Escape Toronto for a Weekend in Norfolk County, Ontario
Norfolk County in Ontario is a well kept Canadian secret that deserves to be shared with more people in Canada and abroad.
It’s not a large Ontario county by any means, but I personally feel that it offers a slice of the province which anyone can appreciate.
You’ve got lovely towns like Port Dover and Simcoe for people who like to be based in a hub, and you’ve got off the beaten path hiking trails for those who love to be a fair distance from a name on a map.
There is no shortage of events going on throughout the year, but I think Norfolk County Tourism would agree with me when I say there’s never really a bad time to come to Norfolk County. I was surprised by the burgeoning wine scene, the charm of the towns and villages, and the untouched beauty of the scenery and landscape.
As with other posts I’ve put together on Ontario, I want this article to serve as an itinerary of sorts to guide you in your own journey through Norfolk County, Canada. I’ll be highlighting where to eat and drink, where to stay and what to do to ensure that you get the most out of your visit to this heavily underrated Ontario county.
Where is Norfolk County, Ontario By the Way?
This Norfolk County map visually shows what I’m trying to illustrate with this article - Norfolk County is small, and you can miss it if you’re not looking, but you should be looking.
This isn’t an in-depth Norfolk County map, but I felt it was more important for you to be able to situate Norfolk in the larger scheme of the province and so forth.
Norfolk County, Canada only has a combined population of just under 65,000 which, I feel, makes it the perfect place to escape Toronto. When you’re comparing Norfolk to Toronto, the main thing you’ll notice is that you’ve got space to breathe out here. I’d also argue that you’ve got space to think. It’s the sort of Ontario county that I’d love to escape to for a week or two and work on a novel. It’s quiet, and a place of refuge where I get the sense that nobody would bother you or get in your way.
The most popular destinations of Norfolk County are the places of interest along Lake Erie which is known as Ontario’s South Coast. Some of the main places of interest include Port Dover, Port Rowan, Turkey Point, Long Point, Simcoe, Delhi, and Waterford.
Norfolk County call themselves, “Ontario’s Garden,” and that makes sense once you arrive and are driving past an endless array of fields.
Historically, if you heard “Norfolk, Ontario” you’d think immediately of tobacco. Even nowadays, both Bri and I saw a fair amount of tobacco while visiting. However, as tobacco has become less sought after, farmers have turned their attention more towards berries, sweet corn, and especially ginseng. It’s interesting, we were learning about how ginseng takes several years to grow, but once it does reach maturity, it’s a very profitable crop. Norfolk County has become a ginseng beacon in North America.
Furthermore, Norfolk County is actually the largest producer of asparagus in Canada and purported 80% of the country’s supply comes from here. Ontario’s garden, indeed!
Did I mention it was beautiful?
Why Norfolk County?
As I’ve stated before, the past year has been about uncovering stories and places in Ontario that aren’t talked about enough, or even known. I have a large readership from Toronto, and my goal is to help Torontonians, and people in general, recognize the importance of what I’ll call the “escape Toronto campaign.”
I adore Toronto, it’s my hometown, but I think that in order to truly appreciate something, you need a counterpoint. I can appreciate the fresh air and expansive fields of Norfolk County because my daily life takes place in Canada’s largest city. Conversely, I can appreciate Toronto after exploring a place like Norfolk County because of the increased pace of life and action.
Much of this campaign was facilitated through my relationship with Ted Willey, the Business Development Coordinator for Norfolk County Tourism. He helped Bri and I plan an itinerary that suited our needs, and he took into account what my brand was all about.
Before I get into the details of how to escape Toronto and plan an epic weekend in Norfolk County, I want to publicly appreciate Ted’s work and guidance on this campaign, and Norfolk County Tourism at large. The three of us hit it off, and it didn’t hurt that we were all smitten by the wine and beer of this fine Ontario county.
Where Should You Stay in Norfolk County?
There are a number of places to stay in Norfolk County, naturally, but if you want to get the full experience, I’m going to go ahead and recommend a little glamping in Ontario. For those who don’t know, “glamping” is essentially camping with some amenities and, in some cases, luxury amenities. Think about it as getting the best of both words - comfort and nature.
So, where should you look to have that true glamping Ontario experience?
Long Point Eco Adventures
Long Point Eco Adventures is not far from Turkey Point Provincial Park and overlooks the canopy of the Carolinian Forest. If you want to escape Toronto, this is the place to do it in Norfolk.
For one, the long point campground has a strong sense of community. At night, fires are lit at pits across Long Point Adventures and people gather to chat, have a beer, and sit under the stars.
