A taste of cottage life

Wakefield Mill Hotel & Spa Photograph

You don’t need to own a cottage to have a summer country experience. Try our day-tripping guide

“I’m going to the cottage.”  For most of last summer, that’s what I told people when they asked about my weekend plans. “The cottage” sounded grand — far from the hustle of the city, ringing phones and trips to the mailbox for bills.

I lied. I was really hiding in my backyard the whole time. “No one will call the house if they think I’m away,” I reasoned. “I will relax in my gravity chair, do a spot of sunbathing and drink my vino verde straight from the bottle.”

But nice as my backyard is, it doesn’t have what my dad’s actual cottage near Westport has: A great view overlooking the lake, 100-year-old pines, loons calling at dawn and hot summer walks to the village store for ice cream .

It’s idyllic, but like many others in Ottawa,
I can’t spare weeks away from work to frolic in a canoe or catch fireflies. And so, in the interests of doing something more than working on my laptop while I work on my tan this summer, I’ve decided to go on day excursions to some of the sweetest, most cottagey little spots in the region — Wakefield, Merrickville, Westport and Saint-Sauveur. Just don’t tell anyone where I am.

 

Wakefield, QC

Where it is

Tucked between Gatineau Park and the Gatineau River, a short 30-minute from Ottawa

Why go

If Ottawa-Gatineau has a bo-ho village, Wakefield is it. Founded by Irish settlers, it later became famous as home to Nobel laureate and former prime minister Lester B. Pearson, as well as Tommy Douglas, father of universal health care. These days, artists love its eclecticism, foodies adore the local cafés’ focus on regionally sourced produce and musicians groove to the beats coming from the famed Black Sheep Inn. Once a logger’s tavern when opened in 1928, the Black Sheep now proudly calls itself “a humble jukejoint divebar tavern” — whatever that means.

Where to eat

Because of the locavore culture, food in Wakefield is creative and fresh. Chez Eric Café and Bistro is a case in point: Many of the vegetables are grown at the restaurant, along with herbs and edible flowers. The food is unusual, yet decidedly Québécois. Not far away is the Wakefield Mill Hotel and Spa, which now has an Eco River Lodge. Once a busy stone mill, the building was renovated in 2000, with the dining room in the former engine room.

What to do

Wakefield is an outdoorsman’s delight. MacLaren Falls attracts thousands of visitors, as do the area’s two aerial/spelunking parks, Camp Fortune Aerial Experience and Aventure La Flèche. There’s also the Eco-Odyssey marsh wilderness tours, Wild Adventures tree climbing and Great Canadian Bungee.

Village quirk

The once-industrial village still has a blacksmith and candlemaker.

Chef Romain Riva, executive chef at the Wakefield Mill Hotel & Spa, shared his recipe for a trout and mushroom salad. The waterfall at the Mill is pictured at right.

Mushroom salad with Cedar Creek trout, Maribel almonds, and feta with Pierre l’Abeille honey dressing

Wakefield Mill Hotel & Spa

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 16 ounces (450 g) assorted Le Coprin mushrooms
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 3/4 cup (175 mL) olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons (25 mL) Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons  (25 mL) rice vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons (65 mL) Pierre l’Abeille honey
  • 4 1/2 ounces (125 g)  Maribel Citrus almonds, lightly crushed
  • 7 ounces (200 g) Folies Bergères feta
  • 4 Cedar Creek trout fillets
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) loosely packed fresh cilantro, minced
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) green onions, minced
  • 8 cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters

Cooking instructions:

  1. Pan fry mushrooms and shallots in 1 tablespoon (15 mL) olive oil.
  2. Cool and add half the olive oil. Set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, make the dressing by whisking mustard, vinegar and honey until emulsified. Add remaining olive oil.
  4. Drain the olive oil off the mushroom mixture. Then, in a bowl, mix the almonds, feta, cold mushroom mixture and dressing.
  5. Pan fry trout with oil, salt and pepper.
  6. To plate, place mushroom mixture in the centre of the plate, place trout on top. Garnish with finely chopped cilantro, green onions and quartered cherry tomatoes.

 

Photographs by Ahley Fraser

Merrickville, On

Where it is

A little more than an hour south on the Rideau Canal from downtown Ottawa.

Why go

Voted Canada’s prettiest village by Communities in Bloom, Merrickville lives up to its reputation. Flowers are everywhere, quaintness is the word and people are friendly. Founded in 1794 by William Merrick as a mill town, it has more heritage buildings than anywhere else in Ontario.  Many are restaurants, artists’ studios and shops.

Where to eat

There are plenty of pubs and small bistros to choose from. Harry McLean’s offers decent pub grub and live music at night; the Baldachin dining lounge next door has a quieter atmosphere. More interesting still is Gad’s Hill Place Eating House in the Mechanics Institute building, one of the oldest structures in town. Named for Charles Dickens’ home, it serves classic British fare.

What to do

Merrickville makes damn sure visitors return by offering festivals and activities, from murder mystery dinner theatre at Gad’s Hill to the Merrickville Car Show, which features 12,000 cars (July 8). Canalfest runs Aug. 4-6 and the Home and Garden Tour takes place July 14. There’s plenty of artisanal shopping and adventurous activities such as canoeing or cycling.

Village quirk

Merrickville is home to the continent’s oldest Scout troop, established in 1908.

