Lake Placid

November 1, 2008 11:00 am
Atop Whiteface Mountain, the fifth highest mountain in the Adirondacks, sits the State of New York Weather Monitoring Station.From here you can walk around for a great 360-degree
view. Photo: Orda Media

Atop Whiteface Mountain, the fifth highest mountain in the Adirondacks, sits the State of New York Weather Monitoring Station. From here you can walk around for a great 360-degree view. Photo: Orda Media

While best known to most Canadians as a winter vacation spot and home to the 1980 Olympic Winter Games, Lake Placid is truly a four-season destination. For sports enthusiasts (extreme or otherwise), food and wine connoisseurs, shoppers and antique hunters alike, the village of Lake Placid and surrounding area has something for everyone.

Nov08_MLI Fall Garden

The Mirror Lake Inn Resort and Spa in the fall.

There are many wonderful places to stay in Lake Placid, from camping grounds, to hotels, motels and lodges. If you really want to treat yourself, a stay at The Mirror Lake Inn Resort and Spa is a must. This enchanting get-a-way is located  on  7  acres  on  a  hilltop  overlooking  the  Adirondack high  peaks  and  Mirror  Lake.  The  Inn’s  beautiful  décor includes  warm  mahogany  walls, polished  walnut  floors  and stone  fireplaces.  Guests  are  sure  to  find  their  “happy place”. The Inn has three fabulous restaurants. Collectively, they have too many awards to mention, including a AAA Four Diamond Award — all richly deserved. The elegant and superbly appointed suites are charming yet elegant, each with an incredible view of the mountains and  lake.  The  Inn  has  all  of the  amenities  you  desire including  a  full-service  spa  and  salon,  a  full  fitness  centre, heated indoor and outdoor pools, sauna, whirlpool, and private sandy beach. For those at work, the Inn offers state-of-the-art meeting and reception rooms. For those at play, in the summer you will enjoy tennis, boating, kayaking,fishing, and nearby golf. During winter the Inn offers a private skating rink, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and nearby downhill skiing. Whether you  are seeking a romantic get-a-way, a family vacation or a work retreat, you will return home feeling pampered and rejuvenated.

On  our  first  day,  we  drove  up  the  Whiteface  Veterans’ Memorial  Highway  and  toured  Whiteface Summit.  About twenty minutes from Lake Placid, in the town of Wilmington, Whiteface Mountain is the fifth-highest mountain in New York State and one of the High Peaks of the Adirondack Mountains. Its summit is the only one of the Adirondack high  peaks  accessible by  car.  The  drive  up  the mountain  is truly  beautiful.  Stop  along  the way  at  one  of  the  nine designated spots to take in the view and learn more about the surrounding area by posted signs.

At  the  end  of  the  highway,  before  reaching  the  actual summit,  you  will  see  a  two-storey castle  built  from  granite excavated during the highway construction. In the castle, you will find a cafeteria, a gift shop and a magnificent view through the many windows. To reach the summit you can either take a short hike of a little less than a mile up the mountain edge, or you can take the elevator. We took the elevator which we reached by walking down a 426 foot long tunnel deep inside the mountain. The elevator climbed about 27 stories to reach the summit. As it climbed, we could see the stone through the wire mesh door. It was truly incredible. At the summit, the treeless and unfettered 360  degree  panoramic  view  took  our  breath  away.  On  a  clear  day,  you  can see  all  the  way  to  Mont  Royal  in Montreal.  The pure, soul calming peacefulness of being at the peak of a 4,867 foot high mountain is truly something to experience.

The only thing more impressive than the view, was the history behind the building of the highway. Built in the early years of the Great Depression it provided much needed work for masses of employed labourers. I couldn’t help but be struck by the thought that while in 2008, we often seem to find it difficult to make buildings and scenic are as truly accessible  for  people  with  disabilities. However,  in  the 1920’s,  then  Governor  of  New  York  State,  Franklin  D. Roosevelt  had  the vision  to  create  access  to  the  top  of  a mountain  so  that  everyone,  regardless  of  physical limitations, could have a first hand experience of reaching the top of a mountain. Often it takes a real leader with a vested interest to make things like this happen.

