This isn’t the first time I’ve written about Prince Edward County, in fact I just wrote about it this past April. PEC has become a birthday tradition for me, and also a right-of-spring-passage at the time of year we really need to unravel work and winter stress. So why write more? Well, lots of reasons actually. First, shockingly many many people I know haven’t even heard of the wonders of the County, much been there for a visit. Second, the wine keeps getting better and better, and everyone knows it. Finally, there is a new kid in town; the Drake Devonshire, which after much fanfare, is finally open, and everyone keeps asking me “how was it”, so here’s what I thought.
I was little suspicious of a trendy and stylish Toronto hotel setting up a resort-like space in Wellington, which like the other small towns in the County (Picton, Bloomfield) are exactly what you picture a small Ontario town to be, and hardly need to be “cityfied”. But I love the Drake Toronto and when I lived in the area, spent many, many evenings dining, drinking, and dancing in the various spaces of the hotel, so I was game to give the Devonshire a try.
The Devonshire is up and running despite the fact that the official opening is not until spring of 2015; a little more time to finish up an outdoor deck in time for the season, and work out the kinks in running what is already a very popular operation. We booked the Winter Warrior package, and let me just say that this is the best deal around right now; for $377 -$397 (Price for two people, based on double occupancy) you get:
-One night’s accommodation
– Breakfast (coffee, juice, choice of entrée)
– Dinner – Seat at the Chef’s table (appetizer, main course, dessert)
– Packed lunch (including mini bottle of wine)
– Complimentary pick up and drop off from choice of hiking trail
– Winter warmer cocktail upon return
And they don’t skimp like some places that create special meals/drinks for such packages; we enjoyed entrees and beverages from the “regular” menus. They weren’t quite ready for the hiking part of the package (we were actually the first people to book this package) but that worked out fine, since we had a busy two days of winery-visits planned, so I’m not sure when we would have squeezed in a hike anyway.
The building, a century old building with a very interesting history, has been beautifully renovated. I loved what they did; modern country (if that’s such a thing in the design world) is evident everywhere. The addition (which houses the sun-filled dinning room overlooking the lake) was also beautifully integrated into the already breathtaking surroundings. If you’ve visited Drake Toronto, you’ll recognize some quintessential elements: the photo booth, the art, and the locally crafted Canadiana accessories.
The service was excellent everywhere except for the dinning room, which (in their defence) is moderately acceptable in this “working out the kinks” stage. They were clearly understaffed for a full house (during this “low” season), and for some reason, inexperienced in some areas of service. We went over twenty minutes, between plates, without water or wine despite having ordered a bottle when we arrived. Only after inquiring were we told the wine was “chilling”. Note: letting us sit there without explanation, without an opportunity to select something else, or without bringing us something else while we wait is not good. Like I said, hopefully they’re just working out these kinks.
Other than our mediocre dinner service, I really enjoyed everything about this place. The setting was beautiful, the food excellent, and the accommodations very comforting. We we left, they sent us on our way with a delicious lunch (soup, sandwiches, scones, fruit, and wine); perfect to sustain us during our winery visits. This year we went to our perennial favourites to restock the wine racks for the holidays, and add some more to the cellar collection: Exultet Estates, Rosehall Run, The Old Third, Stanners Vineyard, Hinterland Wine Company. I find that the more I visit our Ontario wine regions the more I gravitate to the same wine makers who I know are making high quality, estate grown wine.
PEC has a special place in my heart because it is the first road trip we ever took together about eight years ago. Back then beautiful landscape, a charming B&B, and delicious local restaurants were all we looked for out there. We did pop into a few wineries but were horribly disappointed by the offerings. Fast forward five years, and the wine scene changed drastically, I suspect, in response to many city-transplants who saw a golden opportunity. Prince Edward County has since become one of my favourite areas to visit for incredible farm to table eats, and local award winning wines. Our most recent visit started with a fantastic Countylicious lunch at East and Main, followed by a one night stay in Bloomfield at Angéline’s Inn, a family run property with charming suites, coach houses and the newly renovated Walter Motor Inn. Saturday evening we also had an opportunity to enjoy the culinary delights of Chef Elliot and the wine wisdom of Sommelier Laura at The Hubb eatery and lounge. It was a perfect spot from where we headed out to visit, taste and buy some of the incredible wines of the area. This time around we visited Hubbs Creek Vineyard, Lighthall Vineyards, Casa Dea Estates Winery, Rosehall Run, The Old Third, and Hinterland Wine Company for their latest (& greatest) offerings. It was, indeed, just what needed to forget about the stresses of everyday life, and the horrible winter we’ve had this year.
