The holidays are around the corner and I’d like a little relaxing timeout before they’re in full swing. Any destination ideas close to the Greater Toronto Area?
An overnight or weekend trip to Collingwood should do the trick.
That’s the ski town, right?
Yes, but Collingwood’s not just for skiing.
Really? What’s the draw then?
How about cool restos, historic residences, happening bars, independently owned shops, hiking trails, art galleries and a main street that is so pretty it looks like a movie set? Seriously. It even sounds like one: Discreet speakers on lamp posts pipe in music.
Wow. The only other Collingwood association I have is the Elvis Festival.
While the love affair with Mr. Presley is a huge annual event for Collingwood, this town of about 22,000 is more sophisticated than you might think.
Sure you’re not overselling it? Keep in mind I’m a big foodie.
Trust me. If you leave Toronto at 9 a.m., you’ll be pulling on to Hurontario Street, the main drag, at around 10:30, which is a perfect time to head to Gibson and Company for a cappuccino. (Take note: It doesn’t have a store front, so follow the light-strung pathway beside the Metra boutique and you’re there). Its buzzy vibe and glossy-white tiled walls channel an NYC-Dean & DeLuca feel. Treat yourself to a grilled smoked cheddar and bacon marmalade sandwich or a vegan chickpea smash toast. Both are equally yummy.
Nice. I want more on the food scene later. Now I want to hit the street for a bit of shopping. Where should I go?
Hurontario Street is the retail therapy go-to. If you like home décor, don’t miss Farrow Arcaro, which is owned and run by an award-winning interior designer. Lëuk is also noteworthy for housewares, but the real draw here is the overall edit: art, clothing, vintage finds, jewellery – there’s even an onsite florist and a small café. Metra is a fashion source with lots of Canadian content and the best faux-fur coats. Tea drinkers will be over-the-moon with the blends at Blue Mountain Tea Company – the herbal snooze-inducing Lalaland is a sleep game-changer. And whether you buy something or not, make sure you visit Butter Gallery for its colourful mix of local artwork and famous “great wall of smalls” – a gallery wall of tiny paintings, many cheaper than $200.
So it’s a one-street kind of town then?
Not so fast. Pine Street, one block over and parallel to Huronontario, is also not to be missed. In fact, if you want to make like a local, especially on game night, grab a table at the Huron Club, a lively pub/resto. Bent Taco’s mean margaritas and sublime tacos (go for the braised brisket) mean there’s often a line-up to get in – it’s well worth the wait. And even the most reluctant shopper will be wowed by the Hive, a stylish boutique with original gift items and plenty of Canadian-made finds. Simcoe Street is also worth a stroll. A creative hotspot, it’s home to numerous art galleries, workshops and the Simcoe Street Theatre, plus Low Down, a hot new cocktail and ramen bar.
All this talk of food makes me want to do something a little more active.
Then you will love the Collingwood municipal trails. Spanning 34 kilometres from Collingwood to Meaford, they are a network of impeccably maintained paths ideal for casual strolls, serious hikes, running and cycling. You should also check out Harbourview Park – it has a boardwalk with uninterrupted views of the waterfront. And, as you already know, Blue Mountain is minutes away if you’re in the mood for some downhill. (Don’t fret if you forgot your gear; there’s a Sporting Life at the bottom of Hurontario).
Good to know. What if I don’t want to stray too far from town?
You don’t have to. Collingwood was the first municipality in the country to gain a Heritage Conservation District and offers a self-guided Look Up Tour that highlights the area’s architectural eye-candy and takes about an hour to walk. Pick up a tour brochure at the town’s information centre and start your journey downtown before heading into the west end’s dreamy residential enclave, replete with corbels, cornices and Corinthian columns.
That reminds me of Niagara-on-the-Lake – too bad there aren’t any wineries here.
Actually, there is one if you don’t mind hopping back in the car. The Roost is a hilltop vineyard in Ravenna, which is a 15-minute drive away. Take in the spectacular views of Georgian Bay while sipping a cold-climate marquette or sparkling rosé. On the way back, stop at Ravenna Country Market for a piece of homemade pie or some of their out-of-this-world butter tarts (try the pecan). And when you’re closer to town, check out the Collingwood Brewery – they have a tap room, tastings and a retail outlet so you can take some home with you.
Sounds like I might even need more than one day. Where should I stay?
You have to experience the VanderMarck. Not only is this boutique hotel perfectly located on a quiet residential corner just steps from downtown, it’s also a showstopper. Built in 1912 by acclaimed Toronto architect Eden Smith, it’s undergone a savvy restoration that balances its historic provenance with just the right amount of contemporary dash. It is key-code accessible (there’s no front desk) and a true boutique abode: There are just eight suites and each one feels more like the coolest city pied-a-terre than a hotel room.
The design aesthetic – a clean backdrop of bright white walls – lets thoughtful details such as local artwork, black-and-white photography and mod furniture shine. Amenities include a bar fridge, microwave and coffee and tea station stocked with local beans and brews. Opt for a premium suite; they feature a gas fireplace beneath a Netflix-loaded flat screen TV so you can spend a cozy night in relaxing and recharging … something that everyone needs before the holiday hoopla begins.
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