En route to the Montreal International Jazz Festival, my travel partner Charlotte, the dark-haired beauty, suggests a detour. We exit the numbing strip of 401 to discover what lies beyond it.
For years, the three-storey wooden sign with bright cursive writing built into a southern slope off the highway approaching Belleville beckoned us to Prince Edward County. Budding wine lovers, we're curious to explore anyplace that attracts winemakers, including unlikely vintner Sonja Smits, who recently bought a vineyard.
We descend from the sky, crossing a high, arched bridge over colourful sailboats in the Bay of Quinte, an exquisite entrance to the peninsula that juts into Lake Ontario.
This spot has a fierce loyalist history and was also home to 20th-century pirates, black-sheep Prohibition rum-runners who smuggled Seagram's brew, dodging the American Coast Guard by night.
Scattered clusters of trees mark 200- year-old family farm boundaries. The county historical buildings hold an emerging arts scene, something for every taste. The region's offerings go far beyond the bicycle tours and Victorian B&Bs we expected.
Slicker's Ice Cream in the charming heritage town of Bloomfield, in addition to using the finest organic ingredients and freshest cream, stays true to legend and soaks the raisins for its rum raisin in Captain Morgan.
Charlotte and I decide to head straight down County Road 11 to Sandbanks Provincial Park in search of the lakeshore. Our quest for beach is interrupted by a small side trip to the Mad Dog Gallery, a brightly restored circa-1900 barn showcasing contemporary and traditional works by local visual artists. We take a second break at one of the many roadside fruit stands. Charlotte stocks up on pints of fresh strawberries and raspberries, juicy snacks for our afternoon under the parasol at Dune Beach.
We choose this more set-back beach, laying towel and books on the dunes so we can access both the lake and the warmer, stiller waters of a tiny bay.
Sun-kissed, pleasantly sand-dusted and still slightly peckish, we venture east to the town of Waupoos (an aboriginal word for rabbit) on County Road 8. Bordered by swaying red and pink hollyhocks and rows of slanted vineyards, it overlooks the lake and islands. After wine-tasting, we continue a couple of kilometres to the home of County Cider. We declare their berry-flavoured cider the best and indulge in a gorgeous late lunch while gazing out on the apple orchard.
For a dose of live theatre, we pick up two tickets for Duets, a poignant original musical and the summer season's first show at Picton's Regent Theatre, a stunning space framed by an awesome proscenium arch. After the enthusiastic standing ovation, we settle in at the Royal Hotel, where Charlotte beats me at pool and we dance the rest of the night away to the tireless band.