Sometimes the best road trips are the short ones I take close to home. This past long weekend we had the pleasure of exploring some outdoor gems near my new cottage at Cawaja Beach. The first stop on our two day snow extravaganza was Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre in Midland. The 3000 acre wetlands and forest are easily accessible and offer a wide variety of activities (snow shoeing, cross country skiing, hiking, kayaking and biking) not to mention reptile and birds of prey exhibits. We spent the afternoon snowshoeing the variety of trails which snaked through forests, and over boardwalks. Make sure to purchase sunflower seeds when you visit so you can feed the hungry chickadees right from your palm.
Our second snow stop took us to Wasaga Nordic. This innocuous little centre snuggled in the Dunes of Wasaga Beach Park proved to be some of the most beautiful cross country skiing I’ve ever experienced. A variety of trails for a variety of levels, there is something for everyone including a back-country snow shoe trail. If you’re lucky, like we were, you’ll meet up with some deer, also out for an afternoon walk.
One of our favourite finds this weekend was Ciboulette et Cie in the heart of downtown Midland. The Chefs at this wonderful little French food shop and cooking school take as many locally sourced ingredients as possible and then transform them into delicious, ready-to-eat take-home meals. This, my friends, was a very welcome sight after an afternoon of activity. The mouth watering turkey pot pie we took back to the cottage paired beautifully with the wine we had brought to create a cozy evening by the fire. A perfect end to a short, but eventful local road trip.
While it’s probably not that big a deal that we’re hosting a dinner party, it does feel extra special today because of what we’re serving: Quebec cheese to start, then local Ontario rack of lamb with Swiss chard, beets and butternut squash from my own garden followed by locally made organic ice cream with raspberries (also from my garden). This, of course, will all be enhanced with Ontario wine. It feels good to eat this way, as well as to share it all with good friends. I hope they like it – it doesn’t get more local than this
The long weekend is upon us and if you find yourself on HWY 400 STOP here: La Mexicanada in Bradford for authentic Mexican food (the best I’ve had outside of Mexico). Resist the bland mediocrity that is the usual road side fast food fare and make the effort to get to this otherwise innocuous little town north of Toronto. Make sure to call ahead (they are often booked solid – they are that good), or be prepared to wait in line. But it IS worth the wait, especially for the tamales!
My raspberry plant has been equally fruitful this summer. These will become sauce to accompany grilled Ontario peaches and vanilla ice cream later.
One of my fondest memories from my youth is camping with my family. I’m not sure I know anyone who did not experience this quintessential Canadian experience as a young lass. The cottagers out there may disagree with the appellation I’ve assigned in the previous line, and granted many of the experiences which enrich the camping trip translate over to the cozy cottage outing, but there is something unique about a wilderness-based vacation.
When we camped as a family we resembled a small cavalcade; anywhere from three to eight families, we would congregate in whatever Southern Ontario campsite could accommodate all our gear for up to two weeks. These times continue to occupy the prime spot in the library of my memories. Today as an adult (with a significantly smaller family of my own) I still look forward to our yearly camping trip, and after trying out a few different Ontario Provincial Parks I think we may have perfected the perfect camping trip at Silent Lake Provincial Park.
Let’s start with the drive to this magnificent park because if you know me, or have read any of my other posts you know that I am a huge proponent of making the journey just as important as the destination. This first must-stop is at Hy-Hope Farm in Ashburn Ontario.
Here you can pick up the fresh Ontario fruits and vegetables for your meals, the BEST multi-grain bread I’ve ever tasted (mmm…. campfire toast), and of course, a pie or some butter tarts for desserts. After this, avoid the congested hwy 401 and drive through the beautiful countryside of the Kawarthas as you make your way to Peterborough. At this point, you may be hungry. If this is the case then make your way to downtown Peterborough (George St.) to Hot Belly Mamas & The Olde Stone Brewing Company for some Cajun inspired food accented by Olde Stone beer made right on site. Before you leave this charming part of Peterborough make sure to grab some coffee and Portuguese treats for the road from Natas Cafe. A velvety smooth cappuccino is the right accompaniment as you make the final drive by the scenic Trent-Severn Waterway and into Haliburton to the final destination. This same route boasts a beautiful bike trail which is on my to-do list for next year.
