of pilots outside of United Kingdom in World War Two. There are still remnants of the former barracks and airfield when you walk up the millennium trail.
Everything in the county closes early, around 6 pm. There is the odd store that opens a few hours later. But definitely plan your time wisely and utilize the natural sunlight to your greatest advantage.
Climate at the county is relatively mild due to the lake effect, which contributes to the optimal environment for the growth of grapes, establishing a lot of wineries in the area. Currently, there are 30 wineries and the numbers are increasing annually.
Food & Winery:
Drake Devonshire, Wellington is a great lake side cottage inn – restaurant. It has great eclectic atmosphere with fresh food using local produce. I think this is a great brunch, lunch or afternoon treat.
Norman Hardie Estate, Wellington is on a side road when you are driving to Picton. The plantation took place in 2003. With a decade of hard work and craftsmanship, the winery is so popular that is has to be on your radar. They are well known for their traditional wood fire pizzas. This is a great lunch eatery while tasting their renowned wines.
The County Cider Company, Waupoos is the only apple orchard and cider producing company in the county. It is definitely worth your time to check out the old traditional barns and to taste the variety of ciders they offer. There is a beautiful patio, where you can enjoy a meal and drink, that looks down into the lake. Gorgeous!
Waupoos Winery, Waupoos is an old winery in the county. The winery was sold to an American company after the original owner’s death. They transitioned it into an atmosphere suitable for families by implementing a chocolatier and ice cream parlor to the wine tasting hall. I was told the wines were not as good as it once was and they focus too much on the mechanics in business. There is a Gazebo Restaurant on site too but it has an interior dining hall. You are enclosed inside and the view is very limited. Wine tour groups put this winery on their itinerary, therefore, they are always busy.
Exultet Estates and Winery, Milford is a small one of a kind winery that hand makes their wine traditionally by the owners. This by far was the best winery I went to with the most pleasurable wines. This winery is the only winery that was able to win the gold award for their Chardonnay five years in a row. It is not cheap but I guarantee you, it is worth every penny.
Portabella, Picton is a cozy Italian restaurant in Downtown Picton. It has a great community and family touch to it. The food also tastes fresh. This is one of the restaurants that opens late everyday.
The Acoustic Grill, Picton is a neat restaurant or bar to go to. Arrive early because this small little eatery is always jam packed. I wanted to have dinner there but the wait was around two hours, so I never had the chance to. They have band performances every evening, jamming up the atmosphere and very fun to be at. Apparently, many Juno award winners have performed there. Once the shows begin, the audience aka visitors stay for a long period of time with a drink in hand, enjoying the performance. The bar is very cool, uplifting and upbeat!
Slickers Ice Cream, Bloomfield is a great refreshing snack parlor to visit. The ice cream just taste so natural and creamy. They are also located in the middle or heart of the county, where all the activities you want to do cross at Slickers and in close proximity too.
Black River Cheese Company Ltd, Miilford is a local dairy farm that supplies locally and particular high end grocers in Ontario. This joint is a great stop for families in search for snacks. Cheese is produced fresh everyday and you can sample them as you explore their showroom. These artisan cheeses are a luxury and is organic, produced using the traditional fermentation process. Each type or variation is smooth, crumbly and has a soft acidic flavour.
Activities or Sight Seeing:
Lake on the Mountain is a mysterious icon at the county. Till this day no one exactly knows how the lake got there and where the water source is coming from. It is believe to be on large lake in the ice age and the tectonic plate movement or earthquake that broke up the lake and elevated it. The first nations believed this lake is a miracle and a gift from heaven, therefore, the lake is mythical and held a lot of tribe gatherings or medical healing. It is quite neat and because it is at the hill top, you can look at the cottages around, the ferry connecting islands together. But remember to bring a jacket, there is a strong breeze at the lake.
Who says we need to go to Europe or Japan for lavender, we have some in Canada. Prince Edward County Lavender Farm at Hillier is a hidden nature farm. This must go destination is unique and different from other landmarks. Prime time is between end of July to early August. They host lavender festival annually. Plan your trip around the busy months.
Lavender fields are small and when I visited, most of the lavender had been harvested, leaving empty bushes. But there was a patch that was in its prime. There were bees, grasshoppers and birds hoovering around the bushes for pollen. The farm smells great! Do stop by their shop for products you can purchase, quite cheap and interesting to look through because so much can be done with lavender. They have lavender chocolates and culinary products too. I tried their homemade lavender gelato and it was amazing, tasted minty with a herbal soothing effect.
Sandbanks Provincial Park is a large popular attraction offering beautiful beaches. Parking costs $20 a day and there are few locations you can stay leisurely, Outlet Beach, Dunes Beach and Sandbank Beach are the most popular for families. Arrive early in summer months because it is packed and you can not find parking. If you are a hiker or cyclist, there are many trails that takes you to the wetlands, marshes, sand dunes because this is a bird migration hotspot and habitat for water species.
I was surprised by the strong big waves at the beaches. They were comparable to the cliff side ocean waves, very picturesque. I enjoyed climbing the sand dunes, as they were peaceful and quiet, standing alone jutting out of the lake. You can view the expansive sand dunes from the opposing shore, and the entrance is off a side street as you exit the park.
A great way to tour the county is by biking. There are bike rentals in Picton that you can inquire about. Honestly, for the three days I was there, everyday was sunny and even if there were signs of a storm, it got blown away and became sunny again. Biking is honestly the best sport to get around with other than by car. Plus, there are a lack of hiking trails, so the main roads are the trails itself.
Prince Edward County is beautiful with scrumptious food made of fresh ingredients. This relaxing community is very laid back and welcoming. Do visit the county for a change, to understand the history behind the area and experience the nature.
And, watch out for turtles!