Destinations: Our Prince Edward County Top 7

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Our Prince Edward County TOP 7

If you’re looking for weekend get-away that’s close-to-home, you can’t do better than Prince Edward County (PEC), located between Toronto and Kingston in south eastern Ontario, along Lake Ontario.

Long known for the glory of Sandbanks Provincial Park and its links to Loyalist history, PEC is emerging as an art-music-cycling-agro-touring mecca. In 2014, PEC was recognized by McLean Magazines as one of the Top 10 Places in Canada to Visit and it is the only Canadian destination featured on Travel & Leisure magazine’s list of Where to Travel in 2015.

Kirk and I spent a week in the county this past summer with home-base being our lake-front campsite at Smuggler’s Cove RV Resort.

We discovered that PEC has so much to offer. Here’s a sampling of seven that made our week special:

1. Oneo Gallery Sculpture Garden at Huff Estates Winery

This four-acre garden designed by the late Drew MacCandlish is a place of discovery and contemplation. Limestone, sand and grass paths lead you through perennial gardens, maple groves, rose and herb gardens. Throughout you’ll find art installations that are certain to evoke a reaction—from delight to puzzlement. A visit to the sculpture gallery is the perfect catalyst to conversation…perhaps over a glass of Huff Estates wine?

The wide-open spaces are kid friendly. Installations change yearly.

2. Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Co.

It’s hard to know where to start when raving about Fifth Town: the Platinum LEED manufacturing facility, the socially responsible mandate, the fabulous landscaping or the savoury cheeses? A visit to Fifth Town is much more than merely a stop to purchase local artisan cheese.

But purchase cheese you will. The helpful staff at the tasting bar are knowledgeable about the wide variety of cheese they sell: be it a unique international cheese or one of their own fresh, soft-ripened, hard or wash-rind cow, sheep and goat cheeses. The retail store is well-stocked with all the accoutrements: crackers, chutneys, pastas, sauces as well as everything you need to serve, so you can head straight back to the campground to begin your feast. Check out their award-winning cheese with local nettles. True.

Be sure to take advantage of the self-guided tour of Fifth Town facility and grounds and during the summer months, you can book a wine-and-cheese pairing event. (Note: Fifth Town’s retail facility hours are seasonal so phone ahead after Thanksgiving to avoid disappointment.)

3. Live Music at The Acoustic Grill 

If you’re looking for a casual dinner (think atmospheric gastro-pub) while listening to great live acoustic music talent from across North America, you’ve found your place. Located at 172 Main Street, Picton—set back from the street with its own parking lot—The Acoustic Grill is a run by husband-and-wife team Steve and Jenny, who clearly love what they do.

The combination locally brewed ales and wine, fresh local ingredients and fabulous talent works, necessitating reservations for dinner through the summer months. Their own record label—Acoustic Jam Records—a great to-go menu, and Grill Merchandise means you can take this unique experience home with you.

3. Vader’s Maple Syrup

I first discovered Vader’s at the Kingston farmers’ market: their pure, granulated maple sugar has quickly become my go-to topping on buttered toast (just sprinkle and taste a bit of heaven). During our sojourn in PEC, we dropped by the family farm located on Road 18, Cherry Valley to purchase more.

Vader’s was established in 1910 and is the longest-running maple syrup producer in the county.  During the sugarbush season you can tour their 2800-tap operation and learn all about syrup production while enjoying vintage displays. Off-season, drop by the picturesque farm to make your purchase. You’ll want stock up on fresh maple syrup, maple butter (great on ribs!), maple leaves and the must-have stirred granulated maple sugar. Brilliant.

4. Cycling Trails & Millennium Trail

While this list is weighted heavily towards food and drink, PEC does offer great options for the more active-minded traveler. The network of county roads amidst the gently rolling hills deliver great views of Lake Ontario, making PEC a popular cycling destination.  Because of the short distances between villages and attractions, even inexperienced cyclists can enjoy touring on two wheels.

The PEC offers a number of cycling maps and resources. For those who are more comfortable off-road, the Millennium trail traverses the island from Carrying Place through to Picton with access to Wellington and Bloomfield on 49 km of abandoned rail line.

5. Wood-fired Pizza a Norman Hardie Winery

Early May to late-fall, you can relax on the patio overlooking the vineyards and enjoy some of the best wood-fired thin-crust pizza you’ve ever tasted. Yum.  The atmosphere is relaxed and the aromas intoxicating.

6. Karlo Estates

We visited a number of wineries while in the county but the tasting experience at Karlo Estates (location) was unsurpassed. Our host lead us through a flight of wines taking the time to fully explain the different varietals on offer—sharing stories of the industry, the county and the winery as he educated/entertained us—and paired each wine with food, from crackers to cashews to stilton, fully engaging our senses. We were made to feel like welcome guests rather than paying customers. The experience was memorable.

If wine isn’t on your bucket list, it’s still worth visiting the 93-acre estate to see the largest mortarless limestone bridge in North America—comprised of 45 tonnes of locally quarried chocolate limestone. A definite photo op.

7. The Arts Trail

Yes, I said seven because no professional makes a list of eight, but a nod to art is essential in a discussion of  PEC (as is the Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory but it's not making the list due to space restrictions...and rain).

The county makes it easy with their Arts Trail branding and visitor information, giving you access to almost 30 studios and galleries. Whether you’re looking for fine paintings, photography, jewelry, furniture, pottery, glassworks or woodworks, you’ll find something to please.

We were charmed with the warm welcome we received from ___ at the Cranston Gallery on Main in Bloomfied and I couldn’t resist snapping a photograph of him with his likeness.