Ottawa in Winterlude
The extremely delicious dessert of choice in Ottawa: a BeaverTail.
While the East Coast was getting pummeled with snow earlier this month, I managed to sneak away for a few days and escape snowpocalypse. But instead of an island paradise, I headed north, up to Ottawa, Ontario, and got a taste of its festive Winterlude season, which drew to a close this past weekend.
Ottawa is Canada’s capital city, and about two-thirds of its residents work for the federal government, including my friend Louis, whom I met while traveling in Morocco this fall. He and few of other extra-friendly locals helped me find some great places to enjoy the best of Winterlude and offered a few places to stay warm in between. Their tips, and my faves follow.
- I arrived in Ottawa just a few days before the Olympics started, and Canada’s passion for the Games was certainly evident, despite being thousands of miles away from Vancouver. I saw hundreds of people on the streets sporting the Games’ hot item–the coveted red Olympic mittens–before eventually snagging a pair myself, and believe me, they were the hit of the weekend. Those mittens are lined with fleece that is lined with some kind of magic that keeps your hands incredibly toasty. This was of particular use as I experienced the city’s sub-zero temperatures.
- As the seat of the city government, Ottawa’s Parliament Building is a gorgeous example of Gothic Revival architecture and offers free tours of the complex daily. It’s also an all-out party central if you happen to be in town in July for Canada Day. But any day of the year I’d suggest you stroll along the perimeter of the Hill to admire the architecture and the view. You’ll also stumble across a small cat sanctuary, which was created to house the many strays that live on the property, and a statue known for its Whispering Wall (sit on either ends of the bench and you’ll be able to hear the person across from you as though they were sitting next to you).
- The Rideau Canalmay be the world’s largest skating rink and a UNESCO World Heritage site, but for the citizens of Ottawa, it’s also a commuter line. The 4.8-mile stretch of ice that slices through the city is often used by locals making their way to work, but on weekends it swells with families and visitors getting out on the ice to play. Whether or not you’re good on skates, it’s an absolute must that you buy a BeaverTail from the shops along the route–a fried dough dessert that comes with savory or sweet toppings like cinnamon and sugar, maple glaze, Nutella or garlic and cheese. Delicious!
- The last time I had high tea it was at the Savoy in London, but I’m glad to say I didn’t have to cross the pond to emulate that experience. The tea at the Fairmont Château Laurierwas equally indulgent, with dozens of blends to choose from, plus delicate pastries that left me stuffed. I’m told it’s known as the “Third House of Parliament,” as it’s typically frequented by government leaders who are there making big decisions over tiny sandwiches.
- The ByWard Marketis the city’s hub for food and dining options, and I’m only sorry that I didn’t stay long enough to sample more of them. A stroll through the main market building will inevitably take you to Le Moulin de Provence, the bakery where President Obama made a stop on his first international visit last year. While there, he purchased some red, maple-leaf shaped sugar cookies, bedecked with the word Canada on them. They’re now known as “Obama Cookies” and the bakery is plastered with posters depicting his visit.
- For more upscale tastes, the city has been doing a major push, called Savour Ottawa, to bring in local meats and produce from the ample farmland nearby, as Ottawa has more farms within its city limits than all of Toronto, Montreal, Quebec, and Vancouver combined. Many of the restaurants sport stickers denoting the fact they’re sourcing their goods locally. They’ve even created trading cards for farmers–akin to hockey cards–that they’re now using as calling cards when they meet with local chefs. You can find a full list of participating restaurants here.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
- For some of the best shopping around, visit the string of contemporary boutiques featuring local Canadian designers along Dalhousie Street, on the east end of the ByWard Market. Victoire has floaty dresses and tops made by Canadian designers; Workshop is a women’s collective with adorable jackets, knitwear, and jewelry; and Milk has flirty dresses that will come in well under your budget. In the mix is Canteen, a gallery/shop that sells framed prints and funky stationery and often hosts events for the artists whose work is on display.
There’s still so much of the city to see, and I’m told it’s even more lovely in the summer. I wonder if the BeaverTails will be as good when it’s not as frigid outside. I may need to go and find out.
Photos: Janelle Nanos