The northern reaches of Hastings County are a rugged, forested highlands dotted with over 250 lakes and rivers. But while all that wild consistently draws outdoor adventure-seekers, a growing number of chefs, farmers, and artists are waking visitors up to the fresh flavours and rich culture that have always been here. Follow this eight-stop weekend trip for a taste of what North Hastings has on offer right now.
Tinhouse Woodworking and Espresso Bar, Coe Hill
Get a quick intro to the local arts scene at this once-dilapidated garage transformed into an art studio and showroom. For eight seasons now, husband-and-wife duo Jeff and June Wells have been showcasing the work of local artists — which ranges from paintings to jewelry to pottery to photography — as well as Jeff’s own unique wood furniture designs cut from local pine, ash, cherry, and spruce. Jeff built the espresso bar here, too, where you can sit and sip on double hits of Madawaska Coffee in a latte, cappuccino, espresso, or the famous — and recommended — CoeHilliano (an Americano with a dash of local maple syrup).
The Barn Chefs, Coe Hill
For lunch, it will be hard to top the charcuterie and focaccia from the Italian deli just down the street from Tinhouse. Experienced chefs and avid travellers Sarah Woods and her husband Luca Molteni are the two behind The Barn Chefs, where they handcraft Italian cured and cooked meats, fresh pasta, custom cakes, breads, desserts, buffalo milk cheeses, and preserves. If you’re there on Saturday, try the wood-oven pizza. Otherwise, go for the capocollo, onion focaccia, and spicy onion marmalade, and then head for an outdoor table. Chances are Sarah and Luca’s son, Matayo, will keep you company with tales of his travels to Italy, Africa, and the local swimming hole. Finish off with a hand-whipped, made-to-order Nutella gelato that will have you dreaming of Tuscany.
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Bancroft Eagles Nest Park, Bancroft
By now, you may want to walk off all that Italian deliciousness, and this wilderness park overlooking Bancroft is a great place to do that. From the upper parking lot, follow the short and easy trails through the woods to the Hawkwatch, a platform built into the rocky cliffside that gives 180-degree views of the York River Valley and the town below. Try to imagine what it was like here 11,000 years ago, after the ice left, when small groups of indigenous hunters roamed the valley in pursuit of caribou. Interpretive signs at the Hawkwatch and throughout the park’s trail system tell you about the Algonquin people who lived and hunted here, as well as early European settlement and the geology, flora, and fauna of the area.
Bancroft Brewing Company, Bancroft
Take a load off on the patio of this craft brewery in the heart of Bancroft and share a cold one with a local. You’ll find a rotating cast of about a dozen small-batch beers here, but if it’s available — and it’s sunny — try the Blonde Lady, a smooth, light, and crisp ale with a full body. None of the brews are overly experimental, but they are all made with water found deep within the Canadian Shield, giving each a unique flavour that can only be tasted here. Inside the brewery, cans and growlers are available to go, as are hats, shirts, and glassware.
The Granite, Bancroft
For a town of about 4,000 people, Bancroft has a good range of dining options, from pubs to pizzerias to food trucks. But for something slightly more upscale, and with its big patio and solid craft beer list, The Granite is a great option. The vibe is casual here but not overly, and the service is friendly and very prompt. The food is a mix of salads, burgers, sandwiches, pastas, and entrées like New York striploin, duck leg confit, and butter chicken. The California Club Wrap is a standout, with its fresh tomato, greens, bacon, guacamole, white cheddar, and grilled chicken ($18.50).
Benaaron Guest House, Bancroft
Cottages, bed and breakfasts, and even glamping options abound in North Hastings, though for a combination of location and atmosphere, the Benaaron Guest House is hard to top. Perched on a hill 25 minutes east of Bancroft, this refined B&B is in a peaceful country setting with stunning views of the surrounding valley. Inside, Ron and Elaine have tastefully decorated each of the four rooms with higher-end furnishings and large ensuite bathrooms. Rise and shine early for a jaw-dropping sunrise and then head to the cathedral-ceilinged Great Room for a delicious gourmet breakfast that could include wild blueberry and lemon scones with rhubarb and pineapple jam, scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes, mixed fruit, and yoghurt.
Now that you’re well-rested and fuelled, take the backroads through rolling hills to the hamlet of Maynooth, where you’ll find about a half dozen antique shops and art galleries on the newly redone main street. Each business offers something slightly different, such as Cassidys, which has bulk teas and coffees, Ontario-made chocolate truffles, antiques, estate jewelry, art, and collectables. The contemporary Wildewood Gallery is also worth a visit to peruse and perhaps buy a work made by a local artist. And if you’re an artist yourself, Brush With the North is a great spot to restock your supplies or just get inspired by the in-house gallery and one-of-a-kind home décor items.
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Madawaska Kanu Centre
End your trip a half-hour northwest of Maynooth at this piece of heaven on the Madawaska River. Although the family-run business is famous for its white-water canoe and kayak courses for every skill level, the wooded property along the raging river is worth exploring on two feet. Start in the Riverside Shop & Café by perusing the outerwear and other paddling essentials as you wait for your freshly brewed Madawaska coffee and grilled panini (meat or veg). Then take it outside on the sprawling wood deck to enjoy in an Adirondack chair. Across the road are short trails that lead down to and along the river — the perfect spot to dip your toes, wave at a passing kayaker and breathe in the wild that makes North Hastings what it is.
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