In the most southern part of Ontario, in the middle of Lake Erie, there lies an island paradise, that is home to a quaint 235 residents, and some of the nicest and giving people you will ever meet. One of Canada’s best kept secrets, Pelee Island is the retreat you’ve been waiting for (whether you know it or not).
I had the pleasure of traveling to the island for a wonderful girls weekend away with one of my closest and oldest friends, Bailee. We made the 4 hour drive from Barrie, took the 1.5 hour ferry across which you can either drive onto or walk on without your vehicle, and finally stepped onto dry land to immediately appreciate that it was all worth it.
Within the first minute of arriving, your struck by picturesque beauty and an easy going pace that is utterly unique to island life.
We headed over to Comfortech Bicycle Rental to get fitted for our own bikes that would allow us to get around the island with a little more ease, especially when the winery is calling your name. The incredible people at Comfortech have everything you need for a fun and safe ride, and even offer delivery on bike rentals if you’re staying for one day or more and need 2+ bikes. Perfect for those that drive onto the ferry (like us) but still would like the ease of peddling around the scenic roads of the island.
Next stop, the Wandering Dog Inn, run by Kath & Kevin who are the funniest and most welcoming owners I’ve ever met, you’ll feel right at home the minute you arrive. Filled with hysterical and witty signage to help the guests with any burning questions they may have, this inn is absolutely adorable and the ultimate cozy getaway. They offer all the basic amenities, plus a glorious enclosed veranda, lovely sitting rooms, beautiful patios & decks, serene lush greenery surrounding both the main house and the back building which is home to larger suites.
Evenings at the inn are even more relaxing with a bonfire and marshmallows which is surrounded by sturdy muskoka chairs that you’re welcome to curl up in with a blanket, courtesy of the Inn for all their guests who maybe didn’t pack that extra layer or two for the cool island nights.
And don’t worry, for those that are wondering about the name, yes — there is a Wandering Dog, the big man himself, Fred. Who is a big baby and adores attention, you’ll catch his photo all over the inn, and maybe even get the chance to shake paws with the big man himself. Take a minute and have a little chat with this guy if you can, he’s sure to brighten anyone’s day (or hangover).
Speaking of hangover, you won’t want to miss Kathy’s famous deluxe continental breakfast (offered 7 days a week) that is sure to perk you up for round two at the winery or for the unlucky ones, the long drive ahead — think eggs, sausage, fruit, bagels, yogurts, coffee and tea, juice, and more. Call ahead and let her know about any dietary restrictions, they’re super accommodating here (which makes this intolerance filled gal a happy camper).
The infamous Pelee Island Winery Pavillion, is even more breathtaking in person than in the pictures. Bikes line the pathway and you can hear the band playing in the distance. The laughter already floating towards you as you approach the building, you instantly begin to relax. The wine is flowing, a generous 3 samples for free, or 5 samples when you purchase a spot on the tour for a mere $5. This is what vacations are made of, and it’s only just beginning.
We were lucky enough to have the chance to sample nearly every wine on the menu — including some incredible Pelee Island exclusives that can be purchased at the pavillion or through their online shop. Each and every winery staff are trained and extremely knowledgeable about what their pouring. It’s such an enjoyable experience without the stuffiness that you may imagine comes along with a tasting. They believe in keeping things fun and relaxed, which just makes everything that much more enjoyable.
The party doesn’t stop inside though, walk out into the gorgeous wine garden, filled with bright tables, chairs, a massive dance floor upper deck and That Dam Band that somehow transitioned from country to top 40 to motown and RnB. The perfect backdrop for your bottle of wine (or a few). Feeling hungry? Don’t worry, the Deli has you covered at the winery, where you can grab cheeses, meats, bread, and desserts to pair with your wine selections.
It’s a party that you just don’t want to leave, and the kind where by the time you do go, everyone knows you’re name. I swear, this may just be the friendliest place on earth, and as far as Canadians go, that really is saying something.
The most wonderful thing here is that it’s all in the details on the island, from the handmade sugar scrub in the bathrooms, to the original wine press in the middle of the main building, the ice water on tap with fresh orange wedges to help quench your thirst, and the roses mixed in with the grape vines, there’s a certain sense of pride on the island that you just can’t help but admire.
I highly recommend a nap after your wine adventures before dinner, but be careful, Pelee runs on island time and most places stop serving full menu food by 8pm, which was fine by us since we worked up a big appetite exploring. Bunless burgers and more wine at the Westview Tavern was just what the Dr. ordered. Live music is everywhere here in the summer, and you just won’t find someone that wasn’t enjoying themselves.
We somehow timed our dinner perfectly to step outside and into the glorious sunset. I have never seen such a beautiful sunset in this country. It was perfect. People just kinda slow down for it, they savour the moments here, and it’s such a sigh of relief. I try really hard to consciously take a breath and be in the moment, but there’s no trying here — the island just pulls you in and does it for you.
With Saturday being such a success (even that’s an understatement, if you believe it!), we were so excited to see what else Pelee had to offer — and let me tell you, it’s plentiful. After that delicious breakfast at The Wandering Dog, we hopped on our Bikes that were waiting for us at the inn, thanks to Comfortech, and took off in search of some beaches and trails. A gorgeous opening into a rapid tide was perfect to wade through and take a quick dip — but be careful not to swim out here, that water can be rough.
Even if you forgot your suit, ditch the shoes, grab the wine, and dip those toes in for a refresher. Lake Erie is nice and shallow in comparison here, and the water is surprisingly warm for mid - late June.
P.s. privacy is everything here, so don’t worry, be happy.
There’s so many great spots on the island like the museum, the inukshuk, the art gallery, and so much more, but along the way, don’t forget to grab lunch at The Bakery! There’s nothing quite like it on the island, and it’s the perfect spot to sit and unwind with friends. Bike, drive, walk, run, whatever your transportation preference, you gotta make it there for some delicious hand pies, salads, baked goods, and even fudge.
And if you still have room, you NEED to visit Coneheads for a scoop or two before you get back on that ferry and sail away (not forever, don’t worry — I’m already planning on my next trip back!). Dozens of rotating flavours, and even some dairy free sherbet for those lactose-free friends like me. Get there early, locals and visitors alike line up in droves for the best ice cream around. The perfect location, central to the docks, you have a crystal clear view of the lake as you enjoy I enjoyed my rainbow sherbet in the sun — whether you’re splitting your cone or not, it’s the best of times when a moment like that is shared with friends, I promise.
I can honestly say, I’ve never been so sad to leave a place or a group of people I barely knew. I felt like Pelee was home, and we made such fast friends with all that we encountered. It was a bittersweet goodbye that we had to say to Sue Rice of Pelee Island Winery who showed us around, took care of our every want and desire, and was just so amazing in every way. If you’ve ever considered the island as a getaway destination, don’t put it off any longer — book now, and thank me later.
I’ll see you soon Pelee —