An Unplugged Getaway
Jessica Iezzi | August 11, 2016
Relaxation, nature, and adventure. That was the promise of this weekend getaway, along the scenic Essex County and Lake Erie Shoreline, in Ontario’s Southwest.
Our day began in Leamington, Ontario’s greenhouse capital, where we drove by produce loaded stands and greenhouses of ripening tomatoes, destined for local processing as French’s ketchup. Our first stop was at Lakeside Bakery, where we enjoyed generous sandwiches on delicious freshly-baked bread. Their garden patio was a perfect lunch spot and as I waited there for delivery of my grilled chicken ciabatta, I gave in to the temptation of a yummy, old-fashioned apple fritter. Whoever said dessert should wait will reconsider after seeing the bakery’s decadent selection of pastries, cookies, cakes, cupcakes and gelato.
With stomachs full and ready to begin the adventure, we headed to Point Pelee National Park, a wooded Carolinian peninsula, stretching south into Lake Erie. Andrew, a Parks Interpreter, met us at the Visitor Centre for a tour to the tip on the open air shuttle. Enroute, we learned the Park was Canada’s first national park dedicated to conservation and that it is home to more species of reptiles and amphibians than any place in the country. Although only 15 square kilometres, Point Pelee is home to the largest variety of trees in any National Park, and is an internationally significant birding hotspot, located over several migration paths. We followed the winding path, feeling like nature warriors, as we arrived at Canada’s southernmost mainland location. It was a picture perfect vista with the sun sparkling off the crashing waves on either side. The water looked very tempting for a quick swim, but Andrew advised strong currents meant this was a place for photography, not a precarious plunge.
Our plan to explore the marshlands on a guided canoe tour was postponed by the rumbles of thunder from an approaching storm. We’ll save that for the next visit and settled instead for the marsh boardwalk, knowing we could walk the loop before the rain hit. The marshy boardwalk transported us to an enchanted movie set, as the frogs sang to us and cattails towered over our heads. With a number of awesome look-out spots and interpreters located along the walk, time stood still here and we felt we could have sat and enjoyed the view for hours.
With the storm approaching, we regretfully retreated to the car and headed to uptown Leamington. The Leamington Arts Centre offered intriguing exhibits of modern art featuring local artists. The exhibits reflected the everyday life of the area with photographic portrayals of migrant workers ‘After Work’ and landscapes of the shore and waterscapes of the region. We wandered down Talbot Street, drooling over Calvin Klein watches in Wharram’s Jewellery and browsing the fashion-forward selections at the Clothing Bar, Willabees and Unforgettable Boutique.
Our evening plans included the events at Hogs for Hospice, an annual fund-raising weekend in support of the Leamington Hospital Foundation. It kicked off with a Block Party, to be followed by Saturday’s Tour the Tip Ride, a Bret Michaels concert, a Vintage Bike show and numerous other events. As the Block Party started, we stopped at the Smashed Apple food truck. An order of deep fried mac and cheese balls and homemade chips, while not the weight-watchers selection, were worthy of every indulgent bite. Under the twinkling lights of the vendors we checked out the art, jewellery and craft displays. The crowd’s enthusiasm swept us up in anticipation for the Destroyer Kiss tribute band and we had to agree with the fans that the band sure knew how to start a party.
After a restful sleep at the Quality Inn Leamington, day two of our adventure began with the 9 a.m. ferry to Pelee Island. A bargain, at only $15 round-trip, the ferry was packed full of excited explorers. After the 1.5 hour voyage, we rented bikes from Comfortech Bike Rentals. Bike rentals are plentiful on the island. The Pelee Island Heritage Centre was our next stop for a brief history of the island. We were also able to obtain visitor information and bike trail maps. From here, it was a short trip to the island’s biggest attraction, Pelee Island Winery. The winery is currently making over twenty-five different wines and is globally recognized for its exceptional ice wines. With tours of the vineyards, tastings and a beautiful wine garden, this soon became an easy spot to taste away the afternoon. We headed to the BBQ hut, started up a Q and grilled up a couple of sausages while waiting for a wood fired thin-crust pizza. The self-grilled BBQ was a fun idea and fit perfectly with the relaxed atmosphere at the winery.
Back on the bikes, we made a stop at Pelee Art Works, where we were warmly welcomed to check out some truly unique local keepsakes. Plan to spend some time and money here on eye-catching beach glass jewellery, beautiful art work, and Pinterest worthy art cards and buttons.
Curious about what the rest of the island had to offer, we decided to take the scenic route back to Comfortech. We ventured to the north end of the Island, using the waterfront trail – quiet, flat roadways, the lake by your side and a wonderful breeze keeping you cool made for the perfect afternoon ride. The full loop around the island is only 28 km. and is the ideal way to explore its beaches, sand dunes, and marshes, while experiencing the nostalgic vibe of this special place.
East Park Campground was our overnight accommodation destination and during this Civic Holiday weekend, it was the site for the annual Island Unplugged Music Festival. The two day festival featured a fabulous line-up of national and locally recognized artists, all with a unique sound in an intimate setting. We ordered dinner from one of the festival food trucks, found a picnic bench and chowed down on some terrific fish and chips, while enjoying the entertainment and the atmosphere. With the live music playing, we checked out several local vendors selling t-shirts, jewellery and art work. Just minutes from the beach, we headed down before sunset and regretted not arriving earlier for some sun and swim time. The Wanderlust Club, the headliners for the night, were my personal favourite. Their laid back pop sound, haunting vocals and great musicianship had the whole audience up and dancing and the band even stepped down to join in. It was an ideal way to “unplug” after a busy day of touring.
Our ferry booking on Sunday was for a 1:00 PM departure, enough time to have a guided tour from Hayley at Explore Pelee who shared some of her favourite pastimes. She took us to Limestone Beach, made of large limestone slates of rock with crystal clear water and a view right across to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. She suggested that our next visit should include a paddle board rental at Pelee Island Charters, where, on a clear day, you could check out the submerged old shipwrecks. We’ll also take more time to explore the conservation areas with lots of awesome bike paths, marshland and perhaps we’d find the rare prickly pear cactus.
At the end of the tour, we grabbed lunch from Connorlee’s Bakery. It is clearly an island favourite as all the picnic tables were full and the line-up zig-zagged out the door. It was brunch time for us and their flaky breakfast croissant filled with egg, cheese, ham and homemade dressing was an excellent choice. Not able to walk past the sweet offerings, I departed with butter tarts and brownies for the car ride home. Coneheads, one of the local ice cream shops, was our last indulgence. They feature Shaw’s ice cream from St. Thomas, and that delicious cone was a sweet way to end a weekend of Pelee perfection. We settled into seats on the ferry’s top deck, enjoyed the sunshine and lake breezes and began to plan our next visit to this captivating island and the land along Lake Erie’s Canadian coastline.
This blog was created in partnership with funding from Ontario Southwest. To explore more that you can do in #OntSouthwest check out ontariosouthwest.com.