Nov08_MLI Cottage deck

Dining on the deck of The Cottage Cafe, the Mirror Lake Inn Resort and Spa’s casual pub-style restaurant. Photo: Mirror Lake Inn Resort and Spa.

After  our  incredible  experience  at  Whiteface  mountain, we  returned  to  the  beautiful  Mirror Lake  Inn  where  we enjoyed a delicious lunch on the outside deck of The Cottage over-looking the water. The food was outdone only by the wonderfully friendly staff. After lunch, we took advantage of the super shopping and welcoming sales staff in the village of Lake Placid. We went for dinner at the Boat House Restaurant situated on the shores of Mirror Lake. This was just the right pace after a full day of explorations and outings. It was enjoyable casual dining, with an incredible view of the lake.

The next day, we ventured over to the High Peaks Wilderness area where we met with the staff of the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) at the Adirondack  Loj Visitor  Centre. ADK runs conservation, education  and advocacy  programs  that  strive  to  find  the  balance  between protecting  natural  resources  and  encouraging  the public’s respectful use of the resources for recreation. These young folks were something else — highly informed on all aspects of Lake Placid’s natural history. They arranged a kayak outing for us on Heart Lake with a hike on Mt. Jo. The two mile, moderately challenging hiking loop is great for a family. It is one  of the  easier treks with one of the best views of the High Peaks.  After our excursion, we returned to the Loj where we enjoyed a delicious picnic lunch by  “Simply  Gourmet  Deli”,  and  listened  to  colourful  historical  tales  of  the  area  and  its  ancestors  delivered with passion from the ADK staff.

The Adirondak Loj itself is something to see. It is a beautifully rustic year round outdoor centre only five miles south of  Lake  Placid  on  the  shores  of  Heart  Lake.  In  the  heart of  the  grand room  is  a  lovely  stone  fireplace  and  huge windows looking out into the forest. The Loj has private rooms, family bunkrooms, and a co-ed loft, bathrooms with showers and change areas, and a cafeteria with meal plans. This is a great place to stay while you explore the area. If camping is more your thing, the ADK’s Wilderness Camp ground offers camp sites, lean-tos and cabins.

Next, we headed for the Olympic Jumping and Sports Complexes. Our first stop was at the Freestyle Aerial Training Centre,  a  year-round  training  and  competition  site  for  freestylers  and  part  of  the  US  Olympic  Training  Centre constructed  by  the  New  York  Olympic Regional  Development Authority.  We  saw  young  kids,  possibly  future Olympians, practicing their ski jumps, twists and flips while landing in a 750,000 gallon pool. It was incredible to see the drive in these young people loaded down in their skis and boots as they, one after the other, gave it their all only to pull themselves out of the pool and try again. Who knew ski jumping was an all year sport!

At the Olympic Sports Complex, we lived up to their slogan of “for those who take their fun seriously!” by daring to ride down the 1980 Olympic bobsled track with it’s world famous zig zag turns. The experience was an exhilarating high-speed adrenaline rush of the highest order. It is a “must do”. We walked away with a whole new respect for the Olympian bobsledders. They must be fearless! A tour of the mountain and bobsled tracks gave our hearts a chance to return to a normal beat! This was definitely a highlight to end our afternoon of outdoor activities.

Following a little R&R back at the  Inn, we went to the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery. Lake Placid’s pub of choice since  the  1960’s,  it  is  known  for  its  on  site  micro  brewed ales  and  lagers including  the  famous  Ubu  Ale.  It  has everything  a  good  neighbourhood  pub  should  have  — great  food,  friendly  service  and  good  drinks.  For  the undecided, the pub offers a beer tasting service by extremely well-informed staff. To add just a little fun to your laid back evening have a s’more fondue. It will bring the child and chocolate lover out in you. This pub ensures a really fun night out and a great place for friends to recap the day’s adventures. Whether that included a summer’s day on the lake, a fall day hiking in the mountains, a winter’s day on the slopes or a spring day taking in the sights on your bike. I’m sure these walls have heard it all!

Lake Placid has something for everyone, every occasion and every season, and at just over a three hour drive from Ottawa, it is a perfect get-a-way.

