I was contacted by a rep at National PR, “We represent Ford Motor Company and we would like to send you on a road trip! How does that sound?” My first gut instinct was a simple, ‘thanks but no thanks.’ I don’t like to drive on highways and if I’m going to go o a road trip I can’t be at the wheel…I need to be trigger happy on my zoom lens in the passenger seat. I was asked to think it over. I went to bed and the next day as I rose from my bed I had one of those “ah-ha moments.” For the past two years I have been wanting to organize a culinary tour of up and coming Prince Edward County. I immediately thought of a few people who would enjoy the experience and spent the day shooting off emails and by that night I had booked a hotel and written a lengthy letter to the great folks at the Prince Edward County Tourism Board announcing my arrival.
Organizing a two day culinary media tour is not as easy as it seems, especially last minute with only three weeks before departure date during the busiest season of the year. I looked high and low for a cute Bed and Breakfast in the heart of The County but all were sold out or outside of my Ford allotted budget. I finally decided to book the Ramada Inn in Belleville which is conveniently located at the Bridge which straddles The Bay of Quinte and connects the main land with the island that is Prince Edward County. I informed the hotel of the purpose of my visit and was given a 50% media discount. Things were shaping up nicely. Over the next week or so I did plenty of research on the area, utilizing the Tourism Boards brilliant Taste the Trail resource. Once I had decided on the restaurants, farms, vineyards and sites I wanted to see the media rep at the Tourism Board helped me put together a schedule for my visit and contacted each business on my behalf.
My next step was to research the Ford fleet and choose a vehicle that resonated with me. I opted for the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid with a black leather interior. I wanted to travel in a luxury vehicle (who doesn’t?) and was keen on taking a hybrid to conserve on gas and do a little planet hugging along the way by reducing my carbon footprint along Highway 401.
The final step was hand picking, cream of the crop companions. I wanted to introduce inquisitive minds who would respect the craftsmanship of wine makers, cheese farmers and ice cream magicians. Everyone in the group had a thirst for knowledge and were quick to ask questions at each culinary destination. I was pleased to enjoy my weekend with this hilarious free spirited trio: Erica Mawson, Melanie Leis and Jonathan Morton-Schuster.
The car was dropped off right by my office at King and Spadina on Friday at 4pm. When I finished work at 5pm I immediately unlocked the car and hopped into the back seat of the car for a nap. I was so pleased to rest my head on warm black leather and slowly sigh as the delight of “new car smell” filled my lungs. After a short nap the gang arrived. We were all giddy with anticipation and ready to hit the road. I quickly stopped into the Tim Horton’s across the street and bought us all an Iced Cap and a box of donuts to tie us over.
The drive east along the highway is beautiful and far less busy than the gridlock one experiences driving from Toronto west to Niagara. We enjoyed watching the sun set across the horizon and started to spot cutesy farmland when we passed through Port Hope. After just over two hours of driving we arrived at the Ramada Inn Belleville. We rushed into our room and slammed down our bags claiming our beds for the night. We shared a bottle of Smirnoff Ice between the four of us (it’s all we had!) and sipped our beverages in plastic cups on our disheveled balcony.
We were so thrilled that the Belleville Waterfront and Ethnic Festival was taking place this weekend just across the road from our hotel (we could actually see the carnival rides from our balcony). Erica grabbed the pepper spray from her purse (just in case) and we all set off on a rural mosquito infested summer night adventure. Jonathan and I were a bit overwhelmed by what can only be described as rural shock syndrome. The scream of children could be heard as rides spun around us with a flash and crash. Overpriced junk food was plentiful and a large open concept community centre featured a live country band who encouraged local women to hop on stage and do the can-can. We sought out the “Ethnic Pavilion,” and were sadly disappointed. The Italian tent featured Pizza, Indian had curry and the Polish booth offered up perogies. The food offerings were a bit sad so we marched back through the clouds of mosquito’s and black flies to enjoy buckets of poutine and liquid cheese drenched fries. Our highlight from the carnival was the fact that we were stopped every 2 minutes by tweens who are fans of Jonathan’s television show on MTV, 1Girl5Gays. He was even asked by a few young girls decked out in silver braces, “Jonathan why are you in Belleville?” They were astonished and couldn’t understand why a celebrity on television would come to visit their humble community. I chirped in and told them we were all heading to Prince Edward County on a Culinary Tour and they smiled, giggled and sauntered away into the dark.
