Laid-back Prince Edward County – an island that sits on the north shore of Lake Ontario – has long been a favourite summer holiday destination for outdoorsy Canadian families. Just a couple of hours’ drive east of Toronto, in recent years city-dwellers after a weekend dose of rural life have beaten a path to Picton and Wellington – characterful towns that make a great base to explore the island’s hiking trails, beaches and scores of independent wineries. With a hip new hotel opening in Wellington ramping up its cool credentials, and interesting restaurants emerging on the scene, Prince Edward County is catching the eye of international visitors seeking a slice of the Canadian good life. Here are the spots to make a beeline for.
Drake Motor Inn
What Wellington’s brand-new, funky 12-room crash pad inspired by classic mid-century motels. Drake Hotels has form here; when it converted the Wellington Iron Foundry into the boutique Drake Devonshire Inn in 2014, it immediately upped the where-to-sleep ante. Newbie Drake Motor Inn is a retro riot with joyous colour-popping decor, terraces made for evenings spent wine-sipping, and lounges stacked with vintage magazines, as well as complimentary bicycles and Polaroid cameras. In winter there’s a pop-up ice skating rink, too.
Go for The art collection, curated by Mia Nielsen. Inspired by road-trip nostalgia, it includes photographic installations by Toronto-based artist Steven Beckly. Oh, and the façade mural by Antonyo Marest is Instagram gold.
But don’t miss Popping to the lakeside restaurant at the Drake Devonshire for top-notch charcuterie and sea-cuterie boards.
43 Wharf Street, Wellington, K0K 3L0; +1 613 399 3338
What Home to the world’s largest freshwater baymouth barrier dune formation and a trio of Canada’s finest sandy beaches, six-square-mile Sandbanks Provincial Park packs in a lot of natural drama. During summer it’s jam-packed with family campers who come for the gorgeous scenery.
Go for Fun-filled beach time; Outlet Beach is best for little ones due to its shallow waters, while Dunes Beach is better for strong swimmers. Or explore the walking paths that wind through dunes and along rare pannes wetlands – the 2km Cedar Sands Nature Trail is a good first-timer’s option.
But don’t miss A trip in the spring or autumn when migratory birds such as plovers, bitterns and tree swallows arrive. In winter, the snow transforms beaches into cross-country skiing and snowshoeing tracks.
3004 County Rd, Picton, K0K 2T0; +1 613 393 3319
What Winemaking has come a long way in Prince Edward County; in 1993, pioneering Waupoos Estate Winery planted a small vineyard in Picton after clocking that the terroir here (limestone bedrock) was similar to Burgundy’s. Flash forward to today and PEC has garnered a name as a viticulture powerhouse, with over 40 producers, particularly famed for their pinot noirs and chardonnays. Pay a visit to relative newcomer Trail Estate Winery in Hillier, helmed by innovative winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois.
Go for Here you should expect the unexpected; think experimental skin ferments, orange wines and pétillant naturel (naturally sparkling wine).
But don’t miss The cider. The old-growth orchards – which produce both sweet and sour apples – have been here far longer than the vines. Grab a pint at County Cider Co, founded by the so-called “grandfather of Ontario cider”, or head to Apple Falls Cider Tasting Room for a pint of Heritage, which is blended with local maple syrup.
Trail Estate Winery, 416 Benway Rd, Hillier, K0K 2J0; +1 647 233 8599. Waupoos Estate Winery, 3016 County Road 8, Picton, K0K 2T0; +1 613 476 8338. County Cider, 657 Bongards Crossroad, Waupoos, K0K 2T0; +1 613 476 1022
What Bringing a touch of North American sizzle to Wellington is jazzy La Condesa. The interiors at this Mexican joint are a fiesta-psychedelic array of colour, and the menu a love letter to the dishes one of the founders – Mexican chef Samantha Valdivia – misses the most from home. Produce comes from local farms and there are masses of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options as well.
Go for Street-food bites and home-cooked classics – think ceviche, hibiscus and cheese on grilled tortillas, and chicken chipotle tostadas.
But don’t miss The lip-smackingly good cocktails; mezcal margarita, anyone?
298 Wellington Main Street, Wellington, K0K 3L0; + 1 613 399 2007
What A one-stop shop for unusual antiques, beautifully restored furniture and out-there oddities, this family-run shop in Bloomfield is a curio-hunter’s dream. A local institution – open since 2005 – Sue and Terry Hierlihy have a talent for bringing together the most covetable vintage homewares, which are then displayed across a two-level carriage house on Main Street.
Go for The #interiorspo. You’ll be racking your brain as to how you’re going to get that mismatched crockery and oak sideboard back home with you.
But don’t miss The Mantiques room, where you’ll find LPs, vintage tools and sporting paraphernalia.
388 Main Street, Bloomfield, K0K 1G0; +1 613 393 3193