The days between the last dropping of fall leaves and the first snow fall can be dull, cold, and dismal, but I recently found an escape from this. I spent one of these very days in the picturesque town of Almonte, Ontario. Having never been, I was looking forward to a new adventure to brighten a gloomy, pre-holiday weekend. I perused the many shops and boutiques just as the gray clouds parted enough for a few snowflakes to flutter down and mark the start of the winter ahead.
Almonte is a small town 40 minutes outside of Ottawa. With about 5000 people, it has the unique offerings of a vibrant downtown community. There is an artistic blend of old buildings and new developments that are all set against the backdrop of the Mississippi River. As I found out along my travels, this backdrop is also a favourite of directors and producers and the town has been the set for a few major movie productions. I was standing in the spot of the rich and famous! I noticed several thrift and antique stores alongside new condo developments and art galleries. Artisanal shops, cozy bakeries and gourmet dining all line the main street that is bookended with wonderful heritage buildings and all their history.
A Place with Old Town Glamour
As you walk up Mill Street, many of the historic buildings host new enterprises that still pay homage to the past. One of these such places is L.G. Lee & Sons. Tucked beyond the vintage glass painted doors is an enormous trove of tools, hardware, toys and home goods. I could spend hours combing through the restoration hardware or tinkering with the metal model kits. This hardware store not only caters to the DIYers and home-improvers, but to the modern individual looking for a more eclectic gift. I was hesitant to leave the warm wood cabinets and even warmer welcome behind to brave the cold, but what awaited me was just as pleasant.
The Heirloom Café Bistro resides in the bottom of a restored mill and offers it guests either a cozy nook to relax in or a seat with a view! Its décor boasted exposed brick, beams and weathered wood that made me wonder what the original mill must’ve looked like it in its prime. Today, however, this café is most certainly in its prime. It was full of conversation and laughter and was clearly the choice for many window shoppers like me. With daily specials such as a Curried Butternut Squash soup and a Chorizo and Arugula pizza, there really was a dish to satisfy every palate. The streamlined menu makes it easy to spot the fresh ingredients and gourmet flavours. I had the pizza special, and it hit the spot on a chilly day. After all, pizza can turn the grayest of days around.
My server was very warm and friendly to me and my fellow out of towners. She was able to recommend an IPA from a nearby brewery in the Ottawa Valley, Whitewater Brewing Co. After a pint and a pizza, which is always a winning combination, I was unable to tackle one of their mouth-watering desserts. I snuck a peek at a neighbouring table and caught a glimpse of the pumpkin cheesecake, delicately topped with a white chocolate mousse and cranberry compote. If I wasn’t bursting at the seams, I would’ve ordered one for myself based on the presentation alone! Alas, I opted to bundle up again and hit the pavement for some more shopping!
Something for Everyone
My biggest shock when I first meandered down Mill Street was the variety of storefronts. Second hand stores, home décor and children’s boutiques dotted the sidewalks. Each of their facades had a nod to eras gone by while still managing to look trendy and affordable. I stepped into Doree’s Habit, which lured me in with their “punny” sign and chalkboard art. I’m a sucker for a good calligraphy board, I can’t lie. Their clothes are from a variety of brands that are eco-conscious and fairly made. Not to mention, they had a price range that could fit every budget. I may have left with a few sweaters to cheer myself up about the drafty months ahead.
In my opinion, a thicker waist and a thinner wallet means a great day out. Even a brittle wind couldn’t stifle the cozy feeling I got when smelling fresh bread at Baker Bob’s or milling about antique furniture at Tin Barn Market. My afternoon in Almonte highlighted just how a small town can maintain its charm but still offer the new and novel of a travel destination. Come take a look for yourself and find your perfect spot on the Mississippi River.
Storyteller: Lisa Renaud. Hometown: Rideau Lakes, ON
Lisa is a foodie, educator and mother who is always looking for a new window to shop in or a new menu to try out. She can’t wait to travel to new Canadian destinations, including the ones right in her backyard with her toddler son. She wants him to know what great things await beyond the front door!