At Home, Away from Home
by Nicole Bergot-Browning
If you’ve driven along the Loyalist Parkway in August, hung out at Sandbanks over a July long weekend, visited one of the 40 or so county vineyards, or eaten at a hot new gastropub recently, then you have probably clued in to the fact that Prince Edward County has become a major tourist destination. And with all those visitors comes a need for places for the weary travellers to lay their heads after the wine tours and boutique shopping. This is where the humble B&B comes in, but before you roll your eyes and conjure up images of stuffy rooms, frilly bed sheets, floral papered walls smelling of potpourri and awkward breakfasts with rubbery eggs, the B&Bs of today’s Prince Edward County have risen to the high expectations of city dwellers visiting from nearby Ottawa, Toronto and even further afield. In fact, you might say there has never been a more exciting time to visit, or own and operate, a B&B. Joan Von Gard, owner of vacation rental agency, County Holiday Homes, says she sees more and more young people getting into the B&B business. “They’re hearing about the county and getting in on the action,” she says. Many of her clients are buying property in Prince Edward County as an investment. With no big hotel chains nearby they’re finding it easy to fill their rooms for tourist season. “It’s a good way to invest in a piece of real estate and have it pay for itself,” she says.
But before you worry that it’s all beard combs, craft ale and plaid shirts, there are plenty of inn owners who offer just the right amount of modern hipness, and old fashioned charm.
Originally from Toronto, Sylvia Cambray took a very circuitous route before opening The Mystic Dandelion B&B in Bloomfield in 2015. After university she married and moved to the French islands of Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, relocating to Toulouse with her children following the death of her husband. It was there she met her current husband, a chef named Sebastien, and with him she discovered her passion for hosting, when they opened a restaurant together. They moved to Prince Edward County in 2009 to be closer to her family, and started the Mystic Dandelion a few years later. Now Sylvia welcomes guests from all over the world. In addition to a comfortable bed and a gourmet breakfast (she cooks, not Sebastien “I am quite a good cook myself,” she wants you to know) - she offers a sanctuary of healing for stressed out city dwellers, “I want to help people restore balance and health,” she says. She practises Reiki, a gentle energy healing technique, on willing guests and she also gives one-on-one nutritional consultations. She came up with the name Mystic Dandelion, “it seemed like the perfect name for me,” she says. “The dandelion is actually a very powerful medicinal plant… the puffball makes us think of making wishes, of believing in magic, of happy times, of escaping our stressful reality for a little bit of bliss. That is what I want people to experience when they stay at the Mystic Dandelion B&B.”
Bob Connor is the owner of three B&Bs in Trent Hills: Windswept on the Trent, Hastings House and Emilyville Inn. Since opening he has been surprised by the number of younger visitors coming more frequently to the county. “I thought we’d be catering to seniors with disposable incomes, but most of the people staying here are in their 20s and 30s,” he says. He started the business with his daughter, and he didn’t know what to expect. “I had no idea, I’d never stayed in a B&B before,” he says. But one thing he did know was what people wanted; “travellers want to hear from a local about where to go, they like creature comforts, a TV, a nice bed.” And that’s what his properties offer, “we’re pretty upscale, here,” he says.
Where Bob and Sylvia strive for old world charm and hospitality, the Drake Devonshire in Wellington is a high end boutique hotel and restaurant geared towards an urbanite who yearns for some country down time (here you are likely to find a local craft beer). GM, Karla Brennen emails that, “city dwellers need a rural escape, which we’ve created here.” She describes the arrival experience of their typical clientele; “once they cross over into the County, something magical seems to happen: they relax, they slow down, they breathe and they take a minute to revel in the unrivalled beauty they have just stepped into.” The Devonshire fancies Prince Edward County to be Toronto’s version of the Hamptons – a summer destination for affluent New Yorkers, with a long beach and an interior of farmland – sound familiar? It strives to be as much of a destination for locals as for visitors, “[the locals] are an amazing community of artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, farmers and vintners… we’re fortunate to have become a part of such a strong, creative, vibrant community.”
It is that community that is drawing more and more people to the county, making the B&B business a booming one.