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Ottawa’s Winterlude: A Fabulous February Frolic!

by Susan Campbell / Photos by Photo: www.winterlude.gc.ca, Photo: www.byward-market.com, Photo: www.lcbottawa.com, Photo: www.holtzspa.com, Photo: www.canadascapital.gc.ca, Photo: www.zenkitchen.com

The Winterlude Festival is designed to celebrate our great Canadian winter to its fullest before spring thaw and each year over half a million people attend the gala outdoor events, and most of them are free! Skating on the canal is a must, and there are always lots of ice and snow sculpture exhibits, special music, sound and light shows, culinary tasting opportunities and other fun activities like fashion shows and fireworks. Check their calendar of events to choose the best dates for your interests, and then follow this guide to help you enjoy your entire Ottawa adventure to its absolute fullest. The festival runs from Feb. 1st to Feb 18th, 2013.

Book a stylish stay: Choose from Winterlude’s list of official hotels for special packages, or pick accommodations for different criteria. Ottawa Marriott is a best bet for stellar views of the capital city including the parliament buildings and the river if you book one of their uppermost corner suites, and their dining spot Spin Kitchen & Bar is a popular haunt for local journalists tweeting and posting the daily happenings on “The Hill”. Even if you’re not a Marriott guest, you can receive the loan of an iPad or laptop there to stay in touch when you order food or drinks. If bohemian is more your vibe, then Hotel Indigo is the only intimate boutique hotel that’s right downtown and in walking distance to all the activities.

Explore the Foodie Scene: Ottawa’s culinary scene is beginning to rival our own, probably due to the fact that the city has the only Cordon Blue Culinary Arts Institute in the country, and many of its graduates are opening their own spots in the nation’s capital. Check out their Bistro @Signatures to sample the talent of their students. For more casual fare try the new Mill St. Brew Pub where you can also take a tour of their on site brewery. For dedicated carnivores, MurrayStreet on the market is famous for its tail-to-head meat offerings. And at the other end of the spectrum, the vegan gourmet enclave near Chinatown called Zen Kitchen is a gem. Owner chef Caroline Ishi won a silver medal two years running at the prestigious Gold Medal Plates event for her creativity in making this type of cuisine so flavourful.

Revel in Live Music: One thing Ottawa has in spades compared to our fair city is a lot of live music, especially downtown in the Byward Market area which is also a great grid for artisan shops and eclectic dining spots. But for live music, best bets are The Great Canadian Cabin, or the plethora of Irish pubs in the area like the Heart & Crown. Also worth checking out is Fat Tuesdays for a rollicking dueling pianos show and New Orleans style fare like “gator”. And Zaphob Beeblebrox (also called The Nightclub at the Edge of the Universe) is Ottawa’s most legendary live music venue.

Warm Up with Maple: There is two ways to thaw out during the festival using Canada’s national flavour- the first is to pop into posh Zoe’s Lounge in the legendary Fairmont Chateau Laurier for high tea. Order the maple flavoured tea to accompany the very civilized service of scones and crust-less sandwiches. Second, pop across the street to Holtz Spa for one their signature Maple Luscious Shea Butter massages using Canadian maple and African Shea. If you’re still feeling the cold, then hop back across the street for a sauna and a warm dip in Fairmount Chateau Laurier’s inviting and well-heated art-deco pool that’s open to the public for a fee of $10.00.

Leave the Car at Home: Why stress about driving in the snow and parking hassles and fees and when you can hop aboard VIA Rail and get from Montreal to Ottawa in less than two hours? Also, OC Transpo Ottawa’s bus system is fast and reliable and they offer visitor Day Passes good for 24 hours of bus travel anywhere for one low fee. And during festival weekends there is a free Sno-Bus to activities as well.

Visit: www.canadascapital.gc.ca/celebrate/winterlude and www.ottawatourism.ca .