Disney Dreaming

February 6, 2015 12:59 pm
DISNEY DREAM AT CASTAWAY CAY

When it comes to creating an extraordinary world of escape, there is nobody who does it better than Disney. Whether you are nine or 90, it is impossible to come away from a Disney experience and not be amazed by it, even awestruck, and completely relaxed and renewed. Disney has created an environment, where no matter how stressed out you are, no matter your level of worry, you will be transported into its alternate reality, filled with all the stuff that dreams are made of.

Feb15_Disney_0327bz_8339gd_25978_origWalt Disney World in Orlando or Disneyland Park in California or other members of the Disney theme park family around the globe are well known but since 1998, Disney has been taking its world of magic to sea. The Disney Cruise Line is made up of four ships (Magic, Wonder, Dream and Fantasy) that travel to destinations including the Caribbean, Bahamas, Europe, Hawaii, and Alaska. (New itineraries of varying lengths are always being added.)

The shortest cruise is a three-night excursion from Port Canaveral, Florida to the Bahamas and back on board Disney Dream. From the minute you hear its horn signal as you depart, (the first seven notes of When You Wish Upon a Star), the fairy-tale tone is set for your voyage.

A first-time cruiser might fear feeling cramped or restricted onboard but this is a needless concern. These ships are like communities on the water. Dream, for example, is over 1,100 feet in length with 14 passenger decks. In comparison, it is longer than the height of either the Eiffel Tower or the Chrysler Building. The staterooms are also 25 per cent bigger than many other ships and larger than some hotel rooms in Europe.

Feb15_Disney_0907ax_1294gd_8d_origJust outside your cabin door, you will find endless activities and adventures for everyone.

First, for children and youth, Disney spares nothing to ensure a good time. For the younger set, there are costumed Disney characters with whom children can interact. Specific times and locations where the characters can be found are given to parents in the daily activity itinerary (a very useful tool that lists all ship activities) provided in the room.

By day, kids can frolic in the water. There are two large pools and one smaller water-play area for smaller children. Above them all is a gigantic screen with endless Disney classics running all day long. Dream sports the first water coaster at sea, the AquaDuck, which stretches 765 feet in length, spans four decks in height, and zips over the edge of the ship, 150 feet above the water, much to the glee of every rider. There are also bottomless drink machines as well as an ice cream bar and other fast-food options open well into the night to keep your children’s (or your own) sugar high going. For healthier food options, the Cabanas casual dining restaurant delivers. The buffets are amazing with lots of variety.

ANIMATOR'S PALATE UNDERSEA MAGIC SHOW ON THE DISNEY DREAM

In the evening, Disney created an innovative option for dinner. With its rotational dining concept, featuring three themed restaurants, guests dine in a different venue each night, accompanied by their same serving team. The Animator’s Palate is a fascinating restaurant that has screens everywhere with Disney characters popping up. The artwork on the walls is stunning with drawings and paintings of the animation process that brings the characters to life. It’s worth taking the time to look around and soak up the creativity.

All parents need time without their kids. Disney understands. There is a nursery for wee ones, a teen club (Vibe), a tween club (Edge) and a club for other ages (Disney’s Oceaneer Club and Lab). They are drop-off centres with Disney Counselors who keep your kids busy. In fact, your kids have so much fun they don’t want to leave. There is a large interactive computer game on the floor where groups of children play together, guided by the Disney Counselor. A giant screen in front of them boasts Disney characters who appear and interact with the children. There are flight simulators, sailing simulators and other computer games. It is one sophisticated play area as you might imagine and probably expect. There are, of course, traditional arts and crafts, dancing, hula hoops and of course, movies. The Counselors are amazing and the Oceaneer Club and Lab are open until midnight so take advantage of the long hours and enjoy some well-deserved free time.

Hit the adults-only locations, for example. There is a whole variety of bars for every taste. Check out the spa, impressive fitness centre and adults-only pool. There are two kid-free gourmet restaurants to boot with incredible wine lists (with an extra cost).

BUCCANEER BLAST! FIREWORKS AT SEA ON THE DISNEY DREAM If you do want to hang out with the kids, there are endless organized activities. Every night, there are original and elaborate musicals offered in the Walt Disney Theatre. Themed deck parties are a lot of fun. There is an unbelievable fireworks display, the first of its kind at sea. (In fact, Disney, which is always looking to provide that something extra, has many cruise industry firsts.) If you are a movie buff, you will be blown away with the full-sized movie theatre that offers movie premieres at sea on the same day a film debuts in theatres, including films in Disney Digital 3-D. Family dance parties, bingo, karaoke, animation lessons, family game shows are all on the agenda if you choose. The fact is there is always something going on. Be sure to experience the detective game with your children. You set off to find clues around the ship with a special paper that, when it comes in contact with enchanted artwork, provides the clues.

If you want to just stay in your stateroom, each television has dozens of Disney movie choices as well. There is wifi available but truthfully, it is pretty expensive. It is a great excuse to leave the real world behind.

While there are many Disney cruises with various ports of call, the three-night Bahamas excursion has one day stop on Disney’s own private island, Castaway Cay. Disney is the first cruise line to have a dock allowing guests to walk on and off the ship (thus eliminating the need for boats to bring them ashore). On Castaway Cay, there are the usual water activities you would normally expect from a traditional, beach resort experience. If you feel like moving around, there is an organized 5k run, but if running isn’t your thing, there are bicycles to check out the island. It is quite stunning.

While immersed in fantasy and fun, the reality is Disney is one professional, slick, sophisticated, wellrun organization. Every logistical detail is perfect right down to the yellow-coloured lifeboats. Rather than the traditional regulation colour of orange, Disney was granted special permission by the U.S. Coast Guard to paint the lifeboats yellow, in order to keep with the special colour theming of the ships, the colours of Mickey Mouse himself. This may seem like an insignificant feature, but it points to the lengths Disney has gone to create the perfect environment.

Another example of its supremely well-oiled organization is how well you are taken care of ashore. Whether you are heading to Orlando for another Disney experience or heading to the airport, Disney buses will get you there. There are Disney representatives to guide you every step of the way.

Walt Disney World is a mere hour drive from Port Canaveral. That, of course, is worthy of its own trip. However, there are themed Disney hotels/resorts that are great places to either get you in the Disney mood before your cruise or to continue the magic after. They all have organized activities as well, including movie night on the beach with marshmallow roasting, but the real attraction is the theme park. That said, even if you don’t have time to visit the park, the hotels are fabulous places to stay.

Another fascinating feature of all the different Disney branches is the diversity of the staff. The Disney Cruise Line alone has more than 86 different nationalities represented. All staff is, without exception, kind, warm and hospitable. Furthermore, all ages are represented, including seniors. It is strangely moving to see Mickey Mouse earrings in the mature ears of some of the Disney guides. It speaks volumes to the fact that the wonders of Disney are for everyone.

Disney Fantasy at SeaDisney Cruise Line is the recipient of many prestigious cruise industry awards and to experience its magic first-hand you fully understand why. This March Break, or for any break you and your family need, Disney will deliver in ways beyond your imagination.

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While you might think ships are environmental disasters, the fact is Disney takes its responsibilities seriously, showing business savvy and sophisticated forward thinking by taking steps to minimize environmental impact. There are many initiatives but here are a few:

• Each ship has an on-board Environmental Officer to oversee all the recycling, waste minimalization efforts.
• Disney reclaims natural occurring condensation from the air conditioning units, recycling it to supply onboard laundry facilities and using it to wash the decks. That step alone saves 30 million gallons of fresh water per year.
• Each week, more than 1,000 gallons of used cooking oil are offloaded and recycled. One hundred per cent of that is recycled in ports of call. In Nassau, for example, cooking oil is recycled and converted into biodiesel fuel to power a local fleet of vehicles.
• On the ship hulls, there is a coating that is non-toxic which reduces surface resistance in the water, allowing the ship to be more fuel efficient.
• Organic cleaning products are used.
• There are advanced wastewater purification systems on-board.
• Disney Cruise Line clean up. So far, it has removed 31,000 pounds of trash and debris from beaches and waterways.

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For more information go to: disneycruiseline.com

 

Make Every Day Sun Day in Clearwater and St. Petersburg, Florida

February 2, 2015 3:04 pm
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Photo courtesy of Visit St. Petersburg & Clearwater

If dreams of daytime highs of +24 instead of -24 or visions of sandy beaches are occupying your mind, then it’s definitely time to take your wind-chilled heart south. Sun, fun and beautiful beaches that will surpass your dreams await you in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area of Florida.

