An Oenophile Cyclist’s Delight

Jan 20th, 2020

“So that’s the route, eh?” Bicycle trips in English-speaking Canada involve a lot of “eh’s,” as well as almost unbelievable friendliness. At the launch of our five-day exploration of Prince Edward County with Randonnée Tours, we met with the company’s area manager, Ed. He wanted to make sure we understood our cycling maps and was willing to take as long as it took to mention “must-do’s,” such as visiting Slickers, his favorite ice cream shop, which the next day became our favorite as well. Ah, for a cone filled with Campfire Cream just now!

Randonnée, now in its 25th year, specializes in self-guided, customized active cycling, hiking, walking, and multisport tours in Canada, the U.S., and several European countries. Robbin McKinney, the owner, guided with Butterfield & Robinson for 18 years and later launched Great Explorations, a boutique travel company, and in 2005 acquired Randonnée (“excursion” in French). McKinney grew up in Prince Edward County and still has numerous relatives and friends there, including a nephew who owns a perfect end-of-trip celebratory brewpub in Picton! 

About two hours east from Toronto and four hours west from Montreal by train or car, Prince Edward County is an oenophile’s paradise, with over 40 vineyards and an ever-increasing array of breweries and top-notch bistros — along with fabulous cheese shops to complement those libations. 

It has recently become a mecca for Torontonians, and, increasingly, Québecquers, seeking weekend escapes from the big cities. With the many orchards, Lake Ontario beaches, antique shops, art galleries, music venues, and wide, well-marked cycling paths, bicyclists are finding the area more and more attractive. In fact, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife were famously reported cycling in the County in 2017. 

Roadside produce in Prince Edward County
Roadside produce is abundant during the summer months in Prince Edward County. 
Courtesy Prince Edward County Tourism

Randonnée’s itinerary for its Prince Edward County trip is designed for cycling about 25 miles per day, with mostly flat terrain and a few moderate hills. All breakfasts and one dinner are included, as well as high-end Cannondale rental bikes and luggage transfers, courtesy of a local taxi service.

On Day One, we arrived at the Belleville train station and booked a taxi for the short, scenic drive to Wellington, where our Prince Edward County adventure would begin. Our first night was at the luxuriously appointed Wellington Willows Boutique B&B. Just one block from the lake, and two blocks from Wellington’s main street, we were welcomed at the door by Bella, an adorable King Charles Spaniel, and in our room by a gourmet coffee toffee bar on our pillow.

While Randonnée lists the Prince Edward County tour as a six-day itinerary, the first day is usually just for arrivals, and if guests like, they can go for an easy warm-up ride. As our train arrived mid-afternoon, we opted out of the cycling and instead walked around the idyllic lakefront village. After a surprisingly good Mexican dinner at the very popular La Condesa, owned by a Mexico City native, we strolled over to Rotary Beach, a lovely silky sand expanse overlooking Lake Ontario. We were mesmerized by the heavy mist draping the lake, blending the sky into the water. 

After a sumptuous breakfast the next morning, we walked down two blocks to Ideal Bike, where we met with George and Pepper, his so-called “Velcro Dog.” George equipped us with lightweight hybrid Cannondales equipped with handlebar bags packed with necessities for roadside repairs. I was thrilled to be able to lift mine with one hand — a first for me.

After leaving George, we took off on the Millennium Trail, a former railway converted into a multi-use, mostly flat, 30-mile gravel cycling trail heading toward Belleville. Passing by an alpaca farm, weathered barns, dense groves of bushes, and purple chicory flowers as far as we could see, we hopped off our bikes to gaze at a small pond with a family of swans gliding across it, a blue heron and ducks beside them. Throughout our trip, thickets of blaze-orange tiger lilies were ubiquitous, and we started noticing beautiful “barn quilts” on the sides of barns and other buildings. There are barn quilt “trails” in many areas of North America, and the County founded its own in 2013, now with more than 150 installations. We picked up a barn quilt map and enjoyed looking up the quilts’ names as we cycled.

Stopping in Bloomfield, our first priority was Slickers County Ice Cream, the perfect rest break on a hot day. Then we took off for the next pleasure — exploring a few of the renowned wineries.

