Story by Adrian Brijbassi
The past 12 months have seen some outstanding achievements for tourism in Canada. Terrific new restaurants, wonderful museums, top-of-the-line hotels and amazing events fill the landscape. Here are my choices for the best that I experienced in 2011 (apologies to the east coast — I didn’t get there this year but will for sure in 2012). Be sure to share your own picks.
Best hotel for a rap star: Opus in Vancouver. The chic Yaletown spot features a hot bar scene, chill lounge and décor that’s on point for a clientele that’s young, rich and sophisticated.
Best hotel for a rock star: The Ritz-Carlton in Toronto, which debuted in February, earned the city’s first CAA five-diamond award in October and has established itself as the place to stay in Canada’s largest city.
Best hotel for the rest of us: Le Place d’Armes in Montreal. Great rooms, fantastic location (across from Notre Dame Basilica), top-notch restaurants on-site and one of the best values in the country with nightly rates typically in the $150-$195 range.
Best hotel that isn’t a hotel: The Huether Hotel in Waterloo, Ontario. The historic building has a few rooms it rents out to university students, but its main focus is being the epicentre of the city’s nightlife scene, with an array of entertainment choices and great beer from Lion Brewery.
BARS & RESTAURANTS
Best restaurant you’ve heard of: Vij’s in Vancouver continues to be head of the class in that city and beyond.
Best restaurant you’ve not heard enough about: L’Orignal in Montreal, where you can savour good food and linger a while in its friendly atmosphere.
Best new restaurant: L’Abattoir in Vancouver, which is headed by chef Lee Cooper and includes some unique twists on West Coast cuisine. (Runners-up: Le Bremner in Montreal and Acadia in Toronto.)
Best jerk chicken: Surprisingly, at the Smoque Shack in Ottawa, a newly opened barbeque joint that’s a hit in the nation’s capital.
Best burger: The Dart Burger from BQM in Toronto. You may not bite on its food-as-art marketing, but you will come back for seconds of these delicious treats.
Best Mexican: Still searching … Let me know if you’ve got a suggestion.
Best food item under $10: Any of the sausages at Toronto’s WVRST, a German-style beer hall that opened in spring.
Best cocktail: The Don Draper, a splendid twist on an Old-Fashioned by L’Abattoir’s superb mixologist Shaun Layton.
Best apple pie: From Grandma Lambe’s in Meaford, Ontario, of course.
Best place you can’t take a photo in: Goodnight Bar in Toronto. The city’s fabulous speakeasy likes to keep things hush-hush — even though there’s a lineup outside and everyone inside can easily snap a pic with a smartphone.
Best lunch ever: At BeerBistro in Toronto for the Ontario debut of Unibroue Grand Reserve 17, the “world’s best dark ale.” The beers from our nation’s top craft brewer just kept coming at this liquid celebration.
Best bakery that’s worth the drive: Pan Chancho in Kingston, Ontario, a bustling place with loads of sweet delights and fresh, tasty savoury fare.
Best wine bar: There are lots and lots in this country. Try PicNic in Toronto and Salt in Vancouver.
Best wine that should be available across Canada but isn’t: Laughing Stock Vineyards’ Portfolio, a fine, deep blend of reds that’s full of richness and subtlety. The Naramata product is hard to find outside of B.C.
Best museum in Canada: Montreal Musem of Fine Arts, thanks to the addition of the Claire and Marc Bourgie Pavilion of Quebec and Canadian Art that debuted in fall.
Best museum renovation: Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, which is also the best museum for kids, re-opened with fantastic exhibits that include dinosaurs, a polar display and terrific educational stations.
Best interactive museum exhibit: Rethinking Art + Machine at TheMuseum is on until January 22, and features some of the coolest modern art you’ll see.
EVENTS & ACTIVITIES
Best historical tour: The Sir John A. Macdonald Walk conducted by political historian Art Milnes in Kingston, Ontario.
Best multi-day event that requires a wristband: Canadian Music Week in Toronto, which this year featured a contingent of outstanding bands from Australia that included the Jezabels.
Best little town worth a visit: Thornbury, Ontario. It’s got a pleasant main street, an outstanding café (Thornbury Bakery & Café) and the historic Dam Pub that carries more than 600 whiskies.
Best place to learn to canoe: The Grand River in Kitchener, Ontario, where the water only comes up to your waist in case you fall in.
Have you got favourite places of your own? Share them in an email and you could win a travel gift from Vacay.ca!