A recent lunch at Ottawa’s famed Coconut Lagoon introduced me to the exotic culinary artistry of Chef Joe Thottungal and eventually led to more delicious discoveries on a made-in-Canada road trip. You wouldn’t think that Joe’s birthplace of Kerala in southwest India and Quebec’s Eastern Townships share any connection whatsoever, but the glue that brought them together for me was adventurer and author Robin Esrock, who has penned seven books of Canadian and global ‘bucket list’ activities. At the Coconut Lagoon lunch, Robin was invited by Ford Canada to share some of his travel stories and inspire a small group of local writers to embark on adventures of our own. Needless to say, I couldn’t say no to the offer of a road trip, especially one that would involve more tasty food!
The Bucket List campaign is not just a clever way to promote vehicles, but also fitting for a company whose tag line is Go Further. As Robin said, the ethos behind Ford’s slogan is not just physical; it’s also about where you put yourself mentally. As someone who’s always loved travel, the idea of going further certainly resonated with me!
While Robin may have participated in astounding adventures all over the globe, he noted that a bucket list experience close to home can be just as worthwhile as one halfway around the world. Reasonably proximate to Ottawa, he singled out five possibilities for us to consider: The Diefenbunker, The Warsaw Caves near Peterborough, the Aboriginal art at Petroglyphs Provincial Park, Great Canadian Bungee Jumping in Wakefield and in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, the Vélo Volant aerial adventure. Each of these spots fulfill his key criteria for a bucket list experience, which are: is it unique in the world; will you remember it the rest of your life; is it something everyone can actually do; and will it make a great story?
The Vélo Volant experience piqued my interest, so off to Sutton we went on a sunny Friday morning, in a snazzy copper-coloured 2017 Ford Escape. It takes just over three hours from Ottawa to get to this beautiful region, a journey we thoroughly enjoyed in our loaner SUV. There was loads of room for our luggage, and the vehicle was both quieter and more comfortable than many others we have driven. We made an interesting observation on our drive, which was that there are a lot of Ford Escapes on the road these days, proof that it’s a multipurpose vehicle that suits lots of people.
One of the vehicle’s features I particularly appreciated were the multiple USB plugs as well as a 110V power outlet accessible from both the front and back seats, so we could charge both our phones and a laptop enroute. Another really neat thing: the hands-free liftgate! Just wave your foot under the back bumper and the liftgate opens automatically, which was awesome when my arms were full of baggage.
Performance-wise, the Ford Escape was fantastic on the highway with lots of getup and go. When we got into the Townships and finally had to stop at a traffic light for the first time, it was neat to observe the auto start-stop eco-feature kick in, shutting down the engine when the vehicle is idling for more than a moment or two, then quickly restarting it as soon the gas pedal is pressed again. I also liked the blind-spot information system, whereby a light illuminates on both side mirrors when there is a vehicle in your blind spot.
I wanted to check off my bucket list adventure first, so we headed to Glen Sutton, home of Au Diable Vert outdoor centre and the one-of-a-kind Vélo Volant eco-adventure activity. I didn’t know quite what to expect at Vélo Volant. I’d been zip lining previously and thought it might be similar, but I was wrong – it turned out to be an unexpected blend of tranquility and exhilaration!
Imagine sitting in a recumbent bike, as high at times as 100 feet off the ground, gazing at babbling brooks below and sundrenched mountains in the distance. You can drift along at a leisurely pace, admiring the scenery, only having to pedal with a bit more intensity as you move your bike through the brackets that hold the kilometre long network of cables up in the air. The exhilaration comes from floating along at treetop level, an experience that for me was greatly enhanced by the glorious fall foliage, which was at its absolute prettiest the day we visited. Prior to participating in this fantastic adventure, I didn’t quite understand why Robin had deemed this activity ‘bucket list worthy’, but I agree now that it fits the bill. It’s one of just three such facilities in the world, the only one in Canada, and the highest installation of its kind. Plus, it was definitely an unforgettable experience.
Of course, a trip to the Eastern Townships offers a wealth of other touristic possibilities and we were determined to make the most of our time there. Our next destination was the nearby Chapelle Ste Agnès Vineyard which we’d spied on our drive to Glen Sutton. It proved to be an incredibly worthwhile stop that reinforced for me the value of getting off the beaten track.
From its Romanesque-style stone chapel to the neo-Renaissance banquet halls, tasting rooms and vaulted wine cellars, visiting this vineyard was like stepping back in time to an ancient, old world treasure. I found it hard to believe that everything there – including the Alsatian-style terraced vineyard – was created within the past twenty-five years, as the entire property felt absolutely steeped in history. The 2012 Vidal ice wine we purchased will be a wonderful reminder of this enchanting spot.
We rounded out our bucket list adventure with a stay at the charming Auberge des Appalaches just down the road from the Mont Sutton ski hill, chosen because of its reputation for outstanding food. The European-style inn’s rustic dining room offers a gastronomic menu reminiscent of what you’d find in a bistro in the French Alps, expertly prepared by renowned Chef John Kostuik (who was named Ireland’s Chef of the Year in 2010) and delivered to our table by a charming, jovial server.
We enjoyed the wapiti (elk) tartare with pickled ginger and wasabi, the roasted beet and apple salad with candied nuts and a platter of perfectly-prepared moules et frites. I remarked after dinner that the meal we shared will likely be as memorable to me as the Vélo Volant experience which, as someone who spends so much time focused on food, makes me very happy. I can’t wait to get my hands on some elk to recreate that delicious tartare.
The next day, before heading home we explored some of the Eastern Townships’ prettiest back roads, admiring both the dazzling autumn colours and the beautiful country homes scattered throughout the region. I couldn’t help but reflect on how even a one night escape can be as restorative as a longer vacation. I think I’m going to start crafting my own close-to-home road trip bucket list, to inspire us to go further a little more often.
Disclaimer: I am grateful to have been the guest of Ford Canada on this excursion; opinions expressed are my own.