10 Reasons to Head to Ottawa in 2017

Visit the city of beautiful parks, world-class cuisine, incredible museums and Justin Trudeau

Visit the city of beautiful parks, world-class cuisine, incredible museums and Justin Trudeau

2017 promises to be a huge year for Canada and at the hub of all this excitement is Ottawa, who will be hosting a non-stop cavalcade of truly unique events to celebrate every moment of Canada’s 150th anniversary of confederation. Start checking your calendar and planning a trip, as you do not want to miss out on the biggest party thrown by the nation’s capital.

Here are 10 reasons you should visit Ottawa this year…

Take part in Canada’s 150th!

Ottawa is set to be at the heart of the celebrations this year, starting on December 31st with the 50th anniversary of the Centennial flame on Parliament Hill. The flame will be re-imagined with a torch passing from one person to another, lighting the way from City Hall to Parliament Hill. There will be one-off events such as the Red Bull Crashed Ice Cross Downhill World Championship on March 3 and 4, 2017 which will be set right downtown.

During summer in a North American first, La Machine, the world famous ambulatory urban theatre company, will take to the streets of downtown Ottawa with their gigantic spider and fire-breathing dragon.

A two-day music festival, YOWttawa will have multiple stages and feature contemporary Aboriginal and Canadian music artists, as well as international talent from the nations who created Canada: France, England, Scotland and Ireland. Plus, you can discover an incredible underground multimedia experience in one of the city’s as-yet unopened Light Rail Transit (LRT) stations, join a year-round multicultural celebration with Ottawa Welcomes the World, and of course take part in a phenomenal Canada Day celebration.

Check out the website and start making plans; because Ottawa is set to kick off its sleepy government town rep and become Canada’s coolest city.

Stalk Justin (In a totally legal, definitely not weird way)

Of course, if you’re in Canada’s capital, you’ll want to see JT doing his PM thing. Simply sign up for daily itineraries here and you can be sure to catch the Prime Minister while he’s doing his civic duties in the city. Beyond that, you should take one of the free tours which are available daily to look around our parliament. You can take a guided tour of Centre Block, home to the Senate, House of Commons and Library of Parliament. From July to early September, you can visit East Block, which was the nerve centre of Canada’s government during its first hundred years.

Guided tours take you inside restored heritage rooms to explore parliamentary life in the late 19th century. (Disappointingly for fans of JT spotters, shirts must be worn at all time in these buildings.)

Eat and drink all the things at this cool trio of new openings

Head to Hintonburg for Bar Laurel’s exciting take on Spanish cuisine. The cocktail program is excellent, with plenty of on-trend sherry cocktails and sherry flights which beg to be paired with the table-bangingly delicious food. They have a great list of imported conservas (tinned authentic treats such as baby squid in ink) and snacky bites such as the crunchy Serrano ham croquetta. Bar geek tip: I got hopelessly over-excited about the ice which comes stamped with the bar name in some of the cocktails.

Wellington is home to Cafe My House, a cozy hug of a room serving up vegan and vegetarian-friendly locavore plates likely to satisfy even the grumpiest meat-lover (and yes, I do mean me by that). Beautifully presented I tried a fall ‘garden box’ with edible dirt, roasted veg and crunchy nuts, paired with their inspirational cocktails. Smoked maple syrup, fennel juice and gin! Sage margaritas! I’d suggest trying the tasting menu to see what the talented kitchen team conjure up.

Nominated as one of enRoute’s best new restaurants this year, Fairouz creates modern Middle Eastern food served in a heritage mansion house in the heart of the city’s Somerset Village neighbourhood. The pita is made fresh and soft as a morning sigh, the baba ghanoush silky with a touch of smoke and, oh man!, the halloumi cheese which is made in-house with goat’s milk instead of the usual cheese and then brined for 24-hours is unmissable. My tip: just ask them to bring you whatever they suggest, almost everything is too good to miss out on. Again,  excellent cocktails are on offer (Ottawa has seriously upped its cocktail game in the past few years). I loved Petra’s Garden, a refreshing gin blend with mint, cucumber and aromatic rose syrup.

Check out the shops

The area around Byward Market is terrific for browsing local crafters and one-off Ottawa stores. Foodies should hit up the deeply desirable La Bottega Nicastro for its covetable olive oils, syrups, jams and jellies with some of the best Italian coffee in the city and huge fresh-made deli sandwiches.

Check out local designers at the Workshop where you can pick up Moovment bamboo leggings from Quebec in half a dozen different colours, form-flattering tunics from Toronto’s Desserts & Skirts and awesome colour-block minis from Montreal’s Rien ne se Perd, Tout se Cree (and yes, I did buy one) along with dozens of other Canadian designers. Along the 400 and 500 block of Sussex Drive you’ll find higher-end stores; I really loved Trust Fund for their denim and Kaliyana for their uncompromisingly modern fashion-forward pieces.

Spend a lazy day at Nordik Spa-Nature

OK, so it’s slipping across the river into Quebec (Ottawa’s just on the border), but as this heavenly spa is just a 15-minute cab ride away from downtown, it definitely counts as a must-do when you’re in Ottawa.

Imagine a far larger Scandinave-style spa with many more ‘spa toys’ within its landscaped grounds and you’ve got a fix on Nordik Spa-Nature.  They have seven hot, cold and temperature pools, a beautiful hot infinity pool with a glorious view across the countryside, eight saunas and steam rooms and plenty  of relaxing space to unwind and enjoy the silence. Best of all, because you’re in Quebec, this is spa-ing with style, so you can sip wine and eat creamy cheeses as you take a mid-spa break curled up by the fire.

