Southern Ontario’s Prince Edward County is populated with grape growers, cheese makers and stressed-out urbanities escaping here for rural retreats. Soon it will have a little more city-in-the-country when the Drake Devonshire Inn (drakedevonshire.ca) opens in Wellington on Sept. 15. An outpost of the Drake Hotel, an artsy mainstay in Toronto’s West End, the inn will trade urban hustle for big-lake vistas. “It’s one of those small-town scenarios you thought only happened in movies,” says innkeeper Chris Loane, who relocated from a job managing operations at the Toronto Drake. “Most of our life is based on a close circuit of friends and a rich cultural environment where professionals are artists, and vice-versa. Wine makers are pastors. Lawyers run vacation homes. It’s a place where nobody is stuck in their roles, and it’s very refreshing.” Here are his five picks to best experience the County.
Norman Hardie winery
“It’s a little bit of magic. They have an outdoor pizza oven. They do salads. You can taste amazing wine. Norm and all the staff are so welcoming. It’s a bit of a community, industry, family day on Sundays. Their County chardonnay and their County pinor noir, made with 100-per-cent County grapes is what they’re known for.”
1152 Greer Rd., normanhardie.com
Hinterland Wine Company
“They do an amazing sparkling wine using a traditional method. They’re fantastic and it’s all about hospitality. They have a huge sprawling property. Sometimes they put up a soccer net for the kids. On the weekends they’re doing oysters and other sandwiches with a really good seafood guy. I take the kids. Let them run around. Have some sparkling wine.”
1258 Closson Rd., hinterlandwine.com
“It’s run by two ladies, Trish Cook and Rebecca Hunt. They actually won a food-truck contest. They put together a program that’s all farm-to-table sandwiches, salads, some soups. They got it off the ground this season and it’s quickly become the busiest little food truck in the county. They’re in a bunch of wineries the same time every week.”
Sandbanks Provincial Park
“The best thing to do with Sandbanks is to just get off the beaten path. There are kilometres of white dunes and sand beaches. It does get very touristy, but there are tons of ways to find your own little patch of sand. It’s really great for kids to swim in because you can get up to your knees about 20 to 30 feet out. There’s no drop-off. It’s all sand. And you can climb up to the top of dunes and run down right into the water. For kids, there’s nothing better.”
3004 County Rd. 12; ontarioparks.com/park/sandbanks
“The Millennium Trail is the old railway line. When the canning industry was huge, the old railway line snaked through Prince Edward County and through all the towns. That old railway track has been turned into a trail. You can access it about two blocks from our inn. You can walk it. You can bike. In the winter, a lot of people go snowmobiling or cross-country skiing on it. The trial is fantastic for bird watching – amazing woodpeckers, hawks and red-winged swallows.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.