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Report 1814: Forty Two Hours in Prince Edward County or A Wine Tour of Loyalist Ontario
By Doug Phillips from Canada, Spring 2010
Trip Description: May 28-30, 2010 - an anniversary weekend in Prince Edward County, based in Picton, Ontario. Great weather, excellent food and wine, beautiful scenery and a ferry crossing. Who could ask for more?
Destinations: Countries - North America; Regions/Cities - Canada
Categories: Hotels/B&Bs; Foodie Trip; Wine Trip; Independent Travel; 2 People
Page 1 of 3: The First 35 Years
Merrill Inn, Picton
My wife and I got married on May 31, 1975. We have raised four children, made sure they all graduated from university debt-free, are now both retired, and like to travel as much as our limited budget allows. I have done most of the planning for our previous trips since we started traveling, whether to Portugal, France, Italy or, closer to home, New York City and Texas. However, for our 35th anniversary Liz, aka Beautiful Wife, planned a "mystery weekend tour" without my contributions or knowledge. What follows is a brief account of our weekend trip (May 28-30, 2010) to an area less than two hours from our home in eastern Ontario.
Prince Edward County is a primarily rural area in eastern Ontario, a peninsula south of Belleville and the 401, Canada's busiest highway. It is generally flat with a few small communities such as Bloomfield and Wellington, of which Picton (pop. 4,600) is the largest. The modern history of the area dates back to the period following the American Revolution when the region was settled by many United Empire Loyalists who were given land grants to settle in the area. The region was obviously an area of some importance, as evidenced by the many impressive 19th century dwellings and public buildings. It is also apparent that the region missed out on most of the industrialization that occurred in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The basis of the modern economy is obviously agriculture and tourism in a variety of forms. There is a vibrant arts community, several very good restaurants and a growing and improving wine industry. On our last visit to the area, about 10 years ago, the wine industry was in its infancy. The wines were terrible and terribly overpriced. There have been huge strides in the quality of the wines and the number of producers in the past decade, making Prince Edward County comparable to, if not as mature as, the Finger Lakes region in New York State or the Niagara region a few hours to the south in Ontario.
Water is a dominant feature of the region. No area is very far from Lake Ontario or one of its extensions such as the Bay of Quinte.
The structure of this report owes a lot to a regular travel feature in The New York Times - "36 Hours in ..."
We arrived in the county by water - Highway 15 to Kingston, turn onto the 401, south on Gardiners Road (Hwy 38) to Bath Road, turn right onto Highway 33 and a pleasant drive along the shore of Lake Ontario through Bath, Sandhurst, Adolphustown to the Glenora Ferry - a five minute ferry crossing and we're in Prince Edward County and a short drive into Picton and the Merrill Inn, our home for the next two evenings.
The Merrill Inn is a 13-room B&B in a historic 19th century brick building, home to an important early resident of the area (Mr. Merrill was a lawyer and a judge and a friend of John A. Macdonald, Canada's first Prime Minister). Edward and Amy Shubert have operated the Inn for nine years. Edward is highly visible throughout the day, behind the desk at reception, down in the dining area at breakfast, out on the grounds watering the herb garden. He is friendly, helpful and personable and his approach is reflected in the rest of the staff at the Inn.
We stayed in Room 302, at the top of the Inn in the original part of the building. Our room featured a sleigh bed, sloping ceilings, a Jacuzzi and a slightly wonky shower. We had a choice of steep staircases, front and back, to reach our room.
The common areas of the inn are very attractive. The Merrill Inn is being maintained to a high standard (wonky shower notwithstanding) and I noticed that the modern fire-code room doors include added moldings to try to re-create the original 19th century appearance. Part of the Inn is a 1980's addition - includes the reception area, restaurant and a few rooms. The addition is sympathetic to the original building.
Blumen Garden Bistro
Our dinner reservations were only a couple of miles down the road from the Merrill Inn. The Blumen Garden Bistro is located in a former single-story residence that had been abandoned before being brought back to life as a restaurant. The name and part of the menu reflect the Swiss origins of the chef; much of the menu reflects the nature of the local produce; the wine list includes a selection of wines from the County. While the experience was generally satisfactory, we were seated close to a serving station. Next time I would try for the patio, weather permitting.
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