By Rachael Desjardins

The Campania Contradiction

August 1, 2008 10:48 am

Naples and the Amalfi coast —History and a passion for excellence collide under gaze of Mount Vesuvius

Page 32_IMG_2140As our plane made its final approach over the Sea of Sirens the view of the Neapolitan islands of Capri, Ischia and Procida with their imposing rock faces dotted with cliff-clinging edifices and lush greenery dropping down to the emerald green sea below was enchanting.
Our trip began in the complex and beautiful city of Naples. More than just the birthplace of pizza, Naples is a cultural and gastronomical mega centre. Originally founded by the Greeks, Napoli, as it is know to Italians, has been dominated by countless foreign invaders. The Roman Emperor, Augustus, was so taken by the beauty and bounty of the region that he built a fortress high on the cliffs of the Isle of Capri from where he ruled all of the Roman Empire. Later, the Normans then the Spanish controlled the city. Each left cultural marks that are visible in both the architecture and the language of modern day Naples.


Naples is a sculptural, three dimensional delight.

Neapolitans says they live in a city of layers. In fact, if you descend 40 meters below the city there exits a labyrinth of tunnels, the remainder of the Roman aqueduct system, which was used as a bomb shelter during WWII. Consequently, there is no underground parking in Naples and the subway expansion is running way behind schedule as they keep uncovering ‘new’ ruins.

Back at street level, Naples is a seaport city and is the third largest metropolis in Italy. It is also the capital of the Campania Region — Campania meaning “fortunate countryside”. One could spend endless days exploring its historical castles and museums. A must see is the Museo Archeologico which houses artifacts excavated from the Roman ruins of Pompeii, Vesuvius and Herculaneum along with other artistic treasures. The Museo MADRE houses the city’s contemporary art collection and the Museo Capodimonte, originally intended as a hunting retreat for King Charles of Spain, is said to be one of the finest art galleries in Italy. Dating back to the 15th century, the Chiesa del Gesù Nuovo is both the name of a church and a square. With its fortified looking, diamond-encrusted façade, the church is unique to the Campania region. The Castel dell’Ovo, or the Egg Castle, is a 12-century Norman castle that sits 100 meters offshore on the site of the original Greek settlement of Megarides. Flanked by marinas, the castle affords great views of the fashionable seafood restaurants and hotels that line the boulevard along the Naples waterfront.


Neapolitans stop to shop at the popular Galeria Umberto I with its gorgeous steel and glass roof.

On the west side of the city sits the trendy suburb of Posillippo. From there, the view down to the historic city centre, as well as across to the islands and over to distant Mount Vesuvius, is spectacular. A good way to see the sight in Napoli is atop a double-decker bus. CitySighseeing Napoli offers many different routes with convenient hop-on-off, 24-hour service. We took a break from our tour and relaxed for a coffee and a pastry at the famous Caffe Gambrinus. Located in the Piazza Trieste e Trento, the café offers views of the Castle del Nuovo, a 12th century castle built for Charles I of Anjou, the then King of Sicily; the Royal Palace; the historic Galeria Umberto I and the famous opera house, the Teatro di San Carlo. Later that evening, we returned to Piazza Trieste and Teatro di San Carlo to see a performance of Verdi’s I Lombardi Alla Prima Crociata. Built in 1737, the theatre is a cultural gem. You are transported back in time as you sit in the elaborate, baroque, five-story theatre with its impeccable acoustics. Tall people beware, the doorways are very low.

Page32_IMG_2341The next day we headed for the hills. We zigged and zagged up to the base of the volcanic crater of Mount Vesuvius. Best known for it’s explosive eruption in 79 AD which destroyed the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculanum, it’s hard to believe that Vesuvius is an active volcano with over 3 million people living at its feet. Make sure you bring solid shoes and water for the steep 1000 metre climb to the craters edge. The view of the Bay of Naples from up top is wonderful.


A house embedded into the mountainside on the coastal road between Positano and Naples.

On the steep hill overlooking the bay of Naples we stopped at Casa Scola in Gragnano and lunched at this fabulous agri-tourism retreat. While we ate our host explained the tradition of olive oil tasting and demonstrated the techniques of rating olive oil. Similar to a sommelier of wine, the taster is accredited and can discern so much from what seems like a simple taste.

