When it comes to Canadian wine most of us tend to think of the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia or Niagara on the Lake in Southern Ontario. However, on the shores of Lake Ontario is another area known for wineries (along with a few cideries and breweries as well!). This area is Prince Edward County and while it might have once been a local secret, the secret is definitely out because it’s become one of the most popular getaway destinations in Ontario. Here are my suggestions on how to spend a weekend exploring Prince Edward wineries & more.
Where is Prince Edward County?
Prince Edward County is actually an Island, located in Lake Ontario. It’s only three hours from Ottawa and 2 hours from Toronto, it’s a pretty easy drive which makes it ideal for a weekend (or cheeky mid-week) getaway with your friends or partner.
Getting Around Prince Edward County
Prince Edward County is definitely a place where you will need a car. The county is much larger than it looks and things are quite spread out. There are no car services like Uber in the area and while there are a couple of small, local taxi drivers they can get incredibly busy and will end up costing you a pretty penny (we were told a $15 drive would probably cost us $40).
That being said, you probably won’t want to be driving if you plan on doing a lot of tastings which is where the tours come in handy. There are a number of tour options in PEC. You can join a group bus tour or choose to book a private tour. If you want a private tour you can choose a bus or even a Rolls-Royce. There are plenty of choices.
We used a relatively new company called The Local Tour Co. It’s owned by a local man named Mitch who was born and raised in the area. He offers private tours in a comfortable mini-bus and allows you to pick where you want to go. If you aren’t sure, he’s happy to offer suggestions. As of September 2021, his rates were $145 per person plus tax and that includes tastings at 4 different stops. I would definitely recommend booking a tour with this company. You can find them here.
Where to Stay in Prince Edward County
Prince Edward County very much has a country feel to it so don’t be expecting any fancy hotels. Around here it’s B&Bs and vacation rentals but trust me when I say they book up really quickly. You may also find that some places will have a minimum stay requirement. We noticed many Airbnbs required a 3-night stay to book, so keep that in mind when you visit.
Another thing to keep in mind is the distance between accommodation to nearby restaurants. If you are taking a wine tour during the day because you want to be doing the tastings and not drive, you will want to make sure that you are either located in one of the main towns in PEC with restaurants within walking distance (such as Picton or Wellington) or, you have made other arrangements and have food on hand.
With that in mind here are a couple of recommendations on where to stay in Prince Edward County.
The Drake Devonshire: Probably the most upscale place you will find in PEC. A charming B&B known for its great service and delicious food. The Drake Devonshire is located in the town of Wellington.
The June Motel: This brand was featured on Netflix’s Motel Makeover so the PEC location has fast become a popular pick. It’s also an Instagram dream so if you are planning a girl’s trip, this would be a great spot to pick. The June Motel is located in the town of Picton.
Huff Estates Inn: This is where we stayed. It’s located on the Huff Estates Winery which was really fun. The downside; it’s in the middle of nowhere so sourcing dinner day drinking took some creativity!
You can also check Airbnb for vacation homes. Especially if you are travelling with a group. Friends of mine have beautiful spots in Wellington Area that you can check out here.
The Best Prince Edward County Wineries and Cideries
So, what are the best Prince Edward County wineries and stops to make when doing tastings? Well, since there are more than 50 wineries alone in the county, I can’t for sure say which are the best (I’ll need a few more trips to try them all!) but I can share my favourites and what I think are the best Prince Edward County wineries based on my experience.
Hands-down my favourite wines in PEC. Not only is the property beautiful (a big old barn, tables outdoors, and a secret speakeasy-type room inside), but the wine was my favourite here too. They have a large wine list (several of which have won awards) and you can choose whatever you like to sample. I tend to lean towards light and fruity white wines so Three Witches was a big win for me. They also have a sparkling one called ‘Bubbles’ which I loved as well.
County Cider Cider Co
I LOVE cider and this place quickly became my all-around favourite stop. The family-run business has a history as the first cidery in Ontario and the ciders they produce are delicious. My personal favourite, which surprised me, was the Pear cider. They also have an English-style cider called Tortured apple made only with cider apples so it’s not as sweet as most North American Ciders. The property here is beautiful as well with a big barn, vineyards and apple orchards overlooking the water. If you love cider, you can’t miss this spot.
