Beautiful Small Towns in Ontario: Elora and St. Jacobs
Elora and St. Jacobs are small towns in Ontario, both beautiful and unique in their own way, and best of all, it is only a drive away. People travel to be free, to escape the monotonous routine of daily life. To escape, some wander beyond the pacific ocean. For me, an escape is a new mystery unravelled. It can take the form of an untravelled country across the ocean, a new book waiting to be open, or sometimes, a small town or village yet to be explored. Its where curiosity begins, security ends, a sense of adventure awakens, and boredom ends!
It is also my perspective that no matter how long you’ve lived in an area, there’s a good chance you’ve only seen a small portion of it as your landscape or city is always evolving, changing. There will always be something new to explore and learn. As long as you’re curious and thirsty for adventure, an escape can be a footstep away.
While large metropolis such as Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver sparks curiosity among foreigners, there are plenty of Canadian hidden gems worth a visit for their individual quirks or to get that outdoor country adventure —away from the towering skyscrapers. To me, Canada’s small towns are exciting because of the limitless opportunity —from secret hiking trails to horse-drawn carriage tour straight from history, to a serene picnic under the stars, it’s easy to make the ordinary into an extraordinary adventure. Especially so in St. Jacobs and Elora Ontario.
Morning & Afternoon Itinerary at St. Jacobs
Start your small town escape at St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market. Canada’s largest farmers market, it boasts more than five hundred food vendors, crafters and entrepreneurs, gathered year-round to sell fresh homegrown organic vegetables, fruits, freshly baked pastries, bread, local delicacies like sausages, honey, and of course, some of the best quality Canadian maple syrup. From horse-drawn carriages to Mennonite food vendors carrying locally grown organic vegetables and hand-crafted goods, St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market is miles from the ordinary.
Built in 1986, and considered a popular destination for both local residents and tourists as far as Toronto and Niagara, the original St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market was destroyed in an overnight fire on Labour Day in 2013. Rebuilt in 2015, while keeping the look and feel or the original structures, the new 34,000 square-foot building at the Farmer’s market currently hosts 65 to 70 vendors indoor, and approximately 300 vendors outdoors in the busy summer months.
Looking for a little crafting adventure? St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market is also home to a flea market called Peddler’s Village, and a Market Barn previously called the Harvest Barn, both housing 45 and 60 indoor vendors, respectively. Here you can find unique wooden crafts, Amish handicrafts, leather crafts, hand-made bath bombs (purchased a Lavender scented Pokeball Bath Bomb once) and lotions to name a few.
Once you’ve done your early morning shopping, you have two options to pick from before heading to Elora:
- Take a horse-drawn trolley tour and journey over tranquil roads to visit a typical Old Order Mennonite farm. By the end of the tour, you will know everything about the Mennonite people —their history, the different groups in the area and their beliefs.
- Enjoy a Broadway musical, a riveting drama or a laugh out loud comedy at the St. Jacobs Country Playhouse with performances by the award-winning Drayton Entertainment, a registered, not-for-profit charitable organization, and one of Canada’s most successful professional theatre companies. Tickets can be purchased online. If heading there on a Thursday or Saturday, most shows start at 2 pm and usually runs for 2.5 hrs. If you’re planning on staying the night at St. Jacobs, Elora or Fergus, this would be a great option, however, you might want to skip this if you’re on a day excursion. Shopping district at Elora closes at 7 pm, and you might want to browse the shops for more than an hour at Elora. There’s a lot to see there!
Optional Quick Stops Near Elora Village
Country Antique Store
Although Market Road Antiques in St. Jacob is an amazing place to peruse quality antiques (it’s across from the market), the price is a little steep for those who are searching for treasures at a steal. If you have the time, do visit Country Antique Store in Elmira, just off of line 86. It sits between St. Jacobs and Elora and is a great place to find estate furniture, jewellery, glassware and other antiques at very reasonable prices.