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Photo courtesy of Visit St. Petersburg & Clearwater

You could hit either location for a beach escape, but it’s worth the effort to see both. They are a mere 40-minute drive apart. Each city has something unique to offer with its own vibe. In part, that is because of the difference in size and population.  St. Petersburg (St. Pete) has more than double the population of Clearwater (250,000 versus 110,000).

Both St. Pete and Clearwater are approximately a 30-minute drive from Tampa Bay Airport. Rent a car.  It is essential to get around.

While there is no question the beaches, beauty and heat are key attractions, St. Pete has an interesting history that dates back to 1875. General John Williams came down from Detroit and bought some land to create a city with beautiful parks and broad streets. Today’s St. Pete is a testament to his vision.

St. Pete quickly placed itself on the map and in 1914 became a key location for baseball spring training. That year also marked the first ‘commercial’ flight which took off from the area. From there, the sky was the limit. Tourism skyrocketed during the Roaring 20s and the city grew and flourished. The city’s beautiful Mediterranean architecture dates from that era.

When the U.S. Coast Guard and Army Air Corps set up shop in the region in the 1940s for training, the activity in the area during that war and post-war period increased. It brought thousands of people to the area.

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Architecture in St. Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Visit St. Petersburg & Clearwater

It developed a reputation as “God’s waiting room” but that has vanished over recent years. There is a really great lively vibe to St. Pete now. It is a warm community with an eclectic centre with funky, quirky shops, microbreweries, cafés, bars (with patios of course). There is a certain cool, yet eccentric, sophistication about the city. With scores of galleries, an active performing arts community and seven museums, the city is the cultural hub of central Florida. While being indoors may not be a top priority, the Dali Museum is a fantastic place to visit. It is the home to the largest, most comprehensive collection of Salvador Dalí’s work outside of Spain.

If glass art is your thing, then hit the Chihuly Collection. It is the first permanent collection of Dale Chihuly’s work in the world.

Not surprising, given the fantastic weather, the streets have become an art gallery themselves, with over 30 public art projects scattered throughout the city. St. Petersburg Preservation offers a great walking tour where you can see some of the pieces as well as get a comprehensive history of the place.

St. Petersburg/Clearwater hold a Guinness World Record for the most consecutive days of sun, lasting 768 days (which started back in 1967) so you may just want to spend as much time as you can on the beach. Many of the region’s beaches regularly make the top 20 lists of many different surveys.  The ones that will truly take your breath away include St. Pete Beach, Clearwater, Caladesi State Park (well worth the drive), Fort DeSoto (a stunning 900-acre county preserve with five islands and over 10 km of undeveloped beaches).

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The Don CeSar Hotel. Photo courtesy of Visit St. Petersburg & Clearwater

If you just want to camp out at a hotel, spoil yourself and have the beach and a beautiful beach- side hotel at your fingertips, there is no better place than the Loews Don CeSar Hotel, known as the ‘Pink Palace’. Splurge. It is worth every dime. Built in 1928, it faces the white, sugar-like sands of the Gulf of Mexico and has had quite the guest list including people such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Al Capone, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Presidents Carter and Clinton, to name just a few. (There are also guests that apparently never leave … the Pink Palace supposedly is haunted.  It was used as a veterans’ convalescence home during the war/post-war period. Furthermore, there are reports that the founder of the Don CeSar benignly and posthumously wanders around his hotel.)

It has been used in movies as you might imagine, including Once Upon a Time in America (Robert DeNiro) Forever Mine (Ray Liotta, Ralph Fiennes). Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers used the hotel for an MTV video special.

It has two pools, a hot tub and an incredible outdoor bar, all of which are close to the beach. Your kids can swim in the pool (if you bring them) while you sit nearby in the hot tub. If you want them to disappear altogether, there is a children’s activity centre where they can have fun while you peacefully enjoy the beautiful sunsets from the Don CeSar beach. They are stunning.

The food is what you would expect from a high-end hotel. However, there are many eclectic off-site dining spots to experience the local flavour. Frenchy’s, (which was actually founded by a Quebecer), and Crabby Bill’s are two regional chains that are legendary, local institutions. They are reasonably priced and are peppered around the St. Pete/Clearwater area.  Frenchy’s has the best seafood ceviche you may ever have. Its fresh grouper is also incredible. Crabby Bill’s has excellent fish and seafood as well, (including, yes, the most, delectable crabs), and somehow has a bit more of a laid-back feeling, although everywhere in the region a welcoming, relaxed environment seems to permeate.

There is an expression in Clearwater that every day is sun day and it’s for good reason.  There are 361 days of sun and a fabulous average temperature of 73 degrees in the area.  While it has the same weather as St. Pete, Clearwater has a different vibe.  It has a bit more of a resort town/party feel to it and a lively post-sunset night life.

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Winter from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Photo courtesy of Visit St. Petersburg & Clearwater

Be sure to hit Pier 60 for its nightly sunset festival with a movie, artisans, crafters, buskers, music.

If you do decide to venture away from the beautiful beaches there are lots of touristy-type activities. There is dolphin watching, sailing, cycling, boat tours and many water sport activities.

Kids of all ages will enjoy a ride on Captain Memo’s Pirate Ship, the Pirate’s Ransom. It is a big hit with the younger set and those over 21 will enjoy it too, if only for the free drinks – even before noon.

The blockbuster movies Dolphin Tale I and Dolphin Tale II have recently put Clearwater on the radar screen for a lot of people and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, (CMA) where the movies were filmed, is an absolute must-see. Winter, a dolphin who had her tail amputated after having been stuck in a crab trap, and now has a prosthetic tail, survived against the odds and has thrived at the Aquarium. She became an international symbol of resilience for the physically challenged and the Aquarium has become a pilgrimage of sorts. Her story touched millions and Hope, another rescued dolphin, has added to the attraction of the place.  Other rescued sea life are fun to see as well. The CMA’s mandate is to rescue, rehabilitate and release healed marine animals as well as to educate the public.

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Frenchy’s Oasis Motel

In Clearwater, and in St. Pete for that matter, there is any kind of accommodation you want.  If you want big chain hotels, some with the price tag to go along with it, they are there. Less extravagant chains are there too. There are options on the beach and others that are not. However, the fact of the matter is, wherever you are, the beach is never far away.

For an intimate experience and to get a feel of old-school Florida, try Frenchy’s Oasis Motel. The same person who founded Frenchy’s restaurant chain bought the original motel (the Olympia) and renovated it, but did so maintaining a retro feel. It has all the necessities, like a great outdoor pool in the centre of the motel. The place is small and has a community ambience to it. There is a 24-hour common area with a computer and printer, a great coffee machine and a tv and movie collection that you can watch there or borrow for your room. While there is no maid service, there is daily towel replacement if you need it and the pool is well equipped with towels and toys. The rooms have a kitchenette but skip the cooking as there are incredible restaurants everywhere.

One of the great things about Florida is that it is not that far away so travel time can be minimized and beach time maximized. If a week is impossible for a getaway, even a long, four-day weekend to St. Petersburg/Clearwater will get you that hit of sun to get you through our tumultuous winter.

Just do it. You won’t regret it.

Loyalist, Welcome Home

January 22, 2015 1:34 pm
Entrance to the Loyalist Golf and Country Club.

Nestled in the quaint town of Bath, Ontario, the Loyalist community is home to picturesque golf landscapes, a great boating and fishing culture and a neighbourhood vibe that just simply cannot be found elsewhere.

Landscaping and gardening is a popular past-time amongst many of the Loyalist residents.Many choose to make Loyalist their permanent residence due to its proximity to Ottawa, Kingston and Toronto. Not to mention, it’s about an hour north of the US border! For obvious reasons, wherever your friends and family are, you can’t beat that location. The community, built by the reputable Kaitlin Corporation boasting 25 years plus experience, offers a variety of models to suit any circumstance. The line up ranges from superior detached bungalows and bungalows with lofts to the newly built freehold townhomes, all specializing in innovative, functional design. There’s a certain feeling of elegance topped with comfort that has been integrated into every floor plan. Paul Hunter, sales representative for the Loyalist Community, says that there are a few main reasons why people choose to relocate here, “Location, quality homes and unique luxury designs that cater to the client base. Best kept secret for miles.”

