Yesterday I highlighted my favourite travel spots in the U.S. Today it’s my home country of Canada, with awesome places from Nova Scotia to southern Ontario and up to the Yukon.
Best Coastal Drive: The eastern shore (okay, northeastern shore) of Nova Scotia has only a smattering of villages and hardly any commerce. The food was fine, but I absolutely loved the restful surroundings and kayaking at Liscombe Lodge near Sherbrooke. I found cool art galleries and hardly any tourists between there and Lawrencetown, just east of Halifax.
Most Surprising Town: Meaford is a cool spot on Georgian Bay in Grey County, with great food (more on that later) and a pretty waterfront setting. The Meaford Hall Arts and Cultural Centre features great acts, such as Canada’s Joel Plaskett (amazing show). Stay the night at the lovely Millhollow B and B.
Favourite Cemetery: The not-so-aptly named Ha Ha Cemetery in New Brunswick. I can’t help laughing when I think about it.
Favourite City Tour: Judy Lam Maxwell does fantastic Chinatown tours in Vancouver. It’s an area that’s rapidly changing, so take her tour while you still can.
Best accordion/yodel performance of the year: My impromptu chat with Kimberley B.C. shop owner Adi Unterberger, the Yodelling Woodcarver, resulted in this fantastic accordion and yodelling demonstration. I love his commitment and the obvious joy he gets from playing and singing. Click here for a video!
Surprise City: I had no idea Saint John, New Brunswick had such cool, old architecture and such fun, interesting shops. I’d love to spend a day poking around again when I have time.
Best Winter Trip: Carnival in Quebec. One of the world’s great cities, and such a fun family event. Just don’t drink more than one Caribou, a popular Carnival drink that packs a punch and leaves you feeling like you were run over by Donner and Blitzen.
Most Unexpected Restaurant: Shokunin in Calgary does remarkable Japanese food that I simply wouldn’t have thought I’d find. One specialty is roasted “chicken ass.” This is becoming a fabulous food town, where chefs seem to pay far more attention to heirloom carrots than prime rib these days. I also love Ten Foot Henry and Charbar in Calgary.
Favourite Beach Photo: This one at Sauble Beach on Lake Huron.
Most Artsy Hotel: I love the aptly named Hotel Arts in Calgary. Great rooms and a sleek, inviting lobby.
Best Historical Stop: The Buxton Settlement near Chatham is a wonderful spot to learn about black history in Ontario.
Coolest Lobby Art: I love the wall at the relatively new Alt Hotel in Ottawa. It’s got a fun, youthful vibe and tons of colour.
Coolest Walk At Low Tide: Hopewell Rocks in New Brunswick. A natural wonder on the Bay of Fundy.
Best Canoe Ride: Emerald Lake B.C. This is part of vastly underrated and wildly beautiful Yoho National Park in the wonderful Kootenay Rockies. It can get a bit crowded, but, oh, that water!
Unexpected Hotel: The rooms at the Retro Suites in Chatham, Ontario have cool themes, such as sports or Paris or the beach. It sounds a tad cheesy but they’ve done a great job.
Very good food, too.
Most Surprising Fish Tacos: They serve great ones at the Aloha Taco food truck/food shack in Dawson City, Yukon. Great coconut rice, to. Not where you’d expect them, but there you go. Try a dash of the, ahem, Choke Your Chicken hot sauce.
The Joys of Summer Photo: These boys at the Lion’s Head Harbour on Georgian Bay, Ontario.
Best Sledding Ride: The 8 km sled/luge run at Le Massif in Quebec is a thrilling ride you can take at your own speed. Mine was not particularly fast, but I loved it.
Best Fall Foliage Photo: Along the Ottawa River south of the Fairmont Chateau Montebello.
Best Garden: Okay, it’s a lopsided contest. You can’t help but vote for Butchart Gardens in Victoria, B.C. This was my first trip there since I was nine years old. Needless to say, I got more out of it this time around.
Tiny Perfect Maple Leaf: Snapped this in Harrison Park in Owen Sound, Ontario.
