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Trip Report First Time in Prince Edward County: A Trip Report

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Summer has finally returned to Southern Ontario after taking the last two years off. So far, we have enjoyed plenty of sunshine, warm temperatures, and only enough rain to grow things. Inspired to explore my own backyard without getting on a plane, and having heard so many good reviews, I drove to Prince Edward County for a few days of R&R from June 30th to July 3rd.

First stop was Picton, about 2.5 hours by car from Toronto. Picton looks like lots of small North American towns: one main street, a bunch of small shops and places to eat, along with a park for green space. I had lunch at The Painted Peppercorn Café, just off the main drag. Along with my very healthy and delicious late breakfast/early lunch of quinoa salad with fresh vegetables, mixed beans, and toasted walnuts tossed in lemon-mint dressing, I enjoyed a glass of Huff Estates Riesling, which is made in Prince Edward County. After a walk around, I headed off to my accommodation for the night, the Claramount Inn & Spa (http://www.claramountinn.com/).

Claramount is a beautifully restored old mansion, set next to Picton Bay. Each room is unique, and luxurious. I had room #2, which is on the main floor, and which has its own veranda. There is a separate sitting area in the room, plus a bathroom big enough to host a dance. Gilchrist & Soames toiletries are a welcome touch of class. Before going to the spa for some treatments, I had what the Claramount calls an “energy break”. It was a plate with a bit of green salad, yoghurt, fruit, crackers with a savoury spread, and an oatmeal cookie. Quite a nice snack.

My afternoon at the spa was called the Relax & Renew package, which started with a pear and green apple body polish, including Vichy shower. That was followed by a facial, and finally, a back treatment that involved some hot stone massage. I was glowing head to toe by the end, and feeling seriously calm.

Dinner was included in my package, which meant that I didn’t need to go far to get it. I started with eggplant and bocconcini “ravioli” with peppers and pesto, then had seared scallops with toasted barley and arugula. Both were tasty, as was the Huff Estates Off-Dry Riesling I drank with them. For dessert I chose the flourless chocolate torte, which was leaden, but redeemed somewhat by house-made hazelnut ice cream, and a red berry coulis. Breakfast the next day was also included in my package, and I had a decent version of Eggs Benedict.

There was more walking around in Picton, and I found an art show in the town hall. I saw some really interesting stuff, and got to vote for the People’s Choice Award. I finally had one of the famous hot dogs from Buddha Dog, where the beef is from a local organic butcher, and the buns are made by a local bakery. It was Canada Day, so the featured toppings were red pepper jelly and white Cheddar. Yummy. For a touch of decadence, I walked next door to The Bean Counter (www.beancountercafe.com) for coffee and a really good house-made chocolate chip cookie.

The B&B I chose for this night was called Caruso’s on King (http://pec.on.ca/serenityspa/), and the hosts were Deb and Rick. Deb is a reflexologist, among other qualifications, so I booked myself a treatment for the afternoon I checked in. She worked magic with my feet. There are only two rooms at Caruso’s, with a common sitting area, which would make it good for two couples to take over, since it would be like having a whole house to yourselves. Note: credit cards are not accepted.

To keep the celebration of Canada Day going, I had dinner at Harvest (www.harvestrestaurant.ca), a restaurant dedicated to local food and wine. The chef is Michael Potters, and in the interest of full disclosure I will say that I know him from a television show that we worked on together. Even if I didn’t know and like him, his food would still be amazing. Harvest is a must-do in Prince Edward County, as far as I’m concerned. There is plenty of choice on the menu, and on the wine list, which does include some imported selections, although they are outnumbered by wines from Ontario, which is heartening to see.

Things kicked off with Five Small Bites, which is literally a plate with bite-size morsels of five different things. I got warm olives, steamed clams, Bay of Quinte Walleye, soft-poached quail egg, and lamb cannelloni. It was a great beginning, and a glass of Rosehall Run “Cuvée County” Chardonnay 2008 was a great companion. Following that, I was treated to striped bass with lemon; saddle of rabbit with prosciutto and puttanesca sauce; and three treatments of lamb: boned leg, rib, and merguez sausage. With the lamb I had a glass of Rosehall Run “Cuvée County” Pinot Noir 2008, and it went down a treat.

