Plan a Quiet Weekend Escape to Southwestern Ontario |
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aggie and john at the PYO pack at Thames River Melons

Plan a Quiet Weekend Escape to Southwestern Ontario

As the weather begins to warm and crops start to pop up in the fields, Southwestern Ontario offers the perfect escape. Away from the hustle and bustle of the major cities, exploring rural routes through this region allows for relaxation, wide open spaces and of course, lots of delicious eats!

Why not plan your weekend getaway along the Oxford County Cheese Trail or the EPIC Wine Route and discover new tastes, experiences, and ways to relax?

Want to skip ahead? No worries.

Oxford County Cheese Trail or EPIC Wine Route- which to choose?

Well, the easy answer is both. If you’re trying to decide though, let us help.

For those looking for a family-friendly escape or to enjoy some hands-on experiences based around connection to others and Ontario’s foodways- look no further than the Oxford County Cheese Trail.

Away from the kids and wanting a getaway with great wine served up in an unpretentious way alongside fantastic eats? EPIC Wine Country offers that in spades and is perfect for couples and friend groups alike.

Still not sure? Let’s dive in!

Plan a Quiet Geta-whey Along the Cheese Trail

Here’s our perfect weekend along the Cheese Trail.

sarah and taylor taking photo outside of gunns hill

But First, What is the Cheese Trail?

What exactly is the Cheese Trail? Well in the simplest of terms, it’s a curated, self-driven trail of over 30 stops spread across Oxford County offering a unique cheese or dairy item. This could be anything from experiences where you make your own charcuterie board with a woodworker to menu items at restaurants and visits to cheese makers.

So, point those wheels towards Oxford County (it’s about 90 mins from Toronto) and get going!

Friday Afternoon

Skip out of work a little early (we won’t tell) and head to Golspie Dairy on the outskirts of Woodstock. This cheesemaker specializes in iconic British-style cheeses like Double Gloucester (affectionately called Double Golspie), Red Chesterfield, and Crowdie – a creamy little number perfect for spreading on toast or using in baking.

folks from golspie behind hte counter

The coolest part? Golspie has a cheese and milk vending machine! Grab a couple of bottles of chomo and the cheeses of your choice and you’re good to go.

milk vending machine

After Golspie, we recommend heading into downtown Woodstock for a little pre-dinner treat. You deserve it! Located right on the main drag, Habitual Chocolate is home to Canada’s largest selection of bean-to-bar chocolate, and it’s made right in-house.

karlee sipping hot chocolate in the window of Habitual

Sample a few and decide which you want to take home. If it’s an early-in-the-year visit, sip one of their house-made hot chocolates using local milk or if it’s summertime, cool off with one of their ice creams made with local milk, chocolate and some fun local ingredients. Past flavours have included everything from craft beer to fresh June strawberries!

Of course, what would a Friday night be without a kick-ass dinner? Head to Feast On® certified SixThirtyNine for a dinner of farm-to-table goodness. One of the OGs in Ontario’s local food scene, SixThirtyNine serves up a seasonally rotating menu crafted carefully by Chef Eric Boyar and Chef Sam Vandenberg.

We recommend booking into their Chef’s Table experience so you can sit right in the kitchen and watch each course come together beautifully.

Watch as the team brings together your dish using ingredients from the likes of local food producers like Stonecroft Farms, Oak Manor Mill and Howard’s Maple Syrup among many others spread throughout Oxford. If it’s too warm to sit in the kitchen- opt for al fresco dining on the patio. Chances are you’ll see the staff snipping a few ingredients here and there for your dishes.

chef same plating with the team

After dinner, drive about 15 minute and check into The Elm Hurst Inn for the evening. We recommend booking the Oxford County Cheese Trail package!

Saturday: Cheese, Soap + Great Meals

Kick off your weekend the right way with a visit to The Olde Bakery Café, just five minutes from Elm Hurst Inn in downtown Ingersoll. We recommend grabbing a Crowdie Honey Danish and Cajetta Latte (made with local goat milk syrup from cheesemaker Local Dairy Products). When you’re done, it’s time to hit the road/

closing a jar of crowdie

Head out on the rural roads to Red Dragon Dairy– a Welsh cheesemaker with a beautiful shop on Oxford’s back roads. Try their fresh curds, famous smoked feta and our personal fav – their Manchego.

Also in-house, shop their selection of local Oxford products like fresh veggies and fruit, Oxford-roasted coffees and chocolate alongside imported treats from the UK! On a warm day, we recommend ordering up a 99 – a United Kingdom specialty made by popping a flake chocolate bar into a cone and topping it with locally made soft serve ice cream – yum!

Red Dragon Dairy interior with man stocking shelves

After that, it’s time for lunch! Head to Louie’s Pizza and Pasta in Ingersoll for a laid-back roadhouse-style meal. Check out their pizza of the month which always features a different local cheese, panzerottis the size of a small baby, and our personal fav, their deep-fried Gunn’s Hill cheese curds bathed in beer from Upper Thames Brewing Company.

