Summer is over. Officially over.
I know it’s the start of many people’s favourite time of year. Some people love sweater weather and can’t stand summer rays beating down. Autumn brings golden sun and autumn colors, I know Dave professes that shorts + hoodie weather is the best ever.
I’m not so convinced.
I grew up like the Coppertone baby, spending summers at the beach and lathering baby oil on my skin to tan before I realized that was the fast track to skin cancer. The solution? Getting out of the city.
I do love when leaves change to autumn colors, giving us an excuse to take a road trip. Last week I drove a few hours north of Toronto to spend a few days in Grey County and wasn’t surprised there was so much to do there in the autumn.
While most Torontonians flock East to Prince Edward County on the weekends, Grey County is just as close and tourism isn’t as slick, which is exactly how I like it. I visit Grey County at least twice a year and each time I find new things to do.
But let’s face it, the best reason to visit a region is the food.
A Day Trip From Toronto
Where to Eat in Grey County
Justin’s Oven in Kimberley
Kimberley is a tiny village in Grey County that most people drive through on the way to hike, paddle or cycle in the Beaver Valley. While the epicenter is a handful of businesses, locals know it’s worth the stop.
Justin’s Oven is a cozy restaurant with a menu that changes nightly. Thursday night is pub night and you’ll sit elbow to elbow with locals who want great, affordable food. Friday night Justin makes 120 pizzas in 3 hours, half of it is takeout as locals believe it’s the best pizza in the county. On Saturday is more formal and the weekend ends with brunch.
While many great restaurants in the region primarily serve visitors, Justin’s Oven is all about locals. It’s licensed or you can bring wine with a very reasonable $13 corkage fee. It’s very popular so you do need a reservation, although they try to accommodate drop ins with outside seating.
It’s everything you want on a road trip. No generic frozen burger patties here, Justin visits local suppliers and makes everything from scratch with one other cook. You can taste his commitment to his business, it was Thursday we picked up burgers to go and they were far better than anything I’ve had in Toronto.
Arrive a bit early so you can visit Kimberley General Store next door. Unlike Toronto’s hipster general stores with overpriced goods, owner Stacie Howe took over this building to serve the community which needed a local shop.
It was originally a general store in 1905 and you’ll find locals congregating here to pick up local goods (check out Justin’s smoked trout), sandwiches and coffee.Don’t miss Grey County’s Meredith’s Ginger Syrup which locals adamantly profess is needed to survive cold and flu season or try it in one of Stacie’s famous kefir smoothies.
Eigensinn Farm in Singhampton
Perhaps one of Canada’s most epic dining scenes is in Grey County. Eigensinn Farm is run by Chef Michael Stadtländer and his Nobuyo. While Stadtländer was once a prolific chef in Toronto he wanted to return to his roots, he grew up on a farm in Northern Germany and Nobuyo on a small island in Okinawa, Japan.
I toured the farm with Stadtländer and he shared that this was what he imagined Canada to be when he decided to move here from Germany. He’s known for epic dining experiences and a pioneer of the farm to table movement.
Clearly inspired by the land he has so many plans for events in the future but this weekend is holding a harvest music event when you spend the day eating and listening to some of Canada’s top classical and jazz artists. If you’re keen to do it he’s allowing people to camp overnight as well.
#449357 – 10th Conc. Grey Highlands
Ont. N0C 1M0
Haisai Restaurant in Singhamton
If neither time nor budget is available for an epic Eigensinn Farm event you can still get a flavour for the Stadtländers in Singhampton. This tiny village at the bottom of the Blue Mountains is worth a stop for this experience.
Entering the restaurant you sense this will be an unique meal. A rustic cabin dining room with Chef Stadtländer’s eclectic artwork throughout, the restaurant has opened and closed several times, it was once fine dining, then a bakery.
It’s constantly evolving and never boring.
During the week lunch there are a variety of wood oven pizzas and local wine, cider and beer. One pizza easily feeds two people and the vegetarian pizza is the most popular as it uses ingredients often picked that morning from Eigensinn Farm. Pair that with salad served in a carved wooden basket and you’ll have more than enough for lunch.
794079 County Rd. 124
Singhampton ON, N0C 1M0
Bruce Wine Bar in Thornbury
Chef Shaun Edmonstone really takes advantage of Grey County’s agricultural prowess. His menu features Grey County farmers and changes with the season.
