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Alexandria, Ontario is a quaint little town located in North Glengarry county, half-way between Montreal and Ottawa. It's a traditional dairy farm community teaming with beautiful parks, nature trails and open spaces. Thanks to the area's original settlers (Scottish Highlanders and French Canadian farmers), it's a culturally rich area with Celtic roots that hosts the annual Glengarry Highland Games which is one of North America's largest celebrations of Scottish culture. Bag pipes can frequently be heard at most of the area's festive celebrations.
One hour's drive from both Montreal and Ottawa, it's the perfect destination for a short road trip that offers a number of year-round attractions with the added bonus of having no traffic congestion! Alexandria is also easily accessible by train with a rustic Via train station right on the edge of town if you want to take a break from driving altogether. And a little know fact is that you can expect to be served in either English and French, as this is truly a bilingual community just a short drive from the Quebec border.
Here are my top recommendations on what to do in Alexandria this summer, or any time of the year.
1. Spend an afternoon at the park - In the heart of Alexandria is a large park that borders historic Mill Pond. Alexandria's Island Park features a lovely sandy beach open to the public, completely free and perfect for swimming, canoeing, kayaking, or SUPing, picnicking, sandcastle-building, and so much more. There are also jungle gyms, a splash pad, soccer fields, tennis courts, a skateboard park and walking paths to wander at your leisure. Pack a picnic and enjoy the lovely natural surroundings while the kids play.
2. Book a private vegan cheese sampling. Fauxmagerie Zengarry is now booking private plant-based cheese samplings in an intimate environment at Ontario's first vegan cheese shop. Have an experienced vegan cheese connoisseur walk you through the different Zengarry cheeses during a personalized sampling experience. Learn how to best pair, serve and store fine vegan cheeses. The samplings include Zengarry "fauxmages" and pestos paired with crackers, fresh fruit and perfectly paired wine jellies. Personal samplings last up to 2 hours Monday to Saturday and must be booked at least 5 days in advance. Book here.
3. Indulge in wine tasting at a local vineyard! Stonehouse Vineyard makes award-winning wines entirely from cold climate grapes grown on their beautiful 5-acre property that's home to their carefully tended grapes. The MacMillan's settled this farm in 1793 and 8 generations later, they transformed it into Alexandria's first vineyard. You can still see the original stone house on the property. Book a tasting, stop in to shop or attend one of their workshops or events including Yoga in the Vineyard.
4. Stop in for a pint at a local brewery. Wood Brother's Brewing Co. is a wildly popular craft brewery offering a unique collection of hand-crafted beers. They are one of the top craft breweries in Canada on Untapped and their beer sells out even before it's made. They specialize in IPA's, but they make a lot of different styles including sours and smoothies that are half fruit and half beer. “We’re pushing the envelope a bit, but we are the first brewery in Ontario to brew a lot of different styles.” says Mark Rickard, one of the owners. The brewery is open from 12 to 4 pm on Saturdays, and serves about 500 people each weekend in a 4-hour period.
5. Stay in a yurt! Groovy Yurts books overnight stays in an authentic Mongolian Yurt. Choose from 2 different yurts that are each furnished with hand-painted Mongolian furniture. There is also an outdoor sauna and a swimming pond for guests to enjoy during the summer. The ultimate 'glamping' experience!
6. Eat, drink and be merry! La Buvette du Marché Gastropub is an adorable spot for fancy cocktails and tapas-style dishes including a vegan cheese board made with Zengarry cashew cheese. La Belle Sorelle Restaurant is a local gem open for lunch and dinner which also serves vegan options.
7. Take a hike. The Glengarry Trails offer 4 recreational hiking trails open to the public. 4 different trails range from 2 to 5 km in length. The orange trail is a loop running through a natural Fen which is home to unique species including orchids and carnivorous plants. Fens are peat-forming wetlands that rely on groundwater input and require thousands of years to develop and cannot easily be restored once destroyed. Fens are also hotspots of biodiversity. They often are home to rare plants, insects, and small mammals.
8. Book a private art class. Priest's Mill Art Centre offers private art classes on glass blowing and stained glass. Classes can be booked through Airbnb experiences. They also sell unique art by local artisans in their location. The art centre is located in the historical local stone mill building which is said to be haunted by the ghost of one of its past occupants.
9. Shop. Alexandria is home to some unique gift shops including Left n Write Paperie, Cedar and Fern gift shop and of course Fauxmagerie Zengarry's vegan cheese shop. All three of these shops stock an incredible selection of Canadian-made gifts and foods.
10. Play a round of golf. Glengarry Golf and Country Club offers a challenging 18-hole course made up of rolling hills, mature hardwood trees and a unique water feature as the Gary River weaves its way across the course. The club also has practice facilities, which includes a chipping, putting and driving range.