My tip: pay the supplement so you can experience their salt-water floating pool, the Källa treatment. It’s the only one of its kind in North America and absolutely mesmerizing. Shower off in the candle-lit darkness and slip into a warm shallow pool, lie back and discover weightlessness thanks to a 12 per cent Epsom salt solution. Essentially a slice of the Dead Sea experience right here in Canada, this does wonderful things for your circulation and helps reduce stress and release tension.

Have the 12-course tasting menu at Atelier

Essentially the number one reason any food-obsessed Vancouverite should have for heading east: to eat at Atelier and experience chef Marc Lepine’s 12-course mischievously imaginative and ravishingly plated tasting menu.

Beginning with soft and fluffy Sriracha bread, spangled with fat flakes of salt and kissed with a whisper of heat ending with a tie-dyed tuille hoop dessert that my notes giddily declared left me, ‘drunk with flavours, all is melting softness…’ this is one of Canada’s most thrilling places to dine. For me, as a signed-up member of the ‘delayed pleasure’ camp, part of the joy is watching others as they experience dish by dish then reveling in anticipation before trying it myself—if you’re Team Instant Gratification, you should get as early a seating as possible.

Swoon at Atelier’s take on fish and chips, a cloche of applewood smoke cloaking a  crunchy spiral of potato with a slice of cedar-cured salmon inside, smothered in horseradish-mascarpone. As the cloche is lifted, there’s a whiff of bonfire and as you take your first bite, you close your eyes and lean into the carb-y fried comfort of fall. An edible helium-filled sugar balloon, tasting of orange blossom and fruit roll-ups conjures up the same excitement of a child at its first circus. A zesty pickled punch of carrots, married with an intense sweetness of beets balanced with chewy meatiness of pork cheek.

This is a seriously ‘foodie’ experience: leave the meat and potatoes crowd at home and revel in the glorious geeky techniques on show from this two-time Gold Medal Plates winner and Canadian Culinary Champion. Don’t even both trying to pick a wine—get the pairing and you’ll enjoy some fantastic pours from across the globe taking in the old and new world and even a splash of crisp Normandy cider along the way.

In short: just go.

Stay at super-sexy new hotel Andaz

From the funky Copper bar on its rooftop to the kick-ass Feast & Revel restaurant on the ground floor (Kombucha and avo toast for breakfast? Yes please!), I pretty much loved everything about the Andaz, especially the welcoming glass of wine at check-in. Based steps from the Byward Market and rocking a very groovy designer vibe, it’s the perfect pad for your Ottawa stay. Rooms are light, bright and spacious with a goodie bag of free soft drinks and snacks each day, walk-in closets and floor-to-ceiling windows. Each floor has artwork which represents a different Canadian province and there’s a cool Drew Mosley mural in the parking lot.

Head to the 16th floor to see stunning city views from Copper as you sip cocktails from their innovative list. Try the 6 Trees, 4 Shrubs which comes with a smoked birch glass or a lavender Earl Grey-infused Colombo topped with an edible flower.

Boat, skate or ride the rapids on the water

There’s something gloriously romantic about the notion of skating down the world’s longest skating rink in the nation’s capital and yes, I’ve done it and it’s excellent. During the fun Winterlude Festival you can even enjoy music and warm up with hot-spiced cider and munch on beavertails at various stop-offs along the way. When the ice melts, you can still hit the water with a Rideau Canal Cruise chugging from Dow’s Lake to the Ottawa River. Want something a little more high-octane? Then book a day tour whitewater rafting on the Ottawa River with Wilderness Tours. You can ride the rapids a stone’s throw away from the heart of the city and get a serious white water rush. 

Drink wines from Ontario

Thanks to Canada’s frankly wrong-headed approach to cross-province wine sales, we don’t tend to enjoy much in the way of wine from the east here in B.C. Make that right by diving headfirst into their local wines the minute you hit town. I sat down with chef Tim Stock from Play to get a bluffer’s guide. Find out more here.

Need to know

There are two main regions: Niagara and Prince Edward County. Key varietals include Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc.

Niagara is more well-known and has older vines, more varieties and bigger wineries. Names to look out for are Cave Springs, Southbrook and Two Sisters.
My tip: Look for Cave Springs who do killer rieslings, their vintage estate is a stone-cold fox, all big petrol-y nose and gloriously complex flavours.

Prince Edward County has younger vines and newer wineries, it’s full of startups and a bit of a hidden gem. Check out Huff Estates, Norman Hardie, and Stanners and Traynor Family.
My tip: try the Stanners Pinot Noir, which is both fruity and flinty and light and bright, or try their Pinot Gris with a lovely blush appearance, that’s fresh like a mineral-y, juicy rosé.

Go see the great museums

There are few places in Canada which give me as much intellectual joy as the National Gallery of Canada. Currently its Canadian Galleries are closed, but in May 2017 they’re set to reopen as the Canadian and Indigenous Galleries. Just walking through this extraordinary building is a treat. Architect Moshe Safdie did some dazzling work here; I love the ramps and the sense of light and space. Just gorgeous.

The Canadian Museum of History is another favourite, and also currently under renovation. It will reopen one of its halls as a new Canadian History Hall, which is set to be the largest and most comprehensive ever, with the history of Canada’s First Nations given greater space. This is set to open on Canada’s 150th birthday, July 1, 2017. 

The Canadian Museum of Nature is also getting a facelift with a brand new, permanent Canada Goose Arctic Gallery opening on June 21 2017, as part of the museum’s five-year initiative to enhance and advance research, collections, education and exhibits focusing on Canada’s Arctic.