Canada has no shortage of place names honoring the British royal family. Queen Victoria alone is commemorated with several cities (including Victoria, British Columbia, and Regina, Saskatchewan), islands (Victoria Island, Northwest Territories), and a seemingly endless amount of towns, streets, and schools. But it’s her father, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and commander of the British forces in North America, who might just have the nicest namesakes. Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province, is named for him. And there’s another “Prince Edward” destination that all travelers should have on their list.
Prince Edward County is a municipality in southern Ontario with a coastline on Lake Ontario. It’s just over 2 hours east of Toronto and less than 2 hours west of Watertown, New York. While it’s nowhere near the province of Prince Edward Island (which is at least a 15-hour drive to the east), I can’t help but draw comparisons between the two. They both have exceptional agriculture (did I say exceptional? I meant to say delicious!), soft, dreamy beaches, and a nice mix of cute towns and tranquil rural spots. I’ve been visiting Prince Edward County (or “the county” as it’s known locally) for about 15 years and I’m always excited to discover more. Here’s what every visitor should check out.
Explore Sandbanks Provincial Park
The massive popularity of this large provincial park is well justified. Robin Reilly, the superintendent at Sandbanks Provincial Park, told me: “Sandbanks is special for having three distinct pristine beaches that back onto an extensive dune system with an abutting forest. Along with its amazing beaches, Sandbanks Provincial Park offers many opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, including birding, fishing and hiking on a network of trails that connect the beaches, dunes and forest.”
The birding that Reilly refers to is nothing short of spectacular. The park is an absolute paradise for bird lovers, as its location by Lake Ontario makes it an ideal spot for migrating birds to stop in for a visit. (The Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory holds a birding festival each spring for those who want to take their bird watching to the next level).
Sandbanks also offers six hiking trails (all rated easy to easy-moderate) that showcase this area’s unique ecology and make for the perfect day trip activity should it be too early in the season to swim. To avoid disappointment during peak season, pre-book your day pass in advance.
Pro Tip: Booking Your Campsite
Overnight camping reservations should be made well before your visit. Reservations for the park’s 500-plus campsites (plus two well-appointed cottages) can be made up to 5 months in advance. Some people (that would be me!) are known to get up bright and early when their booking period opens up so they can select their preferred spot. But if you prefer last-minute travel, there’s still hope! Camping reservations are held until 8 a.m. following the day of planned arrival in order to accommodate people who might be held up on the road. It’s well worth trying to see if you can nab a same-day spot just after 8 a.m. (especially if there was rainy weather the previous day).
Explore The Wine Scene
Prince Edward County’s position along the shores of Lake Ontario offers the region a unique microclimate that results in a milder growing season. It’s something that local wineries have taken advantage of to fantastic results.
Prince Edward County is now one of the fastest-growing wine regions in Canada. With about three dozen wineries in operation, wine-themed weekends are one of the most popular reasons why visitors choose a Prince Edward County weekend trip. Some of my personal favorites include Sandbanks Winery (I’m a fan of the Dunes Red, a blend of Foch, Gamay, and cabernet), Rosehall Run, Lacey Estates Winery (go for the Gewurztraminer), Closson Chase Vineyards, Huff Estate (they have pinot gris and a restaurant serving up wood-oven pizzas), and Casa-Dea Estates Winery. All wineries are easy to visit on your own and there’s always the option of group or private tours.
Of course, nothing goes with wine quite like cheese, and the local foodie scene sees to it that visitors have plenty of choices for local cheese, pickles, and nibbles. I adore Fifth Town Artisan Cheese. Their Lemon Fetish is a feta-like cheese with lemon zest embedded in the curds, and the final product is rolled in Red Fife flour. Amazing!
Sip Superb Ciders
The same incredible soil and climate which makes Prince Edward County such a delightful wine destination has also put it on the map for hard cider. Once upon a time, I thought that cider was basically the same everywhere you go. Apples are apples, right? A conversation with Jenifer Dean at Country Cider showed me just how wrong I was! She explained that apples aren’t that dissimilar to grapes, saying: “Apples, like grapes, are very much a product of the local terroir. So Prince Edward County ciders, made from locally grown apples, will reflect the soils they are grown in. At County Cider we grow both culinary and cider-specific apples. Our ciders are therefore unique to our region.”
Like many producers in PEC, Dean’s work reflects all the dynamic possibilities the region offers. Their Country Apple Cider is their flagship brand and the first product they start selling locally. However, that’s not all they offer. She states: “Waupoos Draft Cider was created … for the keg market and sold through bars and restaurants. Tortured Path Cider is our driest cider and was made as an homage to dry, funky ciders from southwest UK. Our flavoured ciders such as Peach and Blood Orange are made for those who prefer a sweeter, fruitier taste profile … I would recommend visitors to come to the County for all of the fabulous artists, galleries, restaurants, wineries, breweries and, of course, cideries!”
“Bee” Crafty and Curious
Prince Edward County is home to adorable small gift shops, sophisticated galleries, and shopping opportunities aplenty. After exploring for many years, I’ve noticed an interesting trend: bees! Beeswax and honey are everywhere in Prince Edward County. It must be that the bees love the climate as much as people do!
Honey Pie Hives and Herbals is one of my favorite Prince Edward County businesses. They keep bees and produce delicious honey, beeswax-infused products (such as their Gardener’s Salve), and dried herbs. They also create gorgeous, naturally dyed yarns, including merino and alpaca.
If you like hands-on activities, the Andara Gallery offers workshops in encaustic painting. This is an ancient Greek painting technique that uses a combination of natural beeswax and oil paint. It’s a fast-drying, beginner-friendly process that promises to delight even novice artists.
If you want to learn more about bees themselves, including what happens behind the scenes for honey production, the Curious Goat General Store offers a “bees and blooms” experience. Participants will enjoy a local snack, taste honey, experience life as a beekeeper, and use beeswax to make their own balm. You can even add on a picnic meal to round out the experience!
If you love glass blowing, ceramics, and multimedia art of any kind (bees or no bees!) the Prince Edward County studio tour program is a great way to discover the creative side of this region.
Check Out The Museums
Prince Edward County is home to a number of noteworthy museums which will keep history buffs well entertained.
The Ameliasburgh Heritage Village is a living history pioneer museum that showcases the life of early settlers in Prince Edward County. The property is home to the Wesleyan Methodist Church (which dates to 1868), as well as a log home, barns, a dairy, a general store, and operating blacksmith and carpenter shops. (And, because it’s me, I have to point out that they also have a tea room and you can book afternoon high tea! Even pioneer villages are better when there are snacks…)
The Macaulay Heritage Park features a handsome red-brick heritage home that was built in the 1830s and now functions as a museum. The Reverand William Macaulay was sent to Prince Edward County as a missionary in the early 1800s. He had a tremendous impact on civic matters, donating his property so a school and a courthouse could be built. Today, the Heritage Park includes a former church, a cemetery, a delightful garden, and a carriage home in addition to the main house. Nearby you’ll find Birdhouse City, a wonderfully whimsical space featuring charming birdhouses of all shapes and sizes.
Finally, Mariners Park Museum celebrates Prince Edward County’s nautical side, from fishing and shipbuilding to ice harvesting and rum-running. Some of the treasures here include a lighthouse and a collection of items retrieved from the area’s many shipwrecks over the years.
Pro Tip: Check Out This Awesome Cafe
Every single time I’m in Prince Edward County, I also drive through the community of Picton so I can stop at The Bean Counter Cafe. I’m absolutely in love with this delicious little spot that offers homemade sandwiches (like roasted veggies on rosemary focaccia bread), gourmet coffee, baked goods, and gelato.