The Loyalist Golf and Country Club recently hosted a Canadian PGA event.In addition to craftsmanship and attention to detail, residents also enjoy a wide range of amenities. Being that the Loyalist community surrounds the Loyalist Golf & Country Club, homeowners receive a free clubhouse membership with the purchase of a new home which includes access to the fully equipped fitness centre with pool, dining room, games room, numerous social activities and of course, golf. The 20,000 sq. ft. stone clubhouse allows for both formal dining services and more casual styles should residents wish to host events, which they often do! In the summer months, it’s common for people to get together after a round of golf and catch up on the patio with stunning views of the 18th hole.

As soon as you arrive at Loyalist, you’re greeted unlike anywhere else. Everyone is smiling and ready to chat with you! There’s a social activity for everyone and existing residents definitely go out of their way to welcome newcomers and make them feel at home in no time. “The community itMany of the Loyalist homes overlook the golf course.self is close knit and residents really feel like they belong. There are a collection of Canadians and everyone seems to get along so well,” states Hunter. Whether it’s a ladies golf night or a farm to table themed formal dinner at the country club, there’s some type of social gathering to take part in. Loyalist has a very unique community feel, much like that of a 1950’s society where everybody knows everybody and people are always willing to join together and help out when needed. “Last summer, Loyalist hosted a PGA event where the residents pulled together and helped with all logistical aspects of the tournament, mostly working gates or caddying. The residents have a huge pride of ownership.” says Hunter.

At the end of the day, it’s nice to settle into a place where you know and trust your neighbours, a place where you feel welcome and most importantly, a place you’re proud to call home.

Detached bungalows and bungalow lofts at Loyalist range from 1,498 to 2,879 square feet with prices starting at $382,490. Townhomes range from 1,269 to 1,703 square feet with prices starting at $262,490. For more information on the Kaitlin Corporation or prices, please call 1-800-353-2066 or visit www.kaitlincorp.com.

Italian Retreat

January 12, 2015 3:30 pm
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When we think of Italy urban centres like Florence, Rome and Milan probably spring to mind. But leave the hustle and bustle behind, slow down and soak up life and the beauty and tranquility of Italian village life.

villapipistTranquil Tuscany

Located 15 minutes from the medieval city of Siena, there’s a property ideal for travellers looking to experience authentic Italian living.

Nestled in the hills of Tuscany, the Montestigliano Estate is a fully functional agritourisim farm that has three thousand olive trees, fig trees and other seasonal crops. The beautiful 18th-century, renovated farm home Villa Pipistrelli has multiple rooms, each with its own washroom and a separate annex, linking it to other bedrooms, a kitchen and a sitting area. Of course, there is wi-fi. The view of the Sienese countryside is breathtaking. In the morning, you can enjoy an espresso while looking at the mist rising from the hills.

A short 10-minute walk and you can see the rest of the estate and its restored farm houses of different sizes that are also available for rent. Near the main courtyard, there is a kitchen and hall large enough to hold everyone staying in the properties. Proprietors, the Donati family, host dinners here complete with music and dancing.

Take a guided tour of the farm and see the olive orchard from which the family makes the most delicious olive oil. See how the olives are picked and saved before being pressed to make the “Montestigliano” brand of olive oil — which is on the table at every meal. Massimo Donati, the farmer in the family, offers olive oil tastings. Somewhat like a wine tasting, savour the different flavours and complexities that high-quality olive oil possesses.

The property is so beautiful, you could spend the whole time exploring its 2500 acres. However, there are nearby towns to visit and experience.

One such village is Stigliano. Here you can meet with local farmers and producers who are happy to share the history of farming in the area. Farmers markets have been struggling here for a long time but recent regional government support is giving them new hope.

bottegaMake sure to stop at La Bottega di Stigliano which sells only local products. From jams, marmalades to honey, cured meats and different breads, this market/store may be small in size but it has plenty of variety. The restaurant upstairs serves only local products and makes its pasta. In fact, you can watch being made.

Meat lovers will enjoy the variety of cured meats while listening to staff explain the unique process of how each cut is made. One of the local suppliers, Spannocchia, raises the Cinta Senese pig which is native to this region and is famous for its tenderness.

Siena is only a short drive away and is perfect for a day trip. Quaint, with lots of gelato shops, cobblestone roads, vespas and large piazzas, it is also steeped in history much like the rest of Italy.

Siena-based author, Dario Castagno, offers tours that explain the history of the town, which dates back to the year 900 BC and the different “contrada” or neighbourhoods that make up the city.

Siena has 17 of them. Each is named after an animal or symbol and each has its own crest, chapel, trade and history. The contrada are more like large families. Members take part in weekly dinners, pitching in to set up, cook, serve and clean.

The contrada are individually represented in the Palio, a famous horse race which happens once in July and again in August of each year. The 17 contrada take turns competing in the race. The horses and jockies race around the Piazza del Campo three times and the winning contrada takes home a hand-made banner and bragging rights until the next race.

palazzo donatiA Renaissance Experience

To experience the peace and authenticity of Renaissance Italy, plan a stay at Palazzo Donati in the small town of Mercatello sul Metauro, located in neighbouring Le Marche region, the land of white truffles. The home housed nobility in the 1600s. The kitchen in the basement is a highlight. It’s big and beautiful with an open fire pit for cooking and keeping food warm. Remarkably, it’s authentic to the Renaissance time. Proprietor, Luisa Donati is happy to share the history of the small town and her house which is situated on the main square.

The town is small but includes many hidden gems including beautiful chapels and women making tombolo (a kind of lace) as well as the little butcher shop (there is only one). It is a short drive to nearby towns where friends of Luisa are eager to share their businesses and stories with you.

In Carpegna, Emanuel Francioni and his grandfather run Antica Stamperia, an ancient fabric stencil and print-making operation. They carve out stencils and make the print paste themselves before stamping it onto different fabrics for tablecloths, runners, aprons, etc.

Back at Palazzo Donati, Lina, a local expert, can show you how she makes tagliatelle pasta by hand. Every year there is a pasta-making competition in the main square, and every year, Lina wins (even the one year, British chef Jamie Oliver competed).

italy5Luisa Donati offers all-inclusive “Discover Artisan and Foods Traditions of Italy” vacations. You can sign up on your own or organize your own group of 6 to 8. Guest learn to shop for their ingredients in ‘Italian Express’ and then cook it up. Wine tasting and museum visits are also incuded in the program.

Slow down and soak up rural Italian life at the Montestigliano then indulge yourself in a foodies dream vacation by visiting Palazzo Donati. Enjoy superb cuisine, outstanding quality of life — an authentic Italian experience.

www.montestigliano.it | www.lemarcheholidayvilla.com

Magnifique Martinique

January 7, 2015 1:10 pm
Hotel Villa St. Pierre

If you are a traveller, you’ll love Martinique. This idyllic beautiful island sits just north of St. Lucia in the Caribbean Sea. The Dutch, English and Portuguese all wanted this tiny island, but it was the French who prevailed. Consequently, French is spoken everywhere. Words do not fly off the tongue quite as quickly as they do in continental France, so the casual French speaker will have no problem. After a couple of ‘ti ponch,’ a local rum drink, you might even understand Creole, which is also spoken locally.

The ruins of the police station where the only survivor of 1920 volcano was found.

The ruins of the police station where the only survivor of 1920 volcano was found.

The people are beyond pleasant—don’t stop and ask for directions unless you want to be invited over for dinner! In keeping with French social standards, the infrastructure is great. The roads are narrow, but they are superb. No worries if you get sick, the hospitals in Martinique are renowned in the Caribbean.

Known as the ‘Paris of the Caribbean,’ the city of St. Pierre was obliterated by a volcano in 1902. Of the 30,000 inhabitants, only one survived when Mount Pelée erupted. Ironically, the survivor was in locked up in jail, sleeping off a night on the town when it happened. Traces of St. Pierre’s former glory can be seen in the theatre ruins and in street names like Ave Victor Hugo. Every May 8, the island celebrates Eruption Day.

Chef Guy Ferdinand, aka Chef Hot Pants, makes crawfish soup at restaurant Petibonum.

Chef Guy Ferdinand, aka Chef Hot Pants, makes crawfish soup at restaurant
Petibonum.

Every day seems like a celebration to chef Guy Ferdinand in Le Cabet. Also known as chef hot pants, Guy’s love for Martinique and his enthusiasm for Caribbean cuisine is infectious. Thrilled about his new state-of-the-art kitchen, Guy cooked us up a great meal of balaou (a small, little battered fried fish), crawfish soup and fresh fish. His beach bar and restaurant are open daily and are a must stop when visiting St. Pierre. For 10 euros you can rent a beach chair for the day that comes with a complimentary cocktail.

