Cool in Canada: Prince Edward County- Ontario’s great escape

Put Toronto in the rear-view mirror for an island getaway filled with charming townships, rolling mounds and Lake Ontario views. Crime novelist Linwood Barclay has become fond of the food and wineries, too

Where is it? I asked.

Prince Edward County.

Wheres that?

I should have known. Its merely a two-hour drive east of Toronto, about three-and-a-half west of Montreal. The district( as the locals call it) is technically an island in the northern half of Lake Ontario but it should not be confused with Prince Edward Island, the Canadian province that sits in the Gulf of St Lawrence, off the countrys east coast.

My wife told me more. It says here the district is known for more than 35 wineries, a big artists community, lots of nice restaurants, festivals, and Sandbanks provincial park, which has one of the most spectacular beaches in Canada.

Stop, I told. You had me at wineries.

Green and golden beach in Sandbanks provincial park. Photo: Alamy

Its merely in the past few years that Prince Edward County has really taken off. For generations of Ontarians, particularly those in the Toronto area, getting away from it all mean going north to so-called bungalow country. The Muskokas or the Kawarthas or the Haliburton Highlands. But as those regions, especially the Muskokas, became saturated with weekenders, and the price of even a simple cottage ran sky-high, people appeared east. And they found Prince Edward County, mostly a farming world of low, rolling mounds and charming small towns, all surrounded by beautiful Lake Ontario and the Bay of Quinte.

Prince Edward County map, Ontario, Canada

About 25,000 people live permanently in the county, and the other 6,000 folks like us live here part of the time. The area describes more than 550,000 visitors a year, the majority of members of those in the summer months when theres a lot going on, including a cheese festival every June, jazz and classical music weekends and art studio tour. But in the winter theres cross-country skiing, ice fishing, skating, a maple festival, and best of all, most of those wineries are open year round.

Theres plenty of history, too. For one thing, Canadas first prime minister, Sir John A Macdonald, grew up nearby and practised law in the town of Picton for several years. That bit of trivia may not make the kids leap and down with merriment if youre planning a journey here. But that beach will. There are actually three within the Sandbanks park, all safe and shallow. There are several campsites, and activities besides swimming include boating, sailboarding, hiking, angling and cycling. Youll find cyclists all over Prince Edward County.

Vineyard in the Waupoos area of the county. Photograph: Alamy

There are five routes on to the island: four bridges, and a ferry that holds 21 cars. You can drive from one objective of the county to the other in about an hour, but it will take a lot longer if you stop in Picton, Wellington, Bloomfield or Consecon. Picton is the largest town, with three big grocery stores, even a McDonalds, and of course, a Tim Hortons outlet, where Canadians get their daily coffee and donut fix.

But if youre into finer dining, thats not a problem. The county hot spot is the Drake Devonshire Inn( doubles from 138) in Wellington( an offshoot of the fashionable boutique Drake Hotel in Toronto) where you can eat and beverage with a opinion of Lake Ontario merely a few feet away. Our favourite dinner place is the Portabellabistro, in Picton, which is something we tend to order the pan-seared pickerel( small pike) or the house pasta. Also in Picton is the Blumen Garden Bistro, which does seared Atlantic diver scallops, or pulled braised rabbit with house-made gnocchi.

We also like the food at the Inn on the Mountain, which hugs the Lake on the Mountain, a geological anomaly a huge lagoon 62 metres about the Bay of Quinte. When we bought our place, we asked whether the lagoon had ever jumped a leak, given that if it did, our home would be washed away.

Not in couple of million years, the estate agent said.

We took consolation in that.

Diners at the waterside eatery at the Drake Devonshire Hotel. Photo: Johnny C Y Lam

Theres a strong farm-to-table motion in Prince Edward County. A highlight are the Saturday night dinners sold out weeks or even months in advance put one across by Jamie Kennedy, one of Canadas most well known chefs, at his farm in Hillier.

As for accommodation, the Drake Devonshire has great rooms that youd be advised to volume well ahead. The district is light on major hotels. Some of the more familiar chains can be found in the town of Belleville, just over the Norris Whitney bridge on the two sides of the strait, but there are dozens of B& Bs and several inn. The historic city of Kingston is about 45 minutes away, and from here its possible to construct day trips to the district for food, drinking, or bird watching.

We bought our place in Prince Edward County about 18 months ago, after my wife spotted in the real estate listings of a Toronto newspaper what could be a very nice getaway house for us. My examine has a position of the Bay of Quinte, and Ive seen everything from blue jays to eagles go swooping past.

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