The Apple Pie Trail

14 Feb

Feet and arms tucked in, I’m being towed up through the forest in a tiny cart-for-one on the Ridge Runner Mountain Coaster.

“Are you ready?” asks the snowboarding dude-slash-supervisor at the top, grinning.

I nod, checking the seat belt buckle again, just for luck. Deep breath. I push down the acceleration levers and my cart is launched onto the downhill stretch of the looping rollercoaster tracks. I zip past pine trees then cold air whooshes by my cheeks as the cart comes out of the forest and whizzes up into the air.

Skiers and snowboarders pass beneath the tracks on snow sparkling in the pale afternoon sun. I lean back and settle into the 42-km-per-hour descent, giggling at blind corners, screaming at sharp drops until I finally arrive at the foot of the mountain, my heart beating faster than a techno track.

This will be the one time I (kinda) hit the slopes this weekend, even though I’m staying at Blue Mountain ski resort. This is also orchard country, and over 30 local businesses, between Collingwood and Owen Sound, have recently teamed up to offer an array of year-round experiences on what they’ve dubbed the Apple Pie Trail. I’m here for a taster.

It feels like a bit of a cheat to join the apres-ski set at Scandinave Spa after the equivalent of one toboggan ride, but it’s an official stop on the Apple Pie trail, so please don’t judge.

Here the order of the day is long soaks in hot pools with waterfalls, hang-outs in cedar saunas–one with eucalyptus steam–and rapid dunks in a snow-cold bath. Repeat till muscle tension fades. Two hours later, I’m dressed and melting into an armchair in the log cabin-style bistro, clutching a mug of hot apple and cinnamon tea. Bliss.

Dinner that evening is at Oliver and Bonacini in our hotel, Westin Trillium House. It’s Super Bowl night, so our server offers score updates along with each course. My entree of poached trout from nearby Kolapore Springs, is representative of the menu as a whole: beautifully presented local fare.

In keeping with the theme of my trip, I choose apple and wild blueberry crumble, with cinnamon creme anglaise and spiced pumpkin gelato for dessert.

The next time I see an apple, it looks a little less appealing:

But not if you’re a wild animal! As we’re snowshoeing along the Bruce Trail with Free Spirit Tours the following morning, our guide Jim Samis points out the tracks of the deer who’d passed just before us to feast on this winter treat.

Our snowshoes squeak-thump on the dry snow as we head up to a cliff edge to see 1,600-year-old scraggly cedar trees jutting out of the rocks.

We pass a brook where the water is pure enough to drink and stop to rest on a fallen tree trunk-turned-giant-fungi-factory along the way. Then after a couple of hours exploring, we’re ready for the steaming apple cider and tangy Red Prince apples (an Ontarian winter variety launched just last year) that await us back at the van.

Ugly fruit sighting number two happens at our next stop, Georgian Hills Vineyards. But these grapes should not be judged on appearance.

Pop one of these shriveled, frozen globes into your mouth, and soon it will warm up enough to release an intense drop of sweet, perfumed syrup, a.k.a. ice wine.

Inside the Georgian Hills tasting room, we pamper our tastebuds further with a Perfect Pairings experience. Guided by part-owner Robert Ketchin, we sample an array of local cheeses, pates, fruits and chocolate matched with different bottles and pay attention to how each food softens or accentuates the flavours of the wines.

Robert explains that the warm microclimate around Beaver Valley, where Georgian Hills sits, extends the growing season into late October. This translates into excellent white wines, such as the Seyval blanc below, paired here with tart slices of Macintosh apple.

… and ice wines, such as Bartlett Frozen to the Core–made from pears and as tasty with crumbly Quebec blue cheese as with white chocolate fondue and strawberries.

On the way back to Blue Mountain Village, we squeeze in a little power shopping in Thornbury. The Cheese Gallery–an art-filled spot where you can sit down for tea or wine and samples–sells a huge selection of artisan cheeses and other gourmet treats, such as hard cider and ginger elixirs, as well as gorgeous local-made applewood chopping boards.

And after coffee at Ashanti Cafe, imported from the owners’ farm in Zimbabwe and roasted on the premises, we take a peek into Thornbury Bakery Cafe. Cupcakes or apple buns? No room left in my belly–but I eat both with my eyes.

Our last activity (not officially on the trail, but close to everything else) is one kids will especially love, and there is no shortage of mini artists at work when we step into Crock A Doodle Pottery Studio for ceramic painting.

You pick paint colours for your unfinished piece–there’s everything from butter dishes to tea cups to piggy banks–then do your thing. At the end, Crock A Doodle glazes it, then they can even mail it to you if you’re not going to be around to pick it up. I take the opportunity to replenish my cereal bowl collection–we’ve had a series of accidental smashes back home of late.

This is just a smattering of the experiences you can have on the Apple Pie Trail. It’s a beautiful thing if you’d rather not spend all your time on the slopes and it offers plenty multi-generational activities for family trippers. I’m already planning to get back there with my son this fall for kayaking, apple-picking… and perhaps one last hurtle down Blue Mountain on that crazy coaster.






7 Responses to “The Apple Pie Trail”

  1. Catherine LeBlanc February 18th, 2012 at 8:27 AM #

    How do I find the recipe for sticky cinnamon buns illustrated in Feb issue page 105

    • Valerie Howes February 19th, 2012 at 5:07 PM #

      Hi Catherine,
      This recipe is from Spilling the Beans, by Sue Duncan and Julie Van Rosendaal. Here it is:

  2. Aube February 18th, 2012 at 4:22 PM #

    What a fun trip and fun blogpost! Makes me want to get out of Toronto soon!!

  3. Heidi February 18th, 2012 at 8:24 PM #

    I’ve never twitted before or even seen a twit! came across your’s because the apple pie trail intrigued me! We go to Collingwood a few times a year. Awesome pictures and twitting?I’ll have to investigate more! Thanks

    • Valerie Howes February 19th, 2012 at 5:08 PM #

      Glad you enjoyed the blog post! What are your favourite things to do in Collingwood?

  4. Liz March 4th, 2012 at 3:34 PM #

    The apple buns look deliciousfrom your Apple Pie Trail article. Is it possible to get the recipe?

    • Valerie Howes March 4th, 2012 at 4:35 PM #

      I’ll try!

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