Prince Edward County has quickly become one of my favourite and most visited travel spots. Over the last four years I’ve visited this little picturesque wine region six times. I’ve been in summer, fall, holiday weekends, with a group, as a couple, with dogs, stayed in Airbnbs, B&Bs, and visited a good chunk of the wineries here. I wouldn’t call myself an expert and I definitely don’t have the same amount of knowledge that a local would but I’ve learned a lot about how to visit PEC and what to expect. So here are my top tips for visiting and making your vacation hopefully a little easier.
Book accommodation well in advance. Tourism in Prince Edward County has exploded since the pandemic with people looking to travel closer to home. As a result the limited number of hotels, B&Bs, and Airbnb book up fast. It can be even harder to find accommodation that is suitable for a group or that is dog friendly. Also if you are looking to book a campsite at Sandbanks Provincial Park make sure you are checking well in advance for how and when to book that too. Tourism in the region is a bit of a double edged sword for the locals, on one hand it brings a lot of revenue to local businesses but on the other it has contributed to the housing crisis with a large portion of housing becoming Airbnbs that would otherwise be for local families and seasonal workers. If you can try staying at a locally run hotel or B&Bs like The Edward where I’ve stayed twice and had a fantastic experience.
Check social media and websites for updates on closures, hours, stock and special events. It’s important to check the social media and websites of wineries, breweries, restaurants, etc. for up-to-date and accurate information about hours, special events and stock prior to your visit. It’s not uncommon for a winery to be closed on a Saturday for a wedding or for them to be hosting a special event that requires advanced reservations. For example, on our last trip to PEC one of the wineries we had planned to visit was closed for a wedding on the Saturday so we planned instead to visit on the Sunday. Another one was closed completely for the season but they still had a food truck operating. Then a brewery we always visit was hosting a special dinner event on the Sunday that required advanced tickets so we made sure to make time to visit on Saturday instead. It’s also useful to keep on eye on PEC’s official tourism Instagram @visitthecounty if you’re planning to visit Sandbanks since they always post when it has reached capacity. Depending on the season you’re visiting you may also want to check the websites of wineries and breweries to see what they have in stock. At the end of the season some places may not have much in stock. Now that most places have online shops it’s easy to see if they only have one of two varieties of wine available. If you’re planning on doing a full tasting or know that you want to buy a specific bottle of wine you’ll be able to check what they have and if it’s worth your time to visit.
Download the map of the region offline on Google Maps. Cellphone coverage in PEC can be spotty so you should download the map offline on Google Maps so you can still get around. If you can also pin the locations of the wineries, breweries and restaurants you want to visit on a saved map too.
Share tastings. If you’re visiting with a significant other or a member of your household you should share tastings. You always need a designated driver and it sucks for them if they can’t enjoy the fun at the wineries too. By sharing tasting you not only save money (they can add up fast) but then your DD can have a small taste at most places too. Even if your DD is a non-drinker it’s still nice to share tastings if you’re in a group (keeping in mind Covid safety) since you often don’t realize how much you’re drinking when they are 1oz pours and then you can often try more too. In that vain, always carry lots of water and bring some snacks for the day too.
Visit popular wineries when they open. Many of the larger or better known wineries get very busy so you should aim to visit those ones right when they open. For example, we always try to visit Hinterland Wine Company, Grange of Prince Edward Winery and Trail Estates Winery right when they open since they are very popular. Then try to seek out newer, smaller, out of the way or lesser known wineries in the afternoon since those are likely to be less busy and ideal to visit when most places will be packed.
Wineries with food get busy so eat at off hours or go into the towns to get food. It’s super convenient to eat at wineries that have food but you can bet that most people will have that same thought. Try eating early or late in the day if you want to eat at wineries or go into Picton, Bloomfield or Wellington for food, otherwise be prepared to wait a while for food. The towns have many restaurants or takeout options. Piccolina Mercato in Wellington and Picnic PEC in Picton are great options for grabbing something earlier in the day to take to the wineries for lunch later. Or better yet bring a cooler and pack a picnic yourself.
Plan your days geographically. If you’re planning to spend most of your time in PEC visiting wineries then try planning your days geographically so that you’re not zigzagging all over the place. Plan one day in the Picton and the southern/eastern part of PEC, another day in the Wellington and Hillier western region and then another day in the central part of PEC around Bloomfield where you can do also visiting places closer to Picton or Hillier if you missed a place on your list. We usually devote Friday to visiting Picton and places in the southern region, Saturday to the western part of PEC around Wellington and Hillier since that area has the largest concentration of wineries and then Sunday is a flex day when we hit up the Bloomfield area and places we’ve missed the day before. Also make time to visit the towns since they all have beautiful old homes, lots of restaurants and shops.
Don’t forget about beer and cider. PEC is known as a wine region but it should also be known for it’s beer and cider producers. There are a bunch of breweries and many new cider places that are often over looked. Even if you’re not a cider drinker I highly recommend you try a few since some of the ones in PEC like Cold Creek Vineyards and Fieldbird Cider are creating really amazing and interesting products that will change your mind about cider.
Don’t over plan or make too many reservations. It can be tempting to make a bunch of tasting reservations in an effort to guarantee that you’re be able to visit a certain winery but it can be really hard to plan your time in PEC. You could easily end up spending longer than you thought at one place either because you love it so much or because it’s really busy and takes forever or you might only spend 10 minutes somewhere because it turned out to not be very good. If you make a bunch of reservations you’ll restrict yourself too much. PEC is a place where you should really just plan to go with the flow. If you want to make a reservation don’t plan more than one a day. We’ve found that if you get started at 11am when most wineries open you’ll have time for two before lunch and then another two or three after lunch with time to finish at a brewery before dinner at a restaurant or back at your accommodation. It’s also a good idea to have an extra couple wineries or places to stop on your list as backups in case one is too busy to visit or you have extra time.
Don’t judge a wine by it’s label or it’s price tag. I’m definitely guilty of visiting the LCBO and picking a wine purely based on the label or price tag but you should try to have an open mind when wine tasting to discover new things. Even if you aren’t a fan of Chardonnay give a few a try, or if you think a particular wine has a bad label don’t write if off. Also just because a wine is priced at $20 doesn’t mean it isn’t good. That also means that just because a wine is $50 doesn’t mean that it’s amazing either. Every winery has their own style and method, which is half to fun of tasting to discover who is amazing and what wines you like.
Do your research. It can be easy to just drive to PEC and visit the largest wineries or the ones with the most advertising but you’re probably not going to have a very good experience. Spend some time online looking at what there is to do and seeing what the different places have to offer. I recommend reading my PEC travel guide and PEC winery guide for great information on what to do during your trip and the best places to visit for some really great wine as well as a lovely experience.
Here are a few final little tips for visiting PEC: Most places are dog friendly but many wineries use air canons to scare ways birds which might also scare your dog. Don’t expect all wineries to have washrooms so plan accordingly. PEC is pretty much always busy now, even into the fall but try to avoid holiday long weekends like Labour Day. In the summer when many places are open 7 days a week you could visit mid week if you don’t want to deal with crowds. If you’re planning on eating at a restaurant make a restaurant reservations. Things aren’t open late in PEC so make evening plans like going to the Mustang Drive-In, bring some cards and board games to your accommodation or see if you can have a bonfire.