If you are in the Greater Toronto Area for the Pan Am & Parapan Am Games, be sure to make time to visit Headwaters, a "2,534-square-kilometre quilt of genuine Ontario country," comprised of the rural communities of Caledon, Dufferin County, Erin, Mono and Shelburne.
In the spring, I went on a press tour of this idyllic area, which I had previously known little about. We sometimes visit relatives in the Town of Orangeville and we once hiked over the striking Cheltenham Badlands, but the tour gave me a new appreciation for just how beautiful this area is - a pastoral paradise just an hour from Toronto.
We started our tour with a visit to the Caledon Equestrian Park. Headwaters is hosting the jumping and dressage equestrian events of the Pan Am Games. Check out the games-related events and activities here.
I stayed overnight at the Best Western Plus Orangeville Inn & Suites. My room was fresh and clean with a nice big tub and a television over the fireplace - a perfectly relaxing place from which to explore the region.
There's a lovely "small town" feel in the Headwaters region. Just to give you an example, I missed the tour bus in the morning - that's me, about 10 minutes late for everything - and rather than give me directions to our first stop and potentially have me get lost, the hotel manager drove me there in her own car. How many hotels would offer that kind of friendly service?
Headwaters offers a perfect mix of rural delights and urban amenities. In one day, you can visit a peaceful garden oasis, eat at a sophisticated restaurant and try your hand at any kind of artistic endeavour that interests you. That's me exercising my green thumb at Plant Paradise Country Gardens.
Here's the location I got driven to when I missed the bus - Alton Mill Arts Centre. And I'm so glad I didn't miss it. Not only is the location beautiful, but it is a fascinating work and exhibition space for many talented artists.
Artists like Andrea Bird, who gives lessons in encaustic painting for everybody from the beginner to the more experienced artist. You can take an existing workshop or plan a personalized workshop with friends and/or children.
I tried my hand at encaustic painting and found that it was very freeing - I was able to let go of my perfectionist tendencies and have a lot of fun with it. It's messy in the best of ways.
I also took a lesson in mandala making with artist C.J. Shelton (above), who shared with us her perspective on all of the natural circular forms that exist in our world. Go ahead and get some visual cues to your self-conscious with C.J.'s "Life in the Round" self-discovery mandala interpretation sessions. Trust me, it's lots of fun. It would make a great girls' day out experience.
I really want to go back this summer to explore the Mill and surrounding area more thoroughly.
Also completely fascinating is the blackhouse at Landman Gardens and Bakery. How cool is this building?
Groups of guests can book a "blackhouse dinner," to be served up in this unique building on their picturesque farm. We had a lovely lunch including pickled asparagus, salads and fresh fruit in the blackhouse. Of course, the other guests had meat as well, but I found plenty to eat with the fruits and veggies. They even made me my own special vegan dessert.
One other discovery I made about Headwaters is that the area is home to so many creative types. It's really an interesting mix of people - farmers, craftspeople, those who commute to Toronto for work. At the Williams Mill Visual Art Centre, I met stone sculptors Graham Bowden and Mary Ellen Farrow.
Graham guided us through the process of carving our own little stone sculptures.
I did simple heart magnets for the kiddos.
We had dinner one night at the gorgeous, family-owned Hockley Valley Resort. We ate at cabin, where the skilled chefs were able to make me a vegan meal that was just as creative and lovely as any other meal being served. Gnocchi with fiddleheads and fresh peas, a quinoa-stuffed tomato, fruit sorbet for dessert - I wish I could be spoiled like that every day!
Named for the first structure built on the resort's property in 1865, cabin takes inspiration from the romantic countryside in the Hills of Headwaters region. The restaurant combines rustic and modern décor, including reclaimed hardwood floors and wooden beams from an old barn and an impressive 16-foot steel and glass chandelier.
Another favourite stop for me was Spirit Tree Estate Cidery in Caledon, where we sampled some of the delicious hard ciders.
Spirit Tree is a cidery, bakery, kitchen and farm store, set among peaceful apple orchards.
Thank you to the kind folks at the Hills of Headwaters Tourism Association for including me on this interesting and inspiring tour!
Have you been to Headwaters? What part of my tour appeals to you most?