While St. Pierre was the business capital, Fort de France was the maritime capital and remains home to 120 officers of the French Navy. The marines live in the fort for which the town is named. Access to the fort is obtained by visiting the tourism kiosk on Place de la Savane. From the hilly landscape to the sail boats moored in bay, the view from the top is beautiful. You can imagine the cannons, which once graced the site, firing across the bay at approaching British ships.

Chez Carole

Lunch at Chez Carole in Fort de France’s Big Market.

If you are visiting Fort de France on a Friday or Saturday, head to the ‘Big Market.’ Also known as the Spice Market, it’s the place to stock up on unique native spice blends, as well as other well-known spices. While you are there, pop to the back corner and lunch at Chez Carole. The loveliest lady, she is the true super woman. Dressed in a flower print dress, an apron and sneakers, she dished up delicious cod fritters, conk, octopus, chicken columbo and the catch of the day, cleared the tables and made change with a ceaseless smile.

Columbus discovered Martinique, the French colonized it and the Dutch fleeing Brazil taught the French how to grow sugar cane. They also sold them their first slaves. At its height, all but 16 per cent of Martinique’s population was African. With no instruction on the brutal history of slavery for school-age children, local Gilbert Larose took it upon himself to recreate a slave village, La Savane des Esclaves. Interpretive guides tell the history of Martinique with the help of paintings, wooden sculptures and typical dwellings and their gardens. Island heritage includes a close relationship with nature and Gilbert can show you a local plant to cure anything that ails you.

The J.M. Distillery is one of many rum factories in Martinique.

The J.M. Distillery is one of many rum factories in Martinique.

With only one sugar refining plant left on the island, the bulk of the cane production fuels rum production. Rum factories are ubiquitous. With European Union AOC designation, there are 23 areas designated for growing sugar cane for rum production. Strict rules are in place for the sustainable production of the sugar cane, as well as the production of the rum. This is not your basic coke mixing or daiquiri slurping rum. We tasted varieties that could convert the staunchest of scotch drinkers. We visited the original Clément distillery, which includes a museum explaining the unique process of making rum agricole from sugar cane juice. Open daily, Habitation Clément is for both aficionados and those interested in getting a glimpse into to the island’s Creole architecture and history.

Tours de Yole Ronde is a boat race that runs counter clockwise around the island. Based on the design of ancient Arawak Indian fishing boats with no rudder, ballast or keel the 34-foot-long, round bottom boat with a square sail has to continually move or it flips. Highly skilled teams race over the water while spectators follow on land and sea. The seven-day race includes daily stopovers and celebrations. If you are visiting the island between July 26-August 2, 2015, make sure to catch a leg of the tour.

A view from the Atlantic Coast.

A view from the Atlantic Coast.

For a truly Caribbean experience visit Islet Oscar Guest House. A 15-minute boat ride from le François, the island is home to a beautiful four-room Creole guesthouse that was the booty from a night of poker on a neighbouring island. Dismantled and floated across, it was reassembled in its new home in the mid-1930’s. There is no beach, but being right on the water offers lots opportunities for water sports such as kayaking and snorkeling.

Escape winter to Martinique. With its rich history, wonderful food and people, it is so much more than a simple beach vacation. The infusion of French language mixed with the Creole culture gives the island a great Euro-Carib feel. It is a destination for those who love to explore. The island is void of American tourists and buffet suppers, which is unexpected for a southern destination and is rather refreshing.

Where to Stay:

Accommodations vary. There is only one all-in-inclusive hotel on the island, but most hotels either offer a meal plan for an additional fee or have in-room facilities for preparing small meals.

In St. Pierre, we stayed at the Hotel Villa St. Pierre. Located right on the beach, this quaint, nine-room hotel has a strong euro feel. Owners Marise and André are lovely and introduced us to art of ‘ti-ponch’.
$$: Sea view Double room with breakfast during the high season* 145 euros + 1 euro/per person daily tourist tax

In Point du Bout, we stayed at La Pagerie. Recently remodeled, with 96 rooms, it is a classy larger hotel with cool, local art. Visit the neighbouring trendy boutiques, bars, the beach or lounge by the central pool and swim-up bar. Most rooms include kitchenettes.

In Le Francois, we stayed at Hotel Plein Soleil. Whether you choose a room or a duplex suite, this 16-room hill-top gem, housed in 5 villas, will WOW you with its spectacular views and stylish décor. The duplexes include kitchenettes and their own plunge pool. There is also a main pool for all guests. If you go, make sure to book ahead for dinner.
$$: Rooms range from 200 euros for a guest room to 365 euros for a duplex suite, with breakfast during the high season**

For something a little different, book a night or two at Ilet Oscar. With a modern-day Robinson Crusoe feel, the island provides beautifully furnished guests rooms and laid back dinning all while respecting the environment.
$$: Rooms range from 150 euros with breakfast. 

Located in le François, Cap Est Lagoon Resort and Spa offers 50 suites in 18 beautiful villas. The grounds are magnificent and lush.  This five-star resort includes a pool, beach, tennis courts, gym, kayaks and on-site kite surfing/windsurfing rentals. A variety of excursions can be arranged for guest including catamaran trips, sport fishing, scuba diving and helicopter rides.
$$: 595 euros for a junior suite to 945 euros for an executive suite, with breakfast during high season (Jan 4, 2015 to March 21, 2015).

The Ardennes in Belgium

December 16, 2014 2:33 pm
Malmedy - Wikipedia
Featured Image: Wikipedia

The interest in the exploits and sacrifices of Canadian soldiers and other allied veterans on the battlegrounds of Europe is increasing as the veterans of WW2 continue to shrink with each passing year.

We wanted to take a trip allowing us to spend a week leisurely travelling through the wonderful valleys and forest of the Ardennes in Belgium and visit many of the WW2 historical sites in the region. When planning a trip for a family or small group, it is worth contacting the Time Travel Company in Belgium.

Most tour operators specialized in WW tours offer a maximum number of activities in a minimum amount of time. The Time Travel Company is focused on ensuring visitors discover other things and get in the heart of Belgium. They offer “all in” packages, including hotels, restaurants featuring special regional meals, guides and site and museum visits, while keeping bus travel time to a minimum. The distances between the sites are short and allow you to really enjoy the tour. Their guides are selected to ensure your experience is memorable and pleasant and their tour groups are limited in size so you feel comfortable. Our tour guide was a local resident named Michael Baert, who has studied the Ardennes Offensive in detail since 1994 and has walked the woods and talked to veterans for years. He is recognized as a true local expert on the Ardennes history and the Battle of the Bulge.

While our tour was historical in nature, we also had lots of opportunities to learn about local cultural heritage and languages (Dutch, French German, Flemish, Walloon), enjoy delicious local cuisine, drink famous Belgian beers and spoil ourselves with Belgian chocolate.

atlas hotelOur trip began with a direct flight from Toronto to Brussels. We checked into the very snazzy Atlas Hotel in the heart of Brussels. Brussels has so much to offer with its restaurants, museums, bars and nightlife. We did the tourist thing and strolled around the city, stopping for beers and a nice dinner at a local pub.

The next morning our Time Travel tour guide picked us up and we took a leisurely drive out of Brussels towards the beautiful Ardennes Forest. As we traveled through the Belgian countryside, I was struck by the beauty of the small towns with pretty chapels and storybook stone exterior homes with well-manicured lawns. The Ardennes is a peaceful and serene place surrounded by miles of farmland divided by four to eight foot hedges acting as natural fences for livestock.

We then checked into the Hotel Spa-Balmoral. Located on the hill of Balmoral, surrounded by trees, in perfect harmony with the generous natural landscapes of the Belgian Ardennes, the Hotel Spa-Balmoral offers a panoramic view of the valley and Lake Warfaaz, one of the most beautiful locations in the region. It features a Well-Being and Beauty Centre, including a Finnish sauna, outdoor jacuzzi, steam room, solarium, covered swimming pool, massages, beauty treatments, cardioweight machines and a free shuttle to the Thermes of Spa, and to a golf course (less than three k.m. away). If you want to go to a spa hotel in Belgium, this is the place. The rooms were comfy and BIG, and we had a great view from our terrace of the Spa valley! The exceptional Belgian breakfast served here is a great way to start your day!