Leaving Vesuvius behind us, we drove down the Amalfi coast. A UNESCO world heritage site, this narrow, rocky coastal road with hairpin turn is undeniably breathtaking. Once a power house trading region that predated and rivaled Venice for wealth and importance, the Amalfi region now caters mainly to foreign tourist. We stopped in Positano, a resort town built on the terraced cliffs. The streets are too narrow to accommodate cars so hotel bus boys use golf carts to transfer luggage up to the main road. Unlike the white sandy beaches of the Caribbean, the beach here is beautiful but past volcanic activity leaves it looking almost black.

Page30_IMG_2301 (1)

A view from the beach in Positano with the village clinging to the cliff behind.

We spent the night in Sorrento, a quaint cliff/seaside city of 17 thousand inhabitants. It is filled with beautiful shops showcasing local porcelain and handiwork but is known more for its limoncello production. Stop for a tasting at I Giardini di Cataldo, a lemon orchard right in the centre of town. Sorrento is very popular tourist destination. It is wise to plan your visit before the peak season of summer.

On our way back to Naples, we spent a day exploring the ruins of Pompeii. Make sure to hire a guide at the entrance. They are so knowledgeable that they make the ruins come alive and are well worth the extra 11 euros. Look for the grooves in the cobble-stoned roads from the chariot wheels. Take a hat and lots of water as there is very little shade. This ancient city is quite large and you won’t want to miss a thing.

Our trip ended as it began, in Naples, enjoying the incredible culture and food of the city. The smells of lemons, the beautiful gardens along the coast, the breathtaking views, the spectacular sunsets, the incredibly fresh and delicious food, the compact streets, the rich the history and the proud people all combine to make the Campania region of Italy the trip of a lifetime.

Wining and Dining

Visiting the Campania region makes you wonder how we have become so removed from the production of our food.The Italians have an intimate relationship with everything they eat. They take immense pride in the freshness and purity of local meats, fish and produce. The result is the best food you have likely ever eaten and some of the best wines you’ll ever drink.  We were fortunate to dine at restaurant Rosiello in the trendy end of town called Posillipo. The restaurant grew many of its own vegetables on the cliff below as well as growing grapes for its feature wine. The service was bar none. The food was so good it was like experiencing eating for the first time. The view across to the Isle of Capri was spectacular.

In Positano, we ate at Ristorante L’Incanto, located on the beach. The narrow streets do not allow for cars but the walk down is worth every step. The fish carpaccio was beyond excellent.

In Naples, we dined at La Tradizione on via R.Bosco. The service was top notch and the food was fabulous. The buffalo mozzarella was unlike any cheese we had ever eaten before. The local favourite seafood pasta was delicious.

In Sorrento, we stayed at the impressive Imperial Hotel la Tramontano and dined at its panoramic Restaurant Belvedere. The service was impeccable. The Maître’D was a Roger Moore look a like. The restaurant is a must for its breathtaking views of Naples, mount Vesuvius and the isles.

Historical Walks The Gatineau Park

June 24, 2008 8:50 pm

For history buffs, nature lovers, bird watchers, and hiking enthusiasts, Katharine Fletcher’s Historical Walks continues to be the unique guide to the human and natural history of Gatineau Park. Fully illustrated with maps, archival and contemporary photographs, the book is a one-stop reference and handbook to the 363-square kilometer park situated on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River, just 20 minutes north of Parliament Hill by car. In Part I, the author tells the story of the pioneers and settlers who originally homesteaded here, and explains how the park came into being. Part II, invites the reader to explore a range of ecological zones including the micro-climate of the Eardley Escarpment, the tranquility of beaver ponds, and sylvan meadows. Here, Katharine also offers numerous tips on bird and wildlife viewing throughout the park. The last part of the guide features 24 summer hiking trails. (Although primarily a summer hiking guide, Katharine indicates shared bike paths throughout the park, and describes winter trail usage for winter hikers, snowshoers and cross-country skiers.). Visit

