Sandy beaches. Waterfront views. World-class dining. Luxury accommodations. While some might think you have to hop on a plane to experience these high-end attractions, the truth is they’re all available right in our own backyard. As the country’s southernmost destination, our warmer temperatures mean there’s no shortage of fun, safe activities to enjoy outdoors in Windsor-Essex County.
As the province continues its reopening plan, it’s more important than ever to support our local restaurants, wineries, hotels, and retailers as they get back to business.
Let TWEPI Be Your Guide
So, with so much to see and do…where do you start?
Whether you’re a lifelong resident or new to the area, Tourism Windsor-Essex Pelee Island offers a variety of resources to help you plan your itinerary.
“This is definitely the summer of the staycation,” says TWEPI CEO Gordon Orr.
For an entire summer’s worth of adventures, Orr encourages residents to browse the 2021 Official Visitors Guide, available to download online at www.tourismwindsoressex.com. The guide is broken down in an easy-to-navigate format, with aptly named sections like Eat, Play, Stay, See, and Do.
“We also have our MyTrip itinerary builder which allows you to create your own personalized getaway based on what you like to do or view other sample itineraries,” notes Orr.
As part of the group’s “Summer of the Staycation” promotion, residents can build and submit their own unique itinerary for a chance to win that custom staycation, a value of up to $500.
The website also offers information on other exciting experiences unique to our region, including where to find the best local produce stands, farmers’ markets, and farm-to-table dining.
The “W.E. Heart Local” campaign is your guide to buying local; from fruits and veggies to meats, wine, cheese, and more. Residents can take one of TWEPI’s guided agri-tours or simply follow their own path by visiting all the vineyards, farms, orchards, and markets that showcase the bounty of the county.
Orr is thrilled at the number of residents who have been rediscovering our area during the past 16 months, noting that people are eagerly supporting local breweries, golf courses, parks, and other attractions across Essex County. Perhaps one of the perks of the recent pandemic has been the rediscovery of what was always here.
“There are so many options,” he continues. “You can visit Pelee Island or stay in a bed and breakfast right here in your own backyard and still get away from it all.”
Unwind in Wine Country – Magnolia Ranch Bed & Breakfast
Nestled in the heart of Essex County’s wine country sits Magnolia Ranch; a stunning Victorian-style estate where vintage-inspired charm meets elegant, modern amenities.
The newly renovated 4-bedroom bed & breakfast, located on County Road 50 in Harrow, is owned and operated by friends Gloria Cavenago and Linda Jeffery, who share a passion for supporting local and an eye for design. The pair met through their charity work and purchased the ranch together in 2019.
“There is amazing energy on this property,” notes Cavenago. “The trees are just majestic and there’s always something blooming or flowering.”
The ten acre property is truly an experience in itself, with plenty to do including picnics, cycling, nature walks, and bonfires. Just steps away from Lake Erie, there are many opportunities for fishing, boating and birding as well.
Magnolia Ranch is also quickly becoming a favourite venue choice for special events, hosting outdoor weddings, bridal showers, and other private gatherings on their spacious patio. With over two decades of experience, Cavenago, Jeffery and their event coordinators Carly and Kaleigh ensure every detail is attended to with the utmost care.
“We’ve hosted many outdoor weddings this past year,” says Cavenago, noting that even amid COVID-19 restrictions, couples have been able to enjoy a memorable, intimate celebration.
As the province continues its reopening plan, Cavenago says they hope to start offering other on-site activities again including cooking classes and special catered dinners, which were extremely popular before the pandemic closures.
Another exciting development is the establishment of an on-site microbrewery. Together with Kingsville Brewery, Magnolia Ranch is thrilled to begin brewing their own beers on site; made from barley they’ve grown themselves on the property.
“We’ll be growing our own hops as well,” says Cavenago.
The pair is working alongside the brewery to develop two unique brews specifically for Magnolia and will also carry a selection of Kingsville Brewery’s other creations. The beer can be enjoyed on site or purchased to go.
Of course, being just a stone’s throw away from several of the region’s top wineries makes Magnolia Ranch the ideal destination for wine connoisseurs and foodies alike. And with their in-house concierge service, Cavenago says they can arrange wine tours, dinner reservations, bike rentals, and more.
“We want our guests to really enjoy the area while they’re here,” she says.
