The Mail on Sunday's Abul Taher explores what Canada's capital has to offer
He recommends checking in to the four-star Andaz hotel for its central location
And he says no visit should be allowed to end without seeing an ice hockey game
Published: 06:32 EST, 19 February 2019 | Updated: 06:33 EST, 19 February 2019>
Canada's small but pristine capital, Ottawa, is becoming one of the country's main tourist cities, and deservedly so.
For not only does it have the most important historic buildings, monuments and museums in the land, it is also a bustling hub with chic bars and restaurants.
However, don't just think of Ottawa as an urban getaway – it's surrounded by breathtaking wildlife parks where you can observe hibernating bears and feed reindeer. It also has North America's biggest relaxation spa, and the world's largest outdoor ice rink – a frozen canal stretching for five miles.
Unique: A section of the frozen Rideau Canal, which is turned into a five-mile route for skaters each winter
After you've checked in to the four-star Andaz hotel (andazottawa.com) in downtown Byward Market, you're only a five-minute stroll from the city's most famous hotel, the Fairmont Chateau Laurier (fairmont.com/laurier). Before you relax over a cocktail in the latter, don't miss the portraits of former guests on the lobby walls taken by Yousuf Karsh, a resident of the hotel for 18 years.
You may recognise his portrait of an angry-looking Winston Churchill, which has pride of place inside the lobby. The story is that Karsh pulled Churchill's cigar from his mouth at the last moment to take the photo, leaving the wartime PM unamused.
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At the hotel's Zoe's bar, try the Statesman cocktail, which is brought to you in a glass box, filled with smoke infused with the 'smell of Canadian camp-fire'. For a special meal or 'après skate', dine at the hotel's elegant Wilfrid's restaurant, with its views of the Parliament buildings on Parliament Hill and the Rideau Locks. For a late-night drink with a view, return to the Andaz's Copper Spirits and Sights rooftop bar on the 16th floor. You can dance the night away while enjoying panoramic views of the city at night.
Make your way to Canada's Parliament, which sits on the bank of the mighty Ottawa river. The neo-Gothic building resembles the Palace of Westminster, with a Peace Tower in place of Big Ben. At the moment it is being refurbished, so the Commons and Senate chambers are housed nearby, but it is still open for tours.
Not to be missed is its library – an enchanting chamber dubbed the 'Most Beautiful Room in Canada'. Also, ascend the 322ft-tall Peace Tower to enjoy the best views of the city, as well as Quebec state, which borders the capital along the river.
Northern delights: See Arctic foxes at Parc Omega
After Parliament, take a taxi for the short ride to Rideau Hall (gg.ca), the official residence of the Governor-General, the Queen's representative in Canada. The stately mansion was built in 1867 and is set amid 79 acres of perfectly landscaped grounds. During the summer they attract thousands of visitors for strolls and picnics under the shade of 10,000 trees. Rideau also has an outdoor ice rink, and a free guided tour takes you through the state rooms.
For lunch, grab a quick bite from the many street vendors and cafes at Byward Market. La Bottega Nicastro offers made- to-order sandwiches, while Origin Trade specialises in making food with local ingredients, and even offers locally made wines.
Then visit the Canadian Museum of History (historymuseum.ca) across the river, in Quebec state. It houses the largest collection of Native American totems and poles. If you have time, you can also visit the National Gallery of Canada (gallery.ca), one of the country's finest art museums, or the Ottawa Art Gallery (oaggao.ca), which is free.
No visit should be allowed to end without taking in an ice hockey match. There is always a game going on somewhere as the city has 30 arenas and 250 outdoor rinks. The Canadian Tire Centre is home to the Ottawa Senators. I watched them take on their arch rivals, the Montreal Canadiens, with the usual fights between players. Afterwards, head to the nearby Liquor Store Party Bar in York Street, which plays music from the 1980s and 1990s. Or try somewhere like Pub 101 or the 27 Club, which has live music playing most nights.
Hire a car or take a taxi to Parc Omega (parcomega.ca/en), a wildlife safari park an hour's drive away, where you can see arctic foxes, elk, reindeer and herds of bison roaming. You can also see wild bears in a fenced off area, as well as wolves. Then head to the nearby Gatineau Park where, in winter, you can snowshoe, or walk along trails into the Canadian wilderness.
Nordik Spa-Nature (lenordik.com) is a short walk from Gatineau Park and is the biggest spa in North America, with more than a dozen outdoor hot and cold tubs. It has every type of sauna you can think of, including Finnish, Russian and aromatic – and one called the Nordik waterfall. It also has the Kalla, an indoor pool with warm water so salty that you float on it just like in the Dead Sea.
Before dinner, go ice-skating along the largest outdoor skating rink in the world. The Rideau Canal freezes over in winter, and almost five miles of it becomes a skating rink until early March. You get to see the rush hour Ottawa-style – locals in suits and office gear skating home from work. For dinner, go to Banco Bistro, which serves poutine, a Canadian dish of cheese curds and fries, topped with gravy.
Flights from Heathrow to Ottawa with Air Canada, plus three nights at Andaz Ottawa, cost from £959pp, based on two adults sharing a standard room, travelling November 2019. northamericatravelservice.co.uk.
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