For a trip to one of Canada’s fastest-growing wine regions, hop in the car for a two-hour drive east of Toronto to lakeside Prince Edward County. This scenic, still-rural area on Lake Ontario, nicknamed “The County,” has nearly 40 wineries and an increasing number of breweries, cider-makers and distilleries.
This Ontario destination also has a well-established dining scene emphasizing local products, as well as an “arts trail,” a network of galleries and studios that welcome visitors.
Plan your weekend getaway to The County with our schedule of sampling, sunning and studio scouting to experience the best of what this rustic region has to offer.
Continue your vino adventures at Sandbanks Winery, where you can pair your sipping with a weekly “yoga in the vineyard” class.
Afterward, head on over to the long-established Huff Estates, where you can sample the range of wine it produces, from pinot gris to rosé to merlot, wander through its outdoor sculpture garden or check out the contemporary art in the high-end Oeno Gallery.
Several young entrepreneurs are amping up the craft beer scene with newly launched microbreweries. Parsons Brewing Company serves 15 different varieties at the tasting bar and on the sunny patio that opened this year. Try the dry Summer Saison or Grandpa Miguel’s Coffee Stout, brewed with coffee beans that co-owner Samantha Parsons’ father grows on his Guatemala farm.
Then, visit Midtown Brewing Company, also new this summer, to see what’s on tap in its semi-industrial tasting room.
Ontario is an apple-growing region, so if cider is your drink, stop into the County Cider Company to sample the fruity brews. The County has a craft distillery, too, Kinsip House of Fine Spirits, offering up pours of gin, vodka, whiskey, rum and shochu in an original brick Victorian farmhouse built in 1874. The maple syrup aged in whiskey barrels makes a fine Canadian souvenir.
Where to gallery hop
Pick up a brochure (or follow along online) for the self-guided Arts Trail gallery tour. The artist cooperative Arts on Main exhibits works by its members, who are all County residents.
Lustre & Tarnish crafts one-of-a-kind jewelry, while tiny Sybil Frank Gallery, named for the owner’s grandmothers, showcases contemporary art by local and national artists.
Where to sun
Prince Edward County sits on the shores of Lake Ontario, which has several lovely white sand beaches. Visit longtime favorite, Sandbanks Provincial Park, to walk its dunes or sun on its sandy shores. An alternative, the smaller (and often less-crowded) North Beach Provincial Park, has powdery sand and gentle rolling dunes. Pick up a locally inspired picnic at Agrarian Market before heading out for the day.
Where to stay
The coolest lodging in The County is Drake Devonshire, run by the same team that operates Toronto’s artsy Drake Hotel. The “Drake on the Lake,” a 14-room boutique inn, feels part country cottage and part hip urban lodge. You can play ping-pong in the courtyard, sit by the fire in the art-filled living room or enjoy a local beer on the terrace overlooking the lake.
To get back to nature without giving up your creature comforts, consider a stay at the secluded Fronterra Farm. Ten deluxe log-framed tents — five in the forest and five floating on the edge of the bay — are equipped with king-sized beds, comfy chairs and showers under the stars.
The farm’s personable young owners encourage you to harvest vegetables for your salads or collect newly laid eggs to prepare in your personal outdoor kitchen. They plan to break ground on an onsite microbrewery later this year. To keep the setting private, there’s no sign; you get directions when you book.
Prefer more traditional lodgings? The stately Merrill Inn has 13 antiques-filled rooms and suites in a brick manor house, plus a well-regarded farm-to-table restaurant.
Where to eat
Many wineries serve charcuterie, cheeses or other light meals to enjoy as you sip. Huff Estates has a full restaurant on its terrace, while the Pizza Patio at Norman Hardie is perpetually popular on summer afternoons.
In this agricultural area, many restaurants pride themselves on their connection with local farmers. For a deep dive into this regional food ethos, book a private Bounty of the County tour with chef Cynthia Peters at From the Farm Cooking School. She’ll take you to local farms and markets to collect fresh ingredients before returning to her farmhouse kitchen, where you’ll prepare lunch together. After your meal, you’ll take a guided tasting excursion to nearby wineries.
Grilled octopus with grapefruit gelée and popcorn? Creamy smoked eggplant layered over buckwheat “risotto”? Lamb heart tartare? In a laid-back storefront with a tin ceiling, rustic marble and wooden tables, and a long welcoming bar, The Courage serves some of The County’s most inventive fare. For dessert, you might find an updated version of the classic summer s’more — chocolate cheesecake with a graham cracker crust, swathed in a marshmallow brûlée.
Tiny Enid Grace Café is The County’s newest breakfast hot spot, where the staff bakes everything from scones to croissants, even bagels, in house. Pair your coffee with the daily special muffin, which might be a tropical blend of pineapple, coconut and cashews, or sit down to a slice of toasted brioche topped with creamy scrambled eggs, cherry tomatoes and fresh greens.
With its walls of windows overlooking Lake Ontario, the dining room at the Drake Devonshire has one of The County’s best settings for sunset supping. Pull up a bright yellow chair and start with a glass of local wine or the seasonally changing spiked punch, before digging into the creative comfort food.
You can’t go wrong with the hand-cut burger, piled high with house-cured bacon and cheddar, or with a simple summery pasta, like cavatelli with pea shoots, ricotta and a pumpkin seed pesto.
Once you put down the fork, watch the sun go down on your perfect weekend by the lake.