The G.O.A.T (Greatest of All Time) Road Trip to Windsor Essex
Original Blog by Goat Roti | December 2022
A Comprehensive Travel Guide for First Time Visitors
Windsor Essex is a region just across the river from Detroit where visitors can find the perfect mix of city and country life. In downtown Windsor you’ll find tons of art, historical districts, and a very diverse culinary scene. Just outside of the city you’ll find award wining wineries, provincial parks, and lovely small towns. With all these options it can be overwhelming for first time visitors but hopefully this comprehensive travel guide can provide some ideas to help you build your perfect Windsor Essex itinerary.
First Time Visitors To Windsor Essex: Explore The Historical Districts
The City of Windsor has several historical districts with Walkerville and Ford City being two of the more well-known ones.
You cannot talk about the region without talking about its historical districts. One of the more notable ones is the Walkerville neighbourhood in Windsor, Ontario. The town was established by Hiram Walker for the sole purpose of supporting his whiskey distillery, which is now the largest in North America.
Today Walkerville is still home to the Hiram Walker & Sons Distillery along with unique shops, restaurants, cafes, and Windsor’s largest collection of Heritage Properties.
Hiram was a visionary and created the town at his own expense. He built majestic homes for his workers, provided running water, a school, a church, and Canada’s first streetcar system. One of the best ways to see and learn about the neighbourhood is by taking a self-guided tour.
Beer and booze lovers who are first time visitors to Windsor Essex have quite a bit to explore in the region. There are close to 15 breweries with many being relatively close to each other. Stops at these distilleries and breweries deserve a spot on any Windsor Essex itinerary.
Walkerville Brewery is the largest local brewery in the region and also one of the oldest at over 120 years old. Opened in 1890 by Hiram Walker and his philosophy back then was to create an “Honest Beer”. This meant that anything produced in this brewery would use the finest ingredients around. This way of thinking has held fast up to today. Their beers are brewed in unpasteurized single batches and are free from artificial preservatives, flavours, and colour.
The Beerded Dog Brewing Company is about a 15 minute drive from Downtown Windsor in the small town of Harrow. Fun fact: Harrow was the home of Harrow District High School which was Canada’s southernmost high school until it was closed in Spring 2016. The drive takes you through the Essex County countryside and beer lovers will find a family-friendly brewery with a rotating lineup of local craft beers that all pair nicely with their pub-style food.
Wolfhead Distillery is Essex County’s first premium craft distillery. Their spirit lineup includes three whiskies, three vodkas, a coffee liqueur, and a gin, their newest spirit.
Instead of corn, Wolfhead chose to make their vodka with wheat, like other high-end brands. They also use water filtered with limestone and distill their vodka seven times to produce a smooth, clean spirit.
On-site, visitors will find a retail shop, a large restaurant, and an even larger patio. The restaurant menu is made up of dishes that use a lot of locally sourced products, along with some dishes that incorporate their spirits.
Their cocktail list is not huge but the drinks are balanced and allow the spirit to shine. This distillery and restaurant needs to be added to your list of places to eat and drink in Essex County.
The Hiram Walker & Sons Distillery is the most historic landmark in Windsor.
The tour of the distillery starts in the visitor centre where we learned about its history and its founder, Hiram Walker. Walker moved to Canada in the 1840s and began working in the grocery business. In 1858, nine years before Canada became a country, he established the Hiram Walker & Sons Distillery. The distillery quickly became known for its high-quality spirits. Hiram Walker was instrumental in developing the city of Windsor itself. He built roads, schools, and churches, and helped to establish the city’s first bank. His contributions to the community helped to make Windsor a thriving industrial and commercial center.
After the history lesson, we moved over to the heart of the distillery. We got the opportunity to explore the area around the massive distilling pots while learning about the production process, from grinding of the grains to the fermentation and distillation of the spirits. We eventually made our way back to the tasting room at the visitors centre where we were led through a tasting of some of the distillery’s most popular products, like J.P. Wiser’s, Lot 40, and Gooderham And Worts whiskies.
First Time Visitors To Windsor: Explore The Outdoors
From downtown to the surrounding countryside, first time visitors to Windsor Essex will find tons of outdoor spaces to explore.
Point Pelee National Park is located about an hour away from Windsor on the southernmost point of mainland Canada. Not only is this national park the furthest south, it’s also the second smallest at only 15 square kilometres. Don’t let the size deter you from visiting, as there is tons to do and experience all year round.
During the spring, bird watchers gather to see the flocks of migratory birds that pass through the area. Summertime brings the campers and beach lovers, and in the fall thousands of monarch butterflies make the point a temporary stop as they prepare to fly over 3000km south to the mountains of central Mexico. While the winter months are obviously snowy, the trails are still open and the ice and snow at the tip make for a beautiful winter wonderland.