Best Canada Day Costume: Hard to beat this guy on Parliament Hill!
Favourite Craft Brewery: I love the basement set-up at Waller St. Brewing in Ottawa. Great beer, too, of course.
Surprise Food Destination: I had a great meal on the patio at 540 Kitchen and Bar in surprising Fredericton, New Brunswick. It’s a fun city with a lovely riverfront park and also is home to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, one of Canada’s lesser-known artistic gems.
Funniest Shop Sign: This one at a coffee shop in Vancouver’s Chinatown.
Best Ontario Park I’d Never Explored: Sleeping Giant Park near Thunder Bay is one of the best places in Canada for hiking. There are tons of fantastic trails and lovely Lake Superior views.
Best Quebec Drive: The scenery is sensational between the Fairmont Chateau Montebello and Mont Tremblant, with a series of beautiful lakes and small villages to explore.
Best Spoons Player: I loved watching and listening to 83-year-old (at the time) Jerry Deveau at the pub at the fine Glenora Distillery Hotel on Cape Breton. There’s always great music to be found on Cape Breton.
Best Outdoor Patio: The Big Tub Harbour Resort in Tobermory, Ontario. Fabulous water views and pretty good food.
Best Continuing Show: Lucky Ron has been playing Saturday afternoons at Ottawa’s Chateau Lafayette for 30 years! He’s like Johnny Cash meets Stompin’ Tom Connors, with a loud and loyal following that shouts out lyrics and likes to interact with him. A truly wonderful Canadian experience.
Most Surprising Garden: I hadn’t heard of Kingsbrae Garden in St. Andrews, New Brunswick. But it’s a lovely spot with cool sculpture and lovely floral displays, not to mention llamas and other critters.
Most Emotional Moment On The Road: Watching the live CBC performance of the Tragically Hip’s final show while sitting at a desk at a small hotel in Summerside, PEI. I had shivers down my spine more times than I can count, and felt proud to be a citizen of a country that supports such a strange, compelling musical group.
Best Toronto Attraction I Didn’t Know: The BAPS Shri Swaminarayn Mandir Complex in northwest Toronto is stunning from the outside. The interior is one of the most magical spaces I’ve ever encountered anywhere in the world; a vivid interplay of light and stone that has to be seen to be believed.
Most Surprising Coastline Drive: I didn’t realize how lovely the coast is on the eastern shore of New Brunswick. The beaches are great, and I love the sense of pride of the local people, with their Acadian flags and boats decorated in blue, white and red with the Acadian star. Just wonderful.
Most Passionate Gardener: I had a brief chat with organic farmer Otto Muehlbach during a visit to the farmers’ market in Dawson City in July. He sliced off a bit of fresh kohlrabi and chatted about the challenges of growing food – and living – in The Yukon. Interesting guy, for sure.
Biggest Apple Pie: Mom’s Cafe in wonderful Sooke B.C. uses 50-something apples in each pie, making them roughly the size of a basketball. The lemon meringue and chocolate pies are equally large, and just as tasty.
Best Historical Costumes: The guards (male and female) at The Citadel in Halifax; one of the great Parks Canada locations in the country. Don’t forget, all Parks Canada sites are free next year if you sign up.
Best Food Truck: With apologies to Aloha Taco in Dawson City, Norman Zeledon makes hugely inventive soups, salads and sandwiches at his “The Galley” truck in Summerside, Prince Edward Island. For dessert, try the ice cream at Holman’s.
Coolest Montreal Photo: I shot this early one morning in October with the dome of the Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral and a reasonably full moon.
Best Natural Attraction With The Most Underwhelming Name: It sounds like a bad stretch of road, but Sooke Potholes Provincial Park is actually a stunning series of natural pools (hence “potholes”) and waterfalls that tumble through a narrow canyon. Great hiking all around.
Best Bottle Houses: I toured a great collection of houses/buildings made of old bottles near Cap-Egmont Prince Edward Island. I’d heard of those. A couple days later I found another collection that even the province’s tourism board didn’t know about; these ones a smaller but still compelling group near Point Prim.
