Monday 21 December 2015

10 Things To Do In Ottawa This Winter

Here’s what I noticed about Ottawa in December: It’s colder than Toronto. But Torontonian’s aren’t known for their hardy winter endurance. We were, after all, the laughing stock of the nation, after one particularly bad snowstorm. The then-Mayor, called in the army to help dig the city out, and the rest of the country laughed. Out loud. To our faces.  But cold is cold, and Ottawa is colder than Toronto. It just is.

That doesn’t mean Ottawa, Canada’s capital, should be avoided in the winter season.  

Ottawa, a city with a population of just over 880,00 people, is filled with history, museums, exhibits, architectural gems, restaurants, spas, skating, shopping and fun-filled activities to keep you returning time after time. Year-round.

Sure, it may be chilly, but with so much to do and fewer crowds to contend with, winter is a perfect time for a getaway to the nation’s capital.

Here are just 10 reasons to visit Ottawa this winter:

Christmas Lights Across Canada

Photo via Ottawa Tourism
The 31st edition of Christmas Lights Across Canada was launched on December 2, 2015, with the official illumination ceremony on Parliament Hill. Thousands gathered, as they do each year, for this annual ceremony. Every year, as part of Christmas Lights Across Canada, each province and territory decorates its capital city and holds its own lighting ceremony, contributing to the nationwide effort. Lights Across Canada illuminates the Capital until January 7, 2016.

Le Nordik Nature Spa

Photo via Le Nordik Spa

Located in Chelsea, Québec, an easy 15-20 minute drive from Ottawa’s city-center, Le Nordik Nature Spa is North America’s largest spa. It offers 45,000 square feet of relaxing interior space and more than 100,000 square feet outside. Our orientation to the property, which is surrounded by trees and rocks, included the recommended spa routine: 15-20 minutes of heat in one of several outdoor saunas or hot pools (which we did), followed by 30 seconds in a cold plunge pool (which we didn't). Repeat and relax in a nearby warm cabin. There’s an infinity pool with panoramic views over the city and the salt-water floating pool is a must.

Take a Short Course at Le Cordon Bleu 

Photo via Ottawa Tourism
Learn to cook like a pro! Make pasta, sauces, chocolate creations or bake. If you’ve had one too many knife accidents in the kitchen, the demo on proper knife skills is for you. Do it all at the world’s leading cooking institution. Ottawa, is where you’ll find Canada's only Le Cordon Bleu satellite school. Choose from a demonstration, which lasts approximately two hours, or a combination of demo and hands-on practice. The latter is approximately four hours. Be sure to take along containers to bring your goodies home. There will be plenty of them. I seriously can’t think of anything more ‘homey’ to do on a cold winter day, than to surround the senses with warm deliciousness. If it was good enough for Julia Child…

Learn About Vikings

Photo via Ottawa Tourism

Challenge your assumptions about ancient Scandinavians.  Vikings, redefines what we know about this mythical period in Scandinavia. It features more than 500 ancient artifacts on loan from the Swedish History Museum. Many of the pieces on display have rarely been displayed outside Scandinavia. Vikings is at the Canadian History Museum, and runs until April 17, 2016.

Check Out Forged in Fire

Photo via Bytown Museum

Opening January 29, 2016, this new temporary exhibit, Forged in Fire: The Building and Burning of Parliament, begins its run. The exhibit highlights the 100th anniversary of the fire that destroyed the original Parliament Buildings. It explores the history of the site and the buildings that have called it home throughout its nearly 200-year evolution. The exhibit features artifacts and photographs from Bytown Museum collection, including rare images of the construction of Parliament by early Ottawa photographer, Elihu Spencer. It runs until October 31, 2016.

Discover Amazing Women 

Photo via Canadian War Museum

Through artifacts, images, audiovisual material, oral history and text, World War Women, at the Canadian War Museum, delves into the personal stories of the women associated with these materials. It is organized in stand-alone thematic zones, each devoted to an element of the wars that particularly involved and affected women. The contributions made by women to the Canadian war efforts were crucial, and their experiences forged a new understanding of women’s capabilities both within themselves and within society. It’s touching, moving and deeply personal. Don’t miss it. World War Women is on now and runs until April 3, 2016.


Photo via Ottawa Tourism

So it’s cold. Big deal! It was with winter in mind, that Winterlude was created in the first place – to celebrate our unique northern climate and culture. Winterlude is a three-day fun-filled event with activities for the entire family. Check out the ice sculpture competitions, play in North America’s largest snow playground and don’t miss the 36th annual Accora Village Bed Race. This event features teams in costumes racing huge decorated beds across frozen ice. Winterlude runs January 29 – February 15, 2016.

