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Touring "The County" in Southern Ontario

Touring “The County” in Southern Ontario
 
When I was growing up in Southern Ontario, Prince Edward County (PEC) was a sleepy farming community with a few small villages and towns that no one had any particular reason to visit. In the past decade, however, Prince Edward County, located about 200 km east of Toronto and 200 km west of Montreal, has become a first class tourist destination, as well as a home of some very promising new wineries.
 
Wineries, in fact, have been the catalyst for this transformation.  The mild climate and limestone-based soil of “The County” (as it is affectionately known) makes for ideal conditions for wine production. Demographics also played a part in the big changes.  As the first phase of “baby boomers” from the big cities (Toronto, Montreal, & Ottawa) start to retire, many are attracted to “The County” for that same mild climate that wine-producers love, to a growing number of fine restaurants, access to excellent local produce, and for the many unique shops and artist galleries scattered throughout.
 
Here is my personal “greatest hits” list:
 
1.     Cheese. Long before wineries invaded The County, all of Southern Ontario was known for its cheese – cheddar cheese. Now days, very few small, privately-owned cheese factories remain, but there are a few in or near PEC.
·         Empire Cheese Factory. Okay, not part of The County, per se, but anyone driving there from Toronto would be well-advised to give this one a visit. Located in Campbellford, ON, this one has been in business since 1876!
·         Black River Cheese Company. Founded in 1901, this is The County’s last surviving cheese factory. If you’re a true Ontario-ite, you’d want to check out their fresh Curd (Coloured, White, and Garlic!) 
·         Fifth Town Artisan Cheese. The County isn’t just about cheddar cheese anymore. This little gem produces some of Canada’s best and most sought-after artisan cheese. Don’t miss visiting it.
2.     Wineries. Okay, this is The County’s new-fangled claim to fame. Its unique limestone soil, mild climate, and proximity to major cities makes it a very promising setting for producing great wines. The industry is still in its infancy, but already many of its wineries are winning national and international awards. Check out, for sure, Norman Hardie Winery’s Chardonnay. Also visit Closson Chase and Sandbanks Estate for unique wines showing great promise. The biggest, perhaps most successful winery in The County would be Huff Estates; and the most beautiful is Wauppoos Estate Winery. (When you visit the latter, also head up the hill to The County Cider Company for an even more spectacular view of the Wauppoos area.)  Another must-visit is Exultet Estates, winner of multiple awards.  If their county pinot noir or chardonnay happens to be available, grab some!  They sell out almost immediately.


3.     RestaurantsPrince Edward County is now blessed with fantastic restaurants, thanks to the tourists drawn here by the wine and incredible produce, and also thanks to all those retired presidents, CEOs, & entrepreneurs from Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa.  Without question, the best is Blumen Garden Bistro. Chef Andreas works with local, seasonal fresh produce and foods.  The dishes are consistently perfect.  Other restaurants worth considering are Milford Bistro, Portabella, and Merrill Inn. For coffee, don’t pass up Miss Lily’s CafĂ©, on the main street of Picton.  Finally, check out “The County’s” “Taste Trail,” for a listing of organic farms, wineries, restaurants, and specialty producers.
4.     Shopping. When I grew up, the town of Picton was – well, let’s say not highly regarded by “city slickers” from my city, Belleville. We had a term for it that rhymed with its name. Today, it is a mecca of lovely shops, boutiques, art galleries, and cafes. Big-time “city slickers” from Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa now visit here on weekends to satisfy their urge to splurge. Interesting shops and galleries are scattered across the county, especially in the villages of Wellington and Bloomfield. While in Picton, and after you’ve enjoyed some coffee from Miss Lily’s, head next door to shop in one of Canada’s finest bookstores, Books & Company
5.     Art Galleries and Studios. The County has become a well-regarded artist community as well. Follow their Arts Trail”, where you can currently visit 32 galleries, studios, and private houses.

6.           Parks. As if all of this is not enough, the parks and scenery around The County are spectacular. Cyclists now take over the back roads in the warmer seasons, visiting the wineries, shops, and enjoying the great scenery. Southern Ontario is blessed with many magnificent parks, many of which boast fine swimming beaches. Perhaps the best beach and certainly most famous is in “The County’s” Sandbanks Provincial Park. Famous for its pristine sand dunes, this park is a hiker’s paradise.   Try hiking here in the off-season – even the wintertime!

Many of us travel the word in search of new experiences, interesting cultures, different foods, fine wines, etc., when we sometimes overlook the treasures right here at home in Canada! Certainly, every province in this country has a region or two it can boast about. “The County” is definitely Ontario’s.

 

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