It feels like a spot you’d find in Toronto, but with all the small town charm including an open kitchen where you can watch pizza make its way into the wood fired oven. It’s a wine bar but the atmosphere is relaxed and food doesn’t play second fiddle.
8 Bruce St S
Thornbury, ON N0H 2P0
Mill Café in Thornbury
A casual cafe, eat lunch on the patio alongside the Beaver River. Salmon migrate up river in autumn and you can see some of the salmon jumping.
12 Bridge St
Thornbury, ON N0H 2P0
Northwinds Brew House & Eatery in Collingwood
With big box restaurant franchises taking over Ontario this is my top pick for casual eating near the Blue Mountains in Collingwood. With a long list of micro brewed beer and locally inspired menu, it’s an easy night out.
499 First St
Collingwood, ON L9Y 1B9
The Falls Inn in Walter’s Falls
Grey County is known for its waterfalls and while a hike is fun, dinner with wine is even better! A bit more formal, the hotel is part of the Ontario’s Finest Inns network. If the weather is warm ask for a table at the patio and dine beside Walter’s Falls.
Walter’s Falls, ON N0H 2S0
Milk Maid Fine Cheese and Gourmet Foods in Owen Sound
I love the story of Milkmaid as it’s so heartening to see small businesses succeed. Milkmaid is owned by a massage therapist who loves cheese and thought she would open a shop for locals. This doesn’t sound like much of a story but the downtown area of Owen Sound was becoming vacant, much like many of our Canadian small towns. You had to drive to another community to buy great cheese.
When she opened the community flocked to it and wanted to eat. So she began to sell wine and food and more locals heard about it, now this space is a thriving cafe. With a chalkboard menu changing daily you can shop while you wait.
947 2nd Ave E
Owen Sound, ON N4K 2H6
Where to Drink in Grey County
Maclean’s Ales in Hanover
Located in Hanover, Maclean’s is on the much loved Saints and Sinners trail, which charts local wineries, craft breweries and cideries in Grey, Bruce and Simcoe counties.
It seems that every microbrewery I visit is focused on crazy new beer and so I was thrilled to go somewhere focused on ale – my favourite kind of beer.
But also this brewery wasn’t started by a group of young guys. Brewmaster Charles has been involved in brewing in some matter or another since 1978 when the visited England on holiday. Instead of returning, he bought a motorcycle and found a job at a brewpub.
He eventually returned to Canada with a love of English ales and was part of the movement to rally the government to break the monopolization of large breweries and to open the door for small businesses. He’s been involved with many well known brands and eventually moved to Grey County to start his own.
It’s not easy to find Maclean’s Ales in Toronto as most of it sells in the region. If you’re sensing a theme, this is another reason to visit Grey County. Also once a month there are brewery dinners where you can taste Macleans as well as other breweries, I like the sense of community rather than competition.
It’s best to stop by and chat with him as some of the seasonals are only available onsite at the brewery. Charles is a unique character, he seems withdrawn at first, not willing to boast or brag about what he’s done or what others should do. But give him time and he’ll share his strong opinions.
I ended up talking to him for nearly two hours about the future of microbreweries, consumer tastes and why he chooses ales and is moving toward cans. I’d go back again just to try the new seasonal scotch ale and a chat with Charles.
52 14th Ave
Hanover, ON N4N 3V9
The Roost Wine Companyin Clarksburg
Of all the wineries I have visited over the years The Roost Wine Company was the most impressive for so many reasons. Michael and Jess Maish left careers to study enology and viticulture all while raising a newborn. With help from winemakers in Ontario they started to plant vines on Jess’s mother’s land overlooking the gorgeous Georgian Bay.
No doubt they are hard workers doing most of the labour themselves, with the help of friends but their approach is also thoughtful. They’ve been working with experimental varieties like L’Acadie Blanc (which I know from growing up in Nova Scotia) and Frontenac Blanc. This is a huge risk as these varietals don’t qualify for VQA designation which means the tax the LCBO takes is significantly greater.
For wineries like this the only way to really survive is to sell wine at the Tasting Room. But that’s hardly a sacrifice for wine lovers as it’s a gorgeous building with charcuterie platters and plenty of seating encouraging people to stay the afternoon.
