Last weekend, Alan and I decided to get out of the city for a couple days. Short on time and not wanting to travel too far, I suggested we hit a small town, and Almonte was first on my list. I’ve been there many times for Handmade Harvest, but haven’t really got to hang around for more than a couple hours; Alan hasn’t hung out in a small town ever, it turns out, so he was curious to see what we’d do there. I’ll kill the suspense right now: we had a marvelous time.
Almonte is about a half-hour outside of Ottawa. Historically, it was known for its textile manufacturing, which explains the lasting artisanal feel to the town even as it’s transitioned into the home of Ottawa’s more ambitious commuters. Most everything of interest to the tourist shopper is located along the main street, which is lined with old stone buildings and is right along the Mississippi River. It’s gorgeous, with Russian lilacs everywhere and the sound of the fast-moving rapids.
There are lots of adorable shops in Almonte, which means that every day can be like hitting the Handmade Harvest craft show. Colleen, one of the masterminds behind said craft show, has just rebranded her shop under the name CRUSH, where she carries all manner of perfect gifty type items like hand-grown moss terrariums and flashy vinyl handbags. Now I hear tell that she’s also carrying some fabulous shoe lines, including Fly Shoes, which I’ll be heading back to drool over soon. Doree’s Habit carries a variety of unique and adorable fashions, and when you get munchy there’s a bakery right next door.
Our favourite shop of the trip was the Tin Barn Market. The owner, Erin, has assembled a delightful mix of antique items mixed with beautiful newly-made items. I fell in love with an ancient barber’s chair, and seriously considered going home with a dozen tiny watchmaker’s vials.
There are a ton of antique stores along the main strip of the town, and that’s where we spent the majority of our time. I can’t get enough of all the neat and random things that people have kept for generations. From handmade doilies to 1950s formica kitchen sets, you can find just about anything to add an historical conversation piece to your abode. I got an ancient chrome grill off a long-gone fireplace, a cowboy shirt for Alan, and a book for MJ called ‘Cooking for Cher’.
We stayed at the Burnside Bed & Breakfast, an ancient stone mansion with teal tin roofs and incredible grounds covered in wildflowers and flowing rapids under a handmade cast-iron bridge. Our room was huge, with soaring ceilings, giant windows, and a four-poster bed. The ensuite has a claw-foot tub, but I was most enthralled with the enormous wood-burning fireplace in the dining room: big enough to put a twin bed in, if you were strangely so inclined. The owner Marilyn was a sweetheart, and we chatted over our omelettes in the morning about all sorts of things. Laying in bed, listening to the rain on the tin roof, I fell asleep easily—something rare for me.
We went out for a special dinner together, and settled on the Almonte Riverside Inn & Kitchen. The ARIK is set in another ancient stone house, this one much more in the middle of town, but still right on the water. The owner, Rob, has renovated the house with modern-style rooms (a change from the usual saturation of antiques and floral prints), and the food!!! Trisha the chef was fabulous, accommodating Alan’s nut allergy and my dairy intolerance without a hitch. She even made half of Alan’s appetizer dairy-free so I could partake.
Dinner started with an amuse-bouche of duck served over chutney on a delicious round of crustini. Alan chose a baguette toasted with baby asparagus and melted brie for his appetizer, and I enjoyed my brie-free half just as much because the seasoning and oil was mouth-watering.
Rob shared that Trisha’s specialty is vegetarian food, so I ordered the roasted eggplant and sundried tomatoes on a bed of peppery wild rice and pureed cauliflower that was pleasantly seasoned with just the right amount of a curry flavour. Alan’s hand-rolled gnocchi was soft and flavourful, and the striploin on top melted in your mouth. I opted out of dessert, but Alan had four mini lemon-brown sugar cheesecakes that, from the bite I tasted, should be marketed as a viable replacement for sex.
REST, FOOD, AND SHOPPING…PERFECT
From our room, to the window shopping, to the dinner at ARIK, we had a wonderful getaway without having to go very far. Whether you’ve got a few hours or a few days, grab a friend or sweetheart and head up to Almonte; it’s a great place to enjoy each other and enjoy the town.