Colloquially called, “Long Point Resort,” it features a number of accommodation options. We took the idea of glamping in Ontario to a new level when we stayed in our wilderness suite on the Long Point Campground. They also have wilderness pods, camping pods, and I’m also quite sure that you can also camp on the grounds of your own accord. Generally speaking, If you’re looking for Long Point, Ontario cottage rentals, then Long Point Eco Adventures is your place.
The real selling point of Long Point Eco Adventures isn’t the Long Point glamping (though it is fun), but rather all the adventures you can get up to. Later in the article, I’ll be going over some of the Long Point adventures that I was a part of, but for now, just note that this is a viable and intriguing spot to rest your head in Norfolk County, Ontario.
Feel free to check out availability below.
What Should You Pack for Ontario’s Norfolk County?
Wine enthusiast weekend bag: Norfolk County is full of wineries, and when you visit, you may want to take a little bit home. What I mean by that is, you need a literal bag to bring this stuff home, especially after your visit to Burning Kiln Winery, which I talk about below. This bad boy can hold up to six bottles of wine, and, if you’re going the champagne route, it can even keep them cool!
An all weather blanket: It can get a little nippy in Norfolk County, especially in the summer time. So, if you’re going to escape Toronto for a weekend in Norfolk County, you better make sure you’re going to be warm doing it. What I like about this particular blanket is that it’s all kinds of durable, and it makes sense for everything from the campfire to the kids’ soccer games post trip.
A market tote bag: There are no shortage of great things growing in Norfolk, and you need to bring a piece of that home. But who wants to put vegetables in a plastic bag and stuff them in your luggage? With this guy, you get to buy your vegetables and be the coolest person at the market, at least in my humble opinion.
“Delhi, Ontario and Area in Colour Photos” by Barbara Raue: This book covers all things Norfolk County and aims to preserve the history of Norfolk County “one photo at a time.” It’s one of those books that I could certainly only recommend for this post, but I really think it’d be fun to have this in the car with you while you were exploring the region.
A travel weekend duffel bag: Personally, I’m not a guy who likes to overcomplicate my packing, and this bag takes away the fuss for me. It’s simple, you throw a pile of your stuff in the bag for the weekend, and you’re good to go. For me, I have to worry about getting my camera gear and other stuff in order, so I like the packing side of things to be as easy as possible, and I don’t mind looking a little stylish either!
What to do in Norfolk County, Ontario
That Norfolk County Map up above might indicate that this indeed a small Ontario county, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot going out. During my time in Norfolk, I scouted out as much as I could with the help of Ted to provide you with the perfect places to build your “escape Toronto itinerary” around.
The following spots are what I consider to be the top spots in the area, and they hold their own by any standards when you’re looking at Ontario Tourism. Part of that, as it were, is the fact that Norfolk Tourism is ahead of the game as it relates to investing in interesting opportunities that highlight the region, as evidenced by the 2013 Mumford & Sons concert.
Get a Glass of Wine at Burning Kiln Winery
When I say “get a glass of wine at Burning Kiln Winery,” what I’m really saying is, “just try to not accidentally drink a bottle.” Burning Kiln is one of those Ontario wineries that is bottling gold right now, and deserves sincere recognition in the world of Ontario wines, and globally as well.
Burning Kiln Winery is conveniently located right across the street from Long Point Eco Adventures, which means that you can literally walk over, then choose if you want to walk back or, if you’re feeling up for it, stumble on home. Personally, in the case of Burning Kiln, I’d say it’s best to leave your car out of the equation because you’re going to fall in love with their wine.
The name “Burning Kiln” is actually a nod to Norfolk County’s tobacco past, but as far as Ontario wines are concerned they’ve clearly got their eyes on the future.
If you didn’t know I’m a huge fan of full-bodied reds and, as such, Burning Kiln was my personal heaven. One wine in particular, a 2013 called “Kiln Hanger” was nearly a life changer. I’m going to go on record here and say that of all the Ontario wineries I’ve visited and the tastings I’ve done, the “Kiln Hanger” at Burning Kiln Winery is the best wine I’ve had in the country, and possible on the continent.
I filled up on wine from Burning Kiln and brought it from Norfolk to Toronto, but once I run out I will happily drive all the way back up to Burning Kiln Winery just to get more - it’s that good.
Burning Kiln Winery is an award winner for a reason, and their food is also delicious, especially if you decide to stay for dinner and try the lamb. Burning Kiln is one of the top spots in Norfolk no doubt, and I’d say it’s a must visit when you’re in Norfolk County.
Grab a Bite to Eat at The Combine
If you want to get a delicious meal in Norfolk County, then I’d be hard pressed to think about how you’re going to beat, “The Combine.” Located in the heart of Simcoe, The Combine is a restaurant that utilizes local produce and operates out of a cozy century home which is situated on an acre and a half of land.
