The first time I experienced the white, silky sand and ocean-like vistas of Prince Edward County—an island in Lake Ontario, east of Toronto—I knew I’d found a piece of our province to treasure for years to come. It happened when a group of my university friends decided we should reunite over the summer at Sandbanks Provincial Park for a weekend of camping. As I walked to the crest of my first sand dune, I noticed the sound of the shimmering leaves on the trees and the beautiful bending of the tall grass that lined the paths to the beach. I felt connected to where I was in a way that’s hard to come by during the usual rush and busyness of city life. And when I reached the top of the dune, I didn’t want to come down.
It was the start of a lifelong pull to the area, which you’ll understand if you’ve been lucky enough to spend time there, too. My friends and I continued to reunite in the park each summer, adding on our significant others over the years. And for my own family, camping there became a tradition. We’ve camped in numerous Ontario parks over the years, but Sandbanks is at the very top of our kids’ list.
This year, we decided to use our shared birthdays to experience the county from a different perspective (and during the fall, since we’ve only ever been in the summer). The weekend began by leaving the kids and ditching tents in favour of a comfortable bed and hot showers. We found exactly what we had in mind at the Drake Motor Inn (the sister inn to the lakeside Devonshire Inn). It would be too dramatic to say we wept when we pushed open the door to our weekend abode, but I will say my eyes were shiny with gratitude. And I know I heard my husband release a most contended sigh. When you live with four growing humans, minimalism is a laughable and lofty goal—one we’ve never been able to achieve.
The location allowed us to walk through and around the town of Wellington easily. The inn also features common rooms filled with ‘70s-inspired decor, magazines, and board games, as well as private patios on each room, and a bespoke, communal firepit. We were also able to access the larger inn and all its amenities, and we enjoyed dinner with a gorgeous view of the lake on our first night.
After a great sleep, we spent the day travelling from one end of the county to the other: visiting tiny shops, breweries and delicious eateries. I’m not saying those things are impossible with your kids, but it’s all so much more enjoyable without the work that comes with travelling as a family. We were able to wander in and out of shops and practice the lost art of browsing with no particular list or agenda at hand. We could feel the clutter of all those to-do lists evaporating with each passing hour. And that is a very fine feeling, indeed.
The actual distance across the county is very manageable and many visitors explore the county by bike. There are also several shuttle services and tour packages available if you’re planning to sample the wineries and breweries while there. The scenery as you move from one village to the next is quite beautiful and we took advantage of the winding side roads, too.
Here are some of the highlights of our two-day stay:
We set out to enjoy the food during our stay, and we were not disappointed. We dined at the Devonshire for both dinner and breakfast the day we left. There are beautiful seating options, beyond the seated dining area, including a beach bonfire pit and bleacher-style seating that faces the lake. We also ate dinner at the Bloomfield Public House (built inside an old bank) and thoroughly enjoyed our meal there, too.
The front desk at the inn recommended we stop by the local Mexican restaurant, and it ended up being our top food experience of the weekend. Served tapas style, the flavours and attention to presentation in each dish at La Condesa were absolutely wonderful. We couldn’t stop talking about it, and, yes, we can’t wait to take the kids next summer.
Knowing we would be having a long day of eating ahead, we decided to go in search of a good coffee first thing in the morning, instead of a sit-down breakfast. Across from our inn, we found the Enid Grace Cafe and had the most scrumptious, perfectly smooth Americanos. There was a gorgeous offering of different baked goods, pastries, and breakfast options, too. But we deferred reluctantly and waited until we headed to another village for treats later in the day.
BEST BEER, WINE, AND SPIRITS
There’s a growing craft-beer industry in the county and the aesthetics of each location are fantastic. Most breweries in the county have vibrant outdoor spaces. The Drake Motor Inn actually backs onto the Midtown Brewery, which is very popular with both the tourists and locals. But the tastiest beer of the weekend went to Prince Eddy’s Cream Ale, from the Prince Eddy’s Brewing Co. Smooth and light, it went down well with the rich food we were recklessly consuming.
We also stopped for a cider at County Cider in Wapoos, where the views of the Lake Ontario are absolutely spectacular. Due to the unique topography of the area, there are more than 40 wineries to explore and each one has a signature style and vibe. One of our favourite flavours is the Pinot Noir found at Keint-He Winery and Vineyards.
I’ve never been a cheese connoisseur, but after pulling into Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Co. to search for a birthday gift for a friend, I may be a convert. We had the opportunity to enjoy several samples and it was actually hard to narrow down the choices we took home with us. They offer eat-in cheese boards or can prepare you one to take on a picnic (which is what I would do if we went back again). All of their award-winning products are produced environmentally (it’s named Canada’s Greenest Dairy) with locally-sourced ingredients.
BEST BAKED GOODS
Throughout our travels, we noticed a lot of places featuring a Wapoos butter tart. I may not be cheese-savvy, but I do know my butter tarts, and I hoped to find them at another county favourite—the Argarian Market. This delightful market offers an array of locally-sourced and produced food including cheeses, charcuterie, picnic perfect bites (call ahead and they’ll pack a picnic for two for you) and meals-to-go. But it was the baked goods and coffee that we were in search of, and the infamous Wapoos butter tart did not disappoint. This is a must-see stop and there are locations in both Picton (market style) and Bloomfield (bistro and SpeakEasy).
For us, everything about being in the county can be described in a single word: community. Each business/restaurant/market you visit is a celebration of the people who appreciate the bounty of this unique agriculturally-abundant land. The attention-to-detail you encounter at each stop is what makes the county such a great weekend getaway. You won’t just feel like you’re just sitting down to a meal or sampling a glass of wine—you’ll enjoy beautiful aesthetics, a relaxed vibe, and a welcoming space that makes it so worth the drive.