Historical Walks, The Gatineau Park Story by Katharine Fletcher C$19.95; 192 pages, Fitzhenry & Whiteside: 3rd Edition, 2004

The Rocky Mountaineer: Journey of a Lifetime

January 8, 2008 10:56 am

There are certain things you should do at least once in your life if you are Canadian. One is to visit the nation’s capital. Another is visiting Montreal and Quebec City. Still another is taking a tour of the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton. Obviously, there are the Calgary Stampede, a drive across tile Prairies and camping in Algonquin Park to consider. A sojourn across the arctic is also incredible. In spite of this phenomenal list of national travel destinations, I think a train trip on the Rocky Mountaineer would be in the TOP five of my Ten Best Vacations ever in Canada.

Travelling on board the Rocky Mountaineer is an unforgettable experience, considered by many to be, a trip of a lifetime. The two-day rail journey recaptures the romance of rail travel as it follows the historic train route constructed over 100 years ago through Canada’s West and the Canadian Rockies, uniting the country. The entire train ride takes place during daylight hours to ensure you enjoy every minute of the breathtaking scenery of glacier-fed lakes, majestic mountains ranges and ferocious rivers. The Rocky Mountaineer train travels in both eastbound and westbound directions between the beautiful coastal city of Vancouver, British Columbia, the resort town of Whistler, British Columbia, and Jasper or Banff and Calgary, Alberta.

I had first heard about the Rocky Mountaineer in the mid-nineteen nineties. What really peaked my own personal interest was when I heard that they were offering Winter Rail Vacations from Vancouver to Banff and promoted them as journeys through “the Land of a Million Christmas Trees”. I decided it would be a great trip to lake with my ten-year-old daughter right after Christmas. So we prepared for a trip though the wondrous snow-capped mountain peaks and frozen streams and lakes of Beautiful British Columbia’s Fraser Valley and Alberta’s Banff national park. We decided to go with the Gold Leaf package offered by Rocky Mountaineer for the trip. The package includes excellent on board dining, reclining seats with lots of legroom, spirits, fine wines, beverages, and fruit and snacks along the way. The service also includes live musical entertainment and a dedicated children’s program in two specially designed cars that are easily accessible from the “Gold Leaf” service car. On the overnight stop in Kamploops, the staff of Rocky Mountaineer takes care of your hotel check-in and ensure that your luggage is delivered to your room and picked up the next morning.

The interior of The Rocky Mountaineer

We flew from Ottawa to Vancouver on Boxing Day (December 26th). Rocky Mountaineer had booked us in at the Sutton Place hotel in downtown Vancouver. Sutton Place is a sophisticated European styled luxury hotel around the corner from all the shopping and restaurants on Robson Street and is idea for all visitors. My daughter’s eyes lit up when we walked into the lobby with its high ceilings, Victorian furnishings, beautifully polished hardwood floors and wonderful display of Christmas trees and decorations to celebrate the season. “Storybook” is the only way to describe it. The hotel offers a spa, sauna and indoor pool. We took advantage of the sauna and pool to freshen up form the long flight. Our room was well appointed with marble accented bath and shower, Internet hook-ups, room service- the works! All rooms have an evening turn down service. We then took in the afternoon tea at the hotel’s award winning Fleuri restaurant. In addition to breakfast, lunch and dinner, the Fleuri also offers afternoon tea and chocoholic buffet, on weekends. There is also a coffee shop within the hotel. The Sutton Place Hotel ( was a great way to decompress in Vancouver before we began the next day’s journey into the Rockies.

We began our on board trip the following morning on the Rocky Mountaineer. The Rocky Mountaineer has a dedicated train station for its trains in Vancouver – the station is very user friendly and informative. There is a photographic and historical journey of the company and all its routes posted on display in the station and staff are accessible to answer any questions. While waiting to be checked in, guests are offered complimentary coffee, and for our trip the station had arranged for a group of carollers to sing to guests.  (The train leaves the stations at 7 a.m. so we were at the station at 6:20 with our luggage). Once the train got rolling, the staff passed out champagne orange juice for the adults and orange juice for the kids and toasts were made to everyone on board. Then we were invited to the dining carriage below us for breakfast. The meals feature attentive white linen service provided by the on board attendants who serve the gourmet meals prepared from regional cuisine by the on board chefs. Luxury and comfort were words that came to mind as we enjoyed the on board atmosphere and outside view.

