Note: Please ensure you check the local and provincial restrictions before planning any trip in Ontario. The pandemic has been coming in waves, and restrictions are subject to change frequently. At the time of writing this post, travel locally was safe and allowed.
If you’re like me, you probably are patiently waiting and daydreaming about the day you’re able to hop on a plane to jet off to an exotic destination again. The reality is, we have no idea when this will be something that is not only safe, but encouraged again. So when you have the travel bug and can’t travel, finding local adventures, like this Prince Edward County, can help satisfy that itch (for now).
A few weekends ago I went to Prince Edward County vacation with my mom and my sister. We always do a weekend getaway in the spring, but with the limitations back in May/June, we postponed it until things opened up again.
Prince Edward County is located just about 2 hours from Toronto. Known primarily for its 40+ wineries, this area is a beautiful weekend (or day trip) for a little escape from your regular life.
Staying in a converted elementary school during our Prince Edward County vacation
Hotels gross me out during normal times. I always wonder how well they actually clean them, however, even so, there aren’t really any chain hotels in Prince Edward County to book anyway. The area is instead filled with cute bed and breakfasts, Airbnb’s, and boutique motels. Camping is even a great option if you’re feeling real adventurous during the summer months, or cottages along the waterfront. Personally staying in these sorts of accommodations is usually my preference anyway. I find them charming, unique, and allows for a more authentic experience in the County.
We stayed at a really unique Airbnb called South. South is a converted elementary school ran by Jesse Parker and his wife, Alysa Hawkins. A few years back this couple sold their house in Toronto and moved to the County after finding a Kijiji listing for an old elementary school that was for sale. They took this school on as a project and converted it into their home, and Airbnb.
Not on Airbnb yet? Join now using this link for up to $95 off your first stay.
The school was super unique. It felt so bizarre sleeping in a classroom, but really made this Prince Edward County vacation feel really different. The Airbnb was clean, quiet, convenient, and an experience you’ll never forget. Plus, it was kid and dog-friendly.
One of the biggest factors of staying away from home during a pandemic is making sure you feel safe and clean wherever you are staying. This place was spotless, and I had no concerns at all about my safety or health while spending the weekend there.
Read more about Jesse & Alysa’s story in this article published about their Airbnb in The Globe & Mail
Enjoying meals out (and in)
With strict social distancing guidelines in effect for Ontario (and Canada), restaurants are limited to how many tables and people they can have indoors and outdoors. Thankfully we had a pretty decent weather weekend so we were able to eat out on patios (with a few layers of clothing).
Most restaurants are first come, first serve and don’t take reservations (as of mid-September). So you’ll need to anticipate having to wait for up to an hour in some cases to get in to eat anywhere. My suggestion is to not wait until you are starving to show up at a restaurant, and anticipate having to wait.
We ate at County Canteen in Picton, which was, to be honest, average. This place came recommended by several people, but to us, it fell a bit flat. They have a simple pub-style menu, with a selection of local craft beers and wines. Their patio was cozy (and clean), but the thing that really got me was all the plastic. Our wine was served in plastic cups, and even our cutlery was plastic. This was obviously a COVID precaution but one I didn’t fully understand, since as long as you thoroughly clean dishes, you wouldn’t be putting patrons at risk with regular cutlery and glasses. The good part was, we went around 5:30pm on a Friday and didn’t have to wait for a table.
Don’t forget to grab an ice cream for the road from Slickers. They have two locations, one in Picton and one in Bloomfield. It’s homemade in PEC and absolutely delicious. I had the Pumpkin Cheesecake flavour.
On day two, we ate at Midtown Brewery. They have expanded their patio into their parking lot, with socially distanced picnic tables with umbrellas (for the hot days). The place was incredibly clean, however, we did have to wait one hour for a table. This was a Saturday, right around lunch hour, so it was to be anticipated. Definitely was worth the wait though for a Korean Hot Dog, yummy garlic aioli fries, and delicious beer (try their Strawberry Sour and Lemon Ale Sour they have right now)!
Our final night in PEC, we decided to just order food for take-out. Almost all restaurants are doing take-out which makes it easy for when the weather isn’t great for the patio, or for those that would feel safer eating in their own home/accommodations. We ordered some delicious wood-fired pizzas from 555 Brewery in Picton. Highly recommend their mushroom and truffle oil pie!
Remember to always have a face mask or covering on you. Even if you are eating outside at restaurants, you’ll need it for walking to and from your table, or to use the restrooms.
