Every road is the same chrome-to-chrome bumper-to-bumper mess. I’ve just got to get off this road. It’s time for me. Veering off the highway I pass a beautiful stretch of mansions that could be Beverly Hills without the palm trees. Where in the world am I? Suddenly a quaint village full of restaurants, boutiques, salons and dog-walkers appears. I’ve only now discovered what locals have known for years: the heritage-designated downtown village of Oakville. Along this posh strip of the Lakeshore, a short getaway from Toronto, I’m only moments from the pebble shoreline of Lake Ontario. Oakville has the most harbours per city in Canada; parking is free after 6pm, on Sundays and holidays, and there is an easy, small town feel that beckons a leisurely stroll.
I begin at the Hamba Lounge in Touch De L’Afrique. Part South African art gallery, part travel agency, and part café, here I sip on an intense but smooth Red Latte of rooibos tea ground through an espresso machine, and admire the artisanal works. Around the corner I am drawn to the sweet aroma of SweetBites where a variety of 20 cupcakes brings out the kid in me. All made from scratch. Immediately zeroing-in on a moist chocolate cupcake with chocolate ganache and a spoonful of cookie dough, I follow up with more, more, more.
I had heard about the health benefits of Himalayan salt, and its 84 minerals composition, but I never imagined there would be a salt cave in downtown Oakville. The glowing pink Solana Salt Cave invites us to detoxify, breathing in negative-ions equivalent to relaxing by an ocean. Revitalized, it’s time to shop! The boutique that catches my attention is M for Men. Smart, hip collections that include Pal Zileri, Jacob Cohen Jeans and Xacus Shirts, and with price tags I can afford to look at, I want everything I see. I’m offered espresso and biscotti, and made to feel like a star being styled to impress. This is how shopping should feel. Shopping and lunching gives me that “where am I?” feeling again.
The centre of action is the romantic piazza ambience of the town square. Children play in the grass, baby-strollers and bicyclists pause to relax; yoga enthusiasts assemble for lessons; on summer nights live jazz entertains, and in winter it’s an ice rink. From my patio table at 7 Enoteca, the emphasis is on sharing fresh ingredients sourced locally or flown in from Italy. A one-of-a-kind, 900-degree wood-fired oven needs only 60 seconds to crisp my generously portioned lobster pizza. Fresh black truffles are shaved onto it tableside.
On a return visit with friends, we meander along the pier, and take a “Lakeshore lap” of gastronomy: tapas at Corks, craft beer and bites at Bru and dinner at Seasons.. When Oakville needed a change, George and Tammy Couto injected a new pulse with their four restaurants, each with its own niche. At Corks we crunch on tempura-fried whiting tacos with avocado mousse avocado mousse and salsa roja, empenadas filled with chicken chilidron with chimichirri. Sidling up to the gastro-bar at Bru we select from 30 craft beers and pair with crispy cauliflower, smoked peanuts and grilled octopus. Embracing organic ingredients from the area, even the artwork is local at Seasons. A vibrant and accessible menu ranges from zucchini noodles with olives, peppers, sugar snap peas and grape tomatoes to Dijon crusted lamb with sweet potato mash and pecans–all reflections of colour and uncommon finesse that are exciting to taste.
Oakville is far enough away that we feel like tourists on a splendid day trip, and close enough to feel that we’re home.