Next up was a visit to the cemetery of Henri-Chapelle where 7992 Americans are laid to rest. Most died during the U.S. advance into Germany. The American cemeteries in Europe are honored hallow spots and the grounds and buildings housing them are immaculate. They provide a true honour to the soldiers who lives were lost.

Photo: Joseph Jeanmart

Photo: Joseph Jeanmart

If you are visiting The Ardennes, one of the most unique stops you will encounter is the Remember 45 Museum located four km from Henri Chapelle in Thimister-Clermont. This privately-run museum has a powerful human dimension. Marcel Schmetzes established it in an old barn and the 110 First Infantry Division soldiers left most of the artifacts on the Schmetzes’ farm during the war. The museum is dedicated to showing the gratefulness of the Belgian people “to all G.I.s who came, at the risk of their life, to give us our freedom back.”

The next morning began with a walk through the woods near Hollerath. This is where the German Battle of the Bulge offensive began in the Ardennes. The surprise German attack on the American soldiers almost changed the course of the war. There were some atrocious acts carried out against American soldiers and Belgian civilians by the Gestapo during the Battle of the Bulge. Belgians still revere and hold the American military in the highest regard in this area. This is no more evident than when visiting the site of the massacre of several U.S. prisoners in Baugnez, in December, 1944. Nearby in La Glieze sits a King Tiger tank, serving as a reminder of the horrors of war. One can only imagine the fear the locals felt when dozens of tanks came barreling through their small towns destroying everything in their path.

bellevaux malmedyWe toured the Bellevaux Brewery, set in middle of lush farmlands close to La Glieze. The owners transformed their farm into a small Belgian microbrewery, with aspirations to brew the highest quality ale.

The Melba Hotel in Bastogne is a great place to use as a home base to explore the area. Located a block away from the town square, the Melba offers comfortable rooms with a variety of services, including hearty healthy breakfasts and wifi. The hotel restaurant and bar feature local Belgian beers and exceptional dinner meals highlighting local fare. Another great local restaurant is the Wagon Leo. The front part of the restaurant was in an old train car that was extended into a larger restaurant. The food, service, atmosphere and staff were exceptional. The restaurant is one block from the Bastogne town square.

In March 2014, the new Bastogne Museum opened, providing an important interpretation and context for the causes and significance of WW2. Using up-to-date displays, film and interactive exhibits, the museum tracks the years leading up to WW2, the war itself and how cataclysmic events led to a final and desperate bid by Hitler and the Nazis to push the Allies out of Europe. This was a bold and violent attack in the Ardennes forest between December, 1944 and January, 1945. The Battle of the Bulge was the largest, most murderous and bloody battle of WW2 between the Germans and Americans. The British and Canadians were involved in the fight on the periphery. Over 610,000 American forces were involved in the battle, which included over 19,000 Americans killed, 100,000 German casualties and 30,000 killed. Tourists can also visit the German cemetery near the small village of Recogne where 6807 Germans are buried.

Mardasson Memorial. Photo: JL Flemal

Mardasson Memorial. Photo: JL Flemal

The Bastogne Museum sits next to the Mardasson monument, a new memorial centre dedicated to the WW2 and its soldiers who fought and died at the Battle of the Bulge. When visiting the Battle of the Bulge sites it is best to start at the Bastogne Museum. Spend half a day there and then take a short drive through the beautiful Belgian countryside to visit Schumann’s Corner. This is where many historians say the U.S. troops “went into hell” in beating back the pounding and violent German offensive. There is a memorial at the spot and a trail taking you through the foxholes in the woods where much of the fighting took place.

It is worthwhile to visit the Museum of Bras, which is eight km from Bastogne. It transports you back to 1944 with its destroyed houses, first aid stations and images of shellshocked and war weary citizens.

The final stop was a visit to the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers in Europe (SHAPE), where we were given a briefing on NATO by a NATO military expert. The Time Travel Company arranged this unique outing and it was one of the highlights of the tour.

Upcoming Time Travel Company excursions for 2015 include Vimy Ridge, Flanders Fields (The Somme) and excursions for the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo near Mons, Belgium in 2015.

A Piece of Renovated Paradise

December 11, 2014 10:19 am
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Dreaming about your feet sinking into warm sand, instead of numbing snow? Meliã Nassau Beach is the vacation location for you.

Meliã Hotels International, one of the largest resort hotel companies in the world, has just updated its Meliã Nassau Beach resort in the Bahamas, making an already luxurious experience even more spectacular.

Located along the white sanded Cable Beach at the north of the island, the piece of paradise is in the country’s capital and close to its cultural centre, shops, restaurants and night spots. Besides visiting tourist locations within Nassau, such as the Pirates of Nassau Museum and Parliament Square, there is little reason to leave the resort grounds.

MeliaNassauBeach-PoolsWaterfallMeliã Nasseau Beach provides 694 rooms and 32 suites with private balconies overlooking the Atlantic Ocean or the resort itself. There are also three outdoor pools with waterfalls set in gardens beside the sea, complete with drink services, sunbeds and sunshades. Meliã Nassau Beach offers daily activities and entertainment programs, a fully equipped 24-hour fitness centre and camp services for children that allow parents to relax while their kids have fun.

The recent $19 million (US) renovations primarily went towards the creation of more dining venues with delicious and diverse international and regional cuisine. Some of the featured restaurants include Nikkei, which has a fused menu of Japanese, Cantonese and Peruvian cuisine, Cilantro, which offers a variety of Mexican flavours and The Black Angus, which serves quality steakhouse meals.

Prices at Meliã Nassau Beach begin at $200 (CAN) per night for a 330-square-foot room with two double or one king-size bed and can go over $2,000 for the larger, suite-styled rooms.

MeliaNassauBeach-WeddingGazebo2Meliã Hotels and Resorts was founded in 1956 in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. It has since grown to operate more than 350 hotels in 35 countries under the brands Meliã, Gran Meliã, ME by Meliã, Paradisus, Innside by Meliã, TRYP by Wyndham, Sol Hotels and Club Meliã. The hotels and resorts are located in major cities and tourist destinations around the world—from Athens to Bali, and Milan to Cancun.

For over 50 years Meliã has been offering unreal vacations for people wanting to explore and unwind. This winter, take advantage of the newly renovated Meliã Nassau Beach, and thaw your toes in its tropical waters.

Lake Tahoe–America’s Backyard Wants You to Come Play

October 27, 2014 3:00 pm
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Ever enjoyed an afternoon in the sun at Meech Lake? Maybe you have ridden there by bike, hit the slopes at nearby Camp Fortune, zip-lined at the aerial park or visited Chelsea for a meal or to meander through art galleries. Now, imagine if Meech Lake was the largest alpine lake in America, as in 22 miles across, crystal clear for 75-plus feet down and surrounded by some of the best and most skiable terrain in the world. This is Tahoe.

Photo: Jorik Blom

Photo: Jorik Blom

The ancient summering ground for the Washoe Indians, Tahoe was stumbled upon during the gold rush. It became the summer retreat for western America’s elite, who built elaborate estates and enjoyed their private retreats until roads opened access to everyone. In 1960, local ski hill, Squaw Valley hosted the Winter Olympics and the area became known to the world. Today, standing at the water’s edge looking at the snow capped peaks that fill the landscape, Tahoe is a beautiful, peaceful, soulful place. However, turn around and there is a bevy of the most thrilling activities that beckon you to join in.

Tahoe is shared by two states, California and Nevada, and divided into two areas, North and South. Both are spectacular and offer great skiing and off-slope adventure opportunities. The locals all seem to have their favourite spot.

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Duly named, Après Ski is the place to go for a light meal or for a post-activity glass of wine.

South Tahoe is a little busier and borders the Nevada state line. A town of 20,000 plus, the South is part back to nature, eco-friendly with a glitzy neighbour right next door. Ski all day at Heavenly in California and when the lifts close, take in a show at a casino in Nevada or head to one of the many great restaurants in South Tahoe. Hit the Après Wine Company for wine by the glass and tapas. Dinner at The Boathouse On the Pier is the perfect place for a great meal and to enjoy the sunset. There is also Jimmy’s Restaurant at the Landing Resort. British expat, Maria Elia, runs the kitchen. Recently renovated, it is a stunning location and the food is fabulous. A little more laid back, The Beacon Bar and Grill at historic Camp Richardson also has great lake views and no worries if you have your back to the window. There is an enormous mirror that serves as a trompe-l’oeil. Enjoy that and one of their signature Rum Runner drinks and you’ll never know you weren’t facing the beautiful lake view.