Gatineau Winter Beerfest

Photo via Ottawa Tourism

What better time for a beerfest than in the dead of winter. Only in Canada eh! The beerfest is held at the Canadian Museum of History. Here you'll discover over 100 craft beers by brewers from Quebec and Ontario. More than 30 breweries will be on hand. Chef, Martin De Board, the museum’s head chef, will create appetizers to tantalize the most gourmet of taste buds. The Gatineau Winter Beerfest in on January 29-30. It's held inside the museum's Grand hall and outdoors (of course).

Warm up in The Albion Rooms

Photo via The Albion Rooms

After an activity-filled day, catch your breath, quench your thirst and fill your appetite in this central Ottawa restaurant. The Albion Rooms, is a warm, conversation-friendly restaurant. Cozy up to the bar and chat to the server as he assembles your chacouteri platter. Chef, Stephen LaSalle, has put his personal touch on several traditional British dishes, giving new twists to dishes like scotch eggs and Cornish hen. The Albion Rooms is located inside the Novotel (across from Rideau Centre mall).

Skate, Skate and Skate Some More

Photo via Ottawa Tourism

In addition to the famous Rideau Canal Skateway (opens early January), Ottawa provides a few other skating options:

The Skating Court, a refrigerated ice skating rink in Lansdowne Park, offers free open skating as well as skating programs.

Free skating is also available on the refrigerated surface of the Sens Rink of Dreams, located just outside Ottawa City Hall.

The historic skating rink at Rideau Hall, the home and workplace of Canada’s Governor General, offers free public skating each Saturday and Sunday between January 10 and March 15, weather permitting.

Tuesday 8 December 2015

Five Reasons to Visit Portugal This Winter

As frosty mornings greet Canadians from coast to coast, fantasies of warmer climates fill our heads. We visualize clear, blue skies, sun-drenched beaches, outdoor restaurants and long walks without the burden of parkas or waterproof boots. Plotting our escape becomes a full-time obsession. If you’re bored with typical Caribbean all-inclusives, where should you go?

Head across the Atlantic, my friends. To Portugal. It's easy to get to. And once you’re there, you will find it is still one of the most economical European countries to visit—especially in the off-season, which, luckily for us,  Canuks, falls within our winter.

If that alone does not convince you, here are five more reasons why you may want to head east rather than south this winter.


Convent of Christ, Tomar

With 12 UNESCO World Heritage sites sprinkled throughout the country, it’s easy to immerse yourself in the history of one of the oldest countries in Europe. In the north, check out the Historic Centre of Oporto, with various architectural styles enclosed within the 14th-century Fernandina Wall. To see how real knights lived, visit the Convent of Christ in the town of Tomar, an awe-inspiring castle that was once the headquarters for Portugal’s Knights Templar. Renting a car will provide you with great flexibility to get to the sites, but it’s not necessary. Portugal is well connected with trains and buses that will get you anywhere you need to be—and very economically.


Spend a few days here. For an interactive history lesson, the Lisboa Story Centre in the Palace Square is a must. For a nostalgic tour, ride Tram 19 as it clickity-clacks you through several Lisbon neighbourhoods. Get off in the chic Chiado area and head over to Café Brasileiro, where poets, writers and artists have made their way in and out of its door for over a century; coffee here is a cultural experience. Walk freely or take public transit, which is safe and easy to navigate.


Eat your way around the country. Each region has its own unique style of cooking: along the coast, fish and seafood rules, while inland, hearty meals of meat and sausage reign supreme. And throughout the country, various bacalhau dishes (salted dried cod fish) are found. Portugal’s colonial past is influenced in its cooking, with spices from the east and fiery peppers from Africa used liberally. Pastries accompanied with café (espresso) are commonly enjoyed, and the selection is astounding. Forget the diet. When in Portugal, do as the locals do: relax, sip, eat, slow down.


Whether you like branco (white), tinto (red), port, verde, rosé, it’s all here. Portugal’s most famous wine has traditionally been port from the Douro region; however, in the last few years, the country has been producing some great wines from the regions of Alentejo, Beiras and Estramendura, to name a few. And there’s no need penny pinch on your wine choices—the wine here is excellent and inexpensive. So go ahead and splurge.

943 kilometres of Atlantic coastline

If it’s a beach you're after, you'll find one in Portugal and, during the winter months, you will have it mostly to yourself. Algarve is most famous for its beaches, but that’s not the only area to find spectacular sand and surf. Check out Costa Verde (Green Coast) and if you're looking for a bit more adventure, Costa da Prata (Silver Coast) offers up some amazing waves, particularly in the winter months.

With plenty of long-term rental accommodations available throughout the country, trading snow, slush and Alberta clippers for sun, surf and outdoor cafés is easy. And you’re in Europe, where culture, diversity, architecture and history combine to make one magnificent tapestry.