Next, cruise the back roads from Ingersoll to Woodstock and visit Wild Comfort Body Care. Owned by Danielle Paluska, this artisan soapmaker crafts a line of simple skincare products that focus on sustainability and natural ingredients.

Check out their soap made with local goat milk and book yourself into the Soap and Solace experience in advance. This experience brings you behind the counter of the soap shop to craft your own soap with Danielle. You’ll choose scents, colours and more as you take time to slow down and connect.

three girls making soap at Wild Comfort Body Care

Just down the road, pop into another cheese maker- Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese! Specializing in Swiss-style cheeses that cheese maker Shep Ysselstein learned from his time in the Alps, you’ll fall head over heels for their famous Handek and 5 Brothers cheeses as well as fresh curds and more, all made using milk from Shep’s family’s farm just down the road.

Gunn's Hill aging room photo with Shep walking down a row of cheese

Looking for alternative afternoon plans? Pair up your time at Gunn’s Hill with a visit to Jakeman’s Maple Farm and a stroll through Trillium Woods.

Finally, wind down the day with dinner at Charles Dickens Pub in downtown Woodstock. This local gem is a fav on the Cheese Trail for their unique dishes like curry poutine and baked Brie from Gunn’s Hill served up alongside British classics like cottage pie and Yorkshire pudding. Grab a pint, kick back and enjoy time with those joining you.

Sunday: Get outside on your last day

While much of the Cheese Trail closes their doors on Sunday, these stops offer up ways to get outdoors and really make the most of the weekend that remains ahead of you!

Linger over breakfast at The Elm Hurst Inn before hitting the road. Feel like relaxing? Book yourself into the on-site spa and settle in to some R&R.

On your way back home, stop in at Thames River Melons. This pick-your-own patch and farm market serves up fresh baked goods (you need to try their famous soft pretzel buns stuffed with Brigid’s brie from Gunn’s Hill and their own onion jam), produce all grown on-site, and preserves for days.

When in season, Thames River Melons is also home to a large pick-your-own patch where visitors can harvest everything from green beans and raspberries to potatoes, carrots, and more. Check out their Facebook page to keep on top of what’s in season when you’re visiting!

Next, book into an on-farm experience at Feast On® certified Udderly Ridiculous Farm Life. This stop offers up a number of ways to really get to know Ontario farm life in a real way.

From lunch with alpacas using Ontario-sourced ingredients to their signature Taste of Farm Life experience where you’ll join ex-city-girl turned farmer Cheryl Haskett on a tour of the farm – walking alpacas, cuddling goats and enjoying some really unique tastes of place along the way – there are so many ways to take in this farm.

Before heading out the door, be sure to visit the farm shop where you can discover over 100 Ontario vendors selling everything from alpaca wool socks and goat milk cheeses to soap from Wild Comfort, locally-roasted nuts, and Udderly Ridiculous’s own goat milk ice cream.

Whatever adventure you choose, we’re sure your time along the Oxford County Cheese Trail is going to brie legendairy.

Saturdays in May are Special

Planning your escape for May? On Saturdays in May, it’s Big Cheese Days! The stops on the trail kick things up a notch with special meals, deals, and experiences worth writing home about. Keep an eye on the Cheese Trail website for all the ooey-gooey details.

Discover the Wines of EPIC Wine Country

people cheersing glasses in a vineyard

Picture this: you, your besties (or sweetheart) taking in the beautiful views of Lake Erie as you sip and savour your way along the shoreline at six different wineries. Pretty sweet, right?

What is EPIC Wine Country and How do I Explore it?

The EPIC stands for Essex Pelee Island Coast, where you’ll find fourteen different wineries offering up true tastes of place that celebrate the unique soil of the region. This part of the province is actually at the same latitude as the Mediterranean so it’s no wonder why the conditions here make for excellent wine making.

The best way to explore the area? Grab an EPIC Wine Country Tasting Pass right on your phone. You’ll receive a 4oz tasting flight at six winery locations with the quick touch of a button. Easy peasy, right?

Participating wineries include Colio Estate Winery, Cooper’s Hawk Vineyards, Colchester Ridge Estate WineryOxley Estate Winery, Paglione Estate Winery, Pelee Island Winery, Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery, Viewpointe Estate Winery, Vin Winery and Vivace Estate Winery.

Once you have your pass downloaded and you’ve picked a designated driver, you’re good to go! Here’s how we suggest you spend your weekend.

Friday Afternoon: Settle in with lakeshore views

Able to skip out from work a little early? Head to the small town of Harrow for an early dinner at The Trattoria at Paglione Estate Winery. With a lineup of hit the spot eats like thin crust wood-fired pizza, baked brie with rosemary and seasonal pastas, it’s the perfect menu to pair up with your first tasting flight of the trip!

a couple drinking wine at paglione estate winery

When it’s time to settle in for the evening, we recommend checking out nearby Walnut Grove BnB for a cozy stay or The Grove Motel– a retro and seriously ‘gram worthy accommodation in Colchester. You can’t go wrong with either one and will be central to the happenings in EPIC Wine Country.