North Tahoe offers equally great dining. It is a little more spread out than the South but if all goes as planned, 2015 will see a trans-lake ferry service that will move guests back and forth across the lake. So, you can stay in South Tahoe but have easy access to North Tahoe.

Family friendly is the way they roll in Tahoe. The Ritz-Carleton at NorthStar even sets up tents in your room for your kids to have an “indoor campout.” They also have a great kids’ program, Ritz Kids designed by Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Future Society.

Why not split your trip between North and South? The drive alone will make it worthwhile. You will pass the beautiful Emerald Bay and see spectacular granite cliffs drop away to the lake below. You will see the long driveway that leads to the water- front mansions of Rubicon Bay. Try to spot the driveway leading to the estate of the Corleone family from the Godfather II. You will love the drive through thick forest where the pine trees seem to touch the sky.

Taking a break from the outdoors at Villager Candle Shop, Pottery Painting & More, NorthStar Village.

Taking a break from the outdoors at Villager Candle Shop, Pottery Painting & More, NorthStar Village.

Tahoe is a year-round destination but surprisingly it sees more visitors in the summer than in the winter. However, if you are a skier, take your first trip to Tahoe in the winter. With Alpine Meadows, Kirkwood, Heavenly, Sierra at Tahoe, NorthStar, Squaw Valley, Homewood and Sugar Bowl, the Tahoe Basin has more lifts than the entire state of Colorado. It’s no wonder the area fielded more athletes for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics than anywhere else in the U.S. All the hills are great. Combined with the average annual snowfall, at hill level, of 350 inches, Tahoe is hard to beat. The two big ones are Heavenly with 97 trails and 4,700 acres and Squaw in the North which has 177 trails and 3600 skiable acres. That is a lot of terrain. (To offer a comparison in terms of size, local Ottawa fav Camp Fortune has 95 acres.) Both Heavenly and Squaw are fantastic destinations and both offer multi-day and multi- hill ticket options. Don’t forget the sunscreen as the region gets on average 307 days of sun a year.

Most ski areas offer activities including rope courses, snowmobiling, dog- sledding, snowshoeing, skating, spas and more. Heavenly has the high-energy zip line called the Blue Streak that will knock your socks off. NorthStar, a true ski-in ski-out resort, has a craft workshop/store called Villager Candle Shop, Pottery Painting & More where you can do mosaics, make candles or paint.

If you enjoy curling, South Tahoe’s only indoor hockey rink has a dual purpose: hockey, of course, but it is also home to Lake Tahoe Epic Curling. The club offers drop-in curling (currently on Sundays) for existing curlers of varying levels.

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Stand-up Paddleboarding with southtahoesup.com.

Stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) is amazing. Almost anyone can do it — no special talent is required. The board is wider than a surfboard and rounded on the edges to ensure smooth gliding through the water. Summer or winter, Tahoers believe that it is always the perfect condition to SUP. It is incredible to see fully clothed, barefoot people stand-up paddle boarding with snow-capped peaks behind. You can hire a guide and head out for a day tour or just go on your own for an hour or two.

Most resorts have rope courses but we headed to the woods in North Tahoe and harnessed our inner monkey at Tahoe Treetop Adventure Park at Granlibakken Resort. This adventure park is open winter or summer and has 3 kid and 5 adult courses. With 120 suspension bridges and 13 zip lines it has something for everyone. The course is marked just like a ski hill with green, blue and black markers so you can get a sense of the level before attempting a course. Adrenaline junkies and beginners will both be satisfied and it is safe too. The smart belay system only allows for one carabiner to be unhooked from the safety cable at a time. Make sure to book ahead.

If snow-shoeing, cross-country or back-country are your thing, local stores rent the gear and offer guide services. Gear rental is inexpensive, about $22 a day for snowshoes, poles and boots or $15 a day for x-country equipment. Depending on the level of experience you are looking for, you might need to take an introductory course as winter survival, avalanche knowledge and mapping skills are key and don’t forget to check the weather before heading out. (tahoeweatherblog.com)

There is so much to do in Tahoe — both North and South Tahoe have fantastic tourism bureaus with very helpful web sites to help you plan any type of trip, including lodging. Airport transfers are easy as both North and South Tahoe are a short 40-minute drive to the Reno Airport. There are both shuttles and car rentals available. With Olympic-caliber hills, great dining, seemingly limitless activities, some of the most amazing views, it is a great time to head to Tahoe.

gotahoenorth.com
tahoesouth.com 

 

The Cosmopolitan Hotel Toronto: A Fantastic Escape in the Heart of Toronto

August 28, 2014 3:30 pm
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Toronto is a great city and there is no doubt that it has some fine hotels. The key to a stay in the Big Smoke is location and you definitely want to stay central for easy access to the subway to head to great areas like Bloor West, Danforth or Yorkville. In the heart of the city at Yonge and Colborne Street, the Cosmopolitan Hotel is a five-minute walk to Union Station, the financial district, theatre district, St. Lawrence Market and two blocks from the Eaton Centre. It’s perfect.

Sept13_Cosmo Suite 04Hotel staff is key to any stay. After a long day, an expeditious hassle-free check-in by someone who is professional, friendly and helpful is so appreciated. The front desk staff gets a 10 out of 10 on that score. My room was spacious, clean and comfortable with nice soft and crisp bed linens, soft towels and comfortable bathrobes. Neat and unexpected features were the very hip wrap-around windows that made the room feel even more spacious and I was lucky enough to have a view of lake Ontario which was amazing. With the kitchen and other amenities, my room at the Cosmopolitan Hotel felt more like a condo than a typical hotel. The modern and spacious bathroom had a walk-in shower (no tub). There’s also a spa and a gym in the hotel where you can fit in a nice workout.

While the rooms are all suites with a kitchenette and ultra-modern appliances, if you are staying three or more days, request the Cosmopolitan’s Lotus Suite which is larger and includes a stove, refrigerator, microwave, coffee-maker, dishwasher and washer/dryer. The Lotus suite also features a step-out balcony that looks down on to King Street.

If you don’t feel like fending for yourself, the Cosmopolitan Hotel Toronto has a stylish restaurant and lounge called Eight Wine Bar which has a wonderful selection of wines and cocktails. These libations go well with the impressive and very tasty menu. My colleagues and I ordered several dishes to share tapas style and made a night of it. The restaurant also serves a scrumptious breakfast. However, there are also lots of little breakfast nooks and coffee shops in the area… or coffee may be served in your room if you don’t feel like venturing far. On my second morning, I took the five-minute stroll from the hotel to Toronto’s famous St. Lawrence Market. There are countless interesting restaurants and pubs all within walking distance of the hotel.

It’s also very popular with the Toronto International Film Festival entertainment crowd who gather in Toronto each September which is great for catching a glimpse of the stars.eight_wine_bar_cosmotoronto

The hotel charged $12 a day for Wi-Fi. As a business traveler, I found that a turn-off. Most hotels offer it for free and on principle, I just don’t think higher-end hotels should do this – it rubs me the wrong way. Other than that, I loved the place and enjoyed my stay. I would definitely recommend it to others. All in all, it’s a great hotel.

Cosmopolitan Hotel Toronto, 8 Colborne Street (at Yonge), Toronto.

By David Gerard

Destination Weddings Made Easy

July 15, 2014 9:23 am
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For many, their wedding day is something they think and fantasize about from a young age. Exotique Weddings is here to make sure that all of those dreams become a reality. Venturing out to some of the most romantic locations, they specialize in destination weddings and ensure that the most important day of your life is one no one will forget.

A subsidiary of Onkar Travels, Exotique Weddings is then able to help not only with the planning and execution of your big day but can include an entire wedding package to help plot your travel there and even your honeymoon afterwards.

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Planning a destination wedding can of course be stressful, with the added factor of dealing with a place you may not be too familiar with. Exotique Weddings works hand-in-hand with event planning companies abroad in India, Thailand, Mexico and Hawaii so there are no unexpected surprises once you arrive. In addition to this, certain focus has been given to planning weddings in other locations such as Malaysia, South Africa, and South American and Caribbean countries—wherever you would like to go!

The always enticing and romantic beach wedding can be done a million different ways. Exotique Weddings offers an all-inclusive package with local musicians, sea food, fine dining, wine and of course the beautiful white sandy beaches.

Private villas, gorgeous gardens, on the beach, or overlooking it from a gazebo, many wedding venues are offered. No matter your religion or culture, your dream beach wedding is made possible here.

