Picton Ontario is a hotspot for foodies, wine-connoisseurs and art-collectors. The small, tourist-friendly town is a great base of operations to explore rural Prince Edward County in eastern Ontario.
Picton, August 2012 -- For several years now, travel writers have been touting Picton Ontario, the capital of Prince Edward County, as the hot new place to go for wine touring and arts studio touring.
Since it’s only about a three-hour drive from Toronto or Ottawa, Picton and the county attract many visitors looking for a relaxing weekend getaway. These stories piqued my curiosity and finally, this summer, my sister and I booked a couple of nights at a cute little Bed and Breakfast in town, and set out to explore the area first-hand.
The first thing I should say is that Prince Edward County should not be confused with Prince Edward Island on the east coast of Canada. Both are islands, which makes it even more confusing! And both have bridges, although the one to PEI is considering LONGER than the one to Prince Edward COUNTY.
The town of Picton Ontario is in the southern region of The County (people in the area call it “The County”, I notice, as if it’s the only county in Canada.). It’s about a half-hour drive from the bridge through rural land. The town’s population is around 4,000.
Downtown Picton Ontario
Main Street is only a few blocks long but it’s lined with eateries and shops geared to tourists (selling clothing, cottage and sporting gear, photography gear, gourmet food and little art galleries and craft shops). It also boasts some beautifully restored historic buildings.
The pride and joy of the street is the lovely vintage Regent Theatre, which is now used for movies as well as live concerts and plays:
Some of the other, humbler buildings are just as handsome:
On the way into Picton Ontario, there’s a very odd looking building, the Crystal Palace, which was built in 1890 to resemble the original Crystal Palace of 1851 created for the Great Exhibition in London, England.
The War Memorial stands in a tiny park at a major intersection near the Tourist Office:
A few pubs in town offer live music in addition to the Regent Theatre mentioned above. We just happened to be in town for the August Jazz Festival, which takes place at several venues around town.
We wound up catching a concert at The Barley Room Pub at Waring House, a small country resort that regularly features live entertainment. The pub, originally a stone farmhouse built in the 1820s, is cozy, and decorated with funny folk art by the resort’s artist-in-residence, Robert Danielis.
In addition to the tasty gastropub, The Barley Room, we tested out a couple of other eateries during our two days there. We had dinner at Gus’s Family Restaurant, a humble diner at 189 Main Street. This place is hysterical! We spent most of our time there reading all the funny signs on posters and collectibles decorating the front room, which has booths that look like they date back to the 1940s. There’s a small room in the back with tables too. The food was delicious and served in generous quantities. Service was great as well.
Another place that we enjoyed was Miss Lily’s Café on Main Street. I’m a cat-lover so I couldn’t resist this cafe named after an orange tabby:
The cafe has tables in the front and in the back you’ll find a comfy sofa and easy chairs along with another big table for friends to gather around. They serve fair-trade coffee, sandwiches and desserts.
The Tourist Office has a binder full of menus from local restaurants, which is very handy; you can see what they offer before you drive over.
Miss Lily’s Cafe is attached to a
bookstore Books & Company that sells new and used books. While
there, I picked up a Celtic music CD for some road music on the way
home, and the local magazine, “The County” which gave me some insights
into the history of the area and interviews with a few local creative
There are a couple of art galleries/craft shops in town but many of the art studios are out in the country. We happened to stop into one called Mad Dog Gallery housed in a renovated barn that featured a few different local artists.
If you have time to tour, you can pick up a booklet with the Art Tour in one half and the Food/Wine Tour in the second half, and scoot around The County visiting one establishment after another... a fun way to spend a few days.
We did manage to squeeze in a quick visit to another town, Wellington, which is just down the road and has some few interesting art galleries and shops, but we were also keen on visiting the beach, so we had to limit our touring time.
Sandbanks Provincial Park
Sandbanks Provincial Park is on the southern tip of the island and just a short drive from Picton. It’s quite a large park with three different beaches and, as the name suggests, famous for its sand dunes. The scenery is quite spectacular:
You can camp here too.
It was a choppy day and the wind surfers were out there having a blast:
On our way home, we stopped into Deseronto on the
Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, where there are two Aboriginal art
galleries. We were surprised to discover the large range of fine art as
well as craft items at Native Renaissance II, a two-story gallery
covering 25,000 square feet. This is just at the corner of Highways 2
and 49. A must stop if you enjoy art! We brought home fine art prints
and a beautiful hand-painted wooden shelf.
Since the region is quite touristy, you’ll find a good selection of accommodation in Prince Edward County, from small B and Bs to fancier inns and luxury hotels, including rental cottages, apartments and of course campgrounds. This local web site is a great place to start your search: http://prince-edward-county.com.
We chose a cute little bed and breakfast, Cindy’s B and B, to stay for
two nights. The price was right (just over $100 for a room with two single beds), the
food delicious and our hostess, an artist, was warm and welcoming.
I found two days just enough to get a taste of The County. I hope to return some day to sample more.
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Two other great small towns: