Between Zurich and Geneva is Neuchatel, a small French-speaking city on a beautiful lake, with a castle that dates to the 13th century and annual festivals that keep you close to Swiss traditions.
Between Florence and Venice is a string of smaller cities – Bologna, Parma, Modena – offering some of the best food in Italy including Parmigiano-Reggiano and Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena as well as all the food and wine festivals you could wish for.
Neither of these destinations pop into mind when planning a trip to Europe. Yet these places less traveled are so worth the visit.
In North America, what lies between the major destinations doesn't offer the same historical depth that can be found in Europe – the same cultural variety. But it's still worth finding out what's between here and there. It's worth stopping along the way, wandering the smaller towns and getting off the tourist track to discover the local scene.
Finding What's Between Here and There: Oakville Ontario
So, unlike Europe where you can Google a particular food's origin and find a small town worth visiting or look for the birthplace of a famous composer and be guided in another direction, the sheer size and youth of North America doesn't offer a simple answer. In North America, you need to trust the small town experience. You need to:
- Drive the secondary highways.
- Look for summer stock theater that will take you to small towns and guarantee entertainment.
- Go to the pancake breakfast promoted on the poster at the gas station.
- Be prepared to get lost as you follow your nose on a road of discovery.
- Look for bedroom communities that have historical town centres.
One such destination outside of Toronto that meets the last criterion is Oakville, Ontario.
Those visiting Toronto usually stay in the city perhaps taking a side trip to Niagara Falls. To be sure, the Falls themselves are impressive. But the town of Niagara is a tourist trap of huge proportions.
After seeing the falls, an alternative to the town of Niagara Falls is Niagara-on-the-Lake with its Shaw Festival (a summer stock theater) and many vineyards. If you're after wine and theater, this is worthwhile. If not, you're in for a different version of tourist kitsch.
So, my recommendation is Oakville. Oakville is quaint – not contrived, but truly quaint.
- The shops along the main street are charming. And they are there not for the tourists but because the locals really shop at them.
- The lakefront is accessible with a park and a museum.
- There are a number of exceptional restaurants.
- Many of the houses in old Oakville have plaques stating who originally lived there, thus revealing the history of the town as an important port.
- It has a 500-seat center for the performing arts that brings in touring shows. Being close to Toronto the quality has to be good.
- There are festivals throughout the summer months.
Oakville is also where some of my family live. I included it on my series of staycation days. Here's an introduction to Oakville in photos.