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For those intrigued by the rich colours and culture of India, a highly recommended wedding idea is the Royal Wedding. Held in renowned places across the country where famous Maharaja’s once lived, these occasions are lavish and extraordinary—anything but typical. The most opulent and luxurious palaces and forts are available as venues lending their lavish charm to your big day.

In helping you tie the knot, Exotique Weddings offer additional complimentary services to put your mind a little more at ease. For the bride and groom-to-be’s air tickets are covered and they will receive a wedding portrait. Just in case not everyone is able to make it to your special destination, they will also design your very own wedding app and can make arrangements to share your wedding live online with your friends and family all over the world.

Even the most unusual wedding requests can be accommodated. In the past, Exotique Weddings have arranged to have a baby elephant there for pictures, celebrities to attend wedding receptions and even helicopter flower showers! From monogrammed wedding décor to all gold cutlery and designer fireworks, even your most wild wedding dreams can come true.

rajasthani-ceiling

Medieval Villages of the French Riviera: Saint-Paul de Vence and Èze

July 14, 2014 2:18 pm
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(visited in May 2014)

There is no doubt that French Riviera (la Côte d’Azur) is a hallmark of beauty in many things: architecture, design, views, people, food, and history. During my second visit to the region, I engaged a local tourist guide Boba (www.yourguideboba.com) to personalize my visit. What a difference this has made. Discovering this opulent region was much more rewarding with a guide. It would have taken me days of research to discover certain places off-the-beaten path and mystical stories hidden behind popular tourist attractions.

This time, I discovered Saint-Paul de Vence and Èze―two fortified mediaeval villages established during the so-called “Dark Ages”, which, today, provide for serene tourist spots that inspire imagination and evoke a strong appreciation of beauty and elegance. It was fascinating to hear the myths of the Dark Ages dispelled. These times, often misperceived as abounding in religious dogmatism and lacking in intellectual thought, generated remarkable inventions in geography, agriculture, architecture, art and law.

A hilltop view of the French Riviera.

A hilltop view of the French Riviera.

The two villages are situated close to Nice, the city basking amidst the sunny French Riviera. This is an extremely diverse region, boasting more than 150 different nationalities and numerous foreign residents. Once a destitute, fishing hinterland, the French Riviera transformed itself through centuries into the region with most coveted real estate in the world. Many celebrities, from artists and royalties to business tycoons, have purchased their homes here. Boba shared a story of the legal trial between an owner of the property in the French Riviera and an ultra-rich Russian tycoon who offered, for this property, the highest price ever recorded in the real estate history.

Walking the narrow cobblestone paths of the two medieval villages, each turn around a corner reveals a sight that pulls imagination into the distant past. A mystical opening in the block wall transports you back to the evening with secluded monks who meticulously worked under candlelight to copy the volumes upon volumes of religious manuscripts. Cold iron-barred windows of little inns entice the curious to imagine, behind them, knights and cavalry, devising plans for their future conquests. I learned that it was in this period, that a horseshoe was invented to advance the battling skills of cavalries. Rugged knights were also idealistic and utopian―romantically fighting for another man’s lady they admired only from afar.

In Saint-Paul de Vence, you will encounter a myriad of elegant boutiques, contemporary art galleries, wine shops, cafes, and restaurants, featuring Provençal and Mediterranean cuisine. For a dizzying number of gift choices, visit the store at the very entrance of the village.

Previously the Plateau du Puy, and, presently, the location of the cemetery in Saint-Paul de Vence.

Previously the Plateau du Puy, and, presently, the location of the cemetery in Saint-Paul de Vence.

It is assumed that houses were built around the core of the village, called Plateau du Puy, which now houses the cemetery and the church of Saint Michel. The artist Marc Chagall is one of the famous people buried in the cemetery.

A rare find, an authentic Lilamand Confiserie established in 1866, crafts candied fruit, syrups and jams using traditional recipes originally recommended by no other than Nostradamus. The fruit is simmered for about a month, and allowed to sit for additional two months to slowly complete the candying process. For a glimpse at a secret recipe, you can take a workshop offered by the store.

 

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Mme V-C’s house.

An amazing experience in Saint-Paul de Vence is to see the interior of a house that was originally built in the middle ages, and subsequently renovated in the 16th century. Boba struck a conversation with a charming and sociable Mme V-C who showed us around her four-story home with well-preserved antiques, including a fireplace, the kitchen nook, and a sowing machine (estimated to date back to the early to mid-1800’s).

Mme V-C’s house is located just steps away from the past home of Jacques Prévert, a French poet and screenwriter, who discovered Saint-Paul de Vence in 1941, where he struck a friendship with Pablo Picasso, a well-known Spanish artist who developed an art style called analytic cubism.

The village of Èze sits on a cliff, 427 metres (1,401 ft) above sea level. It is a “museum village” (also known as eagle’s nest) renowned for its panoramic view of the Mediterranean Sea. Chapelle de la Sainte Croix is the oldest building in the village and dates back to 1306.

The village houses the fabulous Jardin botanique d’Èze, popular for its collection of cacti and succulents. In 1949, Mayor

Jardin botanique d'Èze featuring cacti and a couple of clay sculptures of earth goddesses.

Jardin botanique d’Èze featuring cacti and a couple of clay sculptures of earth goddesses.

René Gianton decided to create a garden within the remains of the 12th century commune and he engaged the creator of the Exotic Garden in Monaco, Jean Gastaud, to design it. Besides plant life, the garden displays 14 clay sculptures representing earth goddesses, which were created by the French sculptor Jean-Philippe Richard. Each sculpture has a name (a personality, almost) and a dedicated poem.

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Château Eza hotel was converted from the castle and features rooms with a view of the Mediterranean Sea.

Romantic and luxury stays in five-star hotels Chateau de la Chevre d’Or (prices per night range from €300-2,600) or Chateau Eza offer amazing photographic opportunities, but so do lower-star hotels and bed and breakfast type accommodations that are also available on site.

Globalization is difficult to spot here. Èze has preserved its natural medieval feel and it is easy to see why it has historically inspired artists, writers and philosophers like Frederic Nietzsche, Walt Disney, and Lenny Kravitz. As you climb towards the village, you will notice on your left, le Chemin de Nietzsche, or Nietzsche’s Path. This is where Nietzsche was presumably visited by his muse, getting the inspiration to finish his famous work Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The path is about a two-hour hike down to the sea.

Although historically enjoyed by the famous and rich (you can spot pricy cars parked beside the hotels), Èze offers plenty of unique experiences for all tourists. In addition to restaurants, art galleries and delicious French bakeries, Èze village also boasts perfumeries, jewelry stores, boutiques, and lovely cafes, hidden along the pathways. Shops sell soaps, candles, olive oil and spices, traditionally traded in this region. Activities such as hiking, water sports and horse riding can also be arranged.

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Pathway and stores of Èze

Prepare well for the visit to the French Riviera; this densely-populated region offers so much to learn and discover. Aboveall, experience the life of locals: eat what they eat, do what they do, dress the way they dress… at least for a little while. In this way, you will unearth the authentic European beauty behind each street corner, even those originating in the Dark Ages.

Written by: Helena Gorancic-Lazetic

Making Your Dream Vacation a Reality

June 24, 2014 9:27 am
Deepak, Jasveet & Rosalita

Last Wednesday, June 11, Onkar Travels released new brochures available for travel agencies and companies for their new season (October – March). Hosted at Indian restaurant, Aahar on Churchill Avenue, the buffet dinner was delicious before everyone settled in to learn of all the travel opportunities Onkar has to offer.

Food Collage

Established in February of 1980, Onkar Travels is one of the largest travel networks in Canada. Affiliated with multiple travel associations, they aim to make your dream vacation a reality. Anything that you want to experience they can and will make possible.

A leading wholesaler in airline tickets, they also have consolidated or net fare contacts with various major airlines to send you all over the world.

Specializing in trips to India, they design tours with their experienced and expert team to provide travelers with the best that India has to offer in all facets and areas. Their latest information from “Incredible !ndia” depicts the tours available that will not only show you the Taj Mahal. Taking you along to both well-known and more discrete towns and cities, you see that there is more to India than just the pictures on postcards.

Their trusted brand is dedicated to serving you with the vacation you’ve always dreamed of. While they specialize in trips to India, that is not the only available destination. They offer “Incredible World Tours”—their brochure appropriately named. Each tour offers something different for the desired area. From other places in Asia such as Singapore, Thailand or Malaysia to European destinations such as Italy and Switzerland, you not only are presented the opportunity to see all the famous landmarks of the region but experience things off the beaten path—things not many others have discovered.

