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December 14, 2017

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Prince Edward County

What to know before you go

Sometimes you want to be in the heart of the action, even when you’re trying to get away from it all. The beautiful countryside of Ontario’s Prince Edward County (PEC) gives visitors a buzz with its wineries, great food, vibrant creative culture and highly photographable locations.

Just a few hours drive from Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto, and a free 15-minute ride from Kingston on the Glenora Ferry (prince-edward-county.com/glenora-ferry-free), the area is one of the best made-in-Canada touring spots you’ll find — one of those rare places that draws big-city exiles in droves, resulting in an appealing mix of country comforts and urban sensibilities.

The County, formerly known as the Bay of Quinte area, is a wine-growing region on a headland at the eastern end of Lake Ontario. Technically, it became an island in 1889 when the Murray Canal opened the lake to the Trent-Severn Waterway.

Easy touring

Food trucks, boutique wineries, farm-to-fork dining, hiking and cycling, PEC is made for easy unwinding. Nothing requires much organizing and self-guided tour routes are just a click away.

You can enjoy fabulous local food and wines while meandering down quiet country roads on the Taste Trail (tastetrail.ca), visit artists’ studios and galleries on the Arts Trail (artstrail.ca) or hike the nature trails of Sandbanks Provincial Park (ontarioparks.com/park/sandbanks) with its hill-sized sand dunes and balmy beaches. If you bring your bike, you’ll want to ride the road to Sandbanks and hike the high dunes once you’re there.

Hop and barley farms have morphed into vineyards and wineries with a younger personality and provenance than their Niagara Peninsula cousins. Some offer woodland hikes and other extras like the Loft Art Gallery at Karlo Estates (karloestates.com), worth a stop just to try their distinctive white port.

Although PEC is a great getaway any time of year, June may be the ideal month to go. Feast your eyes on the infinite shades of green rolling out on both sides of the Loyalist Parkway and treat yourself to some of the culinary delights the County is known for that run the gamut from down-home to sophisticated. Pick up a sandwich, gluten-free if that’s your fancy, at Schroedter’s Farm Market (schroedtersmarket.com).

Or drop in down the road to shop the artful display of fine olive oils and French comestibles at Maison Depoivre (maison-depoivre.ca), a boutique B&B and gourmet shop by French émigrés Vincent Depoivre and Christophe Doussot who fell in love with the County and moved to Canada in 2012.

Peace, beauty and cheese

The marquee event in June is the Great Canadian Cheese Festival (cheesefestival.ca), an annual County happening that’s the biggest cheese show in North America. It’s scheduled for June 5 and 6 this year and will be held at the 19th-century Crystal Palace at Picton Fairgrounds.

The focus is on artisanal and farmstead cheeses, and on makers rather than mongers, so you’ll get to sample a dazzling variety of cheeses and connect with the people who actually produce them. A bite of brie here, a taste of cheddar there, and soon you’ve fallen in love with the stuff.

At the 2015 event, we met established producers like Albert Borgo of Quality Cheese (qualitycheese.com) from Vaughan, Ontario; celebrated talents like Jean Morin of Quebec’s Fromagerie du Presbytère (fromageriedupresbytere.com) and young up-and-comers like Shep Ysselstein and his wife Colleen Bator who started up Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese (gunnshillcheese.ca) on the family farm near Woodstock. Debra Amrein-Boyes from Agassiz, BC, told us why many of her Farm House Cheeses (farmhousecheeses.com) were intensely yellow — it’s the beta carotene in her cows’ diet!

If you book ahead, you can choose activities like a cheese seminar, tasting program, cooking with cheese class, local cheese tour or an informal Saturday night of food and drink. The big ticket, and by far the hardest to come by — they sell out way in advance — is the Saturday night dinner prepared by celebrity chef Jamie Kennedy (ryanktaylor.com/clients/jamiekennedy), long time local food advocate and County ambassador, at his nearby farm.

You don’t have to be a cheese lover to have a good time. There are all kinds of other offerings including wines, beers and ciders, meats, preserves, tapas and crafts. The live music is certain to be wonderful, there are food trucks, dairy farm animals for the kids, including a water buffalo.

Drake by the lake

The County has hotels and B&Bs galore. At the top of everyone’s list these days is the Drake Devonshire Inn (drakedevonshire.ca; doubles from $279 a night in summer), a breakout country hit known as “the Drake by the lake” from indie hotelier Jeff Stober of Toronto’s Drake Hotel. Fresh, cool and playful, this is Prince Edward County’s hip retreat of choice. With only 11 rooms and two suites, it’s pretty well sold out every weekend from here to eternity, but you can usually book lunch or dinner on the deck or in the restaurant under soaring ceilings of Douglas fir. It oversees the shoreline and offers unbroken Lake Ontario views.

Head Chef Matty deMille’s kitchen plays up the Drake vibe, artfully simple with a twist of fun. After dinner, stay for a game of ping-pong or a beanbag toss on the lawn.

Whether you’re a day-tripper or book in for a few days, if you live within a day’s drive of Prince Edward Country make a point of visiting soon. It’s sure to be one of the summer’s highlights.

For more info on travel to the region, visit Prince Edward County Tourism (prince-edward-county.com).

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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