They encourage guests to enjoy their downtime on the ranch as well. Special attention has been paid to ensure each room provides maximum comfort and convenience. Each offers a SMART TV, small SMEG fridge, and lux linens.
“Sleep is so important, especially when you’re away,” notes Cavenago. “We knew the mattress and bedding had to be perfect to ensure our guests would have a great night’s sleep.”
Guests are treated to a gourmet hot breakfast each morning by Kaleigh, who is also the onsite innkeeper. Charcuterie boards and desserts can be ordered for post-dinner snacking as well.
The team looks forward to a busy summer and encourages people to book their stay well in advance.
“It’s a great place for a mid-week escape because we’re so close but you still feel like you’re getting away from it all,” says Cavenago.
To learn more about Magnolia Ranch, follow them on Facebook or Instagram or book your getaway at www.magnoliaranch.ca. Gift certificates are also available for any amount or a specific room.
Sun, Sand & Sangria – Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery
As Ontario’s only beachfront winery, Sprucewood Shores is an idyllic spot to spend a summer afternoon.
Their sprawling grounds are dotted with shaded picnic tables and beach chairs, making it a safe, socially-distant way to enjoy a glass of your favourite wine and breathtaking views of Lake Erie.
“The property is just gorgeous,” says retail manager Melanie Mason. “We have so much going on here this summer.”
Before picking a spot to unwind, guests can stop into the winery to grab their favourite refreshments. Sprucewood will once again be offering their popular wine tasting flights, grazing boxes, and picnic baskets made to order, as well as a few new additions for the season: charcuterie cones. The handheld, biodegradable cones come filled with nuts, cheese, fruit, olives and other snacks to pair with your favourite red, white, or rosé.
Want to bypass the inside crowd? Visitors can now pick up everything they need at the all-new Beach Hut, located at the waterfront and offering a selection of wine, sangria, local beer, and light snacks.
Weekends are filled with local entertainment, including the Sprucewood Shores Summer Concert Series.
“We’re thrilled to be bringing in a lot of homegrown talent,” says Mason.
Live performances take place every Sunday in July and August from 1:30pm to 3:30pm and are free to patrons of the winery. A complete list of upcoming musicians can be found on the Events page of their website.
For those days when Mother Nature doesn’t want to cooperate, Mason says the show will go on underneath the winery’s huge outdoor tent, which is also available to host small weddings and other private events.
The winery also offers two different tour and tasting options on their side patio every Sunday: a wine, chocolate & cheese pairing and tour at 11am and a wine tasting talk and tour at 1pm, both hosted by one of their onsite experts. Reservations are required and can be booked through the website.
To learn more about Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery’s summer events, check them out on Facebook and Instagram or log onto www.sprucewoodshores.com to plan your visit.
Waterfront Views – The Vintage Grape House Boat Rentals
Our area is home to a variety of exceptional overnight accommodations, both on land and on the water.
Imaging drifting off to the peaceful sounds of the lake lapping right outside your window after a long day exploring the area’s many wineries and trails. With The Vintage Grapes Houseboat Lodging Experience, staycationers can enjoy all the amenities of a traditional bed & breakfast aboard a 50-foot luxury yacht.
“They’re like fully equipped cottages on the water,” says owner Brian McGuinty, who owns and operates the fleet of vessels: the original Vintage Grape, The Cabern-EH, and the latest edition, The Merlot.
The boats are permanently docked at Colchester Harbour and can each accommodate four to five guests. Since launching in 2018, McGuinty says they’ve been steadily booked each season. This summer is shaping up to be a busy one as well.
“We’re very busy because everyone can’t wait to get out of the house and do something,” laughs McGuinty.
Yachts can be booked online through The Vintage Grape AirBnB site. Each boat offers a host of amenities including a full kitchen, full bathroom, and barbecue. They’re also incredibly spacious and feature three different decks where guests can spend the day sunning or taking in the beauty of Lake Erie.
While you could make a weekend of just lounging on board, the area offers so many wonderful outdoor activities. McGuinty has several paddle boats and kayaks available for use. A par 3 golf course is also just a short drive away. Electric bike rentals are available on site, as well as fishing boat charters.
“There’s just so much going on in the area now,” says McGuinty.
The boats are just minutes away from several great local restaurants offering delicious food and live entertainment. The local wineries are also a popular destination.
“Most of our guests are friends doing wine tours or a getaway weekend,” he reflects.
