Nestled in the valley where the Nith River meets the Grand, Paris benefits from its striking natural setting and its rich history dating back to 1829, when the town was first settled. The well-preserved buildings showcase architectural styles typical of small-town Ontario. The nickname “The Cobblestone Capital of Canada” pays homage to the churches and residences built with cobblestones pulled from the rivers. Voted “the Prettiest Little Town in Canada” by Harrowsmith Magazine, the town’s name originates from plaster of Paris, the product created from the gypsum beds that lay along the riverbed. Paris is the place to explore on a road trip or a weekend getaway.
In the late 1800s the textile industry emerged as a key employer and economic force, driven by businesses such as Penman Manufacturing Company, which by 1880 operated three knitting mills in Paris.
The Paris Wincey Mills Co. is the historic textile mill located in the downtown area, dating back to 1889. (Wincey is not a surname, but a term used to describe a type of cloth.) The mill’s century-old hardwood floors have been rejuvenated, and the multi-paned windows uncovered and restored to allow access to natural light. The revitalized main floor is a well-designed space, reflective of its heritage, and showcases quality retailers in an indoor market hall setting. Blue Dog Coffee Roasters and Café and Tipperary Bog Fine Cheese and Gourmet Shop are open from Monday to Saturday. From Thursday to Saturday, the market features vendors like butcher Anthony Ferras’ Link Street Sausage House, Jiggs-n-Reels Seafood Shop, Florcita’s Classic Latin Foods, Sugar and Spice Bakery, Gourmet Popcorn and The Grilled Cheese Effect. A well-appointed, fully-equipped test kitchen was built with the express purpose of giving the venue a culinary focus. There is also an outdoor seasonal market and plans for future development of the lower floor. Office spaces on the second and third floors offer generous views of Paris and the Grand River.
If you’re looking for a great place to stay in downtown Paris, the boutique literary-themed Arlington Hotel is a hip option. Originally known the Bradford House Hotel, the hotel has enjoyed several other incarnations. The hotel re-opened its doors last March following extensive renovation and redecoration of the circa-1850 historic building. Owned by The Other Bird group (who are behind Hamilton’s Rapscallion Rogue Eatery, London’s Hunter & Co. and four other culinary hot spots), the Arlington has 24 guest rooms inspired by authors and creative minds. From the playful Dr. Seuss room to the luxurious Oscar Wilde executive suite, each features unique decor and touches. The hotel’s blackboard-menu-based restaurant is named edit and was created by Executive Chef Matt Kershaw and Chef Paddy Townsend. The menu offers a rotating assortment of flavour-focused fare with playfully-named dishes like Smoky the Pear Salad, Darkwing Duck and Thanks Foie the Memories. There is Pork and Parsnip on the dinner menu with Pork Chop, Sausage, Pork Belly, Parsnip Purée, Brussels Sprouts in Chilli Maple Gastrique with Maple Demi-Glace. The hotel features a cozy bar and an intimate vibe. 1851 Public House, in the hotel’s cellar, is used mainly for private events. The space is defined by its stone walls, warm wood accents and retro furnishings.
The Grand River Trails, transformed from former railway lines and just minutes away from the Arlington Hotel, are easily accessible and perfect for cycling, hiking and cross-country skiing.
Matt Cummings, owner of Paris’s Cobblestone Public House Restaurant and Midtown Kitchen and Coffee (billed as an artisanal New York deli-inspired coffee house), along with chef/owner William Thompson of Food Network’s Top Chef Canada and a Niagara Culinary Institute alumnus, have created a mixture of comfort, fun and affordable fare at Stillwaters Plate & Pour on the main street The restaurant features two outdoor patios including an 80-seat rooftop patio with panoramic views of the Grand River. Cummings and Thompson are set to open Trattoria at Midtown this winter, a new concept that will feature casual Italian riverside dining in a “cellar-like” atmosphere. The restaurant will include a temperature-controlled glass wine cellar.
Since 1927 Paris Bakery downtown on Grand River Street North has been providing the community and visitors with the finest baked goods. Owners Julia Pickard and Shannon Nunes feature baguettes and other artisanal breads. Homemade donuts, cupcakes, sausage rolls, meat pies bars and other specialties fill the counters of the tiny bakery.
Off the beaten path on the less touristy side of the Grand River is Juniper Dining Co., which is worth the drive to Paris on its own. Juniper, owned by Chef Andrea Legacey and her husband Brandon, is the crème de la crème of the local culinary scene, inspired by French bistros and Lyonnais bouchons. (Bouchons are typically family-owned bistros that serve local specialties, with an emphasis on dishes that are heavily centred on meat and often feature heavy, rich and decadent cuisine.) Chef’s dinner menu is divided into sections — starters, small plates, sharing, and mains — featuring classic items like charcuterie, steak tartare, bone marrow, duck poutine, salt cod croquettes with malt vinegar aioli, olive oil poached halibut, celery root ravioli, and mushroom ragout. On the Lunch/Brunch menu there is a veal cheek Reuben, a 14-day house brined veal cheek pastrami, house-made sauerkraut, and Le Douanier cheese (Quebec cheese inspired by the classic French Morbier). There is a Lyonnaise salad with poached egg, pork belly and duck fat dressing. At Juniper they combine quality local and seasonal ingredients with original cocktails, local beers and meticulously curated wines.
Another iconic spot is the bright blue Cedar House Grill and Martini Bar (formerly an old mill that once operated between the Nith and Grand Rivers) that the Legaceys reopened earlier this year.
If you’re looking for some real southern barbeque there is an amazing rack of smoked Alabama style ribs at Camp 31 out on Paris Road.
If you’re considering a road trip to Paris, keep in mind it’s a four-season destination. It’s a short drive from Stratford, Hamilton, Cambridge and the Waterloo/Wellington County region, and easily accessible from London, Guelph, and the GTA.