A Perfect Day in Thornbury, Ontario

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A day trip to the Blue Mountains’ lesser‑known village on the shores of Georgian Bay includes hiking, cider sipping and waterfall chasing all year round.

Hugging the southern shoreline of Georgian Bay and home to cideries, wineries, hiking routes and the Apple Pie Trail, this charming village located within the Blue Mountains in Grey County should be at the top of your day‑trips‑from‑Toronto list. It’s just over a two‑hour drive northwest of the city and offers up activities in all seasons, from fruit picking in the fall (it’s the largest apple‑growing region in Ontario, after all) and snowshoeing in the winter, to waterfall swimming and patio dining come summer.

December 14, 2021

Morning

Every great morning starts with a great cup of coffee, and you’ll find one at Good Grief Coffee Roasters, which serves up drinks made with locally roasted, fair‑trade beans. Each espresso pull fills the shop – featuring retro pink tile countertops and white brick walls – with the intoxicating aroma of cocoa, caramel and molasses. We also dare you to leave without grabbing a house‑made doughnut or everything bagel scone for later.

Thornbury Bakery Cafe
Thornbury Bakery Café.   Photo: Jenna Kitchings

Just a few doors over is the Thornbury Bakery Café, the go‑to spot for breakfast. This family‑owned establishment has been a landmark on Bruce Street, Thornbury’s main drag, since 1901, and for good reason – everything is made from scratch, every day. Find an assortment of sandwiches, like the peameal bacon breakfast sandwich and a classic BLT, or opt to build your own. Also on the menu: freshly baked cinnamon buns covered in cream‑cheese frosting.

Take a post‑breakfast stroll down Bruce Street to pop into a range of charming shops, including Adorn II for one‑of‑a‑kind vintage treasures like dazzling mirrors and designer coats; the Georgian Artisan Shop for fresh floral bouquets, handcrafted goods (such as ceramics and upcycled dog leashes) and a stunning vintage jewellery collection; and the Cheese Gallery for a variety of specialty cheeses, including raclette from Quebec and Salt Spring Island goat cheese, plus everything else to build out the ultimate board (homemade sourdough loaves, olive tapenade, smoked‑trout pâté).

No trip to the Southern Georgian Bay area is complete without exploring the Apple Pie Trail. Goldsmith Orchard Market, located about two kilometres from downtown Thornbury, is a perfect example of the 26 stops you’ll find along this route that celebrates everything apple country has to offer. The specialty grocery store began as a popular roadside fruit stand in the 1960s and is now stocked with an impressive assortment of locally grown fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers, plus homemade baked goods and products from other small businesses. The market is famous for its homemade pies, especially the beloved Thornberry pie, filled with apples and mixed red berries and topped with a crumble crust.

Eugenia Falls
Eugenia Falls.     Photo: Jenna Kitchings
Hoggs Falls
Hoggs Falls.     Photo: South Georgian Bay Tourism

After an apple fix, it’s high time for a self‑guided waterfall tour. With five mesmerizing falls in the area, there is no shortage of astonishing vistas, no matter the season. A quick 20‑minute drive will get you to the base of the area’s most striking shower: the 30‑metre Eugenia Falls, set in a lush, fairy‑tale‑esque landscape. The trail to the falls winds along the edge of a cliff and rewards hikers with views of it at various lookouts. Next on the quest is the nearby Hoggs Falls, where the seven‑metre cascade attracts snowshoers in the winter and swimmers in the summer months. The rushing falls are just a two‑minute walk from the parking lot, but opt for the 3.7‑kilometre trail loop for even more scenic panoramas (especially of the changing foliage in the fall).

Related: A Perfect Day in Alberta’s Foothills

Afternoon

Now that your appetite is sufficiently worked up, head over to Heart’s, a whimsical century‑old farmhouse with an on‑site smokehouse and meat locker. Its ever‑changing chalkboard menu might list oysters, cheese and charcuterie, or steak tartare and frites, among other mouth‑watering dishes. Co‑owner Teo Paul is also the restaurateur behind beloved Toronto spots Union and Côte de Boeuf.

Hearts chicken liver tartine
Chicken liver tartine on challah with an herb salad at Heart's.     Photo: Annie Bowes
sunflowers
Heart's garden in the summer.     Photo: Annie Bowes

The Blue Mountains region is home to multiple wineries, craft breweries and cideries. Stop in at Georgian Hills Vineyards for a glass of the sparkling Viva Vidal and the Wine Makers Platter, which includes a seasonal selection of locally sourced soft and hard cheeses, salty charcuterie and housemade preserves. Visitors are encouraged to walk around the grounds (wine glass in hand) to explore the vineyards and, if the season is right, witness the grape harvest in action. In the winter months, book a table indoors or your own private fire pit inside the covered patio.

Georgian Hills
Georgian Hills Vineyards.   Photo: Advoc Digital

Some other spots for sipping include the Roost Wine Company, Coffin Ridge Winery, Grey & Gold Cider and Spy Cider House and Distillery (reservations are recommended for all).

Related: A Perfect Day in Niagara

Evening

The culinary tour continues: For a refreshing pre‑dinner appetizer, stop in at The Bivalve Oyster & Libation for takeout platters of freshly shucked PEI oysters, Nova Scotia lobster and Fogo Island snow crab. In the warmer months, walk the short distance to the Thornbury Harbour with your haul and enjoy the sunset over Georgian Bay while you feast.

plate of seafood on wooden table
The Bivalve Oyster & Libation.

For the main course, grab a table across the street at the Mill Café. In the winter, relax by the fireplace inside; in the summer, take a seat on the waterfront patio set against the striking backdrop of the Beaver River – either way, you’ll enjoy dishes like burrata with toasted ciabatta and chimichurri, seared striploin with Cajun butter and roasted root vegetables, and saffron and fennel bouillabaisse. Or, if the mood calls for pizza, the cozy Bruce Wine Bar offers wood‑fired margherita, fungi and pepperoni pies topped with in‑season produce from local farmers and producers, plus inventive cocktails (like Nature, with pink gin, house vanilla‑bean liqueur, Concord grape, pineapple and citrus, and Nurture, with mezcal, ginger turmeric, beet, lime and egg white).

Related: A Perfect Day in the Cowichan Valley, B.C.

interior of hotel room
Penny’s Motel.
shellfish
Après.

Make it a weekend

Not ready to go just yet? Book a stay at Penny’s Motel, a refurbished property from the 1970s that opened in 2021. Each of the 13 units features its own wallpaper and theme (we loved the tropical room, with palm tree‑ and wave‑covered walls), while the sleek bathrooms have oversize walk‑in showers, heated tiles and Malin+Goetz bath products. In the central courtyard, beneath twinkling string lights, you’ll find fireplaces complete with s’mores kits, a bocce ball court, table tennis, colourful communal coolers and Après, a sophisticated oyster and snack bar (also a great spot for a nightcap). Hop on one of the motel’s complimentary laid‑back cruiser bicycles or take off on two feet to explore the waterfront Bayview Park, the Georgian Trail and other local sites, all just a short pedal or walk away.