What to do
Most things are open in the County despite the current pandemic. There are, however, a few changes that are important to consider when planning your day in PEC.
Most people flock to this part of Ontario for their wine country. They have over 40 wineries, plus some breweries, that make for a great day of winery hopping. Mostly all wineries are currently open but with different restrictions such as:
- Face coverings must be worn until you are sampling your wine
- Wineries are limited to how many people they can accommodate, so I’d recommend staying clear of the large wineries and heading to the smaller, lesser-known ones
- Some wineries have different hours than normal. Check their websites or call ahead for the most up-to-date hours
- Several wineries are taking reservations only, especially on weekends, for tastings, so make sure to look on their websites or call ahead to ensure you don’t need a reso
- Be patient! Since they can only accommodate so many people, you may have to wait
- Be prepared for different experiences wherever you go
The one thing I really noticed is how differently every winery was operating during this time. Some had reservations, some didn’t. Some were having proper tastings, some left you to read about the wines on paper/menu while you taste their wines on your own. Some served in regular wine/sampling glasses, where others were serving all in plastic. The biggest key is to just have an open mind, and remember that all of these wineries are doing the best they can to adapt and serve the community and tourists despite the unusual circumstances.
For suggestions on wineries to visit, this time around I did:
- Lighthall Vineyards (required reservation)
- Exultet Estates
- Long Dog (they encourage that if you are going to do a tasting that you plan to purchase wine with it to limit the amount of people just tasting)
- Casa Dea
- Harwood Estates (reservation preferred)
- Grange Winery (offering tasting kits for $20 that can be taken outdoors to enjoy or taken home with you)
For more winery recommendations, check out my post I did last year on my trip to PEC.
Sandbanks Provincial Park
Sandbanks Provincial Park is located on Lake Ontario and is a centre point for great outdoor fun for the whole family. Camp here in the summer months, or just visit for a beach day. There are also several hiking trails that are great to work off all that wine you drink. 😉
Visiting Sandbanks requires a park pass which you can purchase for a day. We were lucky that our Airbnb came with one so we didn’t have to worry about getting one, or paying.
During COVID they have been limiting numbers for this park, and they will close down areas of the park once they’ve reached capacity. However, as fall approaches, you shouldn’t have much of an issue given the beach days are behind us.
We walked the Dunes Nature Trail which is about 2.4km and takes you through the dunes. Sandbanks is home to the world’s largest freshwater sand bar and dune system, and it’s a great way to spend time outdoors.
Reminder to always keep your social distance while on the trails and use a face covering when you are unable to. Visit first thing in the AM in order to avoid crowds on the weekends.
Other places to hike/walk
Although we didn’t have time to go on hikes or walks outside of our hike in Sandbanks, there are some great conservation areas that are nice all year round (just bundle up in the winter). Some other options are:
- Millennium Trail (46km multi-use trail)
- Macaulay Mountain Conservation Area (20km of trail)
- Beaver Meadow Conversation Area (short hiking trails from 0.7km to 1km)
Anyone else as obsessed with lavender as I am? Thankfully there are a ton of lavender farms around Prince Edward County for you to visit and stock-up on lavender-scented everything.
Unfortunately, when we were visiting PEC, the lavender was not in bloom. The peak blooming time is usually between June and July, and there is usually a Lavender Festival in the area in July. However, it was canceled this year due to COVID.
Despite the lavender no longer being in bloom, visiting the little lavender shops that most of these farms have on site is still worth it. We visited both Prince Edward County Lavender, and Millefleurs (which also sells and produces honey). I purchased some Earl Grey Lavender Tea, Lavender Syrup for cocktails, and Lavender Hand Sanitizer.
Overall our trip to Prince Edward County vacation was great. Although there are some new rules, and restrictions to keep everyone safe and healthy, I didn’t really feel like it impacted our trip too much. It was a great little escape from the city, and allowed us to explore the County, shop/eat/drink local, and have a really good girls weekend outside before the weather turns cold.
What are some of your tips for a Prince Edward County vacation? Share below in the comments!
Note: In the winter, likely a lot of places will close or have limited hours during the off-season. Since places will be unable to host tastings or have tables outside, places will be very limited in space. Please check-in online or call ahead before booking your weekend away.
Other Ontario content to read:
- How to Spend a Weekend in Collingwood
- An Ottawa Brewery Tour
- Where to Eat in Windsor, ON
- A Winter Getaway in Haliburton