Call of the fall
With smaller crowds, moderate temperatures and lower prices, these five spots are primed for the coming months
As much as I loved the MosaïCanada 150 horticultural exhibit across the Ottawa River from Parliament Hill, a nagging voice inside my head kept questioning my timing. "You picked July 2 to come here?" it asked incredulously. "What's wrong with you?"
It had a point: Like much of the National Capital Region, Gatineau's Jacques-Cartier Park was distractingly jammed with Canada Day revellers snapping selfies amid the 33 sculptures covered in more than 80 plant varieties. The enchanting walk-through was worth the wait in line – it cost nothing, after all – but that didn't stop the voice from adding, "You should have come in the fall!"
Indeed, many popular destinations can be hot, hectic and hideously overpriced between late June and Labour Day. The fall, however, is another story: Crowds dissipate, temperatures moderate and prices drop on everything from hotels and tours to meals and flights. Combine this seasonal detente with new digs, dining options and diversions, and these five places are primed for crisper temperatures.
Good things may well come to those who have waited to celebrate the sesquicentennial in the country's capital city. Along with the usual suspects – Parliament Hill tours, museum-hopping, Rideau Canal cruises and so on – most Canada 150-inspired happenings are still going strong. MosaïCanada, for instance, may become even more enchanting when its carex grasses turn from green to gold before the show ends on Oct. 15.
At the National Gallery, the 4,180- square-metre Canadian and Indigenous Galleries display nearly 800 paintings, sculptures, prints, photographs and decorative objects from across the country, while the Arctic Gallery at the Canadian Museum of Nature is home to more than 200 specimens and artifacts. Then there's the Canadian Museum of History's new Canadian History Hall, which is billed as "the largest and most comprehensive exhibition about Canadian history ever created."
In fact, summer visitors arrived too early for two of the most compelling diversions. Starting in early October, when the fall colours of nearby Gatineau Park are typically at their peak, the Ottawa River's Chaudière Falls will be adorned with ambient lighting and sound effects that aim to evoke the region's Algonquin heritage. Then, on Nov. 17, the Canada Science and Technology Museum will mark its 50th anniversary by reopening after $80.5-million in repairs and upgrades.
Eat: If summer weather lingers, Ola Cocina's street-corner patio is ideal for dining on hand-pressed tortilla-wrapped duck confit and delicate dulce de leche-dipped churros.
Stay: Ottawa's hotel scene was not immune to the Canada 150 effect, with downtown's stylish and inexpensive Alt Hotel opening last year, and the upscale Andaz Ottawa Byward Market doing likewise in its namesake 'hood.
Tip: Free tickets for daily guided tours of the Centre Block are available across from Parliament Hill at 90 Wellington St. Visitors can choose to take the elevator up the Peace Tower to see the Memorial Chamber on their own, but they still require a ticket to do so.
The former Provençal capital shows off the region's harvest splendour almost as deftly as its most famous resident, Paul Cézanne, did with his paintbrush. The compact, highly walkable burg is known as "the city of a thousand fountains," and while this number is an exaggeration, the beauty of the many water features is undeniable. Three centuries-old fonts adorn the eye-catching Cours Mirabeau thoroughfare, which is lined with pretty cafés and brasseries that were once frequented by Émile Zola, Ernest Hemingway and Cézanne, whose work can be viewed at the pastoral Jas de Bouffan mansion and the Atelier de Cézanne, where the painter worked from 1902 to 1906.
Aix's fame may be rooted in the past, but the present-day city is pleasingly progressive. Bastide, the new flagship boutique for its namesake beauty brand, just opened off Mirabeau with a vanity fashioned from a single block of marble and dozens of locally made fragrances and lotions arrayed on floating shelves. The four pillars of Aix's fame – art, wine, cuisine and architecture – come together at the Château La Coste winery, where a sculpture park features works by Frank Gehry, Michelin-starred chef Gérald Passédat works his magic at Louison, and a new hotel and spa, Villa La Coste, offers sublime views over the ripening vines and Durance River valley.
Eat: It's worth the 45-minute drive west to the village of La Celle, where French superstar chef Alain Ducasse owns L'Hostellerie de l'Abbaye de la Celle. Built into a former Benedictine abbey, this upscale inn and Michelin-starred eatery pairs aubergine confit with locally-caught bream marinated in coriander and lemon.
Stay: Villa La Coste offers 28 luxurious suites of varying sizes, each of which opens onto a spacious private terrace surrounded by gardens.
Tip: Just east of town, the Bibémus quarry provides a prime vantage point for viewing Cézanne's iconic limestone muse, the Montagne Sainte-Victoire.
