my family did not pack me up with my two older brothers and Fuzzy, our cat, to embark on the typical family summer odyssey of the drive, pee, sleep and keep-the-kids-from-killing-each-other-in-the-backseat road trip kind of vacation. The farthest we drove was to our family cottage, at Lac Orford in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. What seemed to this ten-year-old, a full day’s drive involving bathroom breaks, fidgety brothers and my mother’s insistence that she do the cottage grocery shopping in Magog, (ten minutes short of our final destination) was in fact, less than an hour of door-to-door, road trip discomfort at the most.
In later life, my partner and I have had the pleasure of several extended road trips: in particular a Toronto to Boston, beautiful Autumn, two-week stint via Montreal, Quebec City, down through the Eastern Townships and on through the East Coast of the US. This early October trip provided incredible rocky, wet-leafed vistas with majestic whale watching on the craggy and wet outcroppings of the Saguenay. We took in fall foliage, enjoyed family Thanksgiving and micro brew beers at the Gold Lion Pub in my hometown of Lennoxville; dinner at the Relais & Chateaux 's Hovey Manor in the quaint and beautiful hamlet of North Hatley , where Hillary and Bill are currently relaxing with their grand kids.
But really, who needs an out of province road trip, when we have some of the best and awe inspiring scenery, theatre and food experiences right here in our own backyard of Southwestern Ontario?
Onto Lake Huron
Southwestern Ontario is perhaps one of the prettiest and bucolic parts of the world. This time of year the western sun sits lower and more reflective on the gently rolling hills west of Toronto. We have a weekend house in St. Marys and do the drive every Friday, traveling the 403/407/401 route and effectively avoiding the headache of the 401/427/403 interchange hassle. Once past Milton, you’re home free and will enjoy the beautiful green, undulating landscapes, and rich farm land west of the Waterloo Region, Kitchener, New Hamburg and onto Stratford and St. Jacobs. Looking for more adventure? Continue up to Ontario's West Coast and Lake Huron, Bayfield, Goderich and north towards Southampton, famous for its fabulous sunsets and on any given Saturday summer evening, be serenaded by the skirl of a bagpiper at the foot of High Street.
A Food Lovers Road Trip
The local farmer's markets in Stratford and St. Jacobs cater to a wealth of fine restaurants in this part of Ontario; many support the farm to table theory of local cooking and sustainability. Ruth Clausen’s Monforte Dairy and her artisanal cheeses from her casual resto Monforte on Wellington in Stratford are a must-stop, taste and buy. Stratford is home to such culinary delights as Bijou, (choose from their three or four course Blackboard Menu), the Italian favorite Pazzo Taverna (casual pizza downstairs, more formal upstairs at street level) and just off Stratford's recently renovated Festival Square sits the Red Rabbit Bistro, chef Sean Collins and general manager Jessie Larsen's community-shared restaurant experience serving casual feeds that are “soul satisfying in the way of comfort food.” For a special night out, the beautiful sun setting dining room of Rundles never disappoints. But make sure you book your Rundles experience now as the renowned Stratford food experience will be serving its last meal in September. Further down the road in St. Marys, Chris and Mary Woolf's Little Reds Pub and Eatery, is proud to offer Woolfy’s favorites as well as pub fare highlighting locally-sourced produce and craft beer. (a followsummer favorite!)
Theatre Lovers Applaud
While in Stratford, theatre lovers can applaud Canada’s best and North America's largest Classical Repertory Theatre Companies, the Stratford Festival and further down the road, the Blythe and Huron County Festivals. Travel south to Niagara on the Lake and the Shaw Festival—all within a two-hour drive of Toronto. On your way through, consider stopping in towns like Shakespeare for antiques, grab some wonderful cheddar in Tavistock, or beach and motorcycle viewing in Grand Bend.
Stop INN and Stay
Some of the best B&B and Inn experiences are to be found along the Old Huron Road as well: the Relais and Chateaux rated Langdon Hall in Cambridge, The Little Inn at Bayfield and the Benmiller Inn and Spa in Goderich or road trip further south to West Montrose and enjoy the Grand River and the historic covered Kissing Bridge views at the boutique-style Olde Bridge Place B and B.
Road Trip Planning
The Ontario Travel and Tourism board has launched a Trip Planning Tool, where you can 'Build your BEST OF ONTARIO adventure', get attractions coupons and choose one of their hand-picked travel packages, making the planning and organization of your road trip affordable and accessible.
Plan some leisurely amble time with the ones you love, pack your car with an overnight bag, your Tom Tom, a well-thumbed summer novel, and tantalize yourself with a Southwestern Ontario road trip.