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As inhabitants of Canada’s largest city contemplate some travels after various lockdowns, I begin to wonder if they know of the many delights awaiting them almost on their own doorstep.

It’s the region known as South Eastern Ontario; nine counties stretching from the Bay of Quinte on the western edge to the counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry along the Quebec border, encompassing the regions along both sides of Highway 401.

If that description sounds rather ‘dry’, let me elaborate. Here are lakes, rivers and islands in the south, rolling hills and open farmlands to the north. There are lively and historic towns and even a city – Kingston – which played an important part in our history. And the scenery, especially in the region where the St. Lawrence River includes the 1000 Islands, is breathtaking.

Spending time on or in the water provides some great adventures. There are 1000 Islands cruises from the delightful town of Gananoque, houseboat rentals, world-class fishing, canoeing and kayaking, even scuba diving with shipwrecks to explore. And there are parks and beaches for families and those merely wishing to relax.

Hotels, inns and B&Bs abound and there are excellent restaurants throughout the region, which is renowned for its ‘farm-to-table’ scene. The local food movement is active, offering fresh produce, maple syrup and honey, lavender products, artisanal cheeses, and cider, along with microbreweries and wineries galore.

Kingston – the limestone city – is the jewel of the urban locations in the region, with its history as Canada’s first capital, its role in the War of 1812, spectacular Fort Henry and its renowned haunted walks. From it strategic location atop a hill, Fort Henry not only offers a glimpse of our history, but also lovely views over Lake Ontario entering the St. Lawrence River and the Thousand Islands. There are art galleries, concert venues, pleasant parks and, in downtown Kingston, a truly international restaurant scene as well as great shopping.

It’s a beautiful drive eastwards on Hwy. 2 out of Kingston, mostly along the river. Gananoque is home to the 1000 Islands Playhouse … two theatre stages in an old rowing club in what must be one of the most beautifully-located small theatres in the world, and there’s fine dining in this town too. The Aquatarium is an interactive science museum in Brockville, while Prehistoric World in Morrisburg invites children to play amidst life-sized dinosaur models. The Doran Bay Model Ship Museum, between Brockville and Cornwall, offers one of the world’s finest private model ship collections along with fascinating military figurines, all set in a restored 1880s mansion overlooking the river.

This is a great area for cycling. Rolling countryside offers trails and thousands of miles of country roads and dedicated bike paths for every level of rider. The Cataraqui Trail threads quietly though the countryside, while the Waterfront Trail offers 90 km of uninterrupted cycling along a scenic route on the shore of the St. Lawrence.

For golfers there are over a dozen spectacular courses, among them the Black Bear Ridge in Belleville and Smuggler’s Glen at Glen House Resort in Lansdowne.

Almost every activity offers the opportunity for wildlife and bird watching, especially in spring and fall as the area lies on a major migratory route. My garden is often visited by foxes and rabbits and we’ve seen a coyote on Highway 2. We know many of the region’s osprey platforms, all of which are occupied this year, while a barred owl in the Cataraqui Conservation area has provided us with our favourite photo of the year so far.

After all those activities perhaps a little retail therapy is on the cards. The offerings of Kingston have already been mentioned, but local craftspeople and retailers offer a wide variety of items in specialty boutiques throughout the region.… unique items to give as gifts or keep as souvenirs. There are antiques galore and tempting clothing stores. The shops offer a pleasant shopping experience away from the hurly-burly of the big cities.

The region is an easy drive from Toronto (and from Montreal, of course … lots of Quebeckers come to enjoy this region too). It offers a complete vacation or a stop-over between the two cities. But it’s also worth a visit from other parts of Canada … there’s so much to do, the scenery is spectacular and a warm welcome awaits all visitors.

Even closer to Toronto is another summer playground for vacationers. It’s Prince Edward County, or merely ‘The County’ to those who know it. The creation of the Murray Canal to provide safe passage into the Bay of Quinte meant The County became, technically, an island, although roads cross the canal providing an easy driving getaway. There’s also a car ferry (free) from the mainland to a hamlet called Glenora, which puts drivers close to the County’s major town – attractive Picton.

The County is home to farmers, wine makers, artists and craftspeople, and some renowned chefs who have left Toronto for a rural lifestyle. The region’s roots lie in farming and the ‘food scene’ is vibrant and innovative. A gem among many is the Lake on the Mountain Resort with its inn and adjacent Miller house restaurant. The patio of the latter offers one of the finest views in Ontario. Add to all this the fact that the County offers 800 km of shoreline – much of it spectacular beach – and you have a true summer playground.

In fact the glorious beaches of Sandbanks Provincial Park are so popular that reservations on summer week-ends are recommended. As with the region to the east, the County offers superb cycling, kayaking, canoeing and fishing. Here, as on the mainland, villages and hamlets offer many boutiques and craft stores, along with restaurants and those ubiquitous ice-cream parlours! If you’re setting out to explore South Eastern Ontario, the County is well worth a visit. It is much loved by many.


First published at Travel Industry Today

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