Zion National Park, Utah
Eight-hundred-metre-deep Zion Canyon practically overflows with eye candy, from the towering Angel's Landing monolith and the wildflower-draped Weeping Wall to the tube-shaped Subway slot canyon and the aptly-named Emerald Pools. Hundreds of kilometres of superbly maintained hiking trails and canyoneering and climbing routes connect A-list sights such as these, while the 11-kilometre-long Zion Canyon Scenic Drive provides a highlight-reel option for motorists and cyclists.
Formal accommodations within Zion are limited to a single lodge and two campgrounds, but options predictably proliferate as soon as you leave the fifth-most-visited national park in the United States. These include several glamping operations – that's "glamorous camping" for the uninitiated – with the newest arrival taking tented luxury to new levels. A short stroll from the park's western border, Under Canvas Zion offers 60 canvas tents – all with en-suite bathrooms and wood stoves – along with dining at the on-site Embers Restaurant and activities including mountain biking, horseback riding, jeep tours and hot-air ballooning.
Eat: Located in the Zion Lodge, the Red Rock Grill's large windows overlook the floor of the canyon and its soaring stone walls.
Stay: The Zion Lodge's 40 cabins include two double beds, full bathrooms and fireplaces, while the 80 hotel rooms include either two queens or a single king.
Tip: From April to October, access to Zion Canyon is by free shuttle bus only. Private vehicles are allowed in from November to mid-March.
Think Eastern Canada has cornered the market on fall colours? Think again. From mid-October to mid-November, Japan's former Imperial capital bursts with fiery foliage that makes its 2,000-plus temples and Shinto shrines even more appealing. Standouts in this World Heritage Site include the mountainside Kiyomizu-dera temple; the lakeside Kinkaku-ji, which aptly translates as "the Temple of the Golden Pavilion"; and Ryoan-ji, which is famous for its meditative rock garden.
Then there's Gion, the picture-book neighbourhood where traditional Japanese tea houses known as ochaya are flourishing. There's been a resurgence in the ancient art of the geisha, those silk-wrapped, heavily made-up female entertainers who chat, sing and dance with paying patrons. These days, geisha are increasingly visible as they stroll along the cobblestone streets – especially along historically preserved lanes such as Hanami – and sing and dance for all visitors, not just the ones sipping tea behind closed doors.
Eat: Head to the 400-year-old Nishiki Market for sake tastings, Japanese pickles, matcha-flavoured ice cream and, of course, fresh sushi.
Stay: Few design flourishes have been spared at the year-old Four Seasons Kyoto, which features everything from an enormous underground swimming pool to a garden tea house reached via a glass bridge.
Tip: The world's first karaoke-equipped Ferris wheel – the Big O in the Tokyo Dome City entertainment complex – provides a culturally appropriate reason for jetting into the capital instead of Osaka.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
The Argentine capital offers an alluring fast-forward option if you're already looking forward to spring. But austral seasonal reversal is far from the only draw in the aptly nicknamed "Paris of South America."
With the Argentine peso steadily declining against the loonie over the past few years, the modish boutiques of the Palermo Viejo, La Boca and San Telmo neighbourhoods – locally known as barrios – are more alluring than ever, as are the $4 glasses of Argentine Malbec and $12 rib-eyes served in wine bars and steakhouses that seem to be on every corner. You'll certainly want to dress the part and have plenty of fuel in your tank should you be drawn into an ambrazo (embrace) while doing the tango in the city where the sultry dance was born, and you can brush up on your moves by enrolling in dance schools based in hotels such as the mural-bedecked Mansion Dandi Royal and the year-old Tango de Mayo.
Other recent additions to the cityscape reflect its unique mix of tradition and modernity. Consider the glass-domed Nestor Kirchner Cultural Centre: What was once a beaux-art post office is now the largest arts venue in Latin America, with a concert hall for the national symphony orchestra, five additional auditoriums and scores of smaller halls, galleries, rehearsal spaces and even a pair of rooftop terraces.
Eat: Pulperia Quilapan highlights farm-to-table fare in its wine bar, general store and restaurant, and hosts live music in its bucolic backyard garden.
Stay: The brand-new Alvear Icon Hotel offers 159 sleekly modern rooms and a bar and restaurant spanning its 33rd and 34th floors. (It's also worth noting that international visitors receive an automatic reimbursement of the 21-per-cent value added tax charged on accommodation.)
Tip: Getting around won't break the bank, what with subway rides costing less than a dollar and the extensive EcoBici bike service costing nothing.