The Little Apparitions Baked Pudding

Gad’s Hill Place Eating House

Serves 6 to 8

For the pudding:

  • 3 cups (750 mL) chopped, pitted dates
  • 4 teaspoons (20 mL) baking soda
  • 1 cup (125 mL) softened butter
  • 3 cups (750 mL) brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 6 eggs
  • 3 cups (750 mL) flour
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) vanilla

For the sauce:

  • 4 1/2 cups (1.12 L) brown sugar
  • 3 cups (750 mL) table cream
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) vanilla

Cooking instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚F (180˚C).
  2. Boil 4 cups of water; put the dates into the pot. Bring it back to the boil.
  3. Remove from heat, cool slightly. Add baking soda. Set aside.
  4. Using an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar together until fluffy; add eggs two at a time and mix between each addition.
  5. Fold in the flour, date mixture with juices and vanilla.
  6. Pour into large greased muffin pans and bake 30 to 40 minutes.
  7. For the sauce, mix all sauce ingredients in a pan, bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer for 3 minutes. Pour over puddings and serve.

 

Westport, ON, Photograph by Seamus Cowan

Westport, ON

Where it is

Nestled at the west end of Big Rideau Lake, 75 minutes from Ottawa.

Why go

Settled in 1810 and accessible to the Rideau Canal via the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes, it attracts thousands of boaters from all over the U.S. and Canada.  Like nearby Perth, it still boasts many of the stone buildings erected by masons working on the Rideau Canal project. Since it’s not overly artsy, it would have been a convincing Mariposa in the movie of Stephen Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town. The first sight of the village, as you round the bend on County Road 10 on top of Foley Mountain, is picturesque indeed.

Where to eat

Most gravitate to The Cove Inn on the corner of Main Street and Bedford-on-the-Water. Owned by the Cowan family for 26 years, the Cove is not only the gateway to the village, but its waterfront garden overlooks the idyllic Westport Pond. The food is well prepared and reasonably priced. A short walk away is the Church Street Bakery, beloved by locals for the freshly made cinnamon rolls, Chelsea buns, pies and bread.

What to do

Westport is cottage country. Aside from fishing off the bridge, hopping in a boat and hiking through the 800-acre Foley Mountain Conservation area, there are art galleries, the rambling Village Green store packed with everything from handmade furniture to baby clothes and the Rideau District Museum, housed in the former blacksmith’s shop. Throughout the summer, The Cove Inn’s resident musicians, twin brothers Seamus and Jeff Cowan, host the popular Blues on the Rideau Series, as well as Acoustic Blues Sundays.

Village quirk

Westport has as many permanent residents today as it did in 1888: 700.

 

40 Northh Photographs

Saint-Saveur, QC

Where it is

In the heart of the Laurentians, two and a half hours from Ottawa

Why go

Looking for adventure? Want to shop at a big box mall? Hoping to sit down for a chilled glass of Chablis and freshly caught fish? Maybe rent a cute little cottage on a lake? As administrative centre to the region, Saint-Sauveur has it all. And Montrealers know it, busting the local population on weekends from 20,000 to 50,000 people.

Where to eat

Take your pick — the are 102 eateries in town. For steak, go to 40 Northh, which is a spinoff of 40 Westt in Montreal (and yes, they spell their names with extra letters). Both restaurants only use premium dry-aged beef, done onsite in Montreal. You can’t miss it when you hit town — it’s the original general store, built in the early 1900s. Down the road sits Gibby’s, also a sister restaurant to the original located in Old Montreal. Just looking for petit déjeuner? Drive 18 minutes up Route 117 to Val-David to Au Petit Poucet. The diner serves the ultimate Québécois breakfast of its renowned cretons, smoked ham and sausages — with nary a piece of fruit in sight.

What to do

Probably best known as the world’s largest night-time ski area, Saint-Sauveur is also popular for golf courses, restaurants, lakes and mountains. In summer, it transforms into a day spot for wealthy Montrealers who tool around in Bentleys and Ferraris, while adventurers hit the insanely fun Mont Saint-Sauveur Alpine Coaster Viking that veers down the mountain on a track.

Village quirk

The village was home to Canadian musicians Kate and Anna McGarrigle from 1946 to 1960.

40 Northh’s Slow-Roasted Red and Yellow Beet Shrimp Salad

40 Northh

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 3 red beets
  • 3 yellow beets
  • 1 cup (250 mL) grapeseed oil
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) miniature arugula salad
  • Handful, watercress
  • 6 vine-ripened cherry tomatoes
  • 1 avocado
  • 6 jumbo black tiger shrimp
  • 1/4  cup (50 mL) white balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4  cup (50 mL) lemon-infused red balsamic or good-quality balsamic
  • Salt and cracked black pepper
  • 8 jumbo Kalamata black olives
  • 8 caper berries
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs

Cooking instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 300˚F (150˚C).
  2. Wash, peel and dice the beets. Brush with grapeseed oil and sprinkle with brown sugar, then wrap in aluminum foil.
  3. Place the wrapped beets in a cooking tray and bake about 40 minutes, or until tender.
  4. Allow to cool by opening aluminum foil on top, reserving all caramelized beet juices.
  5. Clean arugula, watercress and tomatoes. Slice tomatoes in half and chop avocado into square chunks. Finely chop the watercress.
  6. Shell and devein the shrimp, brush with grapeseed oil and grill.
  7. Mix the remaining grapeseed oil, vinegars, seasoning and watercress.
  8. Toss together with cooled beets, carmelized juices, shrimp, arugula, olives, caper berries, avocado and tomatoes. Garnish with halved hard-boiled eggs.

 

Connect with Julie Beun |life@ottawacitizen.com