By RENEE SYLVESTRE-WILLIAMS
Special to The Globe and Mail
Saturday, August 17, 2019
It's hard to pick the best time of day in Prince Edward County.
Some prefer the morning when the air is fresh and crisp and you can put a few kilometres on your bikes or your hiking boots. Others prefer noon, when the sun is high but you're staying cool with a swim in Lake Ontario. Still others prefer the evening, which might start with dinner at a restaurant that features local foods paired with County wines, beers and ciders, followed by the sun sinking below the water's horizon in a blaze of pinks, red and orange.
Then look up: Prince Edward County has very little light pollution, so those glorious lights across the sky? That's the Milky Way.
Prince Edward County - or "the County," as residents call it - is considered one of Ontario's great vacation spots. Connected to the mainland by a few major roads, the peninsula sits between Ottawa and Toronto. It began as a tourist destination for campers and hikers, later developing into a magnet for wine, cheese, craft beer and food enthusiasts. The County's a place where you can go for a hike or a swim at the many beaches, rent a bike to tour the more than 40 wineries or breweries and finish the day with dinner at one of many fine restaurants.
THE BEACHES Patrick Maloney and his wife have been coming to the County since the 1970s, when they used to camp and cycle in the area, eventually retiring and opening Pedego, an electric bike outlet in Bloomfield. He calls Sandbanks Provincial Park, a long-time draw for tourists, "one of the most spectacular parks in Ontario."
With its magnificent sandy beaches and dunes, Sandbanks has always attracted a large contingent of campers, long before the County became known for its wineries, Maloney says.
For somewhere a little less crowded but just as beautiful, bring your folding chairs and picnic baskets to North Beach Provincial Park. It has a beautiful kilometre-long sandy beach and swimming-friendly blue water.
BIKING AND HIKING You can bike all over the County, says Ed Kraus, owner of Ideal Bike in Wellington. He estimates that 90 per cent of his customers enjoy cycling tours of the wineries, which are often shorter distances.
The remaining 10 per cent are avid cyclists. "They want to ride longer distances and the County's really good that way," he says. "All the routes loop back on themselves or potentially can. I've seen some people crank out some big numbers, like 180 kilometres in a day, where they've toured the entire county."
Whether you bike long or short distances, make sure to hit the Millennium Trail, a 46-km path winding across the County from Picton to Carrying Place. The trail was neglected until recently, when advocates and volunteers, including Maloney, raised more than $150,000 to refurbish and resurface the old train line. As you walk, bike, jog or ride, you're treated to nearly every type of landscape the County has to offer. Picton eases you in with a nice, smooth road as you go past farmland and the Picton Golf & Country Club. Section 14 is a little rougher, with an unpaved trail that snakes through vineyards, where, depending on your visit, you'll see vines flush with grapes.
Finally, explore the wetlands in Hillier, part of the trail - just don't forget your waterproof shoes. To explore the marshes of Sandbanks, try the hike along the shores of the Outlet River, a short two kms, or the Woodlands Trail, a 3.5-km trek that takes you through trails sheltered by sugar maples or conifers, some of which were planted in 2017 as part of the park's reforestation program.
Walking the Millennium Trail is also a great opportunity for kids to spot rabbits and chipmunks.
CANOEING AND KAYAKING The County is on a peninsula, mostly surrounded by water from Lake Ontario and the Bay of Quinte, which means a variety of water activities for all ages and skills. You can rent kayaks and canoes at various outlets, such as Cabin Fever Kayak in Milford, where you can paddle on the sixkm Black River and watch out for wildlife swans, beavers, kingfishers and herons, depending on the time of year. The Outlet River, south of Sandbanks, is a perfect place for some laid-back canoeing.
WHERE TO STAY There is a variety of options when it comes to where to lay your head and if you want to cook your own meals. If you want to camp, there are nearly a dozen campgrounds in the County. The most well known are the vast array of campsites in Sandbanks Provincial Park, which can accommodate anything from tents to large trailers, some of which offer electricity and shower access.
Other locations include Sandbanks Beach Resort, which has a blend of campsites, trailers and cottages for rent. County Shores, located on the Bay of Quinte, has spots for campers and RVers. If you prefer your camping to be a bit less rustic, you can do the glamping thing, too. Fronterra Farm in Consecon has all the amenities glampers could desire, including an ensuite bathroom in your tent. There's also a brewery and a farm onsite. You may never want to leave, but Fronterra also has bike and canoe rentals for seeing the local sights.
The upscale Drake brand has established itself as one of the places to stay in the County, with the Drake Devonshire and recently opened Drake Motor Inn, both in Wellington.
Both are a blend of hotel, art space, spa and cocktail lounge, set right on the water. The locations are in the heart of Wellington, a great base from which to rent bikes and ride around town.
For something more traditional, Angeline's Inn has a renovated 1860s log cabin, perfect for a family stay. The cabin was moved 33 km to Bloomfield and rebuilt with all the modern conveniences.
WHERE TO EAT After a day of biking or kayaking, indulge your hunger at local restaurants that specialize in pairing locally made wines and beers with local produce. The County Canteen in Picton is an elevated pub that has 26 Ontario craft beers.
Another option, especially for brunch, is Agrarian Bistro in Bloomfield, which focuses on local dairy, meat and produce on its menus.
If you want some excellent local wine with your meal, you're in the right place. There are several wineries that also serve food. The restaurant at Waupoos Winery is set among the vines and overlooks the lake.
After dinner, walk down to the deck and take in the view of the lake. If you prefer cider with your food and lake views, the County Cider Company in Waupoos offers pizza, made-on-the-premises cider and shaded tables looking out over the lake. Just the place to refresh and refuel before hopping on your bike for your next County adventure.
The stunning sunsets and clear, starry night skies have attracted visitors to Ontario's Prince Edward County for decades.
From top: Prince Edward County is one of the best destinations for biking, either as a family or for cycling buffs. Fronterra Farms' upscale glamping accommodations are a great way to be close to nature in comfort. The Drake Devonshire brings a touch of urban hipness to the town of Wellington. An array of camping facilities can be found all over Sandbanks Provincial Park.