Hastings County, Niagara Benchlands and Perth have more to offer than just good looks – take in art, culture and delicious food in these scenic Ontario destinations
Warm breezes, long evenings and sunshiny days are a harbinger of a summer well spent. To take summer up on its promise of adventure, look no further than Ontario’s sprawling backyard: Hastings County, Niagara Benchlands and the Town of Perth all offer great excuses to get away for a weekend. Here are our suggestions for how to spend a delightful – and delicious – 48 hours in each.
Halfway between Ottawa and Toronto, this sprawling region is made up of welcoming towns, farmlands and villages encompassing 14 municipalities. It reaches from the Bay of Quinte to Algonquin Park and is ripe with boreal forest, refreshing lakes, small-town charm, trails, sights – and many culinary treats. Take the region from the top with Bancroft as your first stop. Bancroft Brew Pub is located on the main artery, and the patioed restaurant is a great pick for lunch. It dishes up everything from apps to pasta to lager-battered fish and chips, while the beer menu focuses on brewed-in-house crafts from the Canadian Shield’s own Bancroft Brewing Co. After your meal, you really must trek five minutes south to Kawartha Dairy, a cottage country staple. Scooping for more than 80 years and with 50-plus flavours of ice cream, the iconic, family-owned company doesn’t skimp on serving size. Small cones feel sky-high, which is not a problem since signature flavours like Moose Tracks and Wolf Paws are so delicious. Next stop: Marmora, which has a weekly 18-vendor farmers’ market with everything from handmade soaps, stained glass, date squares, local preserves, fresh-baked breads and a smoker food truck. While en route, keep your eyes peeled for roadside farm stands and local honey, which are always worth the stop. Finish the trip in the city of Belleville, where you can cap the day off with a seat on the waterfront patio at the Boathouse Seafood Restaurant. Go for buttery lobster, snow crab legs or classic surf and turf.
What to do
Dubbed the Mineral Capital of Canada, you can literally find a hidden gem in Bancroft’s CN Rockpile. Sift through pebbles, rocks and stones to find some pretty, all-natural souvenirs at this former quarry. When you’re done, pop into the Bancroft Mineral Museum to learn more about the region’s mining history. If you’re looking for adventure, the all-season Hastings Heritage Trail is a striking way to take in the area by bike. While you’re in Belleville, peruse the quaint downtown core’s bustling shops, making sure to pop into Funk & Gruven A-Z for a hit of antique nostalgia.
Where to stay
Marmora is small, cute and part way between Bancroft and Belleville. Limestone Bed & Breakfast is an 1860s home-away-from-home steeped in history and surrounded by beautiful gardens. The rooms are named after semi-precious stones, which is quite fitting, since it’s close to the abandoned pit at Marmora Mine.
Never heard of the Niagara Benchlands? That’s because it’s a new initiative spearheaded by the southern Ontario town of Lincoln that encompasses the Niagara-adjacent towns of Beamsville, Campden, Vineland, Jordan, Rockway, Tintern and, of course, Lincoln. Celebrating the tastemakers, trails and parks that trace the Niagara Escarpment, there’s much to see and do. Prime location for vineyards, there’s absolutely no shortage of wineries: 180 Estate Winery, Stoney Ridge Estate Winery, Honsberger Estate Winery, Angels Gate Winery and plenty more. If it’s a multi-course dinner that you seek (and, honestly, it should be) The Restaurant at Redstone Winery in Beamsville is a good one to check out. The contemporary dining room offers views to the vineyard, and the menu is stacked with local ingredients. Don’t miss the Upper Canada ricotta tortellini or the grilled Cornish hen. In nearby Jordan Station, Blossom Bakery is the spot to source an assortment of goodies. Inclusive of the vegan and gluten-free crowd, the kitschy homestyle joint has flatbread pizzas, like-grandma-used-to-make squares, flaky-sweet butter tarts, pies, granola and even hot sauce.
What to do
Wine tastings are obviously on the list, but as well as grapes, Niagara Benchlands is bursting with fresh produce, farmers markets and cute stores. In Vineland you can visit The Watering Can Flower Market. Inspired by European shops, the family-run company is a beacon for the plant obsessed with a side of coffee and treats. Also in Vineland is Peach Country Farm, which, as the name suggests, is a peach-lovers’ oasis. If you can imagine it, they’ve got it, including peach muffins, tarts, ice cream, cookies and jams. If a picnic is on your to-do list, you can also pre-order cherries, plums, apples and nectarines to go with your baked sweets for curbside pickup. Support local artists with a trip to Northern Expressions Inuit Art Gallery where you can shop prints, drawings, soapstone carvings and more.
Where to stay
The Bed and Breakfast at Vieni Estates in Beamsville is a serene place to rest after a day of wine tasting and escarpment exploration. Your stay includes a gourmet breakfast made from local ingredients. The expansive saltwater pool is a prime spot to enjoy the region’s beauty and blazing sunsets.
TOWN OF PERTH
Originally set up after the War of 1812, this charming town maintains its character-rich heritage, enticing tourists to come “check out their backyard.” The town’s population may be small – just under 6,000 people – but it’s big on attractions, activities, food and fun. To get here, travel 83 kilometres southwest of Ottawa towards Lanark County. Plan a stop at Blackfly Grub Hub for artisanal doughnuts and gourmet hot dogs. If you’re serious about fried dough, you can pre-order faves like over-the-top birthday cake and tender, fruit-studded apple fritter. For something a bit more substantial, try Picnic Cafe and Catering where you’ll want to sink your teeth into the Montreal-smoked meat or the tangy-delicious Kimchi Reuben. To match the town’s European aesthetic, go for dinner at one of the oldest food spots, Maximilian Restaurant. Wienerschnitzel is made fresh daily and served with buttery mashed potatoes and a lemon wedge – it’s the locals’ go-to. On a warm day, take a jaunt down the street to the ice cream window at Peter’s Family Fare Restaurant, which is also where you should definitely have breakfast in the morning.
What to do
The town’s proximity to the Tay River makes it an optimal place to hike and take in some pine-scented air. The Tay River Trail is a choose-your-own adventure: Either hike it through downtown or make your way upstream towards Bobs Lake or downstream where the river meets Lower Rideau Lake. Or, pick a whole other beaten trail using the Perth and Area Hiking Guide. For a different type of walk, revisit the past at the Perth Museum. The stone house was built in 1840 and shares the preserved lifestyle of longtime Perth residents, the Matheson family. Downtown has all the shops you need, from quaint bookstores to flowers to gifts to clothes, all housed within architecturally pleasing structures.
Where to stay
Nevis Estate is a stone house built in 1842 that has a handful of luxurious rooms and common areas that preserve the era’s charm with moulding and ceiling medallions while seamlessly incorporating comfort with a modern feel. If you’re sweaty after a hike, you’ll especially enjoy the outdoor pool.
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