FOR MANY OF US, HEADING OUT ON A WEEKEND EXCURSION SO OFTEN MEANS ONE OF TWO THINGS: EITHER ESCAPING TO THE WILDS OF COTTAGE COUNTRY OR DIVING HEADLONG INTO THE HUSTLE AND BUSTLE OF CITIES MUCH LARGER THAN OUR OWN. EITHER OF THESE OPTIONS MIGHT PROMISE GREAT TIMES, TO BE SURE. BUT THERE ARE OTHER POSSIBILITIES.
FOR THOSE OF US LOOKING FOR A THIRD WAY, ALTERNATIVE OPTIONS FOR WEEKEND (OR WEEKDAY) ADVENTURING MIGHT INCLUDE DESTINATIONS THAT MIX THE TRANQUILITY WE IDENTIFY WITH ONTARIO’S WILDERNESS ENVIRONS WITH THE CULTURED TASTES, CULINARY PROFUNDITIES AND ARCHITECTURAL DELIGHTS OF ITS LARGER CITIES. LIKE THESE THREE REGIONAL GEMS:
DUNDAS. THE TOWNS OF CALEDON. AND ELORA.
GREAT DESTINATIONS FOR ADVENTURE, TO BE SURE. AND ALL OF THEM RIGHT IN OUR OWN BACKYARD.
TAPROOMS, PATIOS & GOOD EATS
For TOQUE Partner Cai Sepulis and her wife, Sonia, a Saturday trek out to west Hamilton and the town of Dundas from their home in(-ish) downtown Guelph has become one of their regular go-to regional daytrip loops. For coffee. Specialty food. And craft beer. And – especially coming out of Dundas up Sydenham Hill – for the scenery too. Some highlights along the way? Take a read. (To note: depending on your tastes, a designated driver can be good on this loop.)
Begin (or end) this daytrip in Hamilton’s Ainslie Wood neighbourhood – home to two of the most gorgeous taprooms around: (1) Fairweather Brewing Co (5 Ofield Rd Unit 1, Hamilton) and its just-down-the- block neighbour, (2)Grain & Grit Small Batch Beer(11 Ewen Rd, Hamilton). While you can’t go wrong beginning your trip with either one of these craft breweries, they’re definitely both worth visiting. Among our fave brews from each: ‘In The Palms’ IPA (brewed with lactose, mango, and pineapple) from Grain & Grit, and Fairweather’s ‘Dream Pop’ sour ale (dry-hopped with citra & mosaic).
When you’re able to pull yourselves away from the bar at these amazing establishments (it’s harder than you think – which is why this loop is also doable in reverse), it’s time to make the short jaunt from west Hamilton to the town of Dundas. First stop: (3, 4) Detour Coffee Roasters (41 King St W, Dundas) for Americanos and bags of beans. Our recommendation: order your cuppas to-go, but enjoy at least some of your morning fuel either in Detour’s gorgeous café or, if the weather’s co-operating, on its relaxing patio.
While enjoying your coffee, (5)meander down King past boutiques and specialty shops to Freewheel Cycle (9 King St W, Dundas), where you can drool over your dream rig and grab that multi-tool and spare tube you know you should pack for your next long haul. On the walk back, duck in to (6) Cumbrae’s (26 King W, Dundas) – a butcher that specializes in quality meats sourced from small, family-run farms; tempting salads (potato salad w/ pickles, eggs & pickled onions in lemon basil aioli, anyone?); and prepared dishes like buttermilk fried chicken, whole rotisseried chickens, an assortment of quiches, and more. Grab some items for home, and some for an afternoon snack while people watching.
Ready for another pint? Dundas’ own (7) Shawn & Ed (Shed) Brewing Co (65 Hatt St, Dundas) is only a block off King, and worth a visit for the brewhouse alone. Be sure to take a look at the amazing collection of early twentieth-century bus scrolls hanging throughout the place – an homage to the brewery’s former use as a bus maintenance shed through the 1920s and ‘30s. It must be nearing dinnertime, so we hope you brought your good clothes because no trip to Dundas is complete without a bite at (8) Quatrefoil Restaurant (16 Sydenham St, Dundas) – a culinary destination whose awards include Top 10 New Restaurants (Toronto Life) and Top 10 Best New Restaurants (enRoute Magazine). Chefs Fraser Macfarlane and Georgina Mitropoulos use local ingredients to create contemporary French cuisine that you won’t soon forget. Try grabbing a seat on the place’s serene patio and revel in the joys of this most exquisite daytrip.
TOWNS OF CALEDON
SCENIC DRIVES, ARTISAN WARES & ICE CREAM
If you’re looking to explore a bit of local countryside, a visit to Caledon makes for a great weekend drive. Only thirty-five minutes from Guelph, the region is dotted with small towns – each with its own character and natural beauty. And since the towns are only a few minutes apart, cruising between them (over rolling hills, beside picturesque rivers, past gorgeous orchards) provides great opportunities to roll down the windows and play your favourite tunes. (Tip: ‘Alanna Gurr and the Greatest State’ makes a perfect musical accompaniment for the windy country roads.)
A great place to start is (1) The Common Good Café & General Store (758 Bush St, Belfountain) – a café, ice cream parlour and well-curated giftshop that carries hip and unique gifts in a bright and welcoming setting. (Note: the spinach and feta croissant is not to be missed.) While you’re ‘downtown’ (essentially a single corner), be sure to visit (2) Higher Ground Café (17277 Old Main St, Belfountain), where a cozy rustic interior and a quaint patio furnished with Muskoka chairs create a vibe evocative of the interior of British Columbia. Here you can just sit back and enjoy an Americano while watching the clouds roll past.
