This article originally appeared in the first issue of Boundless Magazine in November 2020.
Writer | Karen Burshtein
It’s a February morning and I’m at The Bean Counter Café in Picton, a community in Prince Edward County (PEC), the bucolic Ontario countryside two hours east of Toronto. Stopping in to enjoy a morning cappuccino and a fresh breakfast bagel (or will it be a butter tart kind of morning?) has been a tradition since I started coming here. In fact, this stop guides each stay.
At The Bean Counter (or the equally yummy Wellington Bakery down the road), there’s always a member of the county’s vibrant community of artists and next generation artisans hanging out, ready to help me get into the PEC state of mind. The atmosphere is open and friendly, and often one of the artists will invite me to their studio for a glimpse of what they are working on, or to clue me in on the latest cool project.
During winter, everything is more relaxed in time, space, and feeling. That’s one of the reasons why it’s my preferred season to visit PEC, even if the area is more known for summer weekending. Don’t get me wrong, I love the summers here too. The county is brimming with people who come to experience its wineries and restaurants whose chefs are often alumni of famed international eateries. Others come to snap photos of its repurposed barns (one repainted a vibrant purple), party in haylofts turned nightspots, and enjoy sandy beaches and unique ecosystems, including the only dune habitat of its kind in the world. The county is also opening some of Canada’s cooler hotels, often in readapted nineteenth century churches, roadside motels, or heritage homes.
During winter, you can spend time getting to know the people who are making the county one of the most interesting communities in Canada. They are heritage minded innovators who share a sense of community and life lived on a very local level. Everyone, it seems, has a story about how they came to live here.
The winter season glimmers with PEC’s snow-covered forest trails, frozen waterfalls, and ice-covered vineyards. The slower pace and open spaces permit you to get up close and personal with all this place has to offer.
Throughout the winter, there’s creative buzz churning through the chilly air. The Firelight Lantern Festival is a popular county event started by The Department of Illumination, a local art group. They are also the creative force behind ICE BOX, an outdoor art fair and community-building event that features live performances of music and dance, and a series of colorful wooden huts to wander through. With the help of community members, each hut is transformed into an interactive art installation that’s led by local artists. It’s an art show like no other.
During Christmastime, holiday markets spring up in readapted heritage homes such as House of Falconer, which was reimagined by an interior designer who studied in Milan and now works in the county. It’s a great chance to see and buy the work of local artisans and artists.
Chefs are equally creative, devising thoughtful menus inspired by the county bounty. They have time to sit and chat and likewise, you can connect with the faces behind the wine labels. During summer, a winery bar is often three-deep. I’ve spent winter hours having conversations with winery owners, talking about the county’s elegant, seductive wines. These winemakers are proud to tell visitors that their soil is the same alkaline-rich clay and gravelly limestone soil that’s found in Burgundy. I was won over by their hands-on approach. These intrepid farmers know that winemaking in this part of the world means burying their fruiting vines deep in the soil before winter arrives. They have heart, and so do their crus.
Nature is never far away. After a morning in the studios or sidled up to a wine barrel, I like to fuel up on a wood-fired burger at Flame + Smith, then with the winter sun high in the sky, head out for a snowshoe run on the Millennium Trail or go ice-skating on a pond tucked behind an inn.
Any season is a good time to travel to PEC, but the unique experience of a wintertime stay will excite and delight, from nature walks in a snow-covered setting to meeting and spending time with local creatives. And really, there’s no better way to finish a day than by cozying up in front of a fire with friends old and new, to enjoy one more glass of county wine.
Discover more about Ontario, where the possibilities are endless.