This would be my second favourite winery. Since we stayed here we got a couple of free tastings included. We sampled everything on their wine tasting list. My personal favourites were the sparkling options though their Getaway Rose was also delicious. I’m not typically a red-wine drinker but these ones were very fruity which I did enjoy. Insider tip: definitely get the wood fire pizza while you are here. It’s amazing!
Another good cider. I preferred the County Cider Co’s ciders but Crimson Cider has some interesting flavours too like lavender and cherry. The real winner here for me, however, was the cider slushies. The perfect patio drink on a warm day!
Sugarbush is a very popular spot in PEC and while it wasn’t my favourite my friends both bought bottles from here. It’s a very idyllic setting with rolling vineyards and incredibly friendly staff. They also sell maple syrup, also made on the property, and therefore make both a red and white wine with a touch of the maple syrup in it which is a fun Canadian spin. While I didn’t love the wine, they also offer homemade sangria here which I can say was delicious.
As for breweries, I only got to visit one so I can’t quite do a comparison. However, the one we did go to, Gillingham Brewing Company, was very good. I really enjoyed the Templeton California Lager.
Other Things to do in Prince Edward County
Most people will choose to visit the region for the Prince Edward County wineries but tasting tours are not the only reason to visit this part of the province! There is more to see and do. Here are some recommendations
Sandbanks Provincial Park
Sandbanks Provincial Park has white sand beaches and turquoise blue waters that are often nicknamed the Caribbean of Canada. This place is one of the most popular camping grounds in the province during the summer months so if you plan to stay, book early. You can visit for a day as well but note that as of summer 2021 you will need to purchase a day pass through Parks Ontario to do so.
One of the small little towns in the county, wellington has lots of restaurants and little spots to look around. They also have a public beach for swimming (no permits needed). The Drake Devonshire B&B is located here which offers dining as well. Though if you want to get something to eat in the area I highly recommend La Condesa for tacos. The fish tacos are some of the best I have ever had.
Another small town in the area, Picton is full of plenty of little shops as well as restaurants and cafes. You can easily spend an hour or two here if you like boutique type shops. Don’t forget to try the local ice cream at Slicker’s!
Pick up some Local Cheese
Wine and cheese go hand and hand so if you are buying wine, why not get some local cheese as well? There are a few cheese shops in the area that I recommend you stop by. Black River cheese is a popular one as is Fifth Town Artisan Cheese which offers tiny tastings for $3. Further out, towards Ottawa, you can also find Maple Dale factory which not only has delicious cheese but also fresh garlic cheese breadsticks which I’m still craving. As I mentioned above, we stayed at Huff Estates which is kind of in the middle of nowhere. So we ended up buying a bunch of local cheeses and crackers (and breadsticks!) on the way down and made DIY charcuterie board for our first night at the hotel.
Take a Scenic Drive
This is road trip county, so get in the car and just go! There are some really pretty spots if you feel like stopping for photos. Lake on the Mountain is a popular spot but even just driving along the road you’ll get some very pretty vistas.
You’ll also come across lots of little boutiques and shops like the cheese shops I talked about above. Plenty of farms sell fresh produce out by the road and I lost count of how many places I saw advertising butter tarts. If you like mustard, be sure to check out Cressy Mustard. The owner makes them herself and uses local beers!
Final Tips for Visiting Prince Edward County
Prince Edward County is a great place to visit for a couple of days. I love that support/shop local type tourism that is offered here with all the independent accommodation options, shops, and wineries.
It is important to note how popular this area can be, especially in the summer months. Even when we went mid-week in the middle of September, a lot of places were already booked up. So if you do plan on coming here, make your plans and reservations well in advance to avoid disappointment. Also, it’s worth noting that even though the area is very rustic-country, it’s not cheap. Expect to pay $250/night easy on accommodation. That all being said, visiting Prince Edward County wineries is a lot of fun and the area is perfect for a weekend getaway.