Spring awakening: Adventures near Ottawa

| April 1, 2019 | 0 Comments
Bring out your inner child at the Children's Festival, May 8 to 12 at LeBreton Flats. (Photo: The children's Festival)

Bring out your inner child at the Children’s Festival, May 8 to 12 at LeBreton Flats. (Photo: The children’s Festival)

Blue cheese, steel beds and A.Y. Jackson: An unlikely combination, but they’re part of our spring round-up of travel tips for anyone hankering to throw off the shackles of winter and explore places and events within driving distance of Ottawa. We’ve even come up with some suggestions that are within the city limits.

Going under: Scenic Caves Nature Adventures in Collingwood, about 460 kilometres southwest of Ottawa, features self-guided tours of caves and crevices up to 20 metres deep. The cave trail, including a suspension bridge, takes a couple of hours to hike. There are also spectacular cliff-top views of Georgian Bay, ziplines, and the like. The caves are part of the Niagara Escarpment, declared a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 1990. There are extensive hiking trails, museums and swimming in the area. sceniccaves.com, 705-446-0256. Tip: If you go in late July, you can catch the Collingwood Elvis Festival, apparently the largest such event in the world and starring a slew of Elvis impersonators.

Your inner kid: It would be a mistake to think the Ottawa Children’s Festival is just for the younger set. With shows this year from Ireland, Spain, Australia and elsewhere, the festival is a delight of puppetry, circus arts, music and more, no matter what your age (but do bring a child or two. Their reactions are always a delight). Plus, there’s a cavalcade of free events on the festival’s LeBreton Flats site. May 8 to 12. ottawachildrensfestival.ca, 613-241-0999.

You can travel down the Rideau River between Smiths Falls and Kingston in a boat you rent from Le Boat. They will sleep between 5 and 12 and sport top decks and barbecues.  (Photo: Courtesy of Le Boat)

You can travel down the Rideau River between Smiths Falls and Kingston in a boat you rent from Le Boat. They will sleep between 5 and 12 and sport top decks and barbecues. (Photo: Courtesy of Le Boat)

Cruisin’ the Canal: You say you’ve never travelled down the Rideau Canal by boat? Le Boat rents vessels that will get you from Smiths Falls to Kingston in seven days, with opportunities for stops to explore the sights and small towns that pepper the canal. The boats sleep 5 to 12, feature up to five bathrooms and sport a top deck, a barbecue hotplate and treats. Prices vary during the season, which starts on the May long weekend and runs into the fall, but range from about $2,200 to just under $10,000. Less expensive three-day jaunts are also available as the season evolves. leboat.ca, 1-800-734-5491
Snoozing on steel: The City of Cornwall, abutting the St. Lawrence River 100 kilometres southeast of Ottawa, doesn’t get a lot of attention here in the capital. Too bad, because it’s rife with history, which you’ll discover if you drop by spots such as the Historic Cornwall Jail, where beds were made of steel and up to 14 inmates were locked in a drunk tank smaller than many ensuites. The nearby community museum, loaded with local artifacts, will cheer you up after your jail time. Tip: Some restaurants may be closed on Sundays.
cornwalltourism.com, 613-933-0074.

Bird time: Quebec’s Parc national de Plaisance is a little gem an hour east of Ottawa. Created after lands were flooded for a hydroelectric generating station, it is two-thirds water and wetlands. Migrating birds and bird watchers love it, and 250 species (of birds, that is) have been documented. Muskrats, turtles and more abound; there are 30 kilometres of bike trails as well as hiking, boating and fishing; and you can stay overnight in a tent, yurt or chalet. Take the ferry at Cumberland and follow Highway 148 to Plaisance. It’s a prettier drive than Autoroute 50E. sepaq.com/pq/pla/index.dot

Party central: No one throws a party like Montreal, and the city’s annual International Jazz Festival is a great one. Running June 27 to July 6, this year’s 40th anniversary shindig spills over from its base in the downtown Quartier des spectacles into other neighbourhoods. The lineup ranges from genre-jumping guitarist George Benson to neo-classical pianist Alexandra Stréliski, montrealjazzfest.com Tip: For info such as where to eat or unwind in Montreal, check the spottedbylocals app. Its contributors are city residents with some good inside scoops.