I’m not the only one who loves it as the winery has been busy since the day it opened this year. My personal favourites are
The L’Acadie 2016 and Frontenac Blanc are already sold out. But my personal favourites are still available 2016 Rose (because rose…) and I loved the 2016 Marquette. Flights are only $14 and this may just be my favourite winery in Ontario. My only regret is that I didn’t bring home more wine.
415763 10th Line, RR1
The Blue Mountains, ON N0H 1J0
Georgian Hills Vineyards in Clarksburg
Producing cool climate wines with amazing clarity and an absence of color, Georgian Hills is serious but not pretentious. Also check out the cider and Baked Apple Frozen to the Core with a tart finish.
496350 Grey County Rd 2
Clarksburg, ON N0H 1J0
Coffin Ridge Winery in Annan
Grey County’s first winery is Coffin Ridge small batch wine. While the grounds are gorgeous, there’s an underlying quirky sense of humour with its play on its namesake geography of Coffin Ridge. This translates into the design sensibility to the names of their wine: Into The Light White, Back From The Dead Red and Resurrection Rose.
The wine is good but I think the star is the cider, which is a new addition to the winery run by passionate Joel Loughead. Using local apples you can try the standard hard apple and hopped versions or small batch ciders like holiday chai spice or rosemary maple.
You cannot beat the view here, bring a warm sweater so you can enjoy it on the patio.
599448 Concession Rd 2 N
Annan, ON N0H 1B0
Beaver Valley Cidery and Orchard in Kimberley
Grey County was once full of cider but prohibition changed all that. Now small producers like Beaver Valley and Duxbury Cider are bringing back the tradition with heritage apples, most of which are grown in their own orchard.
The retrofitted barn is gorgeous and while the flagship cider is great I loved the Ginger Cider. If you’re curious about how to make cider there are free tours Sundays at noon.
235853 Grey Road 13
Kimberley, ON N0C 1G0
On the way home drive through Neustadt to tour the old brewery. You can tour their underground caverns to gain access to the natural spring water used in their beer.
Hang Out in Nature
Grey County is beautiful but truth be told I’m a soft adventurer, really really soft. There are plenty of great outdoor activities in Grey County but I can only vouch for these two – which of course are food related.
Kickin Back Alpaca Ranch
Alpaca meat is delicious. At least that’s what I remember from Perú. While I was excited to bring some home I quickly discovered that in Canada they are used for their wool which is warmer than sheep, so soft and hypoallergenic.
These animals are adorable, shy but also curious. If you need time to digest between meals you can take a tour for $20 and hang out with animals for the afternoon.
Owen Sound Salmon Tour
A romantic story of salmon swimming upstream only to lay eggs and subsequently die. One of the few places you can see this, the rivers are full of fish jumping up through
This is a great for everyone because you can see a little bit of it at one of the bridges in town or make an afternoon of it cycling, paddling or even driving the route from the Sydenham River up through Inglis Falls – which makes for an idyllic instagram.
While it’s often promoted as a family destination. There’s a U-Pick orchard, golf and who doesn’t want to make their own caramel apple?
Where to Stay in Grey County?
Grey County is a great day trip from Toronto but it really deserves at least one night away, there are plenty of budget options but I really liked these options which have a bit more character. Grey County has some really interesting options.
I’ve stayed in so many hotel rooms that they often all feel like the same experience so I was thrilled to try something new. An adult treehouse! In Durham four people can share a treehouse, accompanying cabin.
Can you see the big orange slide on the right of the treehouse? Weeeeeeee!
There is also a pool with a seated bar area that just makes you want to have a party. Or maybe just unwind because they are proud to share that the treehouse is an area where the wifi is weak but the drinks are strong.
I’m working on an edited video but have a look at this gorgeous raw footage. Now is a great time to visit as the rates have dropped to $595 a night. While the pool is closed it’s still lovely to visit and fireplaces in the treehouse, cabin and outdoor seating.
Pretty River Valley Country Inn
I stayed here last autumn. Here’s a tip that I learned the hard way. The reindeer are pets NOT food! I loved eating reindeer in Finland and thought the inn was also a working farm but my hosts had a horrified look on their face when I asked.
The Ben Nevis Croft room is amazing, I’d love to return and for some light hiking and just hang out here all night.
This Grey County day trip from Toronto post was in partnership with Grey County, I love this region so much I feel like an unofficial ambassador and I’m always thrilled to visit. I”m happy to share all of the great things to do here and I hope it inspires you to visit.