With enough Polarfleece and thick socks, anyone can survive a canadian winter. but to truly embrace the season, to savour it with all your senses and celebrate its snowy beauty, plan a trip to Ottawa.
Between Christmas and early March, weather permitting, locals strap on skates every morning and glide to work along the Rideau canal —the worldlongest skating rink and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The ribbon of ice winds through the city for nearly eight kilometres, under bridges and past the University of Ottawa. As you approach downtown, the Peace Tower rises like a stately beacon from Parliament Hill, while the limestone turrets of the Fairmont Chateau Laurier Hotel next door appear from a distance like a medieval castle.
If the weather outside is frightful, head indoors to a museum, from the glass-plated National Gallery of Canada and the subdued Canadian War Museum to the undulating limestone shell of the Museum of Civilization across the Alexandra Bridge in Gatineau, formerly known as Hull. These treasures provide eloquent proof that you donneed to travel to Europe to view great art, learn about history or be moved to tears by the horrors of war.
Excitement builds as the entire Ottawa region, English and French sides, prepares to host the 30th annual Winterlude festival over three weekends in February. A record 1.6 million hardy souls visited the festival last year to skate the canal, play in Snowflake Kingdom, admire glittering ice sculptures and listen to great music under the stars.
After a day outdoors, swooshing down ice slides and munching deep-fried Beaver Tails in the park or sipping hot chocolate on the canal beside a warming fire, ittime for more sophisticated fare. If you havenbeen to Ottawa since that high-school trip to Parliament Hill, youin for a delicious surprise.
At Dalyon the third floor of the Westin Hotel, overlooking the canal, Executive Chef Nelson Borges starts dinner on a playful note, accompanying a shooter of pale green cucumber and honeydew melon soup with a stick of chewy smoked salmon .
With a handful of game farms nearby, Borges proudly hosts a game festival in December. One of his specialties is a generous red-tail deer chop, dark, rich and tender, crusted with a dried mushroom powder and served with a mound of red quinoa, pan-roasted baby beets and a fragrant jus scented with Sortilege, a Quebec maple liqueur. For the next course, a free-range duck from Mariposa Farm becomes a classic duck confit, surrounded by a moat of sweet miso broth.
The Portuguese-born chef is also thrilled to introduce visitors to his beloved Port. Every Tuesday from 5 to 7 p.m. he hosts a professional tasting matched with different foods, from cheese to chocolate, to show guests how the flavour of the fortified wine can change dramatically.
Dalyis one of more than 50 regional restaurants preparing to entice visitors during Taste of Winterlude, from January 29 to February 22. Each offers an exclusive three-course prix-fixe dinner from $25 to $65. Restaurants are also offering unique multi-course group dinners paired with wine led by local chefs and sommeliers.
Our five-course dining adventure was hosted by award-winning sommelier, Food Network celebrity and author Stacey Metulynsky, co-founder of Groovy Grapes. We met her the day before at Urban Element, a sleek, contemporary cooking school housed in a vintage fire hall just 10 minutes from downtown in Parkdale, where she matches food and wine for classes. Visitors are welcome to sign up.
At Luxe, the first stop on our culinary tour of the busy ByWard Market, we all piled into a curved leather banquette while the chef served a steaming lobster pot pie crowned with a flaky golden crust as buttery as the Closson Chase Chardonnay the sommelier chose to accompany it.
Forty-five minutes later, we reluctantly gathered up our things and walked down the street to a casual new hot spot offering wine and house-made charcuterie called Murray Street. A slim wooden board arrived with thin slices of scrumptious house-smoked glazed ham, a slice of homemade lamb and cassis terrine and a trio of creamy cheeses, including Bonnechere sheepmilk cheese from Back Forty Artisan Cheese.
Our third stop, Navarra, just across the street, was a continent away in flavour, signalled by the Spanish bullfighter in the dramatic red and gold painting near the entrance. Chef Rene Rodriguez sent out a deep white bowl of olive-oil roasted mushrooms with slices of flavour-packed chorizo capped with a vanilla milk foam.
Our next course awaited at the plush, New York-inspired Empire Grill. The cowhide-covered back wall and masculine black and white decor offered the perfect setting for a slab of tender prime rib topped with two fat, perfectly cooked tiger shrimp in a licorice Pernod cream. match will be beautiful,”promised sommelier Jennifer Halfhide, pouring a Henry of Pelham Cabernet-Baco. And it was.
By this time we werenthe least bit hungry, but who could resist a sweet trio of warm plum fritters nestled in double caramel sauce with icy caramel gelato. The inventive chefs at E18teen, where the dramatic decor draws a tres chic crowd, paired the simple yet stunning dessert with apricot-scented Cattail Creek Vidal icewine from Niagara.
Near midnight, as we sauntered past century-old limestone buildings on the way to our Heavenly Bed at the Westin, we passed a group of animated university students on their way to the market. With so much to see and do, day and night, you may not even feel the cold.