One of the questions I get most often from readers here at Ottawa Road Trips is, “Can you recommend a small-town destination for a relaxing country drive?” Fortunately, there’s no shortage of good answers to that question, depending on whether you like shopping, dining, hiking, music, spas or something else completely. In fact, you don’t have to drive far from Ottawa to get a relaxing taste of village life. All of these spots are within 90 minutes of the city—perfect for those spur-of-the-moment road trips, whether you’re in the mood for a day trip or a weekend getaway.
Distance from Parliament Hill: 15 kilometres
Why it’s worth the drive: The ever-expanding, Scandinavian-style Nordik Spa-Nature is one of the best-known attractions in Chelsea, but it’s far from the only one. The village is also home to the Gatineau Park Visitor Centre and serves as a gateway to the park’s 361 square kilometres of hills, lakes, trails, beaches and campgrounds. When you’ve hiked, swum, skied or snowshoed to your heart’s content, you can refuel at the lively Chelsea Pub or browse pieces by local artists at La FAB Arts Centre.
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Distance from Parliament Hill: 35 kilometres
Why it’s worth the drive: Music lovers are probably already familiar with the Black Sheep Inn, which books a huge variety of acts into a laid-back, intimate setting all year round. If country inns and spas are your thing, the Wakefield Mill Hotel and Spa provides all the 19th-century charm you could want. Photographers often head to the red covered bridge over the Gatineau River, while culture lovers can catch a show at Théâtre Wakefield or an exhibition at the Fairbairn House Heritage Centre.
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Distance from Parliament Hill: 55 kilometres
Why it’s worth the drive: Hallmark keeps coming back here year after year to film cozy Christmas specials, so that probably tells you something about the pretty charm of the place. Add in the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum, great food shops such as Pêches & Poivre and Don’s Meat Market, the Good Food Tour, the award-winning Hummingbird Chocolate Maker, fair trade organic java at Equator Coffee Roasters and, on the edge of town, the Mill of Kintail Conservation Area, and you have enough to amuse yourself for at least a day. Almonte is particularly convenient for west-end residents, as it’s just 25 minutes from the Canadian Tire Centre.
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Distance from Parliament Hill: 85 kilometres
Why it’s worth the drive: If you like history, shopping or paddling, Merrickville is a great destination. For history buffs, there’s the Merrickville Blockhouse (open spring through fall), as well as lots of pretty 19th-century homes and commercial buildings to admire. Shopaholics can choose from all sorts of great stores, including Mrs. McGarrigle’s Fine Food Shop for gourmet mustards and other culinary goodies, Vinyl Destination for vintage records, and Gray Art Glass for blown-glass treasures. For kayakers and canoeists, the Rideau River awaits.
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Vankleek Hill, Ontario
Distance from Parliament Hill: 96 kilometres
Why it’s worth the drive: In a word: gingerbread! No, not the type you make into little man-shaped cookies (although I’m sure those are available somewhere in town), but rather, the type you festoon along the roof of your charming Victorian house. Vankleek Hill bills itself as the Gingerbread Capital of Ontario, and it does indeed have lots of pretty architectural trim. If you visit, you can also check out the town’s historical murals, pick up some gifts at Garden Path Homemade Soap, visit some of the painted farm buildings that are part of the new Popsilos route, cycle the Prescott and Russell Recreational Trail, and slake your thirst at Beau’s All-Natural Brewing Company or Vankleek Hill Vineyard.
Get more details on Vankleek Hill.
These are just a few of my favourites. I’m planning to do lots more of these types of posts, so let me know your favourite town in the comments and I’ll add it to my list for a future post!
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