Stepping off the viarail train from Kingston to Ottawa, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Capital of Canada. I had done a little research on each area I was visiting in Ontario, but nothing indepth. Taking a taxi (Blueline taxi service) from the station to The Fairmont Chateau Laurier, I was struck by the beauty of the city, the stunning architecture of the buildings and characteristic French style limestone and cooper roofed buildings was aesthetically pleasing.
I was lucky enough to be staying at Chateau Laurier in one of their suite’s with a view over the main shopping street area. The hotel is the ‘Grand Dame’ of Canada’s capital city, it is a beautifully elegant and charming hotel with a long and distinguished history of past Presidents and Royalty as its guests. Located in downtown Ottawa next door to the Parliament Buildings, Byward market shopping area and the Rideau Canal which offers miles of bicycle and inline skating paths in the summer and the world’s longest skating rink in the winter. It’s the perfect luxurious treat for a romantic weekend getaway or indulgent girls’ weekend.
Ottawa is easy to navigate around and I took a walking tour courtesy of the Ottawa tourism board to get the ‘local insider’ track on the best things to see and do. We started at Byward market, which is not just a local produce market, it is also home to boutique designer shops, restaurants and bars and is where the local nightlife happens. I was introduced to my first delicious ‘Beavertail’ and devoured it in seconds – it’s a local delicacy of fried pastry with any topping. I went for a classic with lots of cinnamon atop and had to stop by the following day for another one before I left, it was that good.
There are also several noteworthy museums and art galleries; I visited the National Gallery of Canada which is housed in a stunning contemporary building. A light-filled structure of glass and granite, in which visitors can find a cloistered garden courtyard, a glass-bottomed pool, and a reconstructed 19th-century chapel, is well worth the time to visit. My other museum of choice was the National Canadian Museum of Civilization, it currently has an interesting and unique ‘Voodoo exhibition’ ,. Take a 5 minute ferry taxi across the river from Ottawa, or cycle the scenic Voyageurs route if preferred.
Culture done and ticked box, it was naturally time to eat and discover the new and emerging culinary delights of Ottawa. I checked out a local restaurant close to Byward market – Play, Food and Wine on 1 York Street <a href="http://www.playfood.ca/”>, a contemporary modern, open and friendly ambience in the restaurant, an interior of dark wooden floors and light wood coloured tables worked well. Play,food & wine offers with a good wine list and contemporary fresh modern menu. To start I choose a dish of scallops with snowless cauliflower puree, scallions and a parsley vinagarette, the scallops were cooked to perfection although the scallions slightly overpowered the dish for me. I also choose a Moroccan radish salad with raisins, carrots, white cabbage and harissa spice accompanied with a fruilli white wine.
My other restaurant of noteworthy comment was the surprisingly awesome Vegan restaurant – Zen Kitchen – 634 Somerset West Street http://www.zenkitchen.ca/ which is a definite ‘local insider’ knowledge tip. From downtown Ottawa you will need to take a taxi and the Blueline service was the taxi company I used. The restaurant concept is healthy, environmentally sustainable food and produce. I absolutely fell in love with all of the dishes I was served by Executive Chef Kyle Mortimer -Proux, even down to the vegan organic wine, which worked to compliment the different courses. The staff and owner were adorably attentive and I tasted several dishes including: Vegan cheeses, and pickles with hummus and homemade bread, a fine herb gnocchi, with locally farmed ‘Le Coprin mushrooms from Ottawa with a white Chardonnay from Prince Edward county ‘Rosehall Run’. For dessert a trio of vegan desserts of raw chocolate, vanilla swirl cheesecake, a warm chocolate mexican cake with cumin and mexican spices and a peanut butter and chocolate pie (100% vegan and raw).
Ottawa is also well known for its festivals in particular Winterlude, the Tulip Festival and countless other special events, Ottawa is a flurry of activity. Your stay is guaranteed to be a memorable one and its worthwhile using the Ontario Tourism board’s website to research and book your trip, if you plan to also go beyond Ottawa.
Summer or winter, Ottawa is certainly worth a visit from its plethora of good quality restaurants and first class shopping it’s a good alternative to a weekend in NYC and only 7 hours from London Heathrow. It’s a capital city with a relaxed Parisian Cafe culture and laid backed leisurely friendliness, the locals are only to willing to have a chat or help with recommendations on what to see and do.
Train travel Ottawa from Kingston on Viarail – http://www.viarail.ca/
Return flights with Air Canada – Ottawa to London – http://www.aircanada.com/
Ontario Tourism – http://www.ontariotravel.net