Middlesex County, Ontario - One of Those Charming Southwestern Ontario Getaways
Ontario’s Middlesex County isn’t the place you’re going to go to be wowed by big cities, flashing lights, and the energy and hum of one sprawling metropolis after another. No - a visit to Middlesex County is the Ontario weekend getaway that you go on precisely when you want to get away from all that.
Middlesex County, in short, is rural Ontario at its finest. It’s the place when you and your family are aching for outdoor adventure and a chance to reconnect with nature. It’s where to come to if you’re tired of sterile, corporate hotels, and you’ve missed waking up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee at a bed and breakfast. It’s the place you come to when you want freshly made meals with locally sourced ingredients.
Middlesex County is a place ripe with stories (and fruit, I might add), where you can choose to spend solitary time on the hiking trails, in the midst of the community at markets, and even get more familiar with other species that are often playful and goofy (cough cough Alpacas).
And that’s what’s on the docket today - A guide and an overview of where to go in Middlesex County, Ontario. It’s one of those Southwestern Ontario getaways that you probably don’t know enough about, but might want to consider for your next Ontario weekend getaway.
A Bit More About Middlesex County, Ontario
Middelsex, Ontario, as I mentioned above, is all about the rural. The population of Middlesex County at large is roughly 75,000, which isn’t all that much considering it covers nearly 3500 kilometres squared. It should be noted, however, that the county seat is actually London, Ontario, but London is politically independent of the county. If London was included in the census, we’d be looking at a population size more around half a million.
I spent the bulk of my time in and around Strathroy, Ontario, a population centre of Middlesex County that boasts a population of around twenty thousand. Other population centres or places you may recognize from Middlesex include Mount Brydges, Ilderton, Dorchester, Thorndale, Parkhill, Glencoe, and Lucan.
Middlesex, I should also note, is part of Ontario’s Southwest, a region of Ontario that I’ve been exploring recently with both more frequency and intentionality. Whenever I venture to Southwestern Ontario, I always seem to drive back to Toronto filled with good memories, and until that changes, I’ll keep dipping my proverbial cup back in the water.
If you’re an avid reader of my content, you’ll know that I’ve written recently about other destinations in Southwestern Ontario such as Pelee Island, Sarnia and Ontario’s Blue Coast, as well as the RetroFest in Chatham-Kent.
What Makes Middlesex County, Ontario a Worthy Ontario Getaway?
When I think about an “Ontario getaway,” what comes to mind is a genuine opportunity to escape the daily grind a little bit, and try to consciously live for a few days at a different pace. What I’ve come to learn over the years is that, especially when you live in a big city like Toronto, there’s something deeply alluring about the peace and solitude of rural Ontario.
I want to talk about the highlights of my time in Middlesex County, Ontario to paint a picture of what you might like to do on your Ontario weekend getaway (or weekday getaway for that matter) in the region.
For reference sake, I’ll be using Strathroy, Ontario as a bit of a headquarters for this adventure.
A Visit to SAMY’s Alpaca Farm & Fibre Studio
If you don’t like alpacas, we can’t be friends.
In all seriousness, I’ve got a real fondness for alpacas, and that all started from my travels to places like Ecuador and Peru. Quite honestly, I wasn’t aware that there was a full-blown Alpaca farm in Ontario, especially not one where each and every alpaca is named, and receives a healthy amount of love and attention.
Located about a 15 minute drive outside of Strathroy, SAMY’s Alpaca Farm is a family business which was started in 2004 with the idea of using alpaca fibre to create yarns, rovings and other alpaca products. Relatively recently, Yvonne and family decided that they wanted a place in Southwestern Ontario for others to truly understand the magic of these gentle creatures.
As such, the family began offering farm visits where you can come and hand feed the alpacas in the pasture then take an alpaca on a leash, and happily walk them down the country lane. That’s precisely what Bri and I did, and we enjoyed every second of it. There’s something about alpacas that make them equal parts hilarious and endearing, and why not experience that wondrous dichotomy yourself right in the heart of MIddlesex County in Southwestern Ontario?
I just loved how much Yvonne and her family clearly loved and cared for these oft misunderstood animals.
The Downtown Strathroy Market
Assuming you are indeed on an epic little Ontario weekend getaway, you’ll be in the perfect position to experience and appreciate the Downtown Strathroy Market which takes place every Saturday morning from June 15th until September 14th. Those dates may change slightly in the following year, but the easiest thing to do is follow the Downtown Strathroy Market Facebook page for updates of all kinds.
