I spent my youth growing up in the suburbs of Toronto and am amazed by the number of cozy communities in my own back yard I’ve still yet to discover. If there’s one thing that’s certain, Ontario offers a potpourri of pretty places worth prancing through.
I recently spent a long weekend exploring Norfolk County for the first time and discovered a friendly farm community located a short 2 hour drive from Toronto. The region sits perched over the north shore of Lake Erie between Niagara and Detroit and is one of Ontario’s most charming up-and-coming communities.
Historically Norfolk has been known as one of Canada’s tobacco farming hubs. When anti-smoking sentiment swept the nation, the government switched up its quota system and the region’s tobacco farmers were forced to quickly decide what to grow next. Today these farm families operate award winning winery’s, harvest aromatic lavender and craft phenomenal berry spiked cider.
The majority of entrepreneurs I met during my trip launched their businesses within the last five years and in doing so are helping rebrand the region with innovative offerings. Many a conversation included an exasperated local chirping, “I really don’t know why Toronto folks suffer in bumper-to-bumper traffic driving up to Muskoka when there are beautiful beaches and cute cottages just a short stones throw away from the city over here on Lake Erie.”
Norfolk may be dubbed “Ontario’s Garden” and the “Strawberry Capital of Canada,” but it’s the regions friendly locals that make the region certifiably “fresh for the picking.”
Things to Do in Ontario’s Norfolk County
Long Point Beach Club
Visitors looking to indulge in a luxurious weekend away should book a sweet suite at Long Point Beach Club. The property located at the corner of Highway #59 and Erie Boulevard recently opened for the 2016 summer season and sits perched over a pretty private beach.
Owners Jeff and Rebecca Bouck explain the concept, “We are offering a fresh take on the old cottage-style family vacation. For our family, Long Point Beach Club is a dream come true. We delight in the opportunity to share the wonderful experiences we had growing up on the shores of Lake Erie, exploring the beautiful town of Port Rowan, as well as Norfolk County and Long Point Provincial Park.”
Nightly, weekly and monthly stays are all offered, but the owners say the hallmark of this new facility is their vacation membership option. Each membership to the Long Point Beach Club entitles the holder to four weeks of vacation each year, one week per season.
Long Point Beach Club features 18 fully-furnished suites, each with a terrace or balcony and an unobstructed lake view. Guests can select from three spacious layouts which feature all the amenities of modern living: slick open-concept kitchen, two bathrooms, climate control, WIFI, and satellite TV.
Long Point Provincial Park
Hop in your car and enjoy a short 5 minute drive from Long Point Beach Club to Norfolk’s natural gem. Long Point is the fourth oldest Provincial Park in Ontario (established 1921) featuring over 1.5 km’s of sandy beach on the warm waters of Lake Erie. In the hot heat of summer the playa packs with tan fans looking to soak up the sun with their feet firmly dug into the soft sand. There’s excellent fishing and boating opportunities in Long Point Bay for those who like to rest and relax on the water. Designated as a World Biosphere Reserve, Long Point is also home to one of the largest bird and waterfowl migration and staging areas in North America.
Port Dover is the region’s quaint yet bustling hub where you’ll find plenty of spots to sip and nibble. Early mornings are best enjoyed at Urban Parisian, an authentic European style cafe featuring French pastries, rich bold coffee, exquisite tea and selection of freshly baked bread. Wake up to the world while sipping a frothy latte and nibbling through classic Pecan Butter Tart.
Burning Kiln Winery
One of the region’s most compelling and transformative stories can be found at Burning Kiln Winery. Once home to a tobacco farm, the owners of BKW have infused their newbie, award winning winery with a hat tip to the lands heritage.
Rising from the ashes of an era when tobacco ruled the local economy, Burning Kiln Winery has repurposed, and architecturally reconfigured an original tobacco pack barn to pay homage to that fact. Situated on a former tobacco tract, the picturesque winery has been built to preserve the historic charm of its original wooden structure while allowing visitors to view much of the operation from behind giant, contemporary glass walls. Inside, a wonderfully functional, modern working winery shares its secrets of the complete winemaking process while maintaining the warmth of the original wood structure and the drama of the trusses of the original agri-building.
