24 Hour Getaway: This Fall, You Can Glamp, Kayak, and Eat Your Way Around Haldimand County

1280 Haldimand 20Summer may be slipping out the back door, but that doesn’t mean the party’s over. There are so many ways to enjoy autumn in Canada, and Ontario’s Southwest offers more than just scenery. It’s only a short drive to Haldimand County, a region where filled with outdoor adventure, farm fresh fare, and agritourism. It’s also one of the few places near the GTA where you can go glamping!

1280 Haldimand 9We’ve put together a short itinerary for a 24-hour fall getaway to Haldimand Region. It’s only an hour and a half from Toronto by car, but we recommend staying overnight to fully soak up the region’s offerings. Are you ready to rumble?

10:00am: Kayak on the Grand River

1280 Haldimand 11Start your visit by seeing the mighty Grand River…in a kayak. In Dunnville, Ed Sullivan, owner of Grand River Kayak, offers guided kayaking and stand-up paddleboard tours along the river.

“I’m a bit of a paddle snob,” says Ed, chuckling. “I buy new equipment every year, and most of it is top notch.”

It’s because this isn’t like the touristy boat rides at Toronto’s Centreville. Ed has a passion for paddling and takes the sport seriously, teaching his guests the 101 of kayaking. He first started the business ten years earlier, after being laid off from his day job as a result of the market crash. Luckily, his half-time kayaking business was already thriving.

“I decided to give the part-time gig a go,” he says. “I haven’t looked back since.”

1280 Haldimand 10Now from May to October, Ed runs daily excursions ranging from one hour in a conservation area or a half day paddle to the mouth of Lake Erie. He even guides school excursions, teaching youngsters how to paddle and spot wildlife.

“Even though I do this every day, no two trips are the same,” he says.

I dip my paddle into the waters, and speed alongside Ed’s kayak. Out on the river, you may see blue heron, snapping turtles, bald eagles, beavers, deer, birds, and fish. I lift my head up to the sun and close my eyes, basking in the stillness and the sunshine.

1280 Haldimand 12“That’s the great thing about kayaking,” says Ed. “It’s impossible to paddle and text at the same time.”

Ed’s company also offers some special experiences. There are guided excursions at sunset (“the nicest time of day!”); a paddle during the Mudcat Festival to watch fireworks; and a monthly Moonlight Tour, a quiet paddle through the marshlands while star-gazing. These tours are highly coveted and book up quickly.

12:00pm: Snack Attack at Debb’s Cuisine on Queen

1280 Haldimand 14Next stop, Debb’s Cuisine on Queen for a hearty lunch. This Dunnville bistro may have just opened four months ago, but it’s already hopping.

“The town needed it,” says Debb Davies, owner and executive chef. “We’re making scratch-made comfort food. So far, the community has really welcomed us.”

After being in the catering business for 25 years, Davies decided that she needed a home base for her cookery. She found a burnt-out historic building in Dunnville, and renovated it into an industrial-style restaurant with exposed pipes and brick, Edison bulb lighting, and barn doors.

1280 Haldimand 17“I tried to keep the natural beauty of the building,” says Davies. “I’ve salvaged some key pieces. The back wall, for instance, is made from the old ceiling.”

Now, locals gravitate here to feast on her delicacies, such as beef ribs slathered in blueberry barbecue sauce, chicken breast stuffed with herb goat cheese, and meatloaf wrapped in bacon.

“We’re an eatery, not a bar,” she says. “There’s no TV, and there never will be. It’s about fresh, homemade food and a great atmosphere. If we can’t make it, we’ll source it locally.”

1280 Haldimand 15Sitting at a table, I gorge on deep-fried olives stuffed with ricotta; handmade pierogis layered with crispy bacon and caramelized onions; and an incredible fettucine with sautéed spinach, scallops, shrimp cherry tomatoes mixed in a light lemon cream sauce. For dessert, it’s a carrot cupcake with a swirl of fluffy cream cheese and mascarpone frosting on top. It’s all too good.

2pm: Hiking in Ruthven Park

1280 Haldimand 1It’s time to walk off such a rich meal. A short drive will take you to Ruthven Park, a historic estate overlooking the Grand River. Here, you can walk through the majestic Greek revival mansion of the Thompsons, a prominent family who settled in the area in the 1830s. There are also a slew of trails that you can walk at your leisure.

1280 Haldimand 21Of course, you’re too full to move, relax on a park bench and absorb the gorgeous surroundings instead.

4:30pm: Get Your Cider On at Bains Road Cider Company

1280 Haldimand 2There’s something special about this 14 acre farm on Bains Road. It’s not just the heritage geese running around either. Inside a newly built wooden shop, the McDonalds are making ciders and fruit wines using the mulberry and cherry trees on the property, as well as leftover fruit from local farmers.