The next morning we woke up early to grab a quick breakfast at the hotels complimentary breakfast buffet. A cup of coffee, glass of grapefruit juice and plate of french toast, bacon and sausage always does the trick. We hopped in the car at 9am and were on the road, blasting over the bridge.
Our first day consisted of the following road trip jam packed excursions focusing on the east side of The County:
a tour and tasting at Fifth Town Cheese
tasting at The County Cider Company
tour and tasting at Waupoos Estates Winery
tour and tasting at Huff Estates Winery and Oneo Gallery
I hobbled into the car after several tastings at Huff Estates. The hot sun and smooth jazz (along with several glasses of wine) had me a bit tipsy and exhausted. We drove directly to Sandbanks Provincial Park where we changed into our swim suits and climbed our way over the Parks iconic sand dunes. We spent a delightful two hours on the beach relaxing under the bleating sun and prancing about in the refreshing waves of Lake Ontario. Preparing for dinner we did our best to remove any trace of the beach from our bodies (but in the end it truly is a challenge).
We drove to the small town of Bloomfield for dinner at Angeline’s Inn. By the time we got out of the car our bodies were in shock from the exhaustion of our day (now compounded by dehydration and excessive sun exposure). As we walked up to the front steps I tried to scratch any of the remaining sand from my scalp and slapped my face in an attempt to wake up. We spent the next two hours enjoying a spectacular meal which was supplemented by genuine hospitality, storytelling and a post dinner tour of the properties backyard garden which was dimly lit by a bright half moon and the flickering of fire fly’s.
The following morning we slept in, enjoyed one last complimentary breakfast and checked out of our hotel.
We spent our final day road tripping through the west side of The County:
creative and cool creations at Slickers Ice Cream
tour and tasting of The Grange of Prince Edward Estate Winery
tasting at Closson Chase Vineyards
Many of the roads in this part of the county are rural gravel roads. We were happy to find ourselves lost in the middle of vast farm land. We hopped out of the car at one point to have a photo shoot amongst some bright yellow wheat fields. We also made a quick stop at a historic grave yard which was tucked away between two cattle farms. Once our final tasting was finished at Closson Chase Vineyards we all looked at each other like a bunch of stuffed and bloated gluttons. We had filled our bellies for the past two days with excessive amounts of cheese, alcohol, ice cream and delicious food and the busy days compounded with intense sun exposure had us fatigued and ready to head home. We all hopped in our white Lincoln and commented on how much we had all learned from our trip. Jonathan had never been to a cheese farm or winery so his knowledge and passion for fine food and drink had been seriously ignited. Erica had her fare share of rose wines this weekend (her summer favorite) and Melanie commented on how pleasant it was to drive the MKZ Hybrid. Throughout the weekend when we were telling people about our Ford sponsored road trip she would chirp up excitedly and exclaim that the car was so quiet that she was never quite sure if she had turned the car engine on when twisting the keys into ignition.
We turned on Serious Satellite Radio to a station featuring Top 90’s hits. We spent the next two hours listening to Spice Girls and Ace of Base ballads which we all belted out at 110 km/h. We made a quick stop at a McDonald’s in Whitby where I revealed one of my favorite foodie habits (dipping my 1/4 pounder in honey). We filled up the car one last time at the near by Petro Canada and soon found ourselves back in the big beautiful city of Toronto.
We cheered as the CN Tower came into view! As soon as I arrived home I dropped a liquor box onto the floor. I ripped open the top and removed 12 bottles of Prince Edward County treats. The perfect finish to the perfect road trip. I meticulously placed these products on my bookshelf and smirked as I realized how many lovely dinner parties these bottles would fuel in the coming months. I ripped off my shoes, plopped myself on my bed and quickly fell into a dream drenched sleep.