Where high-tech meets horse-and-buggy

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Waterloo Region is a study in contrasts. It’s home to high-tech giants like Google Canada and BlackBerry as well as a thriving Mennonite community that still navigates the back roads in horsedrawn buggies. It offers world-class dining, festivals and hospitality, and endless opportunities to explore the great outdoors. And it’s less than a twohour drive from downtown Toronto.

Those are just some of the things that make the region such a great place to live, work or visit, says Minto Schneider, CEO Waterloo Regional Tourism Marketing Corporation.

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The region encompasses the cities of Kitchener, Cambridge, and Waterloo, as well as the surrounding townships of North Dumfries, Wellesley, Wilmot and Woolwich.

“One of the things that makes Waterloo Region unique is that we’re a group of relatively small urban centres surrounded by rural farmland, but we’re also an extraordinary hub for high tech innovation,” says Schneider.

Many companies who come to recruit graduates from the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University, and Conestoga College decide to stay, attracted by the region’s lifestyle.

Summertime in Waterloo Region is music festival season. Some of the most popular include the Kitchener Blues Festival, Uptown Waterloo Jazz Festival, the Mill Race Festival of Traditional Folk Music, and Kultrún – a celebration of world music.

Other summer events include the Cambridge Scottish Festival, the Cambridge International Street Art Festival and Moparfest, Canada’s largest all Mopar car show.

In the fall, visitors flock to Kitchener’s famous Oktoberfest, while movie enthusiasts can catch Canadian and international releases at the Grand River Film Festival. The Wellesley Apple Butter and Cheese Festival has also been drawing crowds since 1976.

The region celebrates the winter holiday season with a visit to Kitchener’s Christkindl Market, St Jacobs Sparkles, or a Victorian Christmas at Castle Kilbride. New this year is The Gift of Lights, a drive-thru holiday light display at Bingeman’s Grand Experience.

Once the sap starts running at the beginning of April, it’s time to explore the sugar bush and sample the pancakes at the world’s largest single day maple syrup festival in Elmira.

But there’s more to Waterloo Region than special events.

The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony offers a full season of concerts, from classical to pops, while the Kitchener- Waterloo Art Gallery provides yearround exhibitions of regional, national and international art.

Theatre-lovers can take in a show at one of the three theatres operated by Drayton Entertainment: St Jacobs Country Playhouse, St Jacobs Schoolhouse Theatre and Dunfield Theatre Cambridge.

As an agricultural centre, Waterloo Region is also home to some of Ontario’s largest farmers’ markets.

“The St Jacobs Farmers’ Market is probably the best known year-round farmers’ market in the province,” says Schneider. “A lot of people come from the GTA to shop.” The Cambridge Farmers’ Market and the Kitchener Farmers’ Market, both established in the 1830s, are some of the oldest in Canada.

And of course, there’s no shortage of great places to eat.

Chef Jonathan Gushue opened his farm-to-table restaurant, The Berlin, to rave reviews in Kitchener last year, while Chef Jason Bangerter serves up his award-winning menu at Langdon Hall Hotel & Spa in Cambridge.

A member of the exclusive Relais & Châteaux, Langdon Hall is a popular destination for visitors looking for a luxury stay as well as businesses wanting to escape the hustle of the big city for a meeting or conference.

With numerous hotels offering modern meeting spaces, Waterloo Region is a wonderful location for a corporate retreat, Schneider says.

Once the work is done, locals and visitors can unwind with kayaking, canoeing, fishing or a hike along the Grand River, a round at one of the area’s many golf courses, or hit the slopes at Chicopee Ski Club or take in a hockey game at The Aud, home of the OHL Kitchener Rangers.

“There really is a lot going on,” Schneider says.