There’s a prevalent idea amongst travellers that in order to truly travel, you have to go abroad, and venture into foreign lands and cultures. While there is something genuinely exciting about exploring a place so vastly different from your home, I really believe that you can have a memorable and exciting travel experience right in your own backyard.
My mum and I recently ventured east in Ontario, our home province. We were less than a five-hour drive from our home in Toronto, so ‘foreign’ and ‘far-afield’ are not the best adjectives for our journey. Exciting and memorable, however, are.
We arrived in Ottawa from Montreal by VIA Rail. I hadn’t travelled by train in Canada for a while, but I was so pleased we did. VIA’s business class is fantastic, especially when you need to get work done. With WIFI on hand and a meal better than you get on most planes, VIA truly impressed me.
Once in Ottawa, our two days passed in a buzz of eating, drinking, shopping, and museum-ing. Ottawa Tourism was extremely helpful in making suggestions for what we should see, do, eat, and everything in between.
Having been to Ottawa several times, I wanted to try something totally new and somewhat unexpected. When we were offered the chance to visit the Canadian Agriculture Museum I thought, hey, why not?!
The Canadian Agriculture Museum is the world’s only working farm located inside a national capital. Interesting, non? Now, Mum and I aren’t particularly familiar with visiting farms. We’re not what you would call ‘farm people’, but we love animals and the museums seemed really cool, so we ventured over. We ended up being totally enamoured by all the fluffy and beautiful animals. Since the CAM is both a museum and a working farm, it’s really special in that it is home to more different types of animals than you’d see on a typical farm. They want to show everyone as many variations of cows, for instance, as possible.
We visited at the end of the day and Kelly, our warm, friendly, and very knowledgeable CAM representative, took us around to see the beautiful horses, the oh-my-goodness adorable lambs, some attention-seeking sheep, itty-bitty piggies, and the sweetest cows I’ve ever met. Having never been particularly endeared to cows, I was amazed at how quickly I fell in love with these girls. We got to brush them, pet them, and learn about how the cows are named, what the milking process is like, and even got to see the end of the second milking of the day. Kelly was incredibly patient with us, answering our many, many questions with an impressive amount of detail.
The museum also has exhibits on the other aspects of agriculture, including farming and food production, as well as workshops and seminars for visitors. Having not known quite what to expect out of our visit, Mum and I both left the CAM so pleased that we went. We really enjoyed our visit, and the CAM is now right at the top of my list of recommendations for visiting Ottawa.
Another top recommendation for Ottawa is, of course, ByWard Market. But not just any ByWard Market, the ByWard Market that you experience on a foodie tour with Paola of C’est Bon Cooking. Our morning with the extremely affable Paola was unforgettable, and led us through ByWard Market like we’ve never seen it before. Ducking into shops and stalls, restaurants and cupcake boutiques, we encountered impressive and tasty local cheeses, discovered Mrs. McGarrigle’s creative mustards, and were blown away by our first sampling of truffle salt.
But what Paola uncovered for us was so much more than just the flavours of ByWard Market, it was about the people, too. The culinary community in Ottawa appears to be fiercely tight-knit, and impressively supportive. They’re passionate, they know that their strength lies in each other, and it shines through in the food. Much of the food available in ByWard Market and its restaurants is local, and the quality, care, and pride in presentation is meaningful. In only a couple hours, Paola showed us more about the market and its spirit than we ever could have hoped to find on our own, making our food experiences in the market all the more richer.
It’s hard to pick favourites, but our first meal in Ottawa was at Murray Street Kitchen, where we were reduced to very few words to describe our cheese and charcuterie platter, it was that good. Paola was gleeful to the point of a single skip-step when she learned we’d already been to Murray Street. Unsurprising as it came highly recommended by more than a handful of people I know. Murray Street Kitchen is definitely a new favourite restaurant…of anywhere, not just Ottawa.
Our stay in Ottawa couldn’t have been quite complete without resting our heads in the city’s legendary Chateau Laurier. Celebrating its 100th birthday this year, the hotel is all charm and elegance. From high tea in the lounge to swimming in its magnificently restored pool, I’m not sure I could ever stay anywhere else in Ottawa. It was the ideal place for us to jaunt back and forth between trips to Parliament Hill and the tiny-but-informative Currency Museum (nerd alert!), as well as our shopping trips to ByWard Market boutiques Road Trip and Trust Fund. The staff were wonderful, the rooms beautiful, and the hotel itself is unassuming, yet impressive at the same time.
As much as it was sad to depart Ottawa, we still had one more stop on our local exploration – Prince Edward County. As a lover of local businesses and produce, I’m always seeking new (for me) wines from Ontario. Prince Edward County, with its fine Pinot Noirs, has been a little haven of discoveries. We spent the night at the Inn at Huff Estates Winery, a lovely spot with a funky sculpture garden, friendly wine boutique, and indulgent breakfast spread (hello, waffle maker!)
Not far from Huff, where I nabbed a delicious Riesling, there are several more wineries. We stumbled upon Closson Chase, and I immediately felt like I was in wine heaven. The winery is beautifully situated, with a gorgeously restored barn serving as its tasting and welcome centre.
The backyard is lovely, with rustic landscaping and welcoming picnic benches, and the wine was just delicious. Closson Chase makes only pinot noir and chardonnay, so we tried a flight of each. I fell head over heels for their 2009 Churchside Pinot Noir, a wine with a tiny production and a lot of love.
On our final evening, as we sat at the bar at a local country pub, enjoying our meal, an older local man and his guitar began to light up the room with folk songs. We chatted with the bartender, and watched how he chatted with everyone else – they were all friends. Sometimes us big-city kids forget what life is like where everyone knows each other.
I left eastern Ontario with a lot more than I expected. Aside from the fun summer dresses from Road Trip, the Champagne mustard from Mrs. McGarrigle’s, and the Closson Chase Pinot Noir, I left with a humbling sense of respect and pride for my own backyard, so to speak. I often travel far and wide, and as much as I love my own country, I rarely take the time to keep exploring it. My sense of local travel is much better defined now, and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to explore and experience true local travel right here at home.
Many thanks to Jantine at Ottawa Tourism, Kelly at the Canadian Agriculture Museum, Paola at C’est Bon Cooking and Gillian at Flight Centre Holt Renfrew for helping make all of this possible. The trip wouldn’t have been nearly as wonderful had you not all been involved.
Lindsay Young is a travel blogger based in Toronto, Ontario who loves to travel like a local no matter where in the world she is. Read more from Linday’s roadtrip Indulging, Antiquing, and Travelling Locally in Québec right here on our blog and be sure to follow more of Lindsay’s travels on Twitter.