Clossen Road is known for its many wineries. We made a quick dash into several to peruse the tasting rooms but decided to venture to nearby Greer Road to have wood-fired pizzas and some excellent wines at Norman Hardie Winery. Hardie, originally from South Africa, came to chat with us at our canopy-topped table overlooking the vineyards, flowers, and a group of bicycles propped next to ours. “I make wines that are the exact opposite of my physique,” the burly winemaker quipped. “Delicate and light.” Hardie told us that the limestone-filled region in the County mimics the terroir in Burgundy, France, producing excellent pinot noirs, chardonnays, and one of his specialities, calcaire. Tastings are typically just $2 CAD and are waived with a two-bottle purchase. 

Back in Wellington, we were booked into a different B&B, the Augustus House, equally impressive and as delightful as our previous evening’s inn. Situated on Main Street in a restored period home, its owners have decorated it in an eclectic mix of history, whimsy, and nostalgia. We loved the wooden Canadian Mountie statue saluting us upon entry and the handmade felt goldfish on our bed. The lavish breakfast buffet (including delectable smoked salmon and Montreal-style bagels) was more than enough to fuel us for the next day’s cycling.

We rode again on the nicely shaded Millennium Trail until a small skunk surprised us, ducking into the underbrush (thankfully not spraying!), the first live one either of us had ever seen. Small groups of cyclists passed us, always with a cheery “Hello.” Spotting a fruit stand, we parked the bikes and bought fresh-picked strawberries from Mary, a feisty local legend. “Good you stopped in today,” an older gent called to us, “because they will all be gone in a week.” Plump and ruby red, we devoured them, juice dripping down our faces.

Lake Ontario by Mark Rush
Lake Ontario features beach scenes that look like a day along the ocean.
Mark Rush

On to Sandbanks Provincial Park, with three exquisite Lake Ontario beaches and superb cycling and hiking trails. It’s a major tourism destination, and the soft, powder sandy dunes are rather astonishing — like those at ocean beaches. We had lunch at the park snack bar and spent several hours lolling about in the refreshing lake before heading forth to Milford, where we would spend the night at Miller’s House B&B. The inn is in a glorious spot, overlooking a river, and dinner was served in the patio with a spectacular view, complemented with lovely birdsong, the heady fragrance of nearby blossoms, and a Pacific-worthy sunset.  

Off to Picton the next morning, where the last two days would be spent. On the way, we dashed in for a few memorable moments to the Vintage Barn, one of the many antique shops along the roadsides in the County, where I purchased a lovely glass dish that thankfully made it home safe and sound in my bike bag.

We stopped by Waupoos Estates Winery, the first to open in the County, with gorgeous grounds (very popular for weddings), along with a petting zoo, antique shop, chocolate and gelato shop, cidery, and a swank tasting room. Waupoos is noted for its exceptional reds, whites, and dessert wines.

Lake on the Mountain Provincial Park, where we had lunch on our last day, was a true highlight, offering an absolutely breathtaking view from 197 feet above Lake Ontario with views toward the Bay of Quinte, the Glenora Ferry, and the north shore of the County.

We took in the free Glenorra Ferry ride to the other side and back (total of about 30 minutes) just to say we did, and then cycled back to the small city of Picton, the county seat. Picton is charming and welcoming, reminiscent of my childhood vacations in places like Cape Cod and Cape May. Tiny shops and restaurants, just one of the ever-present Canadian Tim Horton’s coffee-and-donut shops, and blissfully uncongested. It was the perfect place to end our journey, especially with a couple of IPAs held high at Prince Eddy’s brewery … the one owned by Robbin McKinney’s nephew!

Vineyards in Prince Edward County, Ontario
Vineyards offer cyclists as much respite from pedaling as they desire.
Courtesy Prince Edward County Tourism

Nuts and Bolts

Randonnée Tours’ 6-day, 5-night trip is offered between May 1 and October 31. A valid passport is needed for U.S. residents to enter Canada, but no visa is required.

It is advised to aim for one medium-sized suitcase and a small carry-on bag per person. Try to ensure that your bags do not weigh more than 30 pounds each and avoid really large suitcases.

For those who want to experience nearby Toronto (less than two hours by train from Belleville): The Le Germain Hotel Group, based in Québec, is a partner of Cycling Canada. The Le Germain Hotel Toronto on Mercer Street is perfectly situated for exploring the main tourist areas of Toronto on bike, foot, hop-on bus, and metro. 1.866.345.9501

The County Gran Fondo is another way to experience Prince Edward County by bike, an event that sells out each year and attracts 500 cyclists from across Ontario to celebrate cycling in the county.

More Information:

Ontario by Bike

Prince Edward County

Visit Prince Edward County

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