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Gatineau – A Hidden Gem on the Banks of the Ottawa River
Sitting on the northern bank of the Ottawa River, the majority-French-speaking city of Ville de Gatineau is the fourth largest in Quebec province. Directly across the river from the larger and more-frequented Ottawa, Gatineau has, in recent years, established itself as a fascinating entity in its own right. Known as Hull until as recently as 2001 (and still referred to as such by some staunch traditionalists on both banks of the river), the city is a cyclists paradise and home to some magnificent museums, pristine parks, fabulous festivals and brilliant boat cruises as well as a range of hotels to suit all budgets.
Hypnotic Histories and Exhilarating Exhibitions
With over a million visitors passing through its doors every year, The Canadian Museum of History is a national institution and the country’s most visited museum. Offering visitors valuable insights into the historical, archaeological and cultural story of the nation, it includes the jaw-dropping Grand Hall—an architectural masterpiece that houses a permanent exhibit to the First Peoples of Canada’s Pacific Coast—and an unparalleled panorama of Parliament Hill. The Museum also houses the Canadian Children’s Museum, a vast interactive world where young ones are encouraged to immerse themselves in other cultures through staggeringly detailed exhibitions. Children can climb aboard a bus from Pakistan, take a trip on a tuk tuk from Thailand and step inside an indigenous home from Indonesia. Also featured as part of the Museum complex is a 500-seat theatre where visiting academics deliver fascinating lectures and CINÉ+, a 295-seat cinema equipped with an enormous 3D screen.
Pristine Parks and Natural Playgrounds
The city boasts an array of world-class parks—from well-groomed playgrounds perfect for picnics, to rugged expanses shadowed by mountains. Offering breath-taking trails around the foothills of the Laurentian Mountains, hikers and bikers should head for Gatineau Park, which enjoys spectacular cross-country skiing as well as jaw-dropping vistas across the valley. Just as stunning is scenic Leamy Park, which offers a range of activities to suit all seasons. Great for biking, rollerblading and picnicking in the summer, the park also features a beautiful beach. When winter falls, the park is alive with cross-country skiers and couples in snow shoes wandering laps of the lake. Jacque Cartier Park is one of the most popular public spaces in the city and for good reason. Featuring a jaw-dropping glacial valley, dense forests and fast-flowing rivers, the perfectly-kept space is popular with backpackers and birdwatchers and offers canoeing, tobogganing and fishing opportunities.
A Winterlude Wonderland with Perfect Poutine
Each year in February, Gatineau enjoys three weekends of snow-filled fun and icy enchantment as it celebrates the Winterlude Festival. Over half a million participants take part annually in a range of wondrous activities, a lot of which are free. Don your skates and glide along the Rideau Canal, the world’s longest natural ice rink before heading to the Crystal Garden to witness some truly stunning ice sculptures. Take in an exhilarating ice-hockey tournament before taking great photos at the now-legendary Village Bed Race, where costumed competitors race brightly-lit beds across the frozen expanse. Glide down icy slides at the Snowflake Kingdom or stroll the riverbanks to experience an eclectic array of live music. Foodies delight in local delicacies as the city’s restaurants take their culinary treats to the sub-zero streets. People travel from far and wide to be here for Winterlude, so popular hotels often find themselves fully booked.
An Abundance of Annual Events
As well as Winterlude, the city plays host to a range of fascinating festivals each year that draw crowds from across the country. Each Labour Day weekend, hot-air-balloon enthusiasts gather for Festival de Montgolfiéres de Gatineau: the 5th largest ballooning festival in the world. The skies are filled with gas-fired balloons of all colours, shapes and sizes; meanwhile, back on land, concerts, amusement parks and food stalls keep the crowds happy. If you are planning a warmer Gatineau getaway, why not check out the annual Gatineau Festibiere, which takes place each May and showcases some of the area’s finest speciality beers. June 24th is Fete Nationale du Quebec, a national holiday which sees city-wide celebrations that run long into the night. A week later, on July 1st, the city marks Canada Day with a spectacular firework display that lights the skies over Parliament Hill.