McGuinty points out that the houseboats are completely self-contained, making them one of the safest accommodation options for people looking to gather with their family or “bubble” during the pandemic.
“You’re social distancing and having a good time,” he says. “It’s a safe, fun getaway.”
To learn more about The Vintage Grapes, follow them on social media or visit their AirBnB site to book your stay.
An EPIC Experience – Colchester Ridge Estate Winery
Colchester Ridge Estate Winery is thrilled to welcome back guests to their gorgeous slice of paradise in Essex County’s EPIC wine country.
“Our venue is truly beautiful,” says Stephanie Kentner, CREW’s front of house supervisor, adding that the lush vineyard makes for a picturesque backdrop as patrons wine and dine the day away.
Outdoor seating is available by reservation or walk-ups. The winery boasts several spacious patios to ensure everyone enjoys their time safely distanced. Four-legged friends are welcome as well, so no need to leave your pooch at home.
On the patio, guests can sample a flight of CREW’s most popular varietals, including their first sparkling wine, ‘Isle of View’ (I love you.) All flights come with a complimentary cheese plate featuring artisan cheeses.
“We’ve also launched an all-new summer menu,” says Kentner. “Our chef BJ Turnbull is amazing. He makes everything from scratch and has come up with so many unique items using fresh, locally sourced ingredients.”
The team is excited to bring back their popular Sunday brunch as well, complete with Caesars and other fun beverages. Live local entertainment will also be on hand throughout the season for guests to enjoy as they sip and socialize.
The venue also offers private event space for intimate summer gatherings including showers, rehearsal dinners, and other get-togethers as COVID restrictions allow.
“We look forward to really utilizing our gorgeous new space,” notes Kentner, referring to the winery’s recently constructed expansion.
To learn more about CREW or to plan your visit, follow them on Facebook and Instagram or log on to www.colchesterridge.com.
Quiet Country Living Close to Home – The Walnut Grove Bed & Breakfast
While some seek adventure, there are those that enjoy the simple pleasures of country living. Looking for a break from the concrete jungle without having to travel miles away? The Walnut Grove Bed & Breakfast offers a tranquil setting with all the amenities of a luxury hotel.
The newly restored 1902 farmhouse is located on ten acres of land in the Pleasant Valley area just outside of Harrow, although to most it feels like a world away from the hustle and bustle of urban life.
“Our guests say that even though we’re only a half hour from the city, they feel like they’ve been transported hours away,” says owner Leslie Meloche.
Meloche and her husband Bob purchased the property in 2019. Although the home underwent extensive renovations to update the functionality of the space, it still maintains its original charm.
“We didn’t want to lose the character of the house,” she explains.
Each of the home’s three rooms have been thoughtfully updated to provide guests a spa-like setting and are lavishly outfitted with new mattresses and top end bedding, linens, and bathrobes.
While the couple have gone to great lengths to ensure their guests’ comfort, they’ve done so in a sustainable fashion.
“I’ve always felt it’s important to be environmentally conscious,” says Leslie, noting that they avoid using plastics and source all their food from local suppliers as much as possible. They even utilize locally made soap crafted with walnuts from their own grove.
“I like the idea of knowing where everything comes from. If I don’t grow it myself, I know the grower. We know the chickens that lay the eggs. We make our own in-house sausages. We serve local coffee.”
Meloche, a sommelier and professionally trained chef, also offers guests a farm-to-table dining experience, creating menus based on what’s in season and pairing her dishes with local wines. A farm fresh breakfast is included in your stay, and charcuterie boards and candlelit dinners can be booked in advance.
Guests can enjoy one of Meloche’s special meals and take in the property’s natural beauty by booking a “Dinner in the Meadow” or a “Stargazer Picnic.” The grounds offer four mini meadows for these intimate excursions, including one that is fully accessible for those with mobility issues.
Other outdoor amenities include a heated in-ground pool, cozy pergola with Koi pond, and many hiking trails.
The latest addition to the grounds is a rustic chalet, created to be an event space for local concerts, small weddings, yoga classes and other gatherings. The barn also doubles as a sugar shack during maple syrup season.
“There’s so much happening here and we’re really just getting started,” says Meloche.
To learn more, follow The Walnut Grove on social media or visit www.thewalnutgrovebnb.com to book your stay. And no need to leave your four-legged friend at home; The Walnut Grove is a pet-friendly venue.