It’s a community-led market that takes place on Front Street as well as Frank Street, two of the main throughways of downtown Strathroy, Ontario. For the most part, it’s all about connecting with and supporting local growers and vendors. If you visit the Downtown Strathroy Market, you’ll experience a nice variance of local produce, delectable baked goods, creative local products, and a fair bit of cheerful conversation.
Let’s be honest, in an increasingly commercialized world, where products arrive magically on your doorstep with little to no human interaction, institutions such as Middlesex County’s Downtown Strathroy Market have never been more important.
If you’re there on a Saturday, do your part to support the local economy, and have some fun in the process.
If you’re looking to explore more of Southwestern Ontario, be sure to check out my article on What to do on Pelee Island, and if you love classic cars check out my article on Chatham Kent’s RetroFest.
The Array of Restaurants in Middlesex County
For a county that for all intents and purposes is considered to be rural Ontario, there’s a fair variety and diversity of restaurants on offer.
Here are a few restaurants that you might want to take note of for your Southwestern Ontario getaway.
Tia’s Place (Strathroy, Ontario) - I’ve got a soft spot for Portuguese chicken done right, so I knew I was going to be popping into this spot on Front Street West before I even left Toronto. They do the standard array of North American cuisine, but if you’re going here, get something Portuguese. I had Tia’s Pulled Chicken Sandwich on a Portuguese bun, but you might also want to sink your teeth into the Bifana and Fries, Febras de Porco, Bacalhau a Bras or Chicharro Frito.
Banh Mi Shop (Strathroy, Ontario) - Get your fix for Vietnamese food right in Strathroy, Ontario. They do the whole asian fusion thing, but if you’re coming here, don’t stray from the Bahn Mi sandwiches. I’d recommend making it a combo and getting a Bahn Mi sandwich with a Mini Pho, which last time I checked will still run you less than ten bucks.
Nikos Restaurant (Parkhill, Ontario) - Nikos is one of the better known Greek restaurants in Middlesex County, and many I spoke to claimed it was the best spot to get some Greek in Southwestern Ontario. Don’t miss out on the spanakopita (one of my favourite dishes when it comes to Greek), and, depending on what you feel like, the Chicken Gyro, Moussaka, Chicken Souvlaki, and Roast Lemon Chicken all do the trick rather nicely!
Thai Pad (Lucan, Ontario) - Hey, did I mention I loved asian food? Add a little spice to your Southwestern Ontario getaway, with a stop at Lucan Ontario’s cleverly named, “Thai Pad.” Once again, they’ve got western grub on the menu, but do yourself a favour and order some Thai food. Their Spring Rolls are solid, their Royal Pad Thai is spot on, and if you’re looking for something a little different, try the Coconut Lime Stirfry with BBQ Pork.
The Village Teapot (Ilderton, Ontario) - If you’re looking for something a bit different, and are a huge tea fan like yours truly, head to “The Village Teapot” in the heart of Ilderton. The building itself is believed to be nearly 150 years old, which would make it one of the oldest properties still standing in Ilderton. If you’re going to go through the trouble of going to a tearoom, you may as well indulge and get the Teapot Triple Platter which includes a sandwich, a devilled egg, vegetable crudités and dip, a homemade scone with jam and cream, and a dessert that’s usually been made that day. If you’re not that hungry, you can’t go wrong with the Ham and Cheddar Croissant Sandwich that’s served with a bowl of fruit.
Head to my Instagram page to check out my saved highlights from Middlesex County!
Paying a Little Respect to a Local Brewery
It’s no secret that I’m a fan of breweries. In general, I post itinerary style posts which I feel empower you, the reader, and a fair portion of my itineraries make reference to a brewery of some sort. That’s especially true when I’m creating Ontario content, and that speaks, in some sense, to the rise of Ontario breweries in recent years.
Middlesex County doesn’t have a plethora of breweries, but there are a couple of breweries that you might want to pop into to make the most of your Middlesex, Ontario getaway. In general, when you’re looking for things to do in Southwestern Ontario, it makes sense to see what breweries are nearby. For the most part, they’re local spots run by hardworking folks, and it does make a different to buy from them direct, as opposed to from the Beer Store or LCBO, where a huge cut will go back to the government.
Both of the breweries that I’m going to recommend are located in Strathroy, Ontario.
