Around the World
Nov 2023 | By Anne Bokma
Ontario’s Prince Edward County ranks as one of the top Canadian destinations for retirees because of its affordable housing, accessible healthcare, walkability, beautiful beaches, 23 golf courses and a thriving arts scene.
You may not be ready to retire there, but you’ll want to consider a visit.
The County, as it’s known, is an island that dangles into Lake Ontario and is made up of nine townships, each with its own distinctive personality: Ameliasburgh, Hillier, Wellington, Sophiasburgh, Bloomfield, Sandbanks, Picton, Waupoos, and South Shore.
The roots of the area lie deep in farming and agriculture and its stunning natural landscape is surrounded by 800 km of shoreline. In addition to being a magnet for retirees, The County is attracting renowned artists, entrepreneurs, winemakers, brew masters and chefs. In fact, many of the locals are from away — they visit for a weekend and before they know it, they’re checking out the local real estate listings. There are plenty of ex-urbanities here who cashed out on their city properties to live in the small towns in the region that are anything but sleepy, thanks in part to the dozens of festivals and events held throughout the area.
Here are 9 ways to explore The County:
1. Take in the views: The natural beauty of the area offers gorgeous landscapes no matter where you turn. Sandbanks Provincial Park is crown jewel of The County — the largest freshwater barrier beach and dune system in the world with wide stretches of white sand and massive, gorgeous dunes for exploring. Macaulay Mountain Conservation Area, home to a steep escarpment overlooking the Town of Picton, has more than 7 km of trails including a walkway and Birdhouse City, which features about 100 birdhouses built for purple martins, wrens, bluebirds, chickadees, and tree swallows.
2. Stay at a funky hotel: The Drake Motor Inn is just down the street from the Drake Devonshire and Wellington’s stunning waterfront. Its 12 spacious rooms are inspired by the motels of yesteryear. Pet-friendly with unique art installations (and a bright orange swing on the patio outside the rooms) the motel offers keyless digital self check-ins, vending machines that serve a Canadiana assortment of quirky shoppables and edibles plus there are complimentary vintage Polaroids to snap your getaway selfies.
3. Delicious dining: There are dozens of great restaurants with top chefs to select from. You can’t go wrong with La Condesa in Wellington, which serves up authentic Mexican fare (try the style street corn with aioli chili powder, cotija cheese and cilantro) or Bloomfield Public House, which has received an approving nod from none other than The New York Times.
4. Unique boutiques: With nary a chain store in sight, The County is home to all manner of original shops run by independent retailers — from Nickles (seasonal decor and gifts, with a touch of Christmas all year) in Picton, to Kokito (a modern general store with an eclectic mix of gifts and lifestyle products) in Bloomfield to Frida Style (Mexi-Boho inspired jewellery, clothing, accessories and décor) in Wellington and Black River Cheese (quality cheeses with a focus on natural and local ingredients) in Milford.
5. Take a spin on the Millenium Trail: Rent a beauty of a bike from Ideal Bike in Wellington and go for a trek on this 46-km multi-use trail that stretches from Carrying Place to Picton. It backs onto farmers’ fields and vineyards and is an easy flat ride — a perfect way to experience the tranquility of The County.
6. Treat yourself to a resort stay: Wander the Resort is an exclusive high-end resort where Nordic design meets County comfort. Its 10 cosy, fully equipped standalone cabins either overlook the lake or the pool and feature private cedar decks with fire pits and private outdoor showers. If an overnight stay is too pricey for your budget have a meal in the newly opened Gather restaurant and take in the lakeside view. Early next year the resort will be opening a large new spa with complete a including a sound bath and cold plunge.
7. Check out the barn quilts trail: There are more than 100 barn quilts, eight-foot square painted replicas of quilt blocks, that adorn barns and buildings throughout The County, adding to the rural charm of the area.
8. Take a sip: Visit a winery or two or three (there are about 40 in what’s considered Ontario’s fastest-growing wine region. The County has emerged as a preeminent cool-climate wine region since achieving official status as a Designated Viticultural Area in 2007. There’s also been a renaissance of craft beer in the area. Build your own flight at Matron Fine Beer Bloomfield, situated next to a farmer’s field with bales of hay and towering sunflowers. Their motto?: “We like the idea of beer as a social lubricant, not as a dominating force.”
9. The County markets and farms: Prince Edward County has a rich history in agriculture and “farm fresh” has never been closer than the dozens of County farm stands you might find while touring the island. Be sure to check out the Picton Town Hall Farmers Market and the Wellington Farmers Market. Plus, there are animal farms such as Noble Beast Farms with its 90 alpacas and Littlejohn Farm with its delightful goats.