Feeling a need to move your legs? Belfountain Conservation Area(10 Credit Park St, Belfountain) is just around the corner. The site features some short and easy trails, a charming suspension bridge, beautiful waterfall, a fountain made of (3) inverted bells (a quirky homage to the town name), and the ruins of an old mill. Check out the impressive stone structure called the Yellowstone Cave, developed as an attraction by the original owner of the mill.
Now that you’ve built up an appetite, hop in your car and take the nine-minute drive to (4) Spirit Tree Estate Cidery (1137 Boston Mills Rd, Caledon). Situated in an apple orchard, Spirit Tree is a cidery, bakery, farm store and kitchen. The bistro features ample decadent options – including vegan cauliflower wings, heirloom tomato & burrata caprese salad, and Canadian East Coast mussels (with birds eye chili, brunoise red pepper, shallots and garlic) – steamed in Spirit Tree Dry Hopped Cider.
From Spirit Tree it’s a twenty-minute drive to Alton Mills – another picturesque town featuring the gorgeous Alton Mill Arts Centre (1402 Queen St W, Alton Mills). Here you can wander through artist studios and shops. Have a coffee and poke into (5) Noodle Gallery for pottery and other artisan wares in this old mill heritage site.
Winding down, it’s a mere eight-minute drive along country roads to (6,7) GoodLot Farmstead Brewing Co (18825 Shaws Creek Rd, Alton) – the first farm-to-barrel brewery in the Greenbelt serving ales and lagers using hops and other ingredients grown right on the farm. Pull into the dirt country lane and let the bright yellow flags guide you to the metal grain- bin-turned-bottleshop and immense outdoor patio. With cans to-go, flights, and beers on tap, an ample summer live music schedule and weekend food trucks, Goodlot is a perfect final stop to enjoy any late summer evening.
TAPROOMS, QUAINT CAFÉS, STUNNING VIEWS & HISTORIC HOMES & GOOD EATS
Sure, it’s got a fantastic gorge. Everyone knows that. And awesome hiking along sheer cliffs overlooking the Grand River below. Done that. And picturesque century-old stone buildings and historic homes. We’ve seen the postcards. But did you know that, even beyond these landmarks and this urban landscape, Elora’s a fantastic destination for visiting and exploring? (Especially during the week, when Toronto weekend tourists are working their nine-to-fives.)
To make the most of your visit to this quaint town (located just thirty minutes northeast of Kitchener- Waterloo), arrive early for breakfast. Two great options: Box Social (103 Geddes St) for eggs and bacon-y fare, and (1) The Lost & Found Café (45 W Mill St, Unit 3) for lighter stuff – including smoked salmon bagels, croissants with apple & brie, and wraps. At Lost & Found, sit upstairs in the cozy loft or outside in the quaint shop-filled courtyard – which includes (2) reFIND Salvage (45 W Mill St, Unit 7).
After breakfast, wander the core. There’s no shortage of boutiques, galleries and cafés to peruse along the main strips of Mill and Metcalfe, and up and down side streets too. Be sure to check out the Karger Gallery (14 E Mill St) for furniture, home accessories, jewellery and more;(3) The Elora Mercantile (58 Geddes St, Unit 1) for boozy jellies, specialty oils, chic pocket knives, home-made comfort food, and other unique treats; Honeychurch Lane (65 Metcalfe St) for chateau chic vintage finds, antiques and upcycled furniture; and Studio Kampina / common craft (140 Metcalfe St) for vintage and re-imagined clothing, pop-up shops and workshops too. And between shops, take care to look around. Public art, gorgeous architecture and (4) quaint streetcapes are (seemingly) everywhere.
Wanna wander further afield? If you’re spending the night at the bespoke Elora Mill (77 W Mill St), you’ll want to rent the (5) Mill’s fleet of bikes – handbuilt by Hugh Black at True North Cycles.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head to any number of Elora’s incredible eateries, bistros, gastropubs and restaurants. Feeling like something elegant and French? The Evelyn (130 Metcalfe St) is your spot. Tourtieres. Coq au vin. Ratatouille. All spectacular choices. And the elegant vibe makes this charming restaurant a perfect spot for romance. Craving fresh pasta and wood-oven pizza? Make your way to LaFONTANA (15 E Mill St) for seasonal, sustainable Italian. Our go-to? The (6) Elora Brewing Company (107 Geddes St), of course. Not only do they produce among the best craft brews this side of the Big Smoke, but Chef Ben Sachse and his kitchen crew make a handful of fantastic dishes. Curry Mondays. Taco Tuesdays. Barbecue Wednesdays. Hot dog Thursdays.
Spirits more your cup of tea? Then The Porch Light (82 Metcalfe St) or (7) The Friendly Society (8 W Mill St) will certainly be your jam. The Porch Light’s full (cozy) bar, selection of shareables (like spicy salami spread, smoked trout schmear, and charcuterie boards), and intimate wrap-around patio overlooking Metcalfe are certain to please. Meanwhile, The Friendly Society’s hipster-chic interior complements its stellar bar program – quickly making it among Elora’s go-to spots to end any great night in this town that’s certainly more than just a gorge.