Touring the Taste Trail in Prince Edward County

Photo Credit: Corbis

Pretty any time of year, the harvest season and fall’s changing colours make Prince Edward County an ideal spot for a fall escape. Whether you’ve got a day or a week to spend, here are some ideas to get you planning.

Wining and dining

If you haven’t heard it through the grapevine, Prince Edward County is Ontario’s newest wine region and Canada’s fastest growing. Thanks to its mineral-rich soil and the moderating effects of Lake Ontario, the area has always been famous for its fruit and agriculture. In the past decade, the area has been booming with vines. Where there was once just a single winery back in 2000, now there are two dozen dotted across the region from Hillier to Waupoos. Today, there’s something to suit every palate from apple cider to ice wine — not to mention an impressive selection of award-winning white, red and rosé wines.

Of course, tasting is just part of the fun. Many places offer a complete winery experience including tours, gift shops, art galleries, live entertainment and special events. Sidle up to the bar to sip a new vintage, or book a private tasting with an expert. Pack a lunch for a vineyard picnic, and don’t forget to shop for souvenirs!

Even if you’re not a wine aficionado, the unique charm and setting of the wineries will capture your attention. For example, By Chadsey’s Cairn Winery is located on a 200 year old farm, and Sandbanks Estate Winery comes complete with a picnic area and views of the lake. Be sure to take your camera — many wineries feature restored historic buildings like Hillier Creek Estates’ 150 year old post-and-beam barn.

Of course, the wineries aren’t the only tasty diversion. Some top-notch chefs have also moved into the region. While many of the wineries have their own restaurants, you’ll find everything from charming cafes with homemade baked goods to critically-acclaimed restaurants. One common theme you’ll see is culinary creations made using local ingredients. Many places offer outdoor seating to take advantage of good weather and scenic views.

Beyond the vines

Food and wine aren’t the only reasons more people are heading to the county. Here are some ideas to round out your itinerary:

– Pack a picnic. The area has many places to eat or cook outdoors, like Lake on the Mountain Provincial Park in Picton. After enjoying the view of this unusual in-mountain lake, head across the road and for the cliff-top panorama of the Bay of Quinte.

– Skip the short cuts and enjoy the scenic drives along the Bay of Quinte and Lake Ontario. You can download three self-guided driving tours from The Chamber of Tourism & Commerce (PDF file). Two wheels work as well as four — the area is ideal for a bicycles and motorcycles too.

– For a day at the beach, head to Sandbanks Provincial Park. Known for its sand bars and water sports, it’s the perfect place to relax with a book or enjoy some physical activity.

– Prince Edward County is also home to a thriving arts community. Shop the best of local art, jewellery, pottery and glass along the Arts Trail. For a closer look, check out the annual Studio & Gallery tour in September.

– For a sweet treat, try Slicker’s County Ice Cream, an artisan ice cream shop in Bloomfield known for its one-of-a-kind flavours. (Be sure to sample their famous Apple Pie ice cream.)

– You’ve seen them in gourmet food stores, now visit them in person. The Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Company uses fresh cow, goat and sheep milk from local farms to craft its selection of 26 cheeses. Try some fresh cheese curd, or sign up for a wine and cheese tasting seminar. The Black River Cheese Company also offers up some top quality cheese, including their popular Maple Cheddar.

– Visit a farm or garden. Take a guided tour, meet the animals and enjoy a workshop or get lost in the Corn Maize at West Lake Orchard. You can even sleep over: some places like Blossom Ridge Farm and Thyme Again Gardens have overnight accommodations.

– Take advantage of fresh, seasonal produce by stopping at the fruit and vegetable stands along the way or visiting a market like Campbell’s Orchards or Hagerman’s, just outside of Picton.

– Go antiquing. Hunt for treasures in the area’s many shops, like the creatively-named Dead People’s Stuff. True enthusiasts won’t want to miss the Antique Fall Show & Sale held in mid-September.

– Take in a fair or festival. Fall events include fairs in Picton, Milford and Ameliasburgh, plus there’s PumpkinFest in Wellington, and Taste! A Celebration of Regional Cuisine, this year on September 29, 2012.

You’ll also find music festivals and local workshops — like Nineteenth Century heritage cooking at Macaulay Heritage Park or Gourd Crafting at Black Walnut Educational Gardens. (For more events, check out the Event Calendar on

Planning tips

Download a good guide and a map. Prince Edward County covers a wide area, so it pays to get to know the region better before planning your route. View interactive maps or download an area map at

Remember, each winery and eatery has its own specialties. If there’s something you’re in the mood for, do a little research before you go. Visit and the Taste Trail website for gustatory guides to the area.

Give yourself plenty of time. The atmosphere is relaxing and things move at a leisurely pace. Don’t rush from place to place — take the time to explore and savour. Build some extra time into the itinerary if you plan to take the Glenora Ferry from Highway 33 as there can be delays.

You won’t be able to cover it in a day or a weekend, so create an attack plan: start with one area and explore thoroughly — then promise yourself a return visit.

Think outside the box for accommodations. No big hotel chains or resorts here — instead, you’ll find charming inns, hotels and bed & breakfasts. Book a cottage, camp out with a tent or RV or opt for a farm vacation.

Book a package. Looking for savings? Many of the inns and bed & breakfasts offer getaway packages that include accommodations, meals and other perks.

Check out family-friendly spots before you go. Not all places are suitable for youngsters — call first or visit the company or store’s websites for more information.

For more information about Prince Edward County, order a Visitors’ Information Package.

Photo © Jan Rihak

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