Best Seafood Chowder: Point Prim Chowder House. A lovely broth with super-tender clams and spicy chorizo, washed down with a PEI beer while sitting on a Muskoka Chair (NOT an Adirondack Chair) overlooking the ocean. One of my most memorable moments of 2016.
Best Golf Course I Didn’t Get To Play: I came up sick the morning I was to play Cabot Cliffs, the new, drop-dead beautiful layout in Cape Breton that’s already ranked in the top 20 in the world. Next time I’ll take more Pepto-Bismol with me. Or just tough it out.
Strangest Cocktail: I earned myself another “Sour Toe” certificate after downing a glass of Canadian whisky (naturally) and allowing a preserved human toe inside the glass to touch my lips. It’s a goofy tradition at the Downtown Hotel in Dawson City, Yukon. And you thought Canadians were normal.
Finest Meal: A bunch of lucky travel journalists, including me, got to dine at the Sooke Harbour House in B.C., a lovely waterfront spot that was doing farm-to-table meals decades before the rest of the world caught on. Exquisitely prepared foods and a killer wine list.
Most Inventive Menu and Favourite Overall Canadian Restaurant: Navarra, located in the Byward Market area of Ottawa, serves up awesome tapas-style dishes with a variety of unusual ingredients, including chimichurri mushrooms with crumbled cheese and pickled sunchokes.
Classic Breakfast Spot: Still hard to go wrong with legendary Hoito in Thunder Bay.
Best Beach Hike: On the west coast of Vancouver Island between Sooke and Port Renfrew is stunning Mystic Beach, reached by an hour-long (I think) walk through the rain forest. Pack for wet weather and enjoy the ancient forests and awesome beach views.
Best Kayaking Trip: Going for three hours was more than I had bargained for, but my ride around Navy Island in Passamaquody Bay in St. Andrews, New Brunswick was a lovely and tranquil experience.
Best Historical Hotel Find: I loved The Halliburton in Halifax, fashioned out of several old townhomes in the city’s downtown. Part of the school used to house the Dalhousie University Law School. Lovely breakfast and comfortable, interesting rooms.
Hippest Neighborhood I Didn’t Know About: Ottawa‘s Hintonburg area has awesome bakeries and food spots, as well as funky shops and craft beer spots.
Best Segway Ride: A Segway tour of the Halifax waterfront with Segway Nova Scotia is a great way to see this port city.
Coolest Coffee Shop Western Canada: Shirley Delicious, a small spot between Sooke and Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island. Great coffee and a strong community feel. Try the gluten-free muffins with espresso, orange, raspberry and banana.
Coolest Coffee Shop Eastern Canada: In Stratford, Revel features exposed brick walls and super-cool photos. A very urban vibe in an increasingly fun town.
Most Impressive Forest: The so-called Avatar Forest is only a few minutes outside the village of Port Renfrew. You’ll find jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring old-growth forests and gnarly tree trunks. Truly one of the most breathtaking places in Canada.
Favourite New Town, Ontario: Gananoque. The upper part of the town feels like many other Ontario towns. But down near the St. Lawrence River you’ll find funky clothing shops and a great coffee spot called The Socialist Pig.
Favourite New Town, Western Canada: Fernie, British Columbia. A handsome main street and good restaurants, including Nevados. Try a night at the Island Lake Lodge, perched on a beautiful lake with stunning mountains in the background.
Best Roadside Statue: The giant lobster in Shediac, New Brunswick. I love this sort of thing.
Most Obscene But Still Purchase Worthy T-Shirts: The ones at Milk Shop in Ottawa’s Byward Market that read “Canadian as F–k.”
Prettiest Village: I loved St. Martin’s on the coast of New Brunswick. There’s a cute lighthouse you can climb up inside of and two covered bridges. Not to mention galleries, shops and a fine stretch of beach with good chowder shops.
Best Sunset: From my room at the West Point Lighthouse Inn in Prince Edward Island. Fun hotel and a great beach.