Silent Lake Provincial Park is true to its name. This beautiful lake is surrounded by Crown land, and its beauty is uninterrupted by private cottages. The gorgeous lake is itself motor-free!! Only kayaks, canoes and swimmers float around in the crystal clear waters.
Silent Lake provides a couple of spots from which you can easily rent a canoe or kayak if you do not own your own. This is by far some of the most beautiful kayaking I have ever done. The waters are calm with many little coves to explore, and the surrounding landscape is breathtaking. With some luck you’ll encounter the majestic Blue Heron, or any number of Loons who will serenade you as you paddle. It takes about 2-3 hours to paddle around the entire lake if you take your time to enjoy the beauty around you.
If you crave a different paddling experience, you can make the short drive, about 2km outside of Bancroft on hwy 62 (Hastings St. N.) to Churchill Park where you can drop your canoe or kayak into the water and enjoy the York River. If you need to rent a canoe/kayak you can do so at Trips and Trails Adventure Outfitting just down the road (and right on the same river).
The campsites at Silent Lake are perfectly nestled in the woods; varying in size to accommodate any size of family/camping group, and situated far enough from the neighbours to create an idyllic illusion of seclusion. Expect to experience local wildlife. We saw a mother deer and her fawn twice, and were visited daily by friendly chipmunks who ate nuts right from the palm of our hands.
This is probably the right time to extol the virtues of camping conveniences. Certainly, you could pack it all into a knapsack and hike to a camping spot, but there is no need. There are so many camping “inventions” which really help make the whole experience stress free, especially for the inexperienced city-dweller (note my giant kitchen shelter). But the most basic of activities are what camping is all about. Sitting around a campsite enjoying the smell and sounds of the woods is so relaxing. Cooking over an open fire, playing cards or Scrabble until the light is gone, and then sitting around the aromatic fire talking until the wood burns away to ashes is unexpectedly fulfilling.
There is no shortage of activities to keep you busy during the day either: swimming, mountain bike trials, canoeing, kayaking or just relaxing with a book on one of the beautiful beaches, but one of my favourite things to do here is hike. Silent Lake has three hiking trails to address the varying skills of its camping inhabitants: the 1.5km Lakehead Loop, the 3km Bonnie’s Pond Trial, and my favourite, the 15km Lakeshore Hiking Trail. This more challenging trail takes 6 hours to complete (we did it in 4.5 hours), and takes you around the beautiful lake over a variety of terrains, and by some beautiful panoramic views.
Consider yourself very lucky if you end up with a rain free trip, but as most campers know – it’s best to have a back up plan in case the weather keeps you off the water. In this case Silent Lake is just a short drive from the charming town of Bancroft. Here in this small town you can enjoy a nice meal and pint on a patio, take in a variety of art or music festivals (should your timing be correct), or visit any one of the area museums. This year, thanks to a friendly neighbouring camper we tried something new: rockhounding.
Every year thousands of mineral enthusiasts flock to this area to mine the variety of minerals, gems and even gold. We went to Princess Sodalite Mine Rock Shop, where, behind the shop, you can “mine” for over a 100 different variety of minerals and gems. It’s free to go in and mine, and you can take your treasures home for only $1.50/lb – a great activity for those with children (although, the child-free will have just as much fun).
For those who want an more adventurous rockhounding experience (and who have their own tools), you can join the various mining tours which leave Bancroft early morning for neighbouring caves and old mines. This longer committment is sure to bring in some admirable treasures (I’m saving this excursion for my next trip). If you do find yourself addicted then you can return to Bancroft for the annual Rockhound Gemboree.
No trip out to Kawartha/Haliburton region is complete without a stop at Kawartha Dairy Company. Here you can stock up on the BEST chocolate milk made in Canada, as well as their famous ice cream. I recommend the “baby” size which is deceptively named (you get a fist full size of their homemade goodness for under $3). You can’t go wrong with their classic “Moose Tracks” because who doesn’t love tiny peanut butter cups in their ice cream? I vowed to try a new flavour with every visit, which should keep me busy until I die since they have over 50 flavours (take that Baskin Robbins). This visit I devoured Chocolate Peanut Butter, and Death by Chocolate (yes, I had ice cream twice during my camping trip – how can you not??); both flavours a party for my senses.
So there you have it – the perfect camping trip according to me, at Silent Lake Provincial Park. If you have yet to experience sitting around a campfire, and then cozying up to a loved one in a tent, then I implore you to give it a try. I promise you won’t regret it.