We are three sisters from Toronto with three days to enjoy a cool escape within a three-hour drive of the city. We want to drive down quiet country roads, stop at cool boutiques, check out antiques, have a massage, eat good meals, visit a winery, stay in an historic inn and walk barefoot on a long stretch of beach. And we find all this and more in Prince Edward County.
Prince Edward County is perfectly situated a mere 2.5 hours from Toronto, closer still from Kingston and only a few hours from Montreal – so it’s an ideal meeting point to reconnect with the important women in your life. With Lake Ontario at its eastern end, and the Bay of Quinte to the north and east, the County offers sandy beaches, lake views and also rolling hills and green pastures with bright red barns and horses grazing on the side of the road. Windy roads lead to quaint historic towns with great restaurants that have attracted high-calibre chefs from Toronto; and with 34 mainly boutique wineries in its limestone-rich soil, wine tastings abound.
Here are a sampling of places we visited or those we want to visit soon.
Claramount Inn & Spa: This bright yellow mansion overlooking the Bay of Quinte is a stunning locale for a girls’ getaway. The 1906 revival colonial inn has seven spacious and meandering suites in the main house and three suites in a separate carriage house, one with a kitchenette. Many of the rooms have balconies, all have one queen or king-sized bed, and include a sumptuous breakfast in Clara’s Restaurant in the main house. Here you can find comfort, old world charm, fine wicker and classy antiques: the place feels high end and elegant, but completely unpretentious and fun. The inn has a full spa, and an infrared sauna, heated glass-enclosed pool and outdoor hot tub for stargazing after dinner. www.claramountinn.com
The Waring House: Claramount owners Chris and Nora Rogers, a vet and family doctor respectively, also own the Waring House, a larger property with 49 rooms and suites –in two original farmhouses, as well as more modern accommodations in new lodges. The Waring House offers three to four-hour hands-on cooking classes, and live entertainment in their pub. The Millennium Trail that runs immediately behind the property is ideal for hiking and biking. www.waringhouse.com
Merrill Inn: This historic inn is both intimate and luxurious with great packages, including one specially designed for girlfriends. The Merrill is known for its fine dining restaurant, headed by acclaimed chef Michael Sullivan, formerly of The Fifth in Toronto. www.merrillinn.com
Restaurants and Cafés
Tall Poppy Café: Stop by for breakfast or lunch at this funky café on Main Street in Wellington for delicious baked goods, fair trade coffee and healthy and reasonably priced meals. We loved the crispy chipotle tofu sandwich, their vegetable and barley risotto and jerk chicken flatbread sandwich.
Bloomfield Carriage House: The charming Carriage House set in a 150-year-old building is a fixture in Bloomfield. Scott Kapitan, formerly head chef at Crush in Toronto, and his culinary wife Jacqui Vickers opened the restaurant and bakery in 2005. In their Marshmallow Room Bakery, you can sample everything from handcut marshmallows in various flavours, such as honey lavender and raspberry, to savoury pies, patés, charcuteries and levain-based breads – available for take out, or for a sit-down lunch or with a choice of 100 types of loose leaf tea. Dinner in their casual dining room includes a wide range of choices, including a delicious cassoulet, pan-seared sockeye salmon and beef ribeye. www.bloomfieldcarriagehouse.com
Picton Golf & Country Club: Because people have tended to assume this golf club dining room was available for members only, it hasn’t been an obvious tourist destination. But it should be. With a stunning view of the Bay of Quinte, the dining room serves the classic club fare at reasonable rates. Dinner entrées range in price from $13 to $18, and include items such as fish and chips, steak and seafood crèpes. Breakfasts will set you back a mere $8 to $9 including tax, while lunches are between $10 and $12. (Call ahead in case the dining room is shut for a club event.) 613 476-2222, www.pictongolf.ca
The Saylor House Café & Gift Shop: Originally a drive-shed for horses and carriages, Bloomfield’s Saylor House is set in an old wooden house, built in 1877, with a lovely garden out back, a perfect location for a mid-day sandwich and homemade soup. The Saylor House Cafe, 274 Main Street, Bloomfield 613 848-6585
Slickers: Try delicious homemade ice cream with flavours like campfire cream (roasted marshmallows), apple pie and rhubarb ginger, and sparkling lemonade. www.slickersicecream.com
Closson Chase Vineyards: This charming Hillier winery — part owned by Seaton McLean, Atlantis Films co-founder and actress Sonja Smits — is known for its high quality premium Chardonnay. The winery is set in a refurbished century-old dairy barn with colourful stain glass around the door. A beautifully restored church house across the road was transplanted here from a couple of kilometres down the road: its asphalt-shingle roof is done in a stunning mosaic designed by Helga Boelen, who was inspired by the Hospice de Beaune in Burgundy, France. Expect no nasty chemicals here: the vineyard is instead sprayed with nettle tea, Epsom salts and other natural products.
Karlo Estates: With its tasting room set in a lovely screened-in porch overlooking the fields out back, this nearby winery in Wellington, also set in a renovated barn, is a fabulous setting to sample the artisanal handcrafted wines of the area. Take your glass, and wander down the field out back to check out the largest drystone bridge (made without mortar) in North America, which runs atop the burbling Hubbs Creek. Although not available at the LCBO, Karlo Estates wines are sold on site, and at many restaurants across the province, online and in Japan and Denmark. Try the Frontenac Gris Rosé 2011: only $16, it’s like strawberries in a glass. If you want to hike, the Millennium Trail runs adjacent to the back property. www.karloestates.com
Diana Ballon is a Toronto freelance writer specializing in travel and mental health issues. For more information on Diana, visit her website DianaBallon.com.