Most everyone falls in love with Toronto – but there’s more to the province of Ontario than Canada’s cultural, entertainment, and financial capital. In spite of all that Toronto is, the largest city in Canada is not the country’s capital; that honor falls to Ottawa.
Located between Toronto and Montreal (and too long in their shadows), Ottawa is home to more than 1 million residents, many of them francophone, who know firsthand the joys of living in one of the cleanest cities in the world – with one of the highest standards of living.
Founded in 1828 as Bytown before changing its name to the Algonquin verb for “trade,” Ottawa exhibits an easy cosmopolitan vibe amidst a natural setting that’s been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Start your Ontario rendez-vous at Arc Hotel, which bills itself as the city’s first luxury boutique hotel. The 112-room Arc Hotel is a short walk to ByWard Market, the city’s farmers’ market and food destination, which is Ottawa’s biggest tourist attraction after Parliament Hill.
For most visitors, the Changing the Guard at Parliament Hill is mandatory viewing during summer months – and there’s no denying the pomp and pageantry of two regiments of university and college students in full regalia, complete with regimental band and pipers.
If you’re looking for the National Gallery of Canada, you’ll know it by the spider: Louise Bourgeois’ majestic “Maman” (1999), a massive bronze and steel arachnid, complete with egg sac, that protects and defends the entrance to the National Gallery of Canada.
Whether you regard Bourgeois’ sculpture as a progeny of E.B. White’s Charlotte – or a distant relative of Ridley Scott’s “Alien” mother, upon entrance you’ll be rewarded with the world’s largest collection of Canadian art.
Designed by Moshe Safdie (who also designed Montreal’s Habitat 67), the granite-and-glass structure opened in 1988 and has been acclaimed as one of Canada’s top 20th-century architectural buildings.
Apart from Canadian art at the National Gallery of Canada, you’ll find some of modern art’s most iconic works, such as Warhol’s “Brillo” and Pollock’s “No. 29, 1950.”
In winter, Ottawa’s Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, becomes the world’s largest skating rink, with locals skating to and fro work, a BeaverTail pastry in one hand and a cup of hot chocolate in the other.
And in February, the entire city welcomes winter with Winterlude, a three-week festival dedicated to all things joyful about snow, ice, and fun.
After a few days in Ottawa, consider a weekend in Niagara Falls, Canada. With a renewed focus as a food and wine destination, Niagara is more alluring than ever – and not only for honeymoons (or those fans of Marilyn Monroe who starred in “Niagara” in 1952).
Designated a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, Niagara is home to more than 300 bird species and 37 types of wild orchids. Canada’s longest footpath, the Bruce Trail is a naturalist’s dream that provides direct access to the wetlands, forests, and cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment.
Of course, no trip to Niagara Falls is complete without a trip on Maid of the Mist. Since 1846 (in a sidewheel steamboat ferry), Maid of the Mist has been thrilling crowds (and honeymooners) with its excursions to the very base of the Niagara Gorge. (Hornblower Niagara Cruises takes over the franchise in spring 2014.)
Explore the tunnels behind the Falls (after an elevator ride that plunges 150 feet through solid bedrock) or soar atop the Niagara SkyWheel, Canada’s largest observation wheel, and view the Falls from the heavens.
With more than 2,000 pounds of fireworks exploding overhead, New Year’s Eve in Niagara Falls (Canada’s biggest New Year’s celebration) is worthy of the city’s tagline “One Wonder After Another.”
Just up the road from the Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake has become Canada’s number one food and wine destination, thanks to more than 80 wineries and the numerous celebrated chefs who frequent the region’s bountiful farmers’ markets and roadside stands for their terroir-focused menus.
The Niagara Icewine Festival in January is an annual pilgrimage for lovers of the region’s lusciously sweet Icewine, but if you think Canadian wines begin and end with icewine, then you might consider that Wine Country Ontario is situated at the same latitude as Burgundy in France.
For more than 30 years, Trius Winery has been perfecting fine wines from 100% Ontario-grown grapes. The winery’s 2010 Red Shale Cabernet Franc recently captured the Gold Medal for “Best Red Wine of the Year” at the Canadian Wine Championships.
Savor a lazy afternoon at the bucolic Trius Winery at Hillebrand with a wine tasting and a twilight winery tour before dining al fresco at Trius Winery Restaurant, the region’s first winery restaurant.
After stints at The Savoy Hotel in London, as well as Cliveden, Chef Frank Dodd arrived at Trius Winery Restaurant in 2006. Dodd utilizes local farmers and purveyors for a menu that features seasonal and sustainable fare, such as a peaches-and-cream corn soup, accompanied by crab and corn salad.
Culture mavens flock to Niagara-on-the-Lake for “great theatre in the heart of Niagara Wine Country” at the Shaw Festival Theatre while golfers play a round at North America’s oldest golf course.
Apart from acclaimed vintners and rising culinary stars, Ontario’s most renowned wine region is notable for its quaint colonial towns and elegant inns set amidst a gently rolling landscape of pastoral vineyards, farms, and fruit orchards. No matter where you wander in Niagara-on-the-Lake, you almost feel as if you’ve landed happily in Arcadia.
Easy to reach, Ottawa is an hourlong fight from New York, and only 90 minutes by air from D.C. and Boston. One of the more pleasant ways of arriving in Ontario is via Porter Airlines, whose tagline is “Flying Refined” and which helps to explain why Porter has become the airline of choice for the discerning short-haul traveler.
Even before you board Porter Airlines, you might feel as if you’ve stepped into a time warp where service is paramount and flying is fun again. Free of charge, Porter Airlines’ lounges are open to all passengers and feature an array of free amenities.
Based in Toronto, Porter Airlines’ headquarters is Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, the island airport in Toronto Harbor that was originally opened in 1939 and which is connected to the mainland by the world’s shortest scheduled ferry run. With 26 planes serving 19 destinations, Porter Airlines is the only four-star Canadian airline, as ranked by Skytrax.
Onboard, the two-by-two seating configuration allows more legroom than typical economy class seating – and the leather seating is downright deluxe. Snack and beverage service is included, with complimentary soft drinks, wine, and beer. The aircraft also features a noise suppression system, which makes the flight one of the most relaxing you’re likely to take.
Perhaps best of all (at least for style mavens), Porter Airlines offers what might be the most beautifully curated boutique in any airport. Located at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, WANT Passport is stocked with some of the most luxurious travel accessories from WANT Les Essentials de la Vie, as well as iconic products from designers from around the globe.
Imagine arriving at your destination completely relaxed and happy – and bearing good gift. This is 21st-century travel as you’d dreamed it could be. Next vacation, make it easy on yourself and consider “Flying refined” to Ontario,