Budget thrills on Ontario day trips

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What’s the most popular type of travel?

Broiling on a beach in the Caribbean would be a good bet. Cruising the world’s oceans — and, increasingly, its rivers — is another.

But I’d bet a loonie or two on something that can be done on the spur of the moment on even a tight budget day-tripping. And I’d wager we’d do a lot more of it if we had any idea just how much there was to see in what amounts to our own backyard.

That’s where a new province-wide initiative should help. Ontario has been divided into 13 tourism regions. Each has a regional tourism organization (RTO) whose goals include attracting more visitors and generating more economic activity. (See mtc.gov. on.ca).

For instance, Region 1 (ontariossouthwest.com) runs between Windsor/Essex and Haldimand County and from Lake Erie north to the borders of Huron, Perth, Waterloo and Wellington counties.

Region 1’s website invites visitors to sign up for a free electronic newsletter. It’s loaded with ideas, some of which may surprise even veteran day-trippers. A recent newsletter highlighted the following five wineries and one craft brewery:

* Burning Kiln Winery in St. Williams, which released its first wines in the spring of 2011. Tours and tastings are available. Visit burningkilnwinery.ca.

* Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery, near Harrow, in Essex County, whose retail centre is described as a Tuscany-style "old-world" building with balconies overlooking Lake Erie. Visit sprucewoodshores.com.

* Smith and Wilson Estate Wines, on Hwy. 3, west of Blenheim, whose vineyards are on a third-generation century farm. Visit smithandwilsonestatewines.ca.

* Quai du Vin, on aptly named Fruit Ridge Line, west of Sparta, which sells both grape and fruit wines and puts on events with live entertainment. Visit quaiduvin.com.

* Birtch Farms & Estate Winery, on a back road north of Woodstock, which lists 17 fruit wines on its website and has a playground, bakery and cafe.

* Railway City Brewing Company, in St. Thomas, whose products include Dead Elephant Ale, named for Jumbo, the famous circus giant who died after being hit by a train there in 1885. Their website, railwaycitybrewing.com, encourages visitors to drop in and watch the brewing process.

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