I could see it clear as day. Every detail of the big white polar bear’s paw above me, its snowy white fur whooshing back and forth under the water. I was that close to the worlds largest bear and instantly enamoured. “Journey to Churchill”, at Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg, Manitoba, is a fully immersive experience. It was one of my first stops in a city that I had only briefly arrived in, and yet I was already smitten with. I could have spent hours lingering at the polar bear sea ice passage, which allows you to be the closest you will ever be – or want to be – to a polar bear.
“Gateway to the Arctic” even offers the Tundra Grill, where you can grab a bite. The grill is surrounded by a polar bear enclosure with tall glass windows, where you can watch them play (they like to watch you too). The other exhibits showcase the great snowy owl, arctic fox and muskoxen, making it the perfect place to get a sense of Canada’s Northern species. The habitat is the only one of its kind in the world.
Market Nibbles at the Forks
The Forks is steeped in history. It’s the spot where both the Red River and Assiniboine converge, making it the optimal meeting place for centuries, where trappers and traders from around the globe would gather. It is now home to a wonderful green space and a large indoor market filled with cultural cuisine vendors and over 300 prairie inspired artisans. Once a former horse stable from the turn of the century, the market is now the place to be for a weekend of yummy nibbles, ranging from gourmet cheeses to a Caribbean twist roti.
Just a short drive from Winnipeg’s city center is Thermea, a Scandinavian inspired spa complete with Nordic outdoor baths. I could smell cedar permeating the air upon my arrival, and within minutes I had my towel, robe and flip-flops and was all set for this affordable day retreat. Thermea is truly like a tucked-away, forested haven. Warm steam rises above the thermal baths, while waterfalls cascade over the outdoor baths. Scent infused salts are outside of the sauna to scrub away any dry skin.
Thermea even has a large wooden enclosure with comfy mats allowing you to completely decompress. Each mat comes with your own personal headphones that echo the sound of tranquility. Taking a plunge in the ice bath will have you wide-awake in seconds. Thermea also boasts a fabulous restaurant and wearing your robe to dine is almost mandatory. Try the crispy Manitoba trout with its unique spin on vegetables, transforming into an inspired piece of food art. In the summer months take an order of the s’mores with homemade graham crackers to one of the fire pits outside and roast them up.
The vibrant and funky Osbourne Village in Downtown Winnipeg is home to the stellar Segovia Restaurant. This tucked away “it-spot” has been garnering great reviews for a reason. With its intimate seating, high wooden tables and low lighting, I felt like I had entered a secret Tapas cavern.
The menu is filled with Spanish inspired cuisine and unique small dish creations, like the squash empanada with whipped feta and honey and the medjool date with maple syrup and pistachios. Lastly for my happy sweet tooth, the warm flaky churro with sugar dusting and melted chocolate on the side had my palette dancing. Be sure to get there early to avoid the wait time.
Snap Shots in the Winnipeg Exchange District
Once deemed the “Chicago of the North”, Winnipeg’s exchange district led me to believe I was no longer in Canada. Skyscrapers and old warehouses with original signage still emblazoned on the buildings are at every corner, making for great photo opportunities. The exchange district is going through a true revival, reinventing the amazing twenty city blocks that at one time showcased Winnipeg’s thriving history.
Funky shops, hip eats and retro record shops can be found in and around this national historic site. It’s easy to spend an afternoon perusing the local digs.
Built by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway in 1913, the Fort Garry Hotel is a true one of a kind, with its chateau inspired ambiance that exudes an old world charm. The hotel has hosted many a famous name over the years, from Harry Belafonte to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1939. The stately “Palm Lounge” beckoned me to linger over a cocktail or two, taking in the live music being played there every night. An added bonus is free coffee or tea served with a cookie or biscotti, brought to your room at any time of day – just give room service a ring!