When at the park you cannot skip the floating boardwalk. At the start of the boardwalk is a viewing tower which provides some fantastic views out across the marsh, one of the largest freshwater marshes on the Great Lakes. The boardwalk loop is fully accessible and is only 1km in length. While walking along the boardwalk you can expect to see turtles, ducks, and other birds that call the marshland home.
Fun fact for first time visitors to Windsor Essex: Point Pelee National Park sits just south of the 42nd parallel. It’s as far south as Rome and Barcelona and some of Canada’s rarest plants and animals are found here because of the mild southerly climate.
The Chrysler Canada Greenway is a 50km trail that travels through Essex County and is the southernmost section of the Trans Canada Trail. It’s very popular with cyclists, birdwatchers, hikers, photographers, and cross country skiers. Along the trail you’ll find historically and architecturally significant structures, wineries, watersheds, and a whole lot more.
The trail is open year round, and at 50 km in length you can definitely find some sections to enjoy the quiet of the Essex County countryside. Along the trail there are plenty of parking areas and community entrances.
The Riverfront Trail is a paved multi-use trail that starts at the base of the Ambassador Bridge and extends east for 5km to the Hiram Walker distillery. The trail allows you to enjoy some scenic views of Detroit and the Detroit River.
Along the way you’ll walk through the Bert Weeks Memorial Garden which features an elaborate fountain and reflecting pool, the Clifford and Joan Hatch Wildflower Garden featuring a naturalized garden with local flowers, and the Windsor Sculpture Park, one of my favorite sections of the trail. The Windsor Sculpture Park is a sculpture museum without walls that’s opened year-round and features 31 large-scale sculptures by world-renowned artists.
First Time Visitors To Windsor Essex Should Eat, Eat, Eat!
To say Windsor Essex has a vibrant food scene would be a huge understatement. From breakfast joints, to restaurants in historic buildings, to fine dining and almost everything in-between. On our visit we had a fair bit of delicious eats and we barely scratched the surface of the culinary scene. Essex County has a number of farms and the restaurants make good use of the bounty of fresh produce.
I’m confident in saying that no other restaurant in Windsor occupies as historical a space as Mettawas Station Mediterranean Restaurant. The restaurant is located in the historic Kingsville train station which is right on the Chrysler Canada Greenway.
The train station was commissioned by Hiram Walker and opened in 1889. It was part of a rail line that brought people from Windsor to the Mettawas Resort and Casino in Kingsville. Sadly, the resort wasn’t in operation for very long and it eventually closed and was demolished. Luckily the train station was left intact and in 2008 it began its second life as a restaurant.
The restaurant opens for lunch and dinner and both menus feature a variety of sandwiches, pizzas, pastas, and other mains.
We were there for lunch and while the pizzas were calling out to me I went instead for their veal sandwich which had recently won the title of Ontario’s Best Veal Sandwich, and after one bite I could see why. I don’t like my veal sandwiches smothered in too much tomato sauce and this one had just the right amount of their house-made sauce. The veal cutlets were very tender and the sautéed vegetables added a nice nice bit of texture and sweetness.
My wife went for the Lake Erie Perch and Chips and she was very happy after her first taste. The deep fried perch was lightly battered and the chips were crispy on the outside but nice and fluffy on the inside. Lunch was fantastic, delicious food, friendly service, and a historic location. I can’t wait to go back but next time I’m planning on dinner.
For over 25 years this old school diner in the heart of Leamington has been fueling up locals and visitors alike. They’re open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner but we were there for breakfast. Apparently a lot of out-of-towners make this restaurant a must-stop on their way to Point Pelee National Park, including my wife and I.
The Gingerbread House Restaurant is a no-frills diner where the owners knew almost every local who walked in. We got there early and the tables started filling up soon afterwards.
The menu is made up of traditional breakfast items, sandwiches, burgers, and some more substantial entrees like fish and chips and chicken dinners. We weren’t very adventurous that morning as we both decided to get eggs, bacon and home fries. My wife has a weakness for pancakes so we got an order of those to share. The food was plentiful and definitely kept us going as we explored Point Pelee later on.
Essex County is home to a number of award-winning wineries. These wines are obviously best when paired with delicious food and the folks at North 42 Degrees Estate Winery know exactly how to do that.
Bistro 42 is housed in a beautiful building that resembles a classic ski chalet. The dining room is on the second floor and is enclosed by large windows looking out at the surrounding vineyard. The windows let in tons of light and at sunset the dining room is flooded with a beautiful golden glow.
Many of the ingredients come from a nearby kitchen garden and all of their sauces and pastries are made in-house. The menu changes with the seasons and each dish on the menu is presented with a suggested wine pairing.
First Time Visitors To Windsor Essex: Enjoy The Art Scene
Windsor has been slowly building up its collection of public art spaces over the past few years. As a matter of fact, they refer to these spaces as ‘galleries without walls’ and I love that description. Many famous artists have added their own pieces to the city and are instrumental in bring others to add to the collection.
