Sometimes a vacation doesn’t have to be exotic, tropical or far. Waterloo Region holds a treasure of activities that are close to home but far from ordinary.
To embrace the far from ordinary, my friends at Porsche Canada wanted to make sure I had a far from ordinary drive up in their 2017 Porsche Macan. The turbocharged two-litre engine brings 252hp under the gas pedal while the Porsche Traction Management PTM all-wheel drive system provides agile handling for some of Canada’s worst weather conditions. With all this power and traction, it still delivers in a big way on fuel efficiency with 9.3l/100km for highway driving. Rumour has it, the Macan’s top speed is 229 km/h, but just being behind the wheel was thrilling enough that I kept to the posted speed limit.
I stayed at The Walper Hotel, an iconic 1893 landmark boutique hotel that is the hub for arts, culture and entertainment. I see similarities between The Drake Hotel in Toronto and The Walper, with one singular, drastic exception... The Walper’s focus on personalized customer service, creating a truly communal environment.
As I checked into my Urban Suite, the concierge asked what time I would like my complimentary whiskey tasting in my room. That definitely beats a warm, welcome cookie at one of the chain hotels! Each room is a perfect blend of heritage chic and modern design with no sacrifice to comfort. For boutique accommodations and energetic customer service, The Walper Hotel is a must-stay when in the region.
Later that evening, it was time to uncover the culinary secrets that the region had to offer. The Lancaster Smokehouse is home to the best ribs and smoked meats north of the 49th parallel. Luckily, it was a Friday night, where the John McKinley Band was performing some amazing blues tunes paired with classical sing-a-long melodies.
The Lancaster Smokehouse’s mission is to keep in local, keep it fresh and homemade. It’s that kind of passion that makes this restaurant feel like you’ve been invited into the warm home of a stranger. On top of it all, the service was exceptional. My waiter even suggested recipes for the leftovers when he handed it over in a doggie bag.
Another great spot to eat is Jacob’s Grill in St. Jacobs County. Their diverse menu and their prime location on main street is a home run for visitors and locals alike. The portion size of my lunch came at no compromise to the taste.
On top of Waterloo region’s amazing restaurants is their booming craft beer scene. Many of the local restaurants will have on draught either Block Three Brewing from St. Jacobs County, Innocente Brewing from Waterloo, or Descendants Beer from Kitchener. If you’re in the area, there’s no reason not to visit all three breweries who will happily offer a tour to those curious to know more about the suds they’re about to drink.
Block Three is a staple among the after-work crowd in the area; so much so that regulars have their own beer steins parked behind the bar for a quick (or not so quick) pint before heading home for dinner.
At Innocente Brewing, head brewer Steve Innocente is the kind of scientist I wish taught me chemistry in high school. He uses his PhD in Molecular Biology, his Post Doctoral Fellowship studying yeast and his passion for brewing to create a lineup of beers that enhance the average pint to an art form.
But one of my personal favourites is Descendants Beer, owned by Robin Molloy and Lee Brooks whose passion for hand crafted, creative and small batch beers tickle your taste buds and warm your heart. Their brew pub is the perfect space to meet friends for a pint while snacking on some of their thoughtful menu of treats. Their Reynard The Fox rye ale was the perfect pairing to wash down their mixed board of meats and cheeses.
The Waterloo region has more to do than just eat and drink. The St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market is home to hundreds of local vendors bringing Ontario’s farm-fresh foods, crafts, hard-to-find imported goods and anything imaginable to a complex of buildings and outdoor stalls. If you’re still hungry from touring the region’s restaurants, the farmers’ market is also home to a diverse spread of ready-to-eat food stalls.
If you visit on a Thursday or Saturday morning (the only days the market is opened all year round, and Tuesday during the summer months), stop by The Fritter Co. for a sweet treat made from local apples. Pair it with a cup of coffee and your day will be off to a great start.
Or if you like getting a little cheesy, Mickey McGuire’s Cheese will not disappoint. Operating since 1975, McGuire’s wealth of cheese knowledge will not leave you Blue. A five-minute chat with him is a Gouda idea and will definitely help you spend your Cheddar at his stall. But before you Asiago, you Feta pick up something to take home before you say Bon Fromage.
With my cheese puns running out of steam, I headed over to the Waterloo Central Railway for a historic train ride between St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market, the Village of St. Jacobs and the town of Elmira. Riding in a 1923 Business car 15000 from the Canadian National Railway, it was almost as luxurious as the Porsche Macan I drove up for the weekend. This historic ride is the perfect experience for anyone who loves things of the past or is a secret railfan.
If you’re looking for entertainment, Drayton Entertainment is an award-winning, not-for-profit charitable organization that puts on Broadway-calibre shows. I was able to catch a showing of Sister Act at the Dunfield Theatre in Cambridge that brought song and dance to another level. The talent on stage rightfully earned their standing ovation.
My last day in the region, I got all dressed up to head to Langdon Hall Country House in Cambridge, a hundred-old Ontario estate with a deep history. As a victim of wanderlust, I put on my Sherry Truitt cufflinks, a designer from the southern shores of New Jersey who makes anything but conventional jewelry using vintage maps and metals for one-of-a-kind treasures. She embraces the Japanese concept of wabi sabi to make each hand crafted piece different from the next and a true treasure of your collection. Check out some of her product on her online shop.
Executive Chef Jason Bangerter cooked up an incredible three-course brunch pairing fresh ingredients and spices. Chef Bangerter’s international experience has a deep influence on Langdon Hall’s menu, exciting the palates of the guests who visit. The glamorous and historical atmosphere complemented by the top quality service makes each guest feel like royalty.
The best way to cap off your time at Langdon Hall is to head over to the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory and embrace the tropical oasis in the midst of a Canadian winter. This tropical garden sits on 117 acres and is home to 1000’s of free flying butterflies from all over the world, and over 100 different varieties of tropical plants, waterfalls, streams, reflecting pools, tropical finches, Chinese painted quails and red-eared slider turtles. Their staff is eager to educate their visitors on the “residents” at the conservatory.
The Waterloo Region is the perfect winter, weekend escape from the GTA for those looking for a close-to-home but far from ordinary adventure. Pack your bags and your car and head over to the 519 next weekend.
Writer's Note: This trip was in-part sponsored by Explore Waterloo Region, Porsche Canada and the respective tourism operators. All opinions expressed are independent.