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Ours to Discover: Norfolk County, A two-day escape in Ontario’s Garden

From its tobacco farming roots, Norfolk County’s now brimming with fresh produce, wine, and outdoor adventures

Avatar By: Karen Kwan August 7, 2021
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About this series: With COVID-19 restrictions expected to ease over the next few months, Wheels wants to inspire you to get ready to explore – but only when it is safe to do so. This series of daytrips and weekend drives highlights great experiences you can have in the province once conditions allow and show you why Ontario is “Ours to Discover” this summer and beyond.

Dubbed Ontario’s Garden, Norfolk County is where, thanks to the area’s fertile, sandy loam soil, you’ll find a cornucopia of the incredible fruit and vegetables the province is able to grow. The region was once part of the tobacco belt, but many of the county’s farms have since transitioned to produce such as soybeans, ginseng, grapes and corn. Composed of communities including Simcoe and Port Dover, Norfolk County also boasts Long Point, a 40-kilometre stretch of land that is a UNESCO-designated World Biosphere Reserve. Go for a two-day road trip to this region, and you may be so charmed by its rolling hills and natural beauty that you’ll want to call it home too.

DAY ONE

In the morning: Get in the car and head west via Hwy. 403. It’s only about a two-hour drive if you head directly to Norfolk, but you can make two worthwhile pit stops. First, detour to Wilsonville to visit Whistling Gardens. Walking the blissfully lush grounds of this botanical garden, bursting with blooms and greenery, will leave you feeling like you have switched into vacation mode.

Norfolk County

The garden, home to North America’s largest public peony collection, features four kilometres of walking trails and covers 22-acres. Be sure to take one last cleansing breath before you get back behind the wheel for your next stop, one to address your grumbling tummy.

Head south to Simcoe for lunch at Lily’s Tacos. The restaurant’s generous portions of authentic Mexican tacos — carnitas, barbacoa, al pastor, lengua (beef tongue) and more — and its friendly owners will make you wish this a local gem was in your own neighbourhood.

In the afternoon: Your last stint behind the wheel brings you to your final destination of the day: Long Point Eco Adventures in Turkey Point Provincial Park, where you can be adventurous while surrounded by comfort. Book one of the cute pods for a cosy hideaway or go full out with glamping luxury in a Wilderness Suite. Spend the afternoon enjoying the property. You can go for a hike, take a honeybee-apiary tour, try some axe-throwing (reserve the tour and throwing in advance) or just take a breather and enjoy a nap or refresh under the outdoor shower. Check-in is at 4 p.m.

Norfolk County

In the evening: Walk from Eco Adventures to nearby Burning Kiln Winery for dinner at Canned Heat. This 10-year-old winery stands on the site of a former tobacco farm’s repurposed tobacco kilns. Burning Kiln is renowned for creating an appassimento style of wine, where grapes are dehydrated for weeks or months to concentrate the sugars and create a stronger flavour, aroma and colour. When there’s great reds to be sipped, our go-to dinner is steak frites, but you can’t go wrong with the restaurant’s stellar burgers and pizzas either. Stroll back to your pod after dinner and relax by the fire pit.

Norfolk County

St. Williams, Ontario – Wednesday Aug 21, 2013 A decorative cask at Burning Kiln winery in St. Williams, Wednesday. Mathew McCarthy, Record staff – see story by Valerie Hill. Request # ¥ Local News
3:54:24 PM ¥ 13-08-21 ¥ St. Williams

DAY TWO

In the morning: After breakfast, pack up the car and head about a half-hour southwest to Sand Hill Park. Located in Port Burwell, the province’s largest sand pile strikingly towers 350 feet above the north shore of Lake Erie. Climb to the top to take in the views, then kick back on the beach at this family-friendly park.

In the afternoon: Circle back east to Port Dover for lunch. You’d be remiss to not enjoy any Lake Erie perch while out here, so hit up Knechtels on the Beach for a perch snack box. To wash it down, try a Port Dover signature drink: The Orange Glow is a sweet orange soda from The Arbor, a fast-food joint that’s been around since 1919. After lunch, explore the pier and the Port Dover Lighthouse, and take a walk along the beach. The real palm trees by the Beach House Restaurant will make it feel like you are in the Caribbean.

Before you get back on Hwy. 403 for your drive to Toronto, make sure to stop just off of Hwy. 6 in Jarvis to pick up some craft beer to bring home from Concession Road Brewing Co. Founders Jeff and Shannon Bunton launched their brewery, the first and only one in Haldimand County, three years ago in the town’s old fire hall and have brewed more than 100 types of beer in that time.

For the drive

Press play on the Curated Past, a podcast produced by Norfolk County museums and available on Spotify, to learn about the area’s heritage and culture, such as an infamous 1950 bank robbery. If you prefer music, try some Mumford and Sons. The band chose Norfolk County as a stop on their Gentleman of the Road Tour in 2013, as they were drawn to the town’s roots in folk music.

COVID-19 need to know

The region is currently in Step 3 of Ontario’s Roadmap to Reopen. Visit the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit for more information (hnhu.org).

TIMELINE: Drive guide

Day One

  • 8:30 a.m. Leave Toronto

Drive Hwy. 403 West

Turn south of Hwy. 18 before Brantford

Take Cockshutt Rd to Concession 3 Townsend

  • 10 a.m. Whistling Gardens
  • 12:30 p.m. Lily’s Tacos
  • 2 p.m. Long Point Eco-Adventures
  • 6 p.m. Burning Kiln Winery and Canned Heat
  • 8:30 p.m. Sit by the fire pit

 Day two

  • 9 a.m. Sand Hills Park
  • 12:30 p.m. Port Dover
  • 3 p.m. Concession Road Brewing Co.
  • 3:30 p.m. Drive back to Toronto

NOTE: Times are suggestions only

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