The Windsor Sculpture Park is a public park located on the Windsor waterfront and features over 30 contemporary sculptures by artists from around the world. The park was made possible through the generosity of businessman and philanthropist Louis Odette who also created the Toronto Sculpture Garden.
One of the most notable sculptures in the park, and one of my favorites, is “Tembo” by artist Derrick Stephan Hudson. The piece is comprised of three separate sculptures of a family of elephants, a mother and her two babies. The mother elephant weighs as much as six cars and is one of the largest bronze elephants in the world.
Another piece that I really liked was the minimalistic “Chicken and Egg” by artist Morton Katz. The outline of a chicken was created using an oversized bicycle chain. While the chicken looks delicate, as it’s just an outline, the egg is a massive piece of solid marble. I don’t have much of an eye for art interpretation, but I loved the juxtaposition of the fragile chicken and solid egg.
In addition to the sculptures, the Windsor Sculpture Park also features walking trails and picnic areas. The park is a popular destination and a must-visit for first time visitors to the region. It definitely deserves a spot when building that perfect Windsor Essex itinerary.
The Leamington Arts Centre is a public, not-for-profit arts centre that was established by the South Essex Arts Association in 1971. The centre hosts a wide range of events and exhibitions throughout the year, showcasing over 600 Canadian, international, historical, and contemporary works of art.
In addition to its exhibitions and events, the Leamington Arts Centre also offers art classes and programs for people of all ages and abilities. These programs provide an opportunity for members of the community to learn new skills and techniques, express themselves creatively, and connect with other artists and art enthusiasts.
The Leamington Arts Centre is an important cultural institution in the community, providing a space for the arts to flourish and for people to come together and celebrate creativity.
Windsor’s Peace Fountain is a unique feature on the city’s riverfront. It’s the only international floating fountain in the world and is a popular tourist attraction in the area. The fountain was designed by Richard J. Van Seters, and was officially opened in 1978.
The fountain is located on the Detroit River, and features a series of interlinked rings that rise and fall with the flow of the water. It lights up at night, creating a stunning display that can be seen from both sides of the river. The fountain is also equipped with powerful jets that shoot water 70 feet into the air.
In addition to its beauty and symbolism, the Peace Fountain is also an important part of Windsor’s history and cultural identity. It is a beloved and cherished landmark that is enjoyed by visitors and locals alike. Whether you are visiting Windsor for the first time or are a long-time resident, the Peace Fountain is a must-see attraction that is sure to leave a lasting impression.
First Time Visitors To Windsor Essex: Explore EPIC Wine Country
The Essex Pelee Island Coast (EPIC) region is home to over 18 stunning wineries, each offering unique wines and lovely views. Situated on the Lake Erie North Shore Region, these wineries offer the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. With over 1000 acres of grapes growing in a unique maritime climate there’s no wonder why this region produces so many award-winning wines. Add these wineries to your epic Windsor Essex itinerary and thank me later.
Muscedere Vineyards is a family-owned winery located in the heart of Harrow, Ontario. The winery boasts a picturesque setting that is perfect for enjoying a glass of wine and a wood oven-fired pizza on a warm summer day. It’s a family-friendly winery with lots of animals around the property to keep kids entertained.
The first four acres of vines were planted in 2003 and soon afterwards they added Pinot Noir, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc. All of their grapes are hand-harvested ensuring that only the best grapes are picked for their wines.
Colio Estate Winery is another winery that cannot be missed when you’re touring the EPIC wine region. The winery, one of Ontario’s first, was established in 1980 by three Italian bricklayers whose dream was to build a world-class winery. To say that they’ve accomplished that is an understatement since they’ve won over 500 awards in national and international competitions.
The winery offers a variety of red, white, and sparkling wines, including popular choices such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Riesling. In addition to wine tastings and tours, Colio Estate Wines also hosts a variety of events on their grounds.
Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery is a one-of-a-kind winery as it’s Ontario’s only beachfront winery, offering stunning views of Lake Erie. The winery sits on acres of beautiful grounds, with lush vineyards, ponds, and a sandy Lake Erie beach. It’s a very unique property and was once listed as one of the Top 10 Wineries In Canada To Visit.
Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery offers tastings of their high-quality wines in a cozy tasting room as well as tours at certain times of the year. They also offer a variety of gourmet picnic baskets and charcuterie boards. The property also features a beautiful outdoor patio and event space, making it the perfect setting for weddings and special occasions. With its unique beachfront location and top-notch wines, Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery is a must-visit destination for any wine lover.
First time visitors to the Windsor Essex region will find a unique blend of city and country experiences. You’ll find a diverse culinary scene, historical districts, and award-winning wineries. In Windsor, the Walkerville and Ford City neighborhoods are home to heritage properties, cafes, and artist spaces. Venture out a little and you will find craft breweries and distilleries like The Beerded Dog Brewing Company, and Wolfhead Distillery. And if you want to explore the region’s natural beauty, you can visit Point Pelee National Park or the Essex Pelee Island Coast wine country.