White water ahead: Tempted by the idea of whitewater rafting, but skittish about the reality? The one-day family rafting option at RiverRun Rafting may be your answer. Geared to adventurers as young as five, the trip on the Ottawa River includes some rapids, calm stretches of water, a bit of education on geography and local heritage and lunch. The launch is located in Foresters Falls, about 90 minutes northwest of Ottawa.
riverrunrafting.com, 1-800-267-8504.

Waller St. Brewing is a tiny brewery in the ByWard Market. It seats just 20 beer drinkers. (Photo: Waller street brewing)

Waller St. Brewing is a tiny brewery in the ByWard Market. It seats just 20 beer drinkers. (Photo: Waller street brewing)

Brewski time: Good beer, many would agree, is one of humanity’s greatest achievements and a glass or two is as rewarding as a lottery win. In Ottawa, you need venture no further than downtown to savour spots such as the tiny, perfect Waller St. Brewing and the convivial Flora Hall Brewing. Looking to travel a bit further? Combine a Saturday trip to the Carp Farmer’s Market with a stop at the village’s newly opened Ridge Rock Brewing Co. Many of the craft breweries feature food as well. Visit ontariobev.net for a frothy list.

Ruined but not wrecked: It’s not the Acropolis, but St. Raphael’s is among Ontario’s many cool ruins. Built two centuries ago in the shape of a cruciform, the Roman Catholic church in South Glengarry burned in 1970, but the massive stone walls survived. Conservation efforts mean the National Historic Site is now a splendid destination and home to weddings, concerts and more. Fiddlers and pipers sometimes play there for their personal pleasure. 75 minutes east of Ottawa. saintraphaelsruins.com

The joy of cheese: You could just pick up a package of Kraft slices at the grocery store, but doesn’t cheese — an ancient, nutritious and almost infinitely varied food — merit more effort? Eastern Ontario and western Quebec boast several enticing cheese factories, including the award-winning Fromagerie Montebello, about 75 minutes northeast of Ottawa at the foot of the Laurentian Mountains. Its offerings include Manchebello, made from ewe’s milk, and Rebellion 1837, a blue cheese. While you’re in the area, take the kids to nearby wildlife Parc Omega or stop by the elegant Château Montebello for a gander at the fine, rustic interior and a bite to eat. fromagerie-montebello.ca, 819-309-0541.

Painter A.Y. Jackson, of Group of Seven fame, lived in Manotick for the last couple of decades of his life. The A.Y. Jackson Trail documents his painting sites.

Painter A.Y. Jackson, of Group of Seven fame, lived in Manotick for the last couple of decades of his life. The A.Y. Jackson Trail documents his painting sites.

Close, splendid and free: Rideau Hall is ridiculously accessible, so why don’t we ever get around to touring it? The stately official residence of the governor general of Canada, built in 1838, and its surrounding 32 hectares of rolling lawns, woods and gardens are open year-round. Admission is free. In the residence, you can opt for a 45-minute guided tour of the regal public rooms or, at selected times, do a self-guided tour. Art by the likes of Emily Carr and a one-tonne crystal chandelier number among the indoor delights. The grounds are modelled on an English country estate and include trees older than Canada itself. You can even bike or rollerblade through the grounds and Gov. Gen. Julie Payette won’t object at all. gg.ca/en/visit-us/rideau-hall/plan-your-visit, 613-991-4422

Food and feet: The Good Food Tour introduces the food, history, architecture and art of two lovely small Ottawa Valley towns — Almonte and Carleton Place. The walking tours through the two historic mill towns include stops at chocolatiers, craft breweries, pastry shops and full-on restaurants. Also on the menu: private tours for groups of eight or more. The three-hour tours, which are anywhere from a kilometre to a kilometre-and-a-half long, include architectural commentary and insights on food and local culture. thegoodfoodtour.com

Trailing A.Y.: We’ve all relished them. A.Y. Jackson’s paintings evoke the geography of Canada and the spirit of the Group of Seven, of which he was a member. For the last 20-odd years of his long life, Jackson (1882-1974) lived in Manotick, just south of Ottawa proper, and painted avidly up and down the Ottawa Valley. The A.Y. Jackson Trail documents those travels and painting sites west of Ottawa, including back roads leading to spots like Calabogie, Barry’s Bay and beyond. Travelling the trail is a memorable way to view this gorgeous little corner of the world through a fresh lens. ayjacksontrail.ca

Patrick Langston is an Ottawa writer who thinks there’s adventure around every corner.

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