About this series: With COVID-19 restrictions having eased over the last few months, Wheels wants to inspire you to get ready to explore — but only it is safe to do so. This series of daytrips and longer drives highlight great experiences you can have in the province and across Canada, and shows you why this country is “Ours to Discover.”
Almonte, a mill town a 40-minute drive from Ottawa, has plenty of practice crafting the perfect holiday feel. This small town has become a popular filming location for Hallmark Christmas movies. It’s no wonder that the historic buildings and charming atmosphere have helped it become a mini-Hollywood in the north.
In the morning: Head east on Highway 401 from Toronto. After turning north on Highway 37 and then east on Highway 7 toward Ottawa, take a break mid-route with a stop in Perth, where you can snap a picture of a mammoth 22,000-pound block of cheese that made the trip to Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.
If that experience leaves you feeling peckish, grab bunch at BlackFly Grub Hub inside the Code’s Mills Building. It serves gourmet hot dogs, including a spicy “hot” dog that comes loaded with pickled banana and jalapeno peppers and a chipotle mayo. Leave room for dessert, as it also makes the most delicious and colourful doughnuts. Once sated, continue on Highway 7 to Lanark County and onto Mississippi Mills and Almonte.
In the afternoon: Spend the afternoon shopping in Almonte. Browse the many antique stores and stock up on local goods at Cheerfully Made, a treasure trove of handmade products by Almonte artisans and crafters. Walk to the top of the hill on Mill Street and dig around in Big Vintage, where you will discover curiosities and collectibles among other finds.
If you have children in your life, stop by Kentfield Kids, a store run and owned by two local moms. Pick up clothes, toys and books in this store housed in a beautiful brick building.
If you like an early start and opted against stopping in Perth, you might just be able to catch the vendors at the Almonte Farmers Market before they pack up for the day at 12.30 p.m. It also runs other seasonal markets, including harvest and Christmas events. Keep an eye out for locally grown micro greens, preserves and fresh baked goods.
In the evening: For a small town, Almonte has lots of lodging options. Take your pick from boutique hotels, friendly bed-and-breakfast spots and charming inns. If you travel with a crew, the Georgian Old Mill Manor could be just the ticket. Located on one acre of private property, it has a heated pool, hot tub and fire pit, making it a luxurious retreat. Best of all, pets are allowed, so you can bring your four-legged friend, too. The manor accommodates up to 12 overnight guests but all guests must be part of the same group, so book in advance.
For a romantic stay, consider the Almonte Riverside Boutique Inn and choose a scenic room with a view of the Mississippi River.
Once you’ve dropped of your bags, stop by the stunningly designed Dairy Distillery for a sample of its milk vodka and learn more about this unique spirit. This micro distillery features a 30-foot pitched roof and a glass front where the copper stills are displayed.
Now for dinner, and inside the old postal building in downtown Almonte you’ll find Café-Postino. Enjoy southern Italian dishes made with locally sourced ingredients in this intimate and comfortable restaurant. If you would rather stay close to your hotel, visit the Loom Bistro at the Almonte Riverside Boutique Inn for pulled pork bao and tacos.
In the morning: Start the day enjoying the Almonte Riverwalk, a three-kilometre trail that takes you past historic mill buildings, the town hall and the beaches and waterfalls along the Mississippi River. Your walk will take you underneath a railway bridge, along boardwalks and to a beautiful lookout at the Victoria Woollen Mill.
Now that you have worked up an appetite, stop for a pastry breakfast at the Equator Coffee Roasters. Opened in 1998, this coffee roasters now sells its own beans all over eastern Ontario.
In the early afternoon: Learn a little more about the history of the area at the Mill of Kintail, built in 1830. Here you’ll find six kilometres of trails that can be accessed by snowshoe in the winter. There are also two museums dedicated to local historical figures — physical fitness pioneer R. Tait McKenzie and basketball inventor Dr. James Naismith — which operate in the summer months.
Enjoy lunch at the Mill Street Crepe Company, serving both savoury and sweet crepes, as well as soups and salads. Or, still on Mill Street, choose a traditional English afternoon tea experience at Tea & Cake. Takeout boxes featuring sandwiches and scones are available for those who want to enjoy a picnic lunch.
In late afternoon: Finish your afternoon in Almonte by visiting Hummingbird Chocolate, where you can peek into the mixing and processing room of the chocolate factory and also purchase some of its bestselling chocolate treats to take home with you as a souvenir.
It’s time to head home to Toronto, following Highway 7 west and then south of Highway 37 to Highway 401 west. If you’re not ready to end your weekend away, stop and stroll on Belleville’s river trail and explore its downtown area. Pop into Gourmet Diem for a takeout soup, sandwich or charcuterie to hold you over until you get home.
COVID-19 need to know
Ontario, including Lanark County where Almonte is located, is currently following provincial regulations, where proof of vaccination and masks are required to enter restaurants, bars and other indoor businesses. Some attractions may be closed or operating at reduced rates.
For the drive
Have your passenger scroll through the Instagram feed of @almonte_town to get inspiration on where to visit and any events happening during your trip. Line up a playlist of Christmas classics to get you in the mood to visit Almonte, the setting for many Christmas movies.
- 8 a.m. Leave Toronto
Drive east on Highway 401 before taking highways 41 and 7
- 1 p.m. Shopping in Almonte
- 4 p.m. Almonte Riverside Boutique Inn
- 5 p.m. Dairy Distillery
- 7 p.m. Café-Postino
- 9 a.m. Almonte Riverwalk
- 10 a.m. Equator Coffee Roasters
- 11 p.m. Mill at Kintail
- 1 p.m. Mill Street Crepe Company
- 2 p.m. Hummingbird Chocolate
- 2:30 p.m. Drive back to Toronto
NOTE: Times are suggestions only