It was all fantastic, and there was one more thing to make it even better: dessert. Chocolate Dome served with raspberry sorbet, to be exact. Taylor Fladgate LBV Port made for a perfect pairing. It’s fortunate that I was wearing a dress made out of stretchy fabric.  Thank goodness I got to walk a bit as I headed to Delhi Park for the fireworks. The display I saw, and the nice people I saw it with, made me think I should spend Canada Day in a small town more often.

Breakfast at Caruso’s the next morning was a hearty affair, all put together by Rick, and included homemade jam, which is one my favourite things in the world. Suffice it to say, the whole wheat English muffins didn’t stand a chance. With a full belly (I’m sensing a theme), I set off on my next adventure, which was a winery tour with Sandbanks Vacations (www.sandbanksvacations.com). There were 5 of us in a van driven by the very outgoing Michelle, who was a good guide.

We started at the brand new Karlo Estates, and then moved on to The Grange of Prince Edward, where our favourite wine was the Trumpour’s Mill Riesling 2008. Next up was Norman Hardie, a winery that focuses almost exclusively on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. I ended up buying both the Melon de Bourgogne 2009 and the County Chardonnay 2008, despite having vowed to add nothing to my already-bulging wine cellar. By lunch we had reached Rosehall Run. I purchased a bottle of Sullyzwicker White 2008 (the name Sullyzwicker is a bit of joke for the owner, Dan Sullivan) for us to enjoy while we ate, and the winery very generously supplied glasses for the wine and a cloth for the picnic table. With my vow of fiscal restraint now in tatters, I collected the Sullyzwicker Rosé 2008 and the Rosehall Vineyard Chardonnay 2007.

Fully, um, “refreshed” by the end of lunch, our laughing crew rolled on over to Casa Dea, where we tasted a range of things, the favourite being Pinot Gris 2008. Our final stop was Sandbanks. This is a fun property because it’s got some outdoor Muskoka chair seating, an outdoor tasting bar, and it’s all done up in bright colours. I simply loved the Sandbanks Rosé 2009. So much so, that I bought a bottle. The other wine that went home with me was the Baco Noir Reserve 2007.

My last night in Prince Edward County was spent at the Village Comfort Inn, a one-storey motel in Wellington, which is close to the wineries. This place, which I found on the Internet, is really basic, yet conveniently located on Main St. There was a half-size fridge in my room, but no hairdryer, and there was a sign in the bathroom asking people to reuse their towels, yet the showerhead was one of those cheap ones that sprays water all over and has no water conservation capability. Curious contradictions.

My proximity to “downtown” Wellington meant it was a short walk to dinner at East & Main Bistro (www.eastandmain.ca), a handsomely decorated spot on, coincidentally, Main St. Lili Sullivan is now the chef here, and I was a fan of her cooking when she worked at a place called The Rebel House in Toronto, so I was curious to see what she had to offer. To start I had gnocchi with peas, ham, mushrooms, and romesco sauce. It was very tasty, and a restrained portion. Even though that was enough to get me going, I couldn’t keep myself from eating every piece of the delicious baguette that was put in front of me. Bread sounds so simple, but good bread can be hard to do, and it’s worth pointing out when a place does it right.

With the delicious roasted duck breast special I had a glass of Fieldstone Cabernet Franc 2007 from the County. It tasted like black currant and black pepper, which made it a good match for the duck. East & Main Bistro strives to source food locally, and as the chef left the kitchen and headed out a side door, this was overheard: “I’ll get more parsley from the garden”. Awesome. The pièce de résistance for my meal was the nut and toffee bar that I had for dessert. Again, it sounds simple, yet the perfect execution made it sublime.

The last meal I had was breakfast at the new Tall Poppy Café (www.tallpoppycafe.ca) in Wellington. There was good quiche, great toast, and a fantastic latte, all in a relaxed room that seems like it might have been a hardware store about 50 years ago, and is filled with cute, quirky, not-quite-matching furniture. I managed, finally, to resist the cookies, bars, and muffins that are made on-site.

In the short time that I spent in Prince Edward County, I discovered there are many other things that I would like to see and do at some point in the future, I came to appreciate the area’s many charms, and to understand why so many people had told me that I should visit. Now I’m telling you: Get thee to PEC!

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