Rusty Wrench Brewing Co. - Rusty Wrench Brewing Co. is a small town brewery with a nice little pub indoors, and it’s right in the centre of Strathroy. I’d recommend trying the Left Handed Spanner, a west coast style IPA which is hoppy, but not too hoppy, and has a nice citrus kick. One thing I loved about this spot was the food portions. I have an enormous appetite, so ordering food here was fantastic, as they didn’t hold back. Bri and I split the Macho Nacho and a Chicken Caesar Salad, and both turned out to be great choices.
Strathroy Brewing Company - I didn’t actually get a chance to visit Strathroy Brewing Company, but as far as I understand, they’re producing beer in Strathroy, but they don’t currently have a brewpub on site like Rusty Wrench Brewing Co. They’ve publicly mentioned that “efforts to revitalize and beautiful the site are ongoing,” so we’ll see what comes of all that. They also mention that they aim to offer brewery tours in the future, so, again, just keep an eye on that. Their schtick seems to be that all of their beers are linked to Canada’s history, which is well illustrated by their inaugural beer, the 1812 Independence Pale Ale. I believe they’ve got six beers on offer, two of which are available at The Beer Store.
Having a Little Fun at Kustermans Berry Farms
You know when you arrive somewhere and wish you could be a kid again and just enjoy the bejeezus out of a place? That’s Kustermans Berry Farms.
Don’t get me wrong, Bri and I loved picking strawberries in the sun, but at its heart, Kustermans Berry Farms is really all about family fun. I was really impressed with everything that they had going on at the “Adventure Farm.” Kids can get out some energy at Bouncy Town, go on pony rides, get to know some farm animals, mine some jewels at Kustermans Mining Co., and even ride the zip line. It’s just plain fun.
I also wouldn’t leave without getting a big ol’ slice of blueberry pie with ice cream.
It’s $15 for the “Pick & Play” package which provides admission to the Adventure Farm and the opportunity to pick either one pound of blueberries or one pint of raspberries. However, I spoke to a family who mentioned that they made great use out of their Adventure Farm Season Pass, which is only about 40 bucks for the year. Also worth noting that kids under 24 months are completely free.
When thinking about things to do in Southwestern Ontario for kids, it’d be hard to imagine that Kustermans Berry Farms wouldn’t be near the top of that list. It’d probably be the highlight of a family Ontario weekend getaway to Middlesex County.
If you’re looking to see more of Ontario’s Southwest, do check out Sarnia and Ontario’s Blue Coast!
Staying at a Wonderful Ontario Bed and Breakfast
During our visit to Middlesex County, Bri and I stayed at the Inn on Victoria B & B in Strathroy. First off, I just want to take my hat off to Ellen and Ryan, two absolutely lovely human beings. From the moment we arrived, they were just incredibly warm and friendly, and I’m grateful that we were able to have so many lovely conversations.
That being said, they also really understood what it was to be a great host. They knew when to strike up those conversations, and when to let Bri and I enjoy a quiet moment. They were both respectful and welcoming, and I can’t say enough good things about them.
The property itself is a large Victorian house at the north end of Strathroy. It was just plain peaceful. Bri and I spent a lot of time on the front porch, relishing the views of the large trees in the yard, and the small town feeling. That porch, well, - it just doesn’t get much better. It was rural Ontario done right.
Currently, they’re just up on Airbnb, and you can take a peek at their property here. If you do stay with them, be sure to say hello to them for me!
Should a Visit to Middlesex County, Ontario Be Your Next Ontario Weekend Getaway?
Well, my friend, only you can answer that, but I do think what MIddlesex County has to offer could make for a pretty special Ontario weekend getaway, especially when the weather is warmer. We went in late June, and it seemed like a fairly ideal time to go, but honestly anytime from May-October is probably going to suit you very well. Just keep in mind that some of the activities, such as the Downtown Strathroy Market only run from June-September.
It’s been two years since I came back from Istanbul to do a little rediscovery in my home province. Can you tell I’m loving it? It still feels like a privilege to me to be able share all these stories that maybe others aren’t sharing. A lot of effort as of late has been focused on Southwestern Ontario, and that’s because I’d spent too little time exploring the region in the past which, in hindsight, was a mistake.
Middlesex County is yet another example of what makes Ontario’s Southwest a region that should be at the top of everyone’s Ontario travel bucket-list. When the city starts to wear on you, now you know you’ve always got the perfect escape plan. A place that’s closer than you think but, thankfully, feels world’s away.
I want to humbly thank Ontario’s Southwest and Middlesex County for hosting me as media. All opinions are completely my own. Below, I’d love to know in the comments if you’ve visited Ontario’s Southwest or Middlesex County before and your thoughts! I respond to each and every comment personally.
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