What you’ll see in the picture above laid out before Bri is The Combine’s famous Norfolk ABC Pizza. It consists of apple (A), smoked bacon (B), celeriac cream (C), as well as aged cheddar, caramelized onions and basil. Both Bri and I really enjoyed it, as I think most humans would, not including my vegetarian and vegan pals in this world.
I had a steak with compound butter, red wine jus, and no regrets.
The Combine is a strong example of the fact that you can find top quality if you know where to look in Norfolk County, Ontario.
Throw an Axe or Two
Who doesn’t love a little axe throwing, right? Well, turns out I’m not half bad at it, but I sure was at first. If you’re interested in axe throwing leagues and all that stuff, it might make sense to try out your skills beforehand and practice your axe throwing skills in Norfolk County. Where, you ask?
Not surprisingly, the video above was actually shot at Long Point Eco Adventures, the axe throwing area is actually not all that far from the Long Point campground. Again, I think that’s much of the allure to Long Point Resort, as it were, it’s very much an all in one sort of place. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if there were people who didn’t leave Long Point the entire weekend and were perfectly content when they left.
Axe throwing is fun, and believe it or not, it’s so popular at Long Point Eco Adventures that they even have a weekly axe throwing league. It’s really just one of those, “why not?” opportunities and it’s a great place to do some axe throwing in Ontario for this first time and it’s safe and very much low pressure.
Attend a Norfolk County Festival or Event
Sometimes I swear Norfolk County, Canada has as much going on as Las Vegas.
Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch, but there really is a lot going on. I personally went up to Norfolk to check out the Norfolk Popcorn Festival , which was running on cahoots with the Routes to Roots Film Festival, and really had a blast. Both Bri and I tried a plethora of popcorn flavours, met with the owner of Uncle Bob’s Popcorn, and a whole lot more.
The coolest event around, in my humble opinion, is what goes down in Port Dover every Friday the 13th. Bikers from around the world, but particularly from around Canada and North America, congregate to meet and celebrate. Nowadays, it’s something of a biker pilgrimage. I’m planning on heading down there for the next one to see what it’s all about. If you want to join as well, take a peak at the dates on the website that very much looks like it was made and run by bikers.
Events like the Norfolk Popcorn Festival are fun because they’re community run and supported, so, being in the position I am, I love to offer any support I can, which is why I lit up social media while I was there. It’s the hard work that people know will go the least recognized that deserves the most support and praise.
Drop in to Charlotteville Brewing Company
If you’re a fan of Ontario breweries that do things the right way, then look no further than Charlotteville Brewing Company. When I met Tim, one of the owners, they had just been in business for 13 weeks, but the place was packed, both inside and out. It’s the sort of place that, had I not been told otherwise, I would have just assumed had been in Norfolk County forever because it just fit in so perfectly.
Part of that comes back to the notion of Norfolk County being known as “Ontario’s Garden.” They actually grow 70% of the ingredients for the beer on the premises, and they grow 10 varieties of award winning hops at their sister property, the Carolinian Hop Yard, which is just over 4 acres in size and, as far as I understand, just down the road.
The property itself is downright neat. Charlotteville Brewing Company is a place that is fantastic to visit, but you know the next time you visit it’ll be even more so. There were a half dozen projects that were being worked on when we visited that you know will inevitably only give more clout to Charlotteville Brewing Company.
The best way to sum it up is that Charlotteville Brewing Company is a place of creativity both when it comes to beer and the property itself. I’m struggling to think of a better place to spend an afternoon in Norfolk County to be honest. As Tim said when I was chatting with him, “It’s not pretentious, but that’s what we want.”
Watch out for Charlotteville Brewing Company, I can only imagine you’ll be hearing about them sooner or later. I know that Norfolk County Tourism is happy that they’re part of the folk these days because they’re a definite draw, and they deserve all the success that they get.
Wander Around Port Dover
The Port Dover Lighthouse, pictured above, is a enough of a draw for me, but if that doesn’t do it for you, there are still plenty of other reasons to visit Port Dover, Ontario.
Personally, I like hanging around Port Dover Beach and just the Port Dover Pier area at large, but you can also just spend your time sauntering up and down Main Street and popping in and out of the stores. As far as Ontario towns go, Port Dover is rather picturesque. I’ve also heard great things about the Port Dover Harbour Museum, though I haven’t been just yet myself.
If you can, try to visit Port Dover, Ontario in the warmer months as it’s a classic Ontario summer seaside town when the sun in shining and, well, less so when there is snow on the ground. I’d still venture to say that Port Dover maintains its charm year-round, and it’s a place that I’m looking to get back to sooner rather than later.
Many people swear by “The Ice Cream Tank” in Port Dover, so look for it while you’re there.