Saturday: Sip and Savour on Two Wheels

The weekend is calling, and we hope you’re ready for an action-packed, flavourful day!  No matter which accommodation you chose, you’re primed to pick up an e-bike rental from Grove Bike Rentals at Colchester Beach, about fifteen minutes away. Alternatively, you could ride in style with a custom bike from Unconquered.

Have a designated driver? These stops are easily drivable as well or alternatively, you can book a tour with Grape Vine Tours. They’ll pick you up and curate your tour!

Hop on those two wheels and head out for your first stop of the day – Oxley Estate Winery. From Colchester beach, the ride is about 27 minutes along the lakeshore, providing some pretty breathtaking views! Redeem that tasting flight and enjoy it out on one of their patios or grab a glass and take a stroll through their open-air vine house.

four people cheersing wine at oxley estate

Next, settle in for an early lunch at the on-site Feast On® certified restaurant! With dishes like Ontario duck wings and freshly caught Lake Erie perch, you’ll appreciate the freshness of the menu supported by the many farms and greenhouses surrounding Harrow.

two bottles of wine, two glasses of wine and a charcuterie board set against the backdrop of an open air hearth with a raging fire

From here, it’s an easy 9-minute ride to Viewpointe Estate Winery. Grab a picnic table overlooking the stunning shores of Lake Erie and on Saturdays starting in May, enjoy some live music too!

Looking for what to sip? Don’t miss out on their Old 18A Rosé, best paired with sunshine and good friends. On a hot summer day, nothing hits the spot like their wine slushies either.

riding a bike by the vineyards at Viewpointe Estate Winery

Once you’re ready to head out (no rush, this is vacation), wheel down to North 42 Degrees for dinner. We hope you’re hungry because the on-site, Feast On® restaurant does not disappoint. We recommend cooling off with a glass of chardonnay first (or that tasting flight you need to redeem) and then heading into Feast On® certified Bistro 42!

pouring glass of wine in front of a salmon dish out on the patio at North 42 degrees bistro

Our fav part of the menu here? It comes with suggested pairings with their wines to take the guess work out of the equation. From catches of the day to lamb shank and moulles frites, this elevated bistro is the perfect way to wind down for the day.

Also on site, you’ll find Ontario’s southern most lavendar farm, Serenity Lavender.  Regularly hosting events that range everything from soap making to picnics in the woods, there are so many ways to just relax and enjoy being in mother nature. Keep an eye on their facebook page for details.

Not hungry yet? Add Colchester Ridge Estate Winery into the equation before dinner and redeem a flight at another stop on the pass!

As the day winds down, return those e-bike rentals and watch the sun set over Lake Erie. There’s nothing quite like it. We recommend grabbing an ice cream cone at Beachside Eats & Treats and bringing it down to the beach with you to enjoy.

When you’re ready, head back to lay your head down and get ready for your final day (don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened).

Sunday

It’s time to say farewell to EPIC wine country, but before you go, we’d be seriously remiss if we didn’t send you to a  few more stops! After all, it’s still the weekend.

We recommend starting your morning at JOE.Hot+Cold in downtown Kingsville for a morning pick me up! Located right inside the Grove Motel (how convenient!), we recommend grabbing one of their breakfast sammies and a cappucino or on warmer days, a cold brew and Joe Toast which comes on multigrain bread and is topped with butter, drizzled honey and sea salt.

 

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Next, head over to Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery- Ontario’s only beach front winery! This unique-to-EPIC-Wine-Country experience is a must-do before leaving. Tucked into a sprawling 52 acres of beach front, take your vino outdoors for a little morning picnic on the beach! Indulge in a charcuterie spread or one of their experiences that range from a tasting with cheese and chocolate pairings to blanket picnics on the sand and more.

 

Feeling a wee bit peckish still? Good for you! Head towards Cooper’s Hawk Vineyards for lunch at their on-site restaurant. With a menu of hearty options like Lake Erie pickerel, steak sandwiches and roasted cauliflower curry, there’s something for just about everyone.

Next up, head into downtown Kingsville to wander the shops along the main drag and take in the spirit of this vibrant community! When you’re ready, it’s time for the last winery of your trip and trust us, it’s a good one.

Let’s visit the iconic Pelee Island Winery for a tasting and tour, shall we?

a grid of two photos from pelee island winery: on the left, abhigamya kneeling and looking at some grapes in the vineyard; on the right, a hand holding a glass of wine in front of grapes in vineyard

This winery has a history that dates back well over 150 years – while it was first located on the Island, the winery has moved locations to the charming village of Kingsville.

We recommend booking a tour to learn some hidden secrets and things that set them apart from other wineries. You’ll get a chance to walk through the vines (wine in hand, of course).

Round Out or Extend Your Trip!

Looking for a few ways to round out your trip to wine country that don’t involve sipping on cabs and chards? No worries! We have a few suggestions:

In addition to this, there are still so many more wineries in EPIC Wine Country to discover. Why not stay a little longer?

 

Enjoy Your Quiet Escape

No matter which location you choose, we think you’ll have a very delicious escape. Plus, we heard wine and cheese are an epic combo so why not extend your stay and do both? Enjoy!