Just across the Lake from New York State sits Ontario’s far-flung lakefront hinterland, a place better known as Prince Edward County. Generations of heirloom farmers and craftsmen have called this countryside home, watching ships come and go long after its trade route dried, and a sanguine wine industry took its place. For decades, the county—which is technically an island—coasted on its historically simple charms, and the steady caravan of visitors passing through, mostly from Toronto just two hours away, had few expectations; they picked at vegetable stands and lingered at a handful of wineries. A few even spent the night at a kitsch B&B, often themed with lacy, quilted drab. It was nothing to boast about.
But the winds are rising and blowing in a new direction as a discerning new crowd of moneyed city slickers partial to pastoral life—or farm-to-table food, at the very least—make Prince Edward County their source for all things country.
In response, new hotels have opened, nightlife is blooming, wineries have increased traffic by nearly a quarter this year, and new artisans are broadening the county's palette. Whispers of a new haute hotel, three more breweries, and a few craft cider joints are circulating as well.
Charm is still ubiquitous; skyscrapers will never top the church steeples and silos standing their ground. But a citified sophistication has officially set foot in Prince Edward County, and it’s only just getting started.
WHERE TO SIP
The arrival of over 32 boutique vintners in the past decade makes the area’s beloved wine scene more robust than ever before. Just over five years old and already a global crowd pleaser, Norman Hardie Winery and Vineyard (1152 Greer Rd.; 613-399-5297; normanhardie.com) takes on the county’s limestone-rich soil with a just-released, crisp 2013 Chardonnay—with which the vineyard’s wood-fired pizzas pair perfectly. Another favorite among the local crowd, Hinterland Wine Company Estates (1258 Closson Rd.; 613-399-2903; hinterlandwine.com), is in the midst of co-founding a craft brewery. The 4,000-square-foot venture, County Road Beer, is just 10 feet from Hinterland’s tasting room and will start pouring its first saison and blonde ale (using hops grown only in Prince Edward County) in October.
While the afternoon is devoted to wine and beer, evenings in the country deserve a stiffer choice. The new Hayloft Dancehall (344 Salmon Pt.; 613-476-0200), opened this past May by the owners of Toronto’s iconic Dakota Tavern, attracts PYTs from around the country. Located in a repurposed barn, offers live rock and country from Toronto-based musicians and beyond alongside strong, tall cocktails until 2 a.m.
WHAT TO EAT
The concept of fine dining goes against the county's relaxed countenance, but fine food served in a casual context is no stranger to locals. The newest spot opened in July, Dari Twist (13633 Loyalist Pkwy; 613-476-7743), now serves fast-food staples worth savoring, like burgers topped with oven tomatoes and tacos with bulgogi beef and sweet miso. Local favorite Agrarian (275 Main St.; 613-393-0111; agrarianpec.ca) spotlights a new batch of artisans, using ingredients sourced from greater Ontario. Expect to see duck prosciutto from Seed to Sausage and a beer batter made with Beau’s locally made brew in the restaurant’s rustic dishes.
While the county’s culinary side flourishes with genuine talent, The Hubb Eatery (433 Bloomfield Main St.; 613-393-3301; angelines.ca) is the area’s ultimate dining destination. Fragrant with colorful, homegrown greens and more peculiar ingredients like malted honey, at just four years old, it’s clear that the ever-changing dishes are made with love—as only a restaurant owned by a wife-and-husband duo can.
WHERE TO STAY
Drake Devonshire (from $199; 24 Wharf St.; 613-399-3338; drakedevonshire.ca), sister-property to one of Toronto’s hippest hotel, became Prince Edward County’s first brag-worthy place to stay when it opened one year ago. Accommodating metropolitan tastes in a countrified context, the homestead has attracted city slickers from nearby hubs like moths to a flame. The eleven-room, two-suite inn is decked with an ecclectic mix of vintage and custom furnishings, contemporary art from the world over, and in-room amenities inscribed with cheeky messaging (“Good things happen to those who Drake,” reads one). Book the Owner's Suite—an a-line, loft-like space with enourmous windows and a private deck overlooking the lake.
But new players stir in the Drake’s wake, like Fronterra (from $245; 242 North Beach Rd.; 800-427-125; fronterra.ca), which opened in June with luxury tent-suites for camping on an organic, waterfront farm. By day, guests can get their hands dirty picking ingredients from their permaculture gardens, harvest barley and hops for the property’s upcoming craft brewery, salmon fish, or take part in culinary workshops and raft yoga. By night, sauna with herbs from their garden and crash in one of the individually themed canvas accommodations. Meanwhile, old staples like Angéline’s Inn (433 Bloomfield Main St.; 613-393-3301; angelines.ca), home to The Hubb Eatery, has been operating for nearly three decades. A facelift in July took shape after they commandeered a standalone white cedar cabin from 20 miles away, and relocated it to their sprawling grassy grounds. Dubbed The Babylon Log House, the nearly two-centuries-old structure, available for private bookings, boasts an enviable farmhouse-chic spread (from $349 a night).
Photo Credits: © Evan Nash; © Nikolas Koenig