Coolest Bookstore: Bacchus Books and Cafe in Golden, B.C. Great books and a fun, vibrant atmosphere.
Funkiest Museum: The Canadian Potato Museum in O’Leary, Prince Edward Island. A testament to the glorious spud in all its forms and permutations. They crown a local Miss Potato Blossom Festival champion every year. And did you know European royalty used to wear potato blossoms in their hair?
Favourite Pub: The Olde Angel Inn in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Feels like the sort of place locals go, not just tourists. When I was there in summer a good cover band was playing a dead-perfect rendition of Amie, by Pure Prairie League.
Best Handstand: This little girl at Takakkaw Falls in Yoho National Park, B.C.
Most Unusual Food Combination: Andrew’s Roots in Meaford. When I was there I had a great mushroom dish covered with panko crumbs and crushed salt and vinegar potato chips for a perfect tang and crunch.
Favorite Sign For A Travel Writer Like Me: “Nitwit Corner” kinda says it all, don’t you think?
Best Gondola Ride: Up the side of Kicking Horse Mountain in Golden, B.C. The views are stunning, even when there’s a bit of cloud. Adventurous souls head out for long hikes or head down the hill on a mountain bike.
Favourite Lake Photo: This one on Lake Superior at the much-improved Thunder Bay waterfront.
Most Alarming Photo: These guys at Fort Amherstburg, Ontario found out I was born and raised in the U.S.
Prettiest Waterfall I Had Never Heard Of (Western Canada): Takakkaw Falls in Yoho National Park, B.C. A stunning sight.
Prettiest Waterfall I Had Never Heard of (Eastern Canada): Lovely Inglis Falls is a stunning spot on the Bruce Trail, just a few short minutes from downtown Owen Sound, Ontario.
Favourite Beach: Inverhuron, on Lake Huron in Ontario. Because my son got married there in June!
Best Mountain Lodging: Cathedral Mountain Lodge, Field, B.C. Lovely, old-style cabins that look like something out of a Hudson’s Bay advertisement and a first-rate restaurant. The surrounding countryside is glorious, and then some.
Coolest Hotel Lobby: The woodsy, geometrically shaped affair at the Fairmont Chateau Montebello in Quebec. Awesome.
Closest Proximity to a World Leader: I was pretty near to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (aka, world’s hunkiest political leader) during the Canada Day festivities at Parliament Hill. No, he didn’t stop to say hello.
Best Ski Lesson: The young woman who gave me a lesson at Whistler-Blackcomb learned to ski on her driveway in Scotland. But she was amazing and patient and oh-so-helpful to a guy who hadn’t been on skis in six or eight years. I managed not to fall once during three runs. No, not on the bunny hill.
Most Elegant Hotel: The Ritz Carlton Toronto not only has great rooms and a lovely spa, but their TOCA restaurant makes some of the best ravioli you’ll find anywhere. Be sure to try something unusual from their cheese cave, too.
Prettiest Riverside Walk: Again, the Fairmont Chateau Montebello in Quebec. Great with the mist rising off the Ottawa River.
Best Biathlon Shooting Experience: You can go cross-country skiing and fire a real biathlon rifle at Whistler Olympic Park, just like they do at the Winter Games. It’s very cool. And the setting is a stunner.
Best Mai Tai: A simple but perfect offering at Rhum Corner on Dundas Ave. West in Toronto.
Top Spa Experiences: I managed not one but two Scandinave Spa experiences, one in winter in Whistler (so peaceful with heaps of snow all around the pools) and another in summer up near Collingwood, Ontario. A lovely way to spend a day.
Coolest Restaurant Concept: At Boralia in Toronto, they’ve fashioned some of their menu items from recipes that date back hundreds of years. I enjoyed mussels cooked in smoking pine needles, apparently something once jotted down by French explorer Samuel Champlain, the Gordon Ramsay of his time.
Best Food In A Surprising Setting: Mountainside ski spots aren’t known for much more than burgers and maybe a good vegetarian chili. But Christine’s, located on Blackcomb Mountain in Whistler, serves up awesome scallops and other great dishes.
