A few years back, we started a new Christmas tradition. Rather than give our growing girls more “stuff” that they didn’t really need, they get to plan a mini-adventure.
Sometimes it’s a family trip, sometimes just a chance for the two of them to bond as sisters, sometimes a girls’ weekend with mom – mostly just time to hang out together and maybe try something new. This year, when we asked our girls what they wanted to do for our mini-getaway, (shopping? spa? shows and clubs?), it was a proud mama moment when they both asked for a food-focused holiday.
We decided that we’d find everything we needed in Eastern Ontario’s Prince Edward County.
If you’re not familiar with the area, Prince Edward is beautiful little chunk of land that juts out into Lake Ontario, just off Highway 401 near Trenton. It’s not quite an island, but feels like one, almost completely surrounded by the Bay of Quinte and Lake Ontario. The largest centre on the island is Picton, with a year-round population of about 5,000 people.
Food and wine tourism are growing industries, and little inns, B&Bs, spas and gourmet food shops pepper the small towns and villages that make up the county. February is definitely off-season for the county – where the beaches at Sandbanks Provincial Park are a summer major draw – but there was no shortage of things to see and do.
If you’re going – and you should – here are a few highlights not to be missed.
My sister offered to join us, so we made it a girls’ trip and set out early on Family Day weekend, picking up my daughters along the way. Our route made it about a five-hour drive, so we arrived in the county just in time for lunch at the East and Main Bistro near the main intersection in Wellington.
East and Main Bistro, Wellington
Landing in just ahead of a lunch-hour rush, we scored a sunny four-top table in the front window – perfect for people watching. We started with a dip trio – guacamole, baked artichoke and roasted red pepper hummus (our server was quick to come back with more baguette crisps when we ran short), and, naturally some county wines. With only nine mains plus a special, the lunch menu shows off the chef’s flair and strong local influences. From a pulled pork poutine with local cheese curds to Louisiana-style crab cakes, the flavours and top-notch presentation made this a great introduction to county cuisine.
The village of Bloomfield is roughly equidistance between Wellington and Picton – making Angeline’s Inn an ideal home base for our weekend. A cross between a boutique inn and a B&B, Angeline’s offered a warm welcome, some great information about county highlights and room keys to the two-room master suite with spa-like bathroom. From that point on we were left to our own devices. In the summer months, the Hubb Eatery at Angeline’s offers breakfast to guests, but closes in the off-season.
Food and wine shops
Still full from lunch and a bit tired from our long drive, we decided to put together an in-room wine and tapas feast for Saturday night’s supper. That called for a quick tour of one of the county’s eastern fingers, with a side-trip to check out some unusual geography. Heading out from Bloomfield, we took advantage of the relatively mild February weather, to take a quick look at Lake on the Mountain. For years unexplained, this fresh water lake sits 62 metres above the Bay of Quinte, and is believed to be a collapsed doline in the limestone. The nearby County Cider Company was closed for the season (definitely worth a visit in warmer weather), so we headed to the Waupoos Winery for tastings and a few snacks from their chocolate and candy counter.
Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Co., with the look and feel of a small Niagara winery, offers an incredible selection of locally produced cheeses, along with a few great imports. We left well-stocked with cheeses, spreads, crackers and oils for our evening meal.
We rounded things out with a stop at Picton’s Agrarian Market, with cured meats, fresh bread and some of the best butter tarts I’ve ever tasted. (Because we’re not complete heathens, we grabbed some fresh fruit at the local Metro, too.)
Breakfast at a winery? Why not? Based on a recommendation from our hosts at Angeline’s Inn, we headed to Trail Estates Winery in the county’s west end for a special Family Day weekend French-toast breakfast. Fried up as we watched, served with a cinnamon cream, maple syrup, fresh berries and a glass of wild ferment Riesling, it was the perfect start to a full day.
We had time to visit two more wineries – By Chadsey’s Cairns and Norman Hardie – before our afternoon bath potions class. By Chadsey’s Cairns is a charming farm property, where wine tastings are served in an ancient triple-brick apple house. (It’s currently for sale, in case anyone was wondering what to get me for Christmas this year.) Norman Hardie has a more modern look and feel, with some great wines and a selection of gourmet food products for sale in the winter months and an outdoor wood-fired pizza oven that’s worth a return visit in warmer weather.
Bath potions workshop
You could spend most of a weekend just touring and tasting at wineries, but we had other plans in mind. Nightingale’s in Bloomfield is a spa and wellness centre, offers a range of classes including a Bath Potions workshop. What better activity for a girly weekend? We were greeted with tea and organic chocolate, then taken through a brief introduction to aromatherapy ingredients and effects before we were tasked with “combining intellect and instinct” to create our own custom scents, bath salts, massage oils and tea blends.
Drake Devonshire, Wellington
No trip to Prince Edward County is complete without a meal at the Drake Devonshire in Wellington, where Drake service and quality meets rustic, lake-side lodge ambiance. While our reservation wasn’t until 6:30 (and, yes, you’ll need a reservation), we arrived early to catch the mid-winter beach sunset. The restaurant was already packed, but even in February, there was a roaring fire going outside, with plenty of warm blankets and comfortable seating to snuggle up and watch the sun sink behind Lake Ontario. From duck beignets and pan-fried sprouts to cauliflower risotto and local craft beers, the menu was delicious and distinctly Canadian. And, when every seat in the house includes a view of the lake, the DD is an experience not to be missed.
If you’re going
A few things to note if you’re planning a trip to Prince Edward County: It’s a small place and things fill up fast, so book ahead. Expect to do some driving – it’s about 40 minutes from the wineries in the west end to the Cider Company and Fifth Town Artisan Cheese locations in the east, but it’s worth the drive. Take your time and enjoy the countryside and lake vistas. Most importantly, relax, enjoy and take time to really absorb this unique corner of Ontario.