“Growing up, my brothers and I made cider,” says Geoff McDonald, co-owner. “We made cider from fruit. Our original product was our pear cider.”

1280 Haldimand 22You can arrange a tasting on weekends or by appointment and try a line-up of pumpkin pie liquor, sour cherry rose, wild pear cider, strawberry cider, and even a black currant port.

“The cherry wine goes really well with Indian food,” says Geoff.

You can also get your fix at the Caledonia Fair on October 2-3, where Melissa and Geoff will set up shop.

6:00pm: Embark on a Flavour Journey at Twisted Lemon

1280 Haldimand 5 poutineYou can’t go to Haldimand County without indulging at the Twisted Lemon. This celebrated eatery is the love-child of Chef Dan Megna and his wife, Laurie Lilliman. After studying cookery at Humber College and working at Toronto’s legendary North 44, Chef Dan began to search for a restaurant to call his own in Haldimand County.

“I knew this was the place when I walked in,” says Chef Dan. “It called to me.”

Now, patrons travel near and far to taste the kitchen’s gourmet creations or participate in multi-course feast at the chef’s table. The menus are developed collaboratively between Chef Dan and his team, and inspired by what’s available in the surrounding farm fields.

“My food producers are my neighbours,” says Chef Dan. “There’s so much local produce in Haldimand. Instead of the 100-mile diet, we have the backyard regime.”

1280 Haldimand 7While there’s a core menu, expect to see seasonal specials coming out of the kitchen every 4-6 weeks. For my tasting, I feast on pan-seared jumbo scallops torched with homemade blueberry barbecue sauce; pulled duck confit served in a wonton taco with salsa; beef carpaccio and beer-battered oyster mushrooms wrapped in romaine lettuce.

And those are just the starters: finding my second wind, I savour the sweet potato gnocchi served in a creamy wild mushroom and sage sauce and the house special, a pan-seared Arctic Char served atop blueberry barbecue sauce with wheat berry croquettes.

1280 Haldimand 6Bring a big appetite if you’re fortunate enough to score a spot at the Chef’s Table (reservations essential). You’ll be set up in a private kitchen with 6-10 other patrons, as Chef Dan prepares a feast before your eyes.

“It’s a true chef’s table,” says Chef Dan. “It’s more about attention to the guests and making tailor-made creations. I’ll ask a series of questions to suss out what you’ll enjoy eating. And drinking, too.”

8:00pm: Glamp like a Champ at Oakwood Escape

1280 Haldimand 3It’s time to check in to accommodation like no other. At Oakwood Escape, you can camp in luxury on a working farm, where you can pick your own veggies, fruits, and herbs. There are also the chickens.

“In the morning, we provide the eggs,” says Oakwood’s host. “We get them fresh from the chicken coop.”

In case you haven’t done it before, “glamping” blends the best of camping and luxury resorts. At Oakwood, you can sleep in a safari-style tent in a bed that’s semi-open to the elements (with a mosquito net entrance). Outside, there’s a shared bathroom with flush toilet, shower, and kitchen.

1280 Haldimand 4There’s nothing quite like waking up in your bed to a gorgeous sunrise and hearing the frogs croaking in the pond. And without having to sleep on the hard ground! What I loved is the convenience – unlike camping, there’s no set up or carting of stuff involved, except for bringing your clothes, a flashlight, and any food. Oakwood offers a rustic retreat for families and a great way to be immersed in the wilderness without all the preparation and fuss.

1280 Haldimand 8

PLANNING YOUR TRIP

To plan your trip, check out the Haldimand County Tourism website. Or visit Ontario’s Southwest website for more getaway ideas and inspiration in Southwest Ontario.

Comments

  1. Sharon Acton says

    I can vouch for Bains Road Cider company. Fantastic products, enthusiastic, caring people. Geoff and Melissa are very community oriented and concerned about using local sources for their products. Strawberry Reserve is one of my favourites.
    I am disappointed not to see Small Dimension mentioned. You will find the best fish and chips, hamburger, spaghetti and meat sauce, not to mention chocolate cream pie, apple crumble, fruit cream pie. All Diane Hadaths food is preservative free, very low in sugar and made by her. She has daily specials, homemade soups and a variety of desserts based on what is in season from the family farm or local farmers. Trip advisor has awarded Small Dimensions an award for best sea food restaurant.
    Small dimensions is Haldimands undiscovered treasure.

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