By Meghan Wilson-Smith
Fall driving in southwestern Ontario means landscapes of lush, ready-to-be-harvested fields of rich yellows, oranges and greens, and sunny skies dimpled with heavy wet clouds whisked by on a breeze just cool enough to bring out the wools. Air-conditioning off, windows open, and nothing but the splendor of the great Canadian north in your windshield.
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1. Guelph is already a pretty special town, a vibrant city core with a popular farmers’ market on Saturdays. It retains many small town values while delivering on big city comforts. It’s also a great take-off point to some of the quaintest of towns en route to beautiful Lake Huron.
2. Just a half-hour outside of Guelph, the town of Elora and the stunning Elora gorge are musts. Heading north on Highway 6 you’ll see a small sign for the Fergus and Mount Forest to the north or Elora to the west. Bend west a bit and head straight to Elora. The town is mostly made of limestone, as if it were an extension of the gorge it sits on. It has lovely shops and great hiking. (25 km)
3. At lunchtime there is no better place to satisfy than the Teviotdale truck stop (corner of Hwys 7 and 23; 519-343-2378). Nothing fancy here, but an exploration of the menu reveals something called the Mission Impossible. This mammoth meal of fresh, local food includes ribs, chicken wings, chicken breast, mashed potatoes, gravy and veggies. You won’t find a website associated with this gem, but it’s always wise to trust those who drive for a living on the best places to replenish. (30 km)
4. Continue northwest towards Southampton. Towns start to converge more closely; you’re about halfway through your drive. At Harriston, stop at the Harriston Bakery on the main road to pick up some fresh bread and the only square donuts I’ve ever seen. (9 km)
5. You are now heading into 98.1 The Beach radio zone. It’s great for local news (a goat has escaped from so-and-so’s farm) and for classic road trip music that will have you singing at the top of your lungs. Visit Paisley, a beautiful town and the last one before Southampton. The Saugeen River rages through the middle of it, where you can witness salmon spawning at this time of year. (60 km)
6. If you are not quite ready to settle in at sleepy Southampton, take a quick detour to another Saugeen Shores town, the comparatively large, bustling centre of Port Elgin. Here you’ll find plenty of shops and the area’s only cinema. (21 km)
7. The drive from Port Elgin to Southampton runs right along the lake and is one of the most picturesque routes in Ontario. The oldest port in Bruce County, Southampton has its town centre right on the water with one of the largest Canadian flags in the country proudly blowing overhead. This is where the Saugeen River starts; visit Denny’s Dam to do some world-class fishing. Take a stroll along the boardwalk; take note for later: this is a spectacular sunset-viewing spot. Visit the local Bruce County Museum to learn about lake’s tumultuous past and its many shipwrecks. (8 km)
The best way to experience Southampton is to stay is in a small cottage right near the water. Beachside Cottages has that cottage feel and is close enough to hear the waves at night.
For live music, tasty pub fare and a great patio near the water, head to the family-friendly Walker House in a large rambling old building in Southampton.
For the best fish-and-chips in Bruce County visit Duffy’s, a local favourite right across the street from the Walker House. It’s small, so it might be wise to reserve as it is always packed.
Once an old cinema so simple it didn’t have restrooms, the Highview (166 High Street, 519-797-2199) was converted into a restaurant (with restrooms) years ago. It’s a family-run business that offers fast and tasty breakfasts.
Driving is the best way to see the sites but you will see many cyclists enjoying the two-lane highways with roller coaster hills to summit.