Wednesday Spotlight – Cross Canada: Two-wheeled tourism
Eastern Ontario’s Prince Edward County and nearby Hastings County invite cyclists to visit their quaint little towns, wineries, dineries and other rustic attractions
“TV sucks – ride your bike!”
That’s the logo of the Bloomfield Bicycle Co. in Bloomfield, Ont. To make the point, they’ll rent you the bicycle, trailer or any accessory – whatever it takes to get you pedaling.
And one of the most pleasant places to do that is throughout the surrounding Eastern Ontario countryside of Prince Edward County and nearby Hastings County.
To locals it’s just “The County.” The rich farmland and unique microclimate that have given rise to one of Canada’s newest and fastest-growing wine regions, have also attracted a migration of young entrepreneurs who love the ambiance of an area that nurtures art, food and wine.
In the early morning, we unload our bikes at Lake on the Mountain Resort, don helmets and head down the Loyalist Parkway to Picton, just 10 kilometres away. This stretch of the road actually has bike lanes. The day is warm, the road is quiet and on our right we enjoy frequent glimpses of peaceful Picton Bay. There’s one last hill to scale as we enter the town, then coast down to our goal – the Lighthouse Restaurant for eggs Benedict.
The Lighthouse is the place for breakfast, we’re told by locals. However, Picton offers an amazing number of eateries worthy of note. At Buddha Dog you’ll get the best hot dog in Canada, according to the Reader’s Digest anyway. In one of the town’s most expansively gabled houses, the Merrill Inn offers a local, seasonal menu by acclaimed chef Michael Sullivan. And the Waring House offers not only fine dining but also cookery lessons with Louis de Sousa. Then there’s the Claramount Inn & Spa whose chef, Kelly Attwells, has earned a star in Where to Eat in Canada. And if you just want a sandwich and great coffee, there’s The Bean Counter.
But, says Katie Misener we should really head in the other direction, toward the point. “Usually the roads to nowhere are the best rides in the County,” suggests the feisty owner of Bloomfield Bicycle, who offers a useful cycling map for just $2. So we head to Cressy, and around the narrow neck of land back towards Waupoos. The way there on the north side goes through farmland with rare glimpses of water but the south-side return course runs alongside the waters of Cape Vessey – beautiful and breezy on a hot day.
One of the joys of this part of the route is the opportunity to stop and taste some award-winning cheeses at Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Co. This is Canada’s – and possibly the world’s – greenest cheese making operation. The staff will happily show you around and offer a taste of gorgeous cheeses made mostly from goat and sheep milk. From July to September, there are wine and cheese tastings on Saturday afternoons at 1 and 3 p.m. for $12.
Also along this road is the Rose House Museum, a handsome, early-19th-century home belonging to one of the first settlers, showcasing period tools and artifacts.
Further along are Del-Gatto Estates Winery, the County Cidery (incredible apple cider!) and Waupoos Vineyards. Riding and drinking aren’t recommended but you could try a tiny taste and stop for a locally sourced but internationally inspired meal at the Duke of Marysburgh pub with its charismatic and musical owner, Vas da Silva.
On day two, we head for Bloomfield. This lovely Victorian town is the heart of the Arts Trail. We lock the bikes and stroll the main street, drinking in the extraordinary creativity. From tactile wooden containers by Paul Ross in his eponymous gallery to the flashing colours of Caroline Shuttle’s glassworks at Elements Studio, there are so many wonderful artists, one could spend an entire day wandering from gallery to gallery. But we’ve an important tasting at hand.
It’s hot, and Slickers makes their own ice cream. Decision time: do I want apple pie (real apple pie in the ice cream) or campfire cream (with burnt marshmallows.) I settle on rhubarb and ginger, which actually has pieces of crystallized ginger and stewed rhubarb. Heaven!
From Bloomfield, it’s a short ride to Sandbanks. The wonderful topography of this area with its giant sand dunes is the result of two of the largest freshwater bay mouth sandbars in the world. It’s wonderful spot for bird watching, according to Ontario Parks. Efforts to stabilize shifting sands disturbed by farming have also revived distinctive dune plants such as bluets, butterfly weed and sand spurge. But beyond the fauna and flora, there are gorgeous, golden beaches, a welcome sight for a hot cyclist.
There’s much more. About 20 km beyond Bloomfield, along the Parkway, are a host of wineries. The road runs close to the shore most of the way affording magnificent views and fresh breezes. Misener also suggests heading up to Big Island, along the Bay of Quinte. “It’s one of my favourite spots in The County because it’s remote and peaceful.”
The County, with its laid-back lifestyle and artistic inclinations is, indeed, an ideal cycling destination, big enough to repay several weekends of exploration with wonderful scenery, interesting people and superb food and drink. And cycling is a healthy, environmentally friendly way to explore.
As Misener puts it: “Cycling is a drug and I’m pedaling it.”
When you go:
Prince Edward County information: prince-edward-county.com
The County Taste Trail and Arts Trail website offers maps and routes for food, wine, beer and cider tastings: tastetrail.ca
The Bloomfield Bicycle Shop is a good place to get tips and maps: bloomfieldbicycle.ca.
Jailhouse rocks in Tweed
If you’re lonely tonight, or if you can’t wait to don your blue suede shoes, then maybe you should pay the town of Tweed, in Ontario’s Hastings County, a visit this August.
The first annual Tweed Elvis Festival has been launched hoping to bring in Presley wannabes and those planning to take part in next year’s Ultimate Elvis Tribute Competition in Memphis. For three days, Aug. 26-28, the town will be rockin’ and rollin’ to the music of the fifties and sixties as Elvis lookalikes get all shook up.
But Elvis isn’t the only reason to visit Tweed. This is one of the province’s prettiest towns. Straddling the Moira River, there are two bridges uniting the east and west sides. Indeed, water is a theme because at the edge of town sits Lake Stoco, a famous spot for sport fishing. Apparently, this is the best place to catch muskie, those elusive members of the pike family. It’s a great spot for canoeing, boating and swimming as well.
And check out what the town claims is North America’s smallest jailhouse – it’s certainly tiny though a host of others have made similar claims. Tweed’s other claim to fame is its fire hydrants. It’s worth a stroll around town to check them out. No two are alike. One of my favourites, right on the main drag, is a fire-breathing dragon. And near the arena is a hockey-player hydrant. They’re all quirky and fun.
Truly unique (I dare you to find these anywhere else) are the Tweedsmuir’s windows. Stand in the parking lot beside this popular watering hole and check out the side windows. We’re convinced the carpenters spent the day in the bar before installing them. No two are the same height and most are askew.
Across from the jail is the Tweed Heritage Centre, a lovely little museum and art gallery that strives to preserve and document the history and creativity of the area. Indeed, creativity seems to be the key word because this area boasts a thriving artist community.
Each fall, Tweed hosts a studio tour of local artisans, an opportunity to visit the studios and purchase some outstandingly creative artwork. This year’s tour takes place Oct. 1-2.
No visit is complete without a scoop from the Arctic Icicle. This tiny ice-cream shop at the north end of town features homemade ice cream in unusual flavours. Try crème brulee. And take the time to browse in the many boutiques on the main street.
Hungry? There’s always the Fare and Fowl – it’s a throwback to the diners of my youth.
Just a half hour from Belleville, Tweed is one of those once off-the-beaten-track, traditional Ontario towns. There are few enough left so take the time to visit this one.