West Montrose Covered Bridge (Kissing Bridge)
Designated as a historical site in 1975, West Montrose Covered Bridge or known to the locals as the Kissing Bridge, is a covered bridge 5 minutes (drive) from the Country Antique Store in West Montrose. It is the last wooden covered bridge in Ontario and the oldest of such bridge in Canada (built in 1880 – 1881). So, it is definitely worth a stop by to enjoy this historic sight. The structure of the bridge on the inside is very interesting to look at, and the story of how it got preserved is fascinating, not to mention the story of how it got its name. Apparently, amorous males would stop their horses without warning in the middle of the bridge to request payment —a kiss for crossing over the bridge. Not just amorous males, but romantic couples were also known to occupy horse-drawn buggies in the middle of the bridge, going nowhere. In the dark, sheltered from rain, wind and nosy neighbours, love was everywhere in the West Montrose Covered Bridge.
Afternoon & Evening Itinerary at the Enchanting Village of Elora, Ontario
Also referred to as Ontario’s most beautiful village, Elora completely lives up to its name. Located in Wellington County along the banks of the Grand and Irvine Rivers, it is a picturesque little town with quite a unique charm. Unlike other smalls towns and big cities alike, this picturesque town has somehow saved itself from fast food joints and chain restaurants. Full of 19th-century limestone architecture, this little gem reflects old world charm. Teeming with local businesses, unique little shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs, Elora is so out of the ordinary, you forget that you’re in Ontario.
Although it is tempting to go shopping straight away, take a moment to stop by one of the most scenic features of southern Ontario, the Elora Gorge on the Grand River. Formed from glacial activity 14,000 years ago, the Gorge is famous for its 80-foot limestone cliffs, river, falls, rapids, and caves.
After exploring all the nooks and crannies of the Elora Gorge, spend the afternoon perusing upscale boutiques, artists studios, galleries, listen to live music, and dine at trendy restaurants, some overlooking the grand river while immersing yourself in Elora’s diverse culture. Drop by Mermaid In Elora, a unique store that sells all sorts of curiosities sourced from around the world. Intricately carved pocket watches, ornate door knockers, typewriters, globs, jewellery, and nautical hooks for DIY key holders are some of the delightful and offbeat things you can find there. For art lovers, stop by Styll Fine Craft Gallery or Karger Gallery to see original pieces of artwork crafted by local artisans near and far. With all the unique things to see, and admire, spending half a day might not be enough to enjoy it all.
Where to eat in Elora Ontario
For a small town, Elora never ceases to amaze me with its large selection of dining options: fine dining, pubs, cafes are aplenty and all unique —untouched by large conglomerate or franchises, you won’t find Red Lobster or Outback Steakhouse here. I could list all the restaurants that Elora has to offer, but that would be tedious work, as you can find the list of restaurants here.
However, I do want to focus on one thing here that makes me a returning visitor month after month. Their craft beer scene, their brewery and pub; The Elora Brewing Company. I may be a woman, and I may be small, but give me a large selection of craft beer and I can outstay any male at a pub/brewery. After a long day of shopping and exploring, there’s nothing better than sitting down at a cosy bar surrounded by your friends, great food and of course, interesting conversation.
The experience of visiting a pub/brewery isn’t just about the beer itself, it’s about the interaction, the joy of finding people with the same appreciation. It’s the enthusiastic and friendly staff who are more than excited to share their knowledge of craft beer and brewing. It’s the appreciation for art. Craft beer brewing is an art, not just a production —from the name to the logo, to their bottle design. I mean, how cute is ‘Elora Borealis’? That beer name alone called to the outdoor enthusiast in me. And that taste, light and softly carbonated with a touch of pine bitterness and a burst of citrus on the finish, it’s hard not to see the allure of this craft beer.
And finally, for the cherry on top, all ingredients used at the Elora Brewing Company are harvested from local farms. Depending on the season and the local harvest, the dishes/beer served are always being re-invented; sometimes, new dishes are going to give rises to some really interesting beers, and some beers will give rise to some interesting dishes. As such, the menu is always changing and evolving at the Elora Brewing Company. My favourite is their ‘Three Fields lager’, a refreshing blend of locally harvested barley, rye and wheat that is light, crisp and pairs well with anything from their menu. Do not miss out on this beer that captures the rich agricultural heritage of Elora.
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