I love to travel. Discovering new places, new people, new restaurants – there’s nothing better. But I have a little problem: I hate crowds. So much so that I will avoid places and events that I know are very popular. Recently, however, I discovered the secret to travelling to ultra-popular spots. It’s called “shoulder season”. In short, pick your destination and then push your travel dates to the months just after, or just before peak season.
Prince Edward County is an island just south of Belleville, ON, known as a hot-spot for wine-tasting and beach-seekers. In peak season its provincial park, Sandbanks, can reach capacity, leaving beach bums with nowhere to… bum. But go there in November, or February, or April and you’ll be first in line at the winery, and more at one with nature with no buffers (read: crowds) between you and the park.
Local Art and Events in PEC
People move to the County to be part of a community and to live on a very local level, and visitors go there to feel part of it all. Summers are bustling with tourists connecting with nature, sipping on homegrown wines and appreciating this rare ecosystem and little nook of heaven. However, once the cold blows in, things have historically slowed down, with the County ostensibly hibernating along with the rest of nature. But times are changing – and the influx of a youthful and creative community has no need for sleep!
Take The Department of Illumination for example, created by local artists with community-building in mind. Their events are all planned during the low and shoulder seasons and are often free. In early February look out for Ice Box, an outdoor event featuring 10 x 10 wood cubes decorated by local artists. Discover other very cool events like November’s Lantern Parade and after-party. These volunteer-driven activities are one way to keep people interacting during a time when we’re all more tempted to lie under blankets.
Warming up with Local Food in Picton
I arrived hungry and—lucky for me—in the middle of the Countylicious food festival (which I’ve been told will repeat in April). Wood-lined and welcoming Hartleys Tavern, in Picton, offered a lunch of upscale comfort-food, like parsnip and roasted beet gnocchi, which I coupled with a local cider. The meal was like a warm, welcome hug.
For a different vibe trot down Picton Main Street to The Vic Café. The self-described “modern diner” is just that, from its decor to its reimagined menu featuring Kombucha—on tap! Note to pancake lovers: they serve all-day breakfast.
Shopping in PEC
There are a few towns in PEC with their own very walkable, picturesque main strips. I explored Picton and Bloomfield for shops, but there is more to see if you have the time. In Picton, I window shopped along Main St., which was lined with more everyday-needs-focused stores, a beautiful theatre with a round marquee overhanging the street, a large and well-stocked bookstore, adorable housewares, and Beacon Bike + Brew, a café-slash-bike shop with a strong menu and out-of-this-world coffee to match.
Do set aside some time for City Revival (also on Main St), the highest end thrift shop I’ve ever seen, featuring Louboutin, Miu Miu, Gucci and Jimmy Choo finds. I walked away with the perfect camel-coloured cashmere sweater (and my wallet intact).
Sustainable Living and Workshops
One of the best afternoons I’ve had in a while was spent at a sourdough making workshop at Littlejohn Farm, with owners Zach and Luhana. They grow their own food, along with animals, and don’t need too much else. Their workshops let you live out your sustainable dreams, if only for an afternoon. Zach is trained in food and wine and can get into the chemical details of what you’re making – if you so desire. Me? I was more interested in feasting on the fruit of our labour.
A Perfect Night in Bloomfield
I’m trying to think of a more welcoming B&B than the Runaway Rooster. I can’t. Their huge brick wood stove was heating up their “great room” and after our crisp walk in the stunning Sandbanks Provincial Park, where we only saw a handful of other people on our three hour jaunt (the start of which is seen in the top image of this blog). The RR is a perfect combination of old-school charm, modern amenities and comfort (plush housecoats, gorgeous beds with puffy duvets, and more). As if that weren’t enough of a draw, I had a fabulous breakfast the next morning, with a fruit starter and to die for peameal bacon eggs benny.
The only thing that could have pulled me away from the B&B was the excitement of going to Flame + Smith for dinner. Conveniently located one block away, F+S is a sustainably minded, locally focused spot with a passion for “cooking over fire”, a cooking style I can get behind. The passion showed in both presentation and palate. You really can’t go wrong here, but if I may make some recommendations: French 75 (to drink) + black kale caeser (to start) + Icelandic cod (main) = a very tasty evening.
Huff Estates Winery
No blog about PEC would be complete without at least one mention of wineries, of which there are now so many, it can get overwhelming. If you want to start with a “sure bet”, head over to Huff Estates. Their winemaker, Frédéric Picard, is an import from France, and has been crafting their gorgeous wines for over 10 years. I did a tasting with 5 impressive wines (and no lines!), and even got in a good chat with the winemaker himself.
By the end of the weekend, I was planning how to move my life to PEC, or at minimum when my next escape to the island would take place. One thing I know: it won’t be during peak season.
Closest train station: Belleville, Ontario
Click here for more information on visiting Prince Edward County.
Header image: Sandbanks Provincial Park