I started to wonder if I had mixed up Prince Edward County with Prince Edward Island.
The last 32 minutes of our 10-hour trip were quiet and slightly tense, all hopes pulsating toward our newborn not waking up as my parent’s Dodge Caravan followed the twists and turns of the dark and slick back county roads outside of Wellington, Ontario. If he woke, it would mean instantaneous recognition that his belly was empty and top-of-his-lungs tears would ensue.
But, at 7:57 p.m. I heard Dad say, “Ah, Twin Birch” and in the deep, dark of the night we pulled into the noiseless driveway. Suddenly, something about the nighttime, the rain, and being very far away from home became exciting. Travel and the possibilities of new experience were ahead. We slowly crawled toward our dimly lit cabin, ready to tuck in.
The Twin Birch Cottages sit along West Lake, a calm, triangular-shaped lake off of Wellington Bay, surrounded by land. We didn’t have time – nor as New Mom did I have the energy to – but stand up paddle boarding would be wonderful in this lake. Smooth water, plenty of shoreline. This is also a hot spot for fishing, with a wide variety of species swimming around including bass, pike, walleye and perch. The vibe is decidedly calm. When we awoke in the morning to find our entire view from the kitchen and lower bedroom/TV room was of the water, we were smitten.
Coffee was a necessity to round out the experience of vacation-morning-on-the-water (oh, I suppose it’s always a necessity) so my Dad and I hopped in the van at 7:00 a.m. and ambled into town to the Tall Poppy Café. Exactly what I was hoping for. A delicious selection of breakfast and lunch fare all prepared with goodies from the café owner’s own farm as well as from other local growers is written across a daily chalkboard. We decided on a take-out container brimming with that day’s fresh baked goods – a gorgeous German chocolate brownie and velvety butter tart among them.
Once we were fortified and after perusing the local winery trail map, we set out to visit a handful of vineyards and do a little sampling. (Nursing every two hours didn’t exactly put me in the sampling-a-lot-of-wine camp but the scenery as we explored proved rewarding.)
By Chadsey’s Cairns’ three vineyards sweep across 14 acres of the estate winery’s property, a 200-year old farm that is home to apple and pear orchards, a quiet creek, and four barns. Historic relics remain – a pioneer cemetery viewed along the winding gravel driveway that leads visitors to the tasting room, and the namesake cairns, large mounds of stones the property’s original owner used to build a formidable fence on the farm in the late 1800s.
Our foursome sampled a variety of wines but settled on bringing a bottle of the Roxey Rosé home with us – a soft blush colored wine with a juicy berry flavor and plenty of crisp acidity. Soft blush colour, juicy berry flavour and plenty of crisp acidity.
We stopped in at Sandbanks Estate Winery – numerous cars crowding the parking lot had caught our attention. It turned out to be a harvest celebration day during which volunteers were out to help pick grapes and in return were favored with lunch and live tunes. We popped into the tasting room to scoop up a bottle of Baco Noir, a favorite Southwestern Ontario varietal of my mother’s.
We ended our vino tour at Karlo Estates, vegan-certified wines that are wild fermented. When I had read this bit of information about the wild fermentation in our Wine Route Planner I knew this would be necessary visit. And a necessary taste. Karlo Estate’s tasting room is housed within a warming, rustic barn structure. We tucked in as a busload of tourists were finishing up – Zach had been carrying our son Radley zipped up in his fleece vest to keep him warm and cozy but as we walked into the propane heater-filled barn he pulled him out and every single person went gooey-eyed. My tired eyes brightened as we introduced our little nugget to passersby.
We settled in at the bar once the room had emptied out and started chatting with the server. I let him know that this nursing mamma couldn’t have much but that I would love to try a little of one thing. Quintus is what he poured. The winery’s blend of five Old World varietals, Quintus is described as floral, dark fruit, cassis, tobacco, earth and a hint of dark chocolate. The finish was a deepness that I had been craving and I was instantly eased. I acquiesced to a sample of The 5th Element as well, a Petit Verdot which is a varietal not often seen on its own. The peppery finish offered a nice zest. I was slowly (but never fully) waking from a deep, month-long fog.
As we drove back through town, Quintas, Roxey, Baco Noir and a Karlo Estates Port packed in the back of the van, hunger peaked. We stopped back through at Poppy Café for sandwiches and checked into The Drake.
The Drake Devonshire Inn. This was the initial destination. The reason I had booked this wild trip in the first place. After reading in the Globe and Mail a few years back about the potential of a waterfront hotel opening up in Prince Edward County’s wine country I’d kept my curious senses tuned. I would peruse The Drake’s website, seeing if there were updates. Finally, there were. And there was a sign-up list to be one of the first to stay during its fall 2014 opening. I hurriedly typed in my e-mail address.
I’d imagined all the wineries I would test, the water I would gaze upon, the meals I would eat.
But now, I was tired. I wasn’t sure if we should or should not have driven all this way. I wanted a glass of wine. But I couldn’t have one. I wanted to eat with sugary and fatty abandon with everyone. But I was a little person’s source of nutrition. I wanted to sleep. But it would be short lived. Yet, then we checked in. And The Drake lightened all of those “buts.” At once the hotel’s vintage playfulness sumptuously wrapped in glamorous design made me feel luxurious.
I have not slept on a more comfortable mattress. I have not eaten a better steak for dinner. I have not experienced a more invigoratingly rustic and refreshing view from the back porch of a hotel.
We spent three hours prior to dinner sunk into our guest room’s cushy mattress, our baby and us swaddled within the bed’s snuggly comforter. Each room’s eclectic collection of original artwork and trinkets gives spirit and life to the rooms, making them wonderfully unique. Even if the distinctive pieces aren’t on your walls at home, they still make this feel like home. Artisan-made dolls make quirky bedside table companions in each of the Drake’s rooms, while Canadian-made MacAusland’s virgin wool throws blend perfectly with the hotel’s rustic charm.
The Drake’s dining room is adorned with a wall of tall windows, offering an alluring view out onto Lake Ontario. The sun had nearly set and the mauve glow across the blue-gray water was stunning. Equally stunning was a tomahawk steak dinner the four of us shared. Served with green beans and potatoes – (and what else?) fixings right for a family dinner. The bone from this behemoth cut of steak could last your dog a year. We finished the meat in a good 20 minutes, down to the last lick of juice.
The piece de resistance though was our walk out onto the beach after dinner. Mom and Dad took Radley upstairs and Zach took my hand as we hurried down to the water. It felt like summer camp, every birthday party ever and the day I met my husband, all rolled into one.
Prince Edward County’s rural character was marrying into the Drake’s richness as we stood, blown off balance by chilly winds gusting in across the lake, looking back on the glowing candlelight on diners tables through the cool, clear glass of the hotel’s dining room. I wanted to build a fire, put on another two sweaters, slouch down into an Adirondack chair, and stay on that beach all evening long.
It is a rarity to be satiated with the amount of time one is able to spend on a vacation. But, that statement is an understatement in regards to this trip. We were in and then gone before our newborn could grow another day old. As we were checking out, I couldn’t resist rushing from room to room, frantically snapping photos of the rooms and atmosphere that I hadn’t had a chance to enjoy. I wanted to experience the nostalgia of the Glass Box rec room with its ping pong tables and board games selection, take in the permanent and rotating art collections inside and out of the inn, listen to the stream trickle down the creek just outside of my parents’ balcony.
Back in the van we steadily started our route back to Ohio, back 10 hours from where we came, dreaming, I knew, of my necessary return, unable to wait again to spend days on end in Prince Edward County’s countrified opulence.
Twin Birch Cottages | Cottage #1 | Harbour View