The stunning lobbey of the Rimrock Resort Hotel is surpassed only by the spectacular view of Banff National Park

Our journey followed the Kicking Horse Route, which goes from Vancouver to Banff and is approximately 900 kilometres. (We travelled 442 kilometres the first day and the balance on day 2).The trip winds through four mountain ranges, dozens of bridges and tunnels and alongside numerous waterfalls, lakes and rivers. (The Rocky Mountaineer offers travel by rail through five protected areas: Mount Revelstoke National Park, Glacier National Park, Yoho National Park, and the oldest and the largest of the Rockies parks, Banff and Jasper. Three provincial parks combined with the four National Parks located in the Rockies, comprise the UNESCO Rocky Mountain World Heritage Site. This ranks as one of the largest protected areas on the planet). One of the best things about the Rocky Mountaineer experience was listening to the interpretive commentary by the knowledgeable and friendly on board attendants regarding the history of the railway, the local geography, the wildlife, and their insight into the importance of how the railway has contributed to Canada’s development as a nation. They had great trivia and information to share about the people, places and things that happened during the building of the railway that have made it one of the great engineering feats of its time. I found myself shifting back and forth between our glass domed coach on the second level and going downstairs to stand outside on the platform to stare in awe and take in all of the incredible scenery. While standing outside on the platform between carriages you can still hear the attendant commentary through the train’s outdoor speaker system.

Our stopover on the first night was in the historic and thriving town of Kamploops B.C. The train arrived in Kamploops at 6:30 and we were taken by shuttle bus to our hotel. Shortly thereafter, we gathered in a theatre at the hotel and were served a buffet meal as a prelude to The Great Canadian Lumberjack Show, a theatrical play that was highly entertaining and in keeping with the spirit of the area and the trip.

We were up early the next morning and back on board the train at 6:30 am to begin the second part of our journey towards Alberta and Banff. Again, we began the day with a delicious breakfast while taking in the exceptional scenery which was quickly changing. The train began the ascent into the Rockies that would take us to an altitude of over 4000 feet higher than when we began.

The Canadian West is fortunate to still be home to a wide variety of plants and animals. The wildlife in the Canadian Rockies helps to distinguish this region from all others, and makes for a perfect vacation. Along the Rocky Mountaineer’s route we saw many of the large mammal and bird species for which this area is known including elk, moose, osprey’s, and eagles A highlight for my daughter was seeing an elk swimming across one of the smaller lakes we crossed. There are also grizzlies and black bears, bighorn sheep, cougars, wolves, lynx and caribou – the habitat is also home to many species that rely on large tracts of land to survive.

A view of the Rimrock Resort Hotel nestled among the trees in Banff National Park

Shortly after our lunch on the second day the train stopped and the conductor came on the speaker system to ask everyone to look out their windows… and sure enough, out of the forest came a man in a red suit wobbling along. It didn’t take long for the sounds of kids saying “look it’s Santa Claus” to be heard throughout the tram. Eventually, Santa boarded and spent some time with the kids and then with the adults…another nice touch on a classy trip.

Our Rocky Mountaineer train trip ended in the heart of the Canadian Rocky Mountains in Banff, AB. We were booked for one night at The Rimrock Resort Hotel located in Banff National Park. Nestled in a pristine mountain setting above the town, the Rimrock Resort Hotel ( offers comfort and luxury combined with the most breathtaking mountain and alpine valley views to be found anywhere. We checked into the hotel and were taken by its fabulous lobby decor and floor to ceiling windows that provided a lookout over the property and its exceptional amenities. We took a day to explore Banff but it wasn’t enough and I am determined to return. People from all over the world vacation in search of the Banff experience, whether it’s the restaurants, shops, cultural activities, or adventures in the wilderness. On Banff’s bustling main avenue, virtually every language from German to Japanese is spoken. Within minutes of Banff, you can be hiking in a quiet secluded forested area or skiing. We are saving this for our next trip.

For more information contact: or or call 1-800-665-7245.

Recent Posts