Canada’s Best Vodka: As far as I’m concerned, it’s still Eau Claire Distillery in Turner Valley, Alberta. Smooth as a gold medal ski run at Lake Louise.
Sweetest Chopper Ride: A helicopter tour over Canada’s biggest city with Toronto Heli Tours. Short, but very sweet.
Best Afternoon Tea: The Fairmont Chateau Laurier does a fantastic Champagne Tea with tons of great nibblies in a large, sunny room. A great way to spend an afternoon.
Best Canadian hotel re-do: They did a marvellous job with the Fairmont Empress in Victoria, giving the old girl a modern, stylish look and boosting the food options, too. A classic.
Best Acting Performance: The fellow who played the lead character in Master Harold and The Boys at the Shaw Festival, Andre Sills, was out-of-this-world good. It’s a tremendously powerful and often disturbing production that literally left me shaking.
Best Restaurant Southwest Ontario: Red Rabbit in Stratford is one of those rare places that can do just about any type of cuisine with flair and taste. A great food town, for sure.
Best Musical: Matilda at the Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto. A marvellous, toe-tapping ride from start to finish. Wonderful actors, too.
Cool Boardwalk Discovery: There’s a lovely one at the Port Hood Day Park on Cape Breton, leading to lovely dunes and long, lonely beaches.
Best Diner: The Flying Spatula in Flesherton, Ontario. Love the meatball sandwich and the sassy waitress I had.
Biggest Natural Surprise: I live less than an hour from Hamilton, Ontario. But I had no idea the city was home to so many magical waterfalls and such great parkland. What a goof.
Best Highland Cattle Photo: This guy, at Birds Eye Cove Farm in Duncan B.C. Note the Donald Trump combover.
Best Named Town: I loved passing through tiny Ecum Secum, Nova Scotia.
Best hike: Lion’s Head, on the Tobermory Peninsula, is one of the best hikes in Canada, with views out over the pure, blue waters of Georgian Bay.
Coolest New Hotel: The Montreal Renaissance has a fabulous, artsy lobby and sleek, colourful rooms you might not expect from this brand. Awesome food and drinks at their East Pan Asiatique restaurant, too.
Most Surprising Winery: Muscedere Winery, down near Windsor, does a fabulous job with red wines, thanks in part to the warm summer sunshine and clay soils in the area. I also found some tasty wine at Georgian Hills, near Thornbury Ontario.
Best Fireworks: Canada Day at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier. A great spot to see the show.
Dumbest Attempt To Keep One’s Hands Warm: I tried warming my hands over a hot stove at Quebec’s Winter Carnival. Nobody ever confused me with a rocket scientist.
Best Designed Hotel: Le Germain Charlevoix. I love the farm-style rooms and the sleek lobby. Great food, too, and a lovely pool/spa.
Best Burger: Motor Burger in Windsor serves up great food, including a burger with sharp dijon, gruyere cheese, spinach and smoked bacon balsamic caramelized onions. Hoo boy!
Craziest Sand Dunes: Sandbanks Provincial Park, a couple hours east of Toronto, has massive dunes on the edge of Lake Ontario. It feels like the Sahara Desert meets The Great Lakes. Great camping spots, and the wineries and inns of Prince Edward County are just minutes away.
Best Small Town Discovery: I’d somehow never been to Amherstburg, Ontario until this past summer. It’s a wonderful little town south of Windsor, with a beautiful park along the Detroit River, a fun ice cream shop and a couple of fine bars.
Best Boat Ride: A Thousand Islands boat cruise out of Gananoque, Ontario is a great way to see the St. Lawrence River and both the the Canadian and American sides. Boldt Castle is a tour highlight.
Best Dog Sled Ride: A joyous ride through the forest with the folks from Chenil du Sportif in Charlevoix, Quebec. Nice and warm the day I went, too.
Best Sunrise: At the Fairmont Chateau Montebello in Quebec, with the fog swirling over the Ottawa River.
Wow. No wonder it felt like I was away all year.
Comments: feel free!