In terms of cycling, Canada is a hidden gem. In terms of wine, even more so. Tell your relatives back in Holland that you toured Canadian wine country on a bicycle, and they think you are kidding them. Canada: that is polar bears, RV rental in the Rockies, hard working farmers and Dutch Reformed Christians. The folks in Europe don’t associate Canada with wine and cycling.
Yet, just 250 km (for my US readers, that is 150 miles) outside of Ottawa, the second coldest capital in the world, you’ll find a place called Prince Edward County, a place so unknown still, that many Canadians don’t even know of its existence. Prince Edward County is a peninsula off the north shore of Lake Ontario. Lake Ontario is about half the size of Holland and played an important role in the war of 1812, a war that the Canadian government is proudly boasting, but doesn’t resonate one bit with Canadians, despite multi million dollar marketing efforts that it really was a defining moment in our history. However, Parks Canada calls it a “side theatre for a great struggle between Napoleonic France and the rest of Europe“. The war was a major reason though that the Brits built the Rideau Canal, now a World Heritage site. The canal starts in Ottawa, and ends 202 km further at Kingston on Lake Ontario with dozens of working locks still in operation. A nice feature is, that you can actually camp near those locks for next to nothing.
Just west of Kingston, Prince Edward County is a rural area of around 1000 km2 (400 miles2) with only 25000 inhabitants (that is a low tax base for a large area). Soil and the milder climate make it a good place to grow grapes, mostly on the southern half of the peninsula. Currently, there are about 50 vineyards and 30 wineries. Most Ottawans know the County for Sandbanks Provincial Park, but wine is increasingly becoming a destination too. And if there is one thing we really like is cycling combined with a destination. Two board members of Citizens for Safe Cycling are taking it a step further, and are cycling in France in the Champagne region but as proud Canadians, we stick to our own hinterland to prove that Canada is more than “trees and rocks and rocks and trees and trees and rocks and rocks and trees and….. water“.
Friends from Ottawa moved to ‘the County’ in 2004 to a tip of the County called Rosehall, past Wellington; every time we visit them, another winery seems to have popped up. The south-western part of the County appears most densely populated with wineries and although that wasn’t the reason for their move, it is convenient for short half day bike trips of wine tasting, their home being our base camp.
Cycling infrastructure is non existent, but the roads are so quiet that you can easily cycle side by side. If a car passes, without exception, the driver goes out of his/her way to give as much space as possible, often moving all the way into the other lane. Perhaps they have discovered the value of cycling tourism in an early stage already.
Highway 33 is slightly busier, with not more than a small paved ‘shoulder’ and traffic is faster. If you are not too comfortable on a bike yet, you may want to avoid that road. It is actually part of the Loyalist Parkway, with tourists gawking, people who are not always paying attention to the road ahead of them. Fortunately, you took a CAN-Bike course, so you know how to deal with faster traffic.
Pizza and Rosé
Our pick of wineries on the first day was in the Rosehall-Hillier area, west of Wellington. First stop was Rosehall Run. The buildings are not spectacular, but the road leading towards it is nice and quiet. There is only so much wine you can taste (of course, we don’t spit) and carry in your panniers, so we limited the visit to three stops only. I’ll happily leave the judgement of the wines to the real connoisseurs. Tasting wine at 11 o’clock in the morning, just after you brushed your teeth after brunch turned out not to be a good idea anyway…..
After Casa Dea, we cycled further to Hillier Creek Estates. It requires a bit of cycling on highway 33. With its lovely outdoor patio, Hillier is a great place to hang your hat for an hour or two, enjoying pizza from their wood fired pizza oven and a rosé from the estate.
Tall Poppy Café
We stopped in the small town of Wellington for coffee at the Tall Poppy Café, a place where country meets hipster. Organic coffee, an overloaded black board with a variety of menu choices and a hotchpotch of furniture served under barn wood and tin ceilings. A great place, kids friendly and it appeared that it was successful with a variety of locals. The staff appeared to be a bit disorganised, but that is part of the charm of those places. This is how I’d like to see my neighbourhood café look like, with newspapers on the communal table and a mother guarding her kids while sipping on a juice.
All in all, two great days in the County. Turn your average weekend in a mini holiday without the need to head down to France or Italy and don’t forget to go for a (free) swim in the lake, which is very refreshing.