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The Other Side of the Ottawa River

When my wife and I had a few days off, we packed up a 2017 Mazda CX-3, bypassed the capital and went straight to Gatineau. It’s a destination everyone should include in their patriotic pilgrimage this year.

  • Gatineau Road Trip

It’s no surprise that Ottawa is the epicentre of all things celebratory this year. With Canada celebrating its 150th, the nation’s capital is making sure the entire country knows they’re throwing a year-long party—and people are flocking there in droves.

Working for Big Rig Brewery, a small award-winning craft brewery based in Ottawa, I know the ins and outs of the city. But, I’ve grown to know the other side of the Ottawa River, which is teeming with brilliant sights, amazing food and spaces for extreme relaxation.

When my wife and I had a few days off, we packed up a 2017 Mazda CX-3, bypassed the capital and went straight to Gatineau. It’s a destination everyone should include in their patriotic pilgrimage this year.

Gatineau

Driving the 2017 Mazda CX-3 to Gatineau

The subcompact SUV segment continues to grow. While these little wagon-like vehicles didn’t quite make sense to me at first, their worth shines through on a road trip like this one.

We don’t need a lot of space—it’s just the two of us and enough luggage for the weekend. A compact car would work, but it’s not nearly as comfortable as the CX-3. A regular ol’ SUV or midsize sedan would be overkill.

This little guy combined the right amount of cargo space, comfort (leather seats, with surprisingly enough room for my 6’2” frame), enough peppiness to fly across Highway 401 and nimbleness to more easily zip through smaller streets in the Gatineau region.

Gatineau

Chelsea and Wakefield in the 2017 Mazda CX-3

Nordik Spa-Nature in Chelsea is a must-visit spot for us. We only made one stop on the uninspiring drive from Toronto (and yes, we could have taken the more leisurely drive across Highway 7, but the destination was our objective on this drive) knowing what awaited us: absolute bliss.

Gatineau Road Trip

The largest spa of its kind in North America, Nordik makes you forget you’re on this continent. “It’s like this magical place that makes everything feel right,” says my wife.

It overlooks the Gatineau hills and immediately relaxes your soul upon entrance. Move through the thermal process of heat (nine unique saunas), cold (four baths) and rest (a number of areas around the spa, including the new hanging beds). I’m always a better person for it.

Gatineau Road Trip

We could stay all day, but after a few hours we jump back into the CX-3 and head up Autoroute 5 to Auberge de Mon Petit Chum B&B in Wakefield. The little B&B has a lot going for it. It’s located within walking distance of the main Wakefield village strip; the studio suite we stayed in is completely private, with its own bathroom and deck; and Dawn, the owner, knows how to make you feel like you’re part of the family and can cook up a mean breakfast!

Gatineau Road Trip

We walk along the Gatineau River towards Chez Eric for dinner that evening. It’s a beautiful little bistro, with a simple outdoor patio complete with lights that transport us back to our honeymoon in Paris. Couple that with some of the best food and service we’ve ever experienced, and our must-visit list instantly grew by one.

Gatineau Road Trip

The next morning, before heading across to the other side of Gatineau, we wander over to Expeditions Wakefield. Previous visits included The Black Sheep Inn, The Chelsea Pub, Biscotti & Cie and hikes through Gatineau Park—but we’ve never taken to the water, until now.

Gatineau Road Trip

The shop specializes in all things outdoor. We grabbed a tandem kayak and, with wobbly inexperience, took to the Gatineau River. Not wanting to venture too far, we cruised along the main strip taking in the quiet of the morning—a peaceful space to end our morning before climbing back in the CX-3.

Gatineau Road Trip

Aylmer and Downtown Gatineau in the 2017 Mazda CX-3

The last leg of the weekend took us west to Aylmer. The opening of The British last year injected the area with an air of cool and hip. The building, originally built in 1834, has hosted world dignitaries, famed musicians, and the occasional outlaw. Completely renovated, the historic building now boasts a boutique hotel, restaurant, bar and cafe.

Gatineau Road Trip

The rooms are posh. Dark wood. Bright white sheets. It provides more space than a typical European boutique hotel, but with a similar feeling of it being set apart from chain hotels of a similar quality. It’s the type of place you’ll want to stay at every time you’re remotely close to the area.

Gatineau Road Trip

The restaurant is boisterous and lively, lacking only a selection of craft beer to better fit its ambiance, and the cafe a few doors down is airy and neat—perfect for a good morning read. The main drag outside The British is short, but quaint. We were pleasantly surprised to run into the Old Aylmer Farmer’s Market, which is open every day.

The lazy day was exactly the preparation we needed for what came that night: dinner at Soif, opened by world-renowned sommelier Véronique Rivest. The space is romantic and relaxed. The menu is deliciously modest, with a mix of sharing plates and such standouts as bison tartare and baked ricotta. Of course, the highlight is the wine.

Gatineau Road Trip

Throw yourself at the mercy of your waiter, regardless of how knowledgeable you might be. This is half the fun. We placed our food orders and, course by course, had in-depth conversations with our waiter about what he thought would best pair with each. He pulled bottles from all corners of the menu and the world, labels that we’ve never seen before—or from a distance in the too-expensive-for-us section in the LCBO. Our must-visit list grew by one more.

Gatineau Road Trip

Leaving Gatineau and heading home

It’s a sad moment when we get in the CX-3 and start heading back to Toronto. Gatineau has injected energy and beauty into our weekend in an incredibly unique way.

This summer, when you bask in the glory of all things Canada in the nation’s capital, ensure you spend time on the other side of the Ottawa River. There’s so much to experience to not make it part of your road trip—or to make it the reason for your road trip.

You May Also Like: Road Trip: Our Nations Birthday

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