Again though, for my money, I’m staying near Port Dover Pier and just watching the waves crash against the shore. I’ve also always had a thing for watching ships come in and out a harbour, so I love it there.
Quench Your Thirst at Ramblin Road Brewery Farm
At first, I didn’t quite understand why it was called “Ramblin Road Brewery Farm,” since I couldn’t recall ever having been to a brewery farm. What it means is that they’re sourcing and making their beer on site, straight from the soil of Norfolk County, Ontario. On their site, Ramblin Road Brewery notes that they are Canada’s first and only brewery farm.
They go on to say, “We grow our own hops on the Brewery Farm, draw pure spring water from our coveted and productive land, and use the finest Canadian barley & yeast.”
The owner of Ramblin Road Brewery Farm, John Picard, is an absolute character. I was sipping on my potato beer, as you do, and he came over and said, “when you’re writing about this place, just say this - ‘when you think you’re lost, you’re here.’”
Ramblin Road Brewery, just outside Norfolk County’s little town of La Salette is a quirky little spot to get a well made, refreshing brew.
Try the Crab Cake Benny at Schofields Bistro in Port Dover
It’s worth mentioning that Long Point Eco Adventures supplies a surprisingly good breakfast as part of your stay, but, honestly, it’s not going to touch what you could have at Schofields Bistro.
I’m going to be up front here in telling you that I’m mildly obsessed with eggs benedict, so when I saw that I could have eggs benny perched atop a crab cake it was almost too much to bear. Oh my goodness they were good.
Schofields Bistro has been sitting on Port Dover, Ontario’s main strip since 2011 and they’re all about farm to table. All that to say, my eggs benny wasn’t made with imitation crab meat! Ted joined us for breakfast as well as was given a portion of chicken and waffles that made my eyes widen just a touch.
In Norfolk County, and specifically in Port Dover, Schofields Bistro is your spot to get some brunch in the belly.
Taking in the Views at Inasphere Winery
The staff at Inasphere Wines are salt of the earth and I’d venture to say that it’s worth the stop for the views alone. You can grab a glass of well made wine, then head outdoors to take in the expansive scenery which is quintessential Norfolk County and, by proxy, quintessential Ontario.
Ted was telling me that Inasphere Wines has grown in popularity considerably recently, and, to me, that’s a sign of the way in which Ontarians are starting to realize that we are fully capable of making some great wine, and it’s about time that we start buying local, as opposed to that cheap Chilean bottle from the LCBO.
So, go ahead, if you’re in Norfolk County, pop in and support a local enterprise. A nice glass of wine never hurt anybody, right?
Bring Your Honey on an Apiary Tour at Longpoint Eco Adventures
If you’ve been reading my content long enough, you knew that I wasn’t going to be able to resist making some reference to “bringing your honey on a bee tour.” I’m sorry, it’s just in my nature. Hey, does that count as another joke? Alright, I’m sorry, I’ll stop with the puns.
Though, before we go on, I do want to point out that because of our outfits I was constantly making jokes to Bri that we were on set for A Handmaid’s Tale.
It seems like, with Norfolk County, all roads lead back to the Long Point Resort, and that’s largely because there’s a lot going on here besides just the opportunity for some glamping in Ontario. Bri and I had the chance to go on an apiary tour which was took place on the Long Point campground, but was run by Vanessa and her partner from Vanessa’s Bees.
Bri and I had never done an apiary tour, and we both learned a tremendous amount. I’d really recommend doing something like this if you’re there in the right months (they don’t run these tours in winter). Afterwards, you even get to make bee’s wax candles, and while I’m not too crafty, I had some fun with it.
It’s a different experience and one which validates the idea that you can escape Toronto and embark on something a little different and perhaps even out of character.
Norfolk County, in Sum
Whether you’re on the hunt for some unique Ontario wineries, looking to fit in that Ontario glamping experience, to go on an apiary tour, or explore a quaint town like Port Dover, you’re covered in Norfolk County.
What I particularly appreciated is that fact that I could sense that things are moving in a certain direction. A lot of the stories I heard were of new enterprises trying to make it and, very often, succeeding. As more people recognize the value of getting out of the big city and filling their lungs with fresh air, venues likes Long Point Eco Adventures should continue to thrive.
Remember, if you do go up to Norfolk, just promise me you’ll bring me back a bottle of Kiln Hanger from Burning Kiln.
Norfolk County offers what you wouldn’t expect, so use this guide, and go and have a weekend you won’t soon forget.
I want to humbly thank Norfolk County for hosting me as media. All opinions are my own. I want to hear from you guys. Have you been to this region before? Does this article pique your interest? Are you from Norfolk County? How do you feel I captured the essence of the region? I love to hear from my readers, so get back to me if you've got anything to add. I respond to each and every comment, and anything and everything is welcomed!
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