For many Western New Yorkers, the hour-and-a-half drive to Burlington means a trip to the Swedish shopping mecca otherwise known as IKEA. It is a great place to shop, but if you take a closer look at this lakeside city, you'll find there's more to it than meatballs and lingon berry sauce (as yummy as they are).
A good place to start is the waterfront. The trail here is part of a 485-mile route that extends along the shores of Lake Ontario from Niagara-on-the-Lake to the Quebec border, making it an ideal destination for runners, bikers and fitness enthusiasts. Fortunately for the rest of us, the stretch along Lakeshore in downtown Burlington is perfect for a more leisurely stroll, with plenty of places to explore.
The Joseph Brant Museum on Lakeshore preserves the memory of one of Canada's most inspirational aboriginal leaders and Burlington's first citizen. Thayendomegea, Brant's native name, means "man of two worlds," and is fitting for someone who was simultaneously a Loyalist, statesman, Mohawk war chief and a tireless advocate for his people. A replica of Brant's Loyalist-style house contains some of Brant's possessions, including a gorget -- an ornamental collar presented to him by King George -- and a gold ring. Inscribed with his name, the ring was bought to identify him should he be killed on the dangerous journey from New York City. The trip is easier now, if visitors want to find out more about this fascinating man and the times he lived in.
Discovery Landing, a 14,200-square-foot landmark building, is farther up on Lakeshore and features an observatory with towering windows for a great view of Lake Ontario and the park. Next door is Spencer's on the Waterfront, a restaurant offering upscale dining, while The Bite downstairs serves more casual fare.
Across the street is the Burlington Art Centre, which houses the largest collection of contemporary ceramics in Canada, representing a wide range of styles from the whimsical to the classical. Painting, photography and textile art are also on display and frequent temporary exhibits add to the mix. A surprising feature in the center is a greenhouse. The lush tropical plants provide a peaceful oasis for tired shoppers, and you don't have to worry if you've spent all your money on Billy bookcases -- admission is free.
It's a pleasant 10-minute walk along the shore to reach the downtown core of Burlington, which offers a different kind of shopping experience, more intimate and eclectic.
The bookstore cat greets us as we come up the path to the big Victorian house that is home to a Different Drummer Bookstore. Chock-full of books, this cozy shop is the sort of place where you look at your watch and can't believe how much time has passed. The knowledgeable staff eagerly answer questions and make some great suggestions.
Books and chocolate are a great combination, so a good next stop is Castelyn Belgian Chocolatiers. Mark Castelyn trained in his native Belgium as a chocolatier, and all of their cocoa delicacies are handmade on the premises. Each morsel looks so delectable, it's difficult to make a choice. They taste even better than they look. (The store's address is now added as a favorite on my GPS, as there will be many return visits.)
Tumblehome (outdoor clothing and equipment), Elizabeth Interiors, Joelles & Jeff's Guy Shop and What a Heel are other specialty shops worth checking out. While browsing, we ask several shopkeepers for suggestions on a good place to have lunch and their response is unanimous -- Pane Fresco by Marc.
The Italian-style restaurant doesn't disappoint. The aroma of baking bread welcomes us as we enter the door; bins are filled with loaves of all types, from the classic French baguette to Asiago Cheese & Sundried Tomato La Scala and Tuscan Herb Focaccia. The cafe is packed, and customers are lined up to order their lunches from the deli-style counter. Soups, salads, gourmet pizzas and paninis are served, but it's all about the bread. Made using traditional methods without chemicals or preservatives, its texture and taste will make you vow never to buy another loaf from a supermarket again. Yet another address entered on the GPS.
If the carbohydrates give you a burst of energy, there's always more shopping to do. Midtown Burlington has lots of options including Mountain Equipment Coop, Costco, Mapleview Mall, Burlington Mall, Lee Valley and, of course, IKEA.
If you go:
Joseph Brant Museum, 1240 North Shore Blvd. East, (905) 634-3556; www.museumsofburlington.com.
Discovery Landing, 1340 Lakeshore Road.
Burlington Art Centre, 1333 Lakeshore Road, (905) 632-7796; www.burlingtonartcentre.on.ca.
Different Drummer Bookstore, 513 Locust St., (905) 639-0925.
Castelyn Belgian Chocolatiers, 368 Brant St., (905) 631-8074.
Pane Fresco by Marc, 414 Locust St., (905) 333-3388; www.panefresco.ca.
IKEA, 1065 Plains Road East, (905) 681-4532; www.ikea.com/ca/en/store/burlington.
For more information on Burlington: www.tourismburlington.com.