Tours offer a chronological step through the winemaking practice beginning with what makes BKW unique, the kiln drying of grapes using repurposed bulk tobacco kilns and along the steps of pressing, fermentation, barrel ageing and bottling.
At the tasting room be sure to sample the winery’s lauded Kiln Hanger Cabernet Franc and refreshing sparkling offering simply titled Sparks.
New Limburg Brewery
Hop heads drive along a pretty rural road and you’ll find an old elementary school which has been converted into Norfolk’s favourite microbrewery. The Geven family (Mischa, Jo, Milou and Yvonne) opened their charming New Limburg Brewery to bring the best Belgian style ales to Norfolk County. The brewery’s tasting room is located in an old classroom featuring chalk scrawled black boards, pretty piano and a collection of old school chairs. If the sun is shining plop yourself on the patio and sip through refreshing Belgian Blond, Black Sheep milk stout and citrus-forward Wit.
Blueberry Hill Estates
Located just down the street from Burning Kiln Winery, Blueberry Hill Estates offers berry fans a blast in a glass. The owners have transformed a converted farmhouse into a rustic winery retail store that runs alongside a seasonal farmers market. If you time things right you can take a tour of Ontario’s oldest commercial high bush blueberry farm. Or just relax inside sipping sweet blueberry wine and (my personal favourite) trilogy of craft cider, one of which is infused with juice from local blackberry and blueberry bushes.
Bonnieheath Estate Winery and Lavender Farm
If you have not yet sipped yourself silly head to Bonnieheath Estate Winery and Lavender Farm for a final twirl of the glass. Located on a picturesque rural road, Bonnieheath balances an authentic agricultural experience with the sophistication and class of an estate winery.
Enjoy a glass of wine or cider as you explore the gorgeous grounds, where vineyards, orchards, prairie grasses, lavender fields, and a natural wetland await. When you’re through, join friends on the patio, or relax in the lavender gazebo.
In addition to a variety of wines and ciders, Bonnieheath also produces an entire line of lavender-based luxuries, right on site. Stop by the boutique to discover a new favourite such as lavender infused loose leaf tea, shortbread or endless array of beauty products.
Elements Day Spa
After drinking away your day it’s best to throw on a plush robe and treat yourself to a bit of rest and relaxation. Elements Day Spa overlooks Lake Erie and offers jaw dropping views for pampered guests who lounge before their treatment in a lush, Buddha adorned garden. Norfolk’s boutique sanctuary specializes in massage, waxing and mani/pedi treatments while also offering petite indoor saltwater pool and dry sauna where guests love to loiter in luxury.
If you’re looking to enjoy an unfussy feast grab a seat on the patio at Willies Burger. Port Dover’s iconic eatery opened 25 years ago, quickly becoming famous for its family friendly BBQ. Sip a sweet strawberry milkshake, twirl your fork around a cheesy poutine and devour the restaurants signature Willie Burger featuring a quarter-pound charbroiled beef burger topped with peameal bacon, cheese and bbq sauce.
Zip Line & Canopy Tour at Long Point Eco Adventures
If you’re keen on kissing Mother Nature while Tarzan’ing through the forest sign up for a 3 hour zip line and canopy tour at Long Point Eco Adventures. You’ll glide through the Carolinian forest, tackling 8 zip lines, 2 suspension skybridges, 14 platforms and a 40-foot rappel!
Star Gazing with Long Point Eco Adventures
Located in one of the darkest points in Southern Ontario, the Long Point Observatory is Canada’s newest public astronomical observatory. Starry night fans can peak through a 16” Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope capable of revealing celestial objects 10,000 times fainter than the faintest objects visible to the naked eye! Mars, saturn and the moon, so nice to see you!
Sam’s Place Farm Market
Before heading back to the city swing by Sam’s Place Farm Market to get a taste for why Norfolk County has been dubbed “Ontario’s Garden.” Open daily starting in June, Norfolk’s newest farmers market features plenty of home grown fruits, vegetables, preserves, pies and cheeses. The region is one of Canada’s top berry producers so if you’re visiting in the summer be sure to snack on sweet strawberries as you hit the highway on your drive home.