It is here that Onkar Travels have found their niche. Onkar Travels can design personalized tours and getaways to ensure that their clients get everything they want out of their trip. From the day you begin planning your adventure, Onkar Travels encourages active interaction to tailor the trip to your every need and want.

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In this, they live up to their slogan: Turning Journeys into Memories.

Where will your next journey take you?

Extreme Colorado

June 11, 2014 1:30 pm
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If you just want to see the Rocky Mountains, stay home and look at a picture. If you want to experience them the way they are meant to be experienced, get a helmet, grab a guide and get ready for an extreme adventure. Colorado is the destination for rafting, rock climbing, skydiving, paragliding, and even surfing. If the Rockies themselves don’t humble you, the experience will.

gallery_4_A_chris_fullWhitewater Kayaking and Sledging

The high season for whitewater kayaking and sledging is on right now. Colorado’s rocky rivers make for some of the most exhilarating rafting no matter your level of experience. The Colorado River, Arkansas River, and Clear Cree are accommodating for paddlers of all skill levels, as you can chose from calm to rapid rivers.

 

 

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Rock Climbing

Local and international climbers flock to Boulder, Colorado, home of some of the most legendary rock-climbing enclaves in the world. One of the most popular is Canyon State Park, with more than 500 climbing routes! Don’t look down but do look around as you take in one of the most spectacular sights you’ll ever see.

 

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Skydiving

Colorado is one the best places to experience the quintessential extreme sport of skydiving. Feel the air above the Rockies and enjoy the views of the snow capped mountains and green meadows, as you free fall from 18,000 feet. Indoor skydiving lessons at SkyVenture will get you well prepped for your moment of truth.

 

 

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 12.15.19 PMParagliding

Soar through the crisp Colorado air while paragliding in Telluride. The box canyon (a narrow canyon with a flat bottom and vertical walls) makes Telluride a world-class destination for paragliders. The canyon walls create an updraft, which keeps you sailing longer.

 

Eisbach_die_Welle_SurferRiver Surfing

New to the extreme sports scene is river surfing.  Glenwood Springs Whitewater Park is a manmade surf and raft wonderland.  A popular sport year round, the best time to go to Glenwood Springs is between May and September, when the mountain snow melts and makes the swells stronger. The break, known simply as G-Wave is an ideal spot for pros and newbies alike.

For trip ideas, inspiration and accommodation deals, visit http://www.colorado.com/canadian/welcome-colorado

LutherCountry

June 10, 2014 12:30 pm
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Images: Wikipedia & visit-luther.com

Martin Luther, Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Frideric Handel, writers Goethe and Schiller … all are well-known German cultural icons. However, what is less known, is that they all come from the same general region of Deutschland: the area currently known as LutherCountry. Two states, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia make up LutherCountry and over the next two years, there is no better time to take a tour of history-drenched part of Germany.

2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation that was launched on October 31, 1517. On that day, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of a church in Wittenberg. Martin Luther revolutionized Christianity and regardless of whether or not you are Lutheran, travelling in his footsteps is spectacular — but Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia are magical for many other reasons.

Wartburg_Eisenach_DSCN3512Start at the world-famous 900-year old plus Wartburg Castle that towers over the village of Eisenach (about 2 hours from Frankfurt by train.) It is here that the Luther translated the New Testament into German between 1521 and 1522. He was actually hiding out in the Castle as the Great Reformer was a bit of a troublemaker in the Catholic Church. The practice at the time was that anyone who had money could buy their way out of sin. Luther thought this was reprehensible and said so. Luther preached that  humans need not an intermediary to get to God and that confessions could be made directly to God. That ruffled Catholic feathers. A lot. And he became a pariah in the Church. But the fact of the matter remained that Luther revolutionalized Christian thought.

The Castle also holds appeal for musical types as well as Wagner wrote his romantic opera “Tannhäuser” here. Walk down from the castle into the beautiful, quaint village of Eisenach. Luther attended school here as a child and the house where he lived, Luther House, is now a museum. It’s a quick pit stop. It seems natural that Luther chose to escape persecution and hide out in Eisenach. He had a strong attachment to the place.

Bachhaus_Eisenach_2009Eisenach is also a pilgrimage for Bach fans. He was born in Eisenach in 1685 and you can visit the house where he lived. Each visitor is treated to live demonstrations of Bach’s music, played on era instruments. While you can visit Bach’s original house, there is also a modern addition with high quality stereos where you sit in comfortable chairs and chill listening recordings and learn more about his life and times. Luther was a huge fan of music in worship and the one composer who epitomizes Lutheranism was Johann Sebastian Bach. Much of his music was written for the church.

You can lay your head down for the night with Jesu Joy running through your head at the Gobel’s Sophien Hotel. It is an extremely clean and comfortable and quiet hotel. The staff is nice and typical German buffet breakfast will prepare you well for the day.
About an hour from Eisenach you can get a hit of nature. As Canadians this may not seem to be a huge attraction at first, but what is amazing is that you can climb to the roof of a forest in Hainich National Park and follow the Treetop Trail. It consists of a 44-metre high tree tower and a 310-metre trail above the tree line.

There are information plaques along the way to offer insight into the treetop ecosystems and creatures that inhabit on high. It’s all quite fascinating.

Grab lunch at the Forsthaus Thiemsburg in the park and sample potato dumplings like you have never had before, a regional dish for Thuringia.

If flowers are your thing, head to Bad Langensalza, known as the City of Roses, a small quiet town which was known in ancient times as the spa area of Germany. It has recently become well known for its flower obsession. Residents come together and beautify the town. The city won the gold prize in the yearly flower competition organized by the European Association for Flowers and Landscape.

Do not miss a visit to Erfurt. It was an influential commercial and university town in the Middle Ages and the place is magical. Merchants’ Bridge (completely built with half- timbered houses—much like London Bridge was back in the day) on the River Gera, has survived 500 years as a market and still has stores lining the bridge. It’s quaint and touristy but well worth seeing because of the history. Make sure to pop your head into the puppet-making shop.

bfb9eebbc2815b998e99374633ca5110The heart of the old town is Cathedral Hill and is a truly awe-inducing ensemble of churches that first date back to the 8th century. Inside St. Mary’s Cathedral is the Gloriosa, the world’s largest medieval free- swinging bell. There is beautiful art inside as well. Napoleon had a thing for Erfurt, for good reason. The place is stunning.
Erfurt is also home to the oldest intact synagogue building in Central Europe, dating from around 1100. It had many incarnations, with many layers of construction. You can still see one of its past lives, a dance hall that rests above the synagogue below.

Erfurt is an important place in terms of Luther’s journey. You can visit the Augustinian Monastery that he entered in 1505. He took his monk vows here in 1506 and was ordained in 1507. He studied theology in Erfurt, much to the chagrin of his family who wanted him to be a lawyer. The monastery was an important centre of the Reformation.

Lay your head at the end of the day at the Mercure Hotel. It is centrally- located, is clean with comfortable beds. Again, start the day with an amazing Euro breakfast buffet.
For a traditional regional meal in a fabulous courtyard setting, head to the restaurant Köstritzer Zum Güldenen Rade. You won’t walk away hungry.

If UNESCO World Cultural sites are your thing, head to Weimar. The entire city was declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 1998.

There are three sites with over 16 UNESCO objects. There are three Bauhaus buildings (Bauhaus architecture/art movement from is of interest). Highlights include the Goethe Residence, Schiller’s home, Belvedere Castle, its park. Weimar is a great place to just sit in a café and enjoy the creative vibe of the place. Take a walk along the River and marvel at the beauty. Stay at the Familienhotel Weimar if you have the kids.

It caters to families. The restaurant,Gretchens, serves up some incredible gourmet meals and while you eat, the kids can play in a wooden play structure located in the restaurant itself.

The city of Halle is two hours away and has a bigger city, more urban feel to it. First stop? The Halloren Chocolate Factory. It’s the oldest one in Germany, dating back to 1804. It has a unique history so take the tour. And of course, you get to sample the goods. The store is a chocoholic’s mecca.

Halle is another classical music lover’s dream. Georg Frideric Handel hails from Halle and you can visit his house. It’s a religious experience for any fan. To crank up the spiritual experience, head to the Market Church of St. Mary in the city’s main market square to see the large organ upon which he played. Turn around and look at the less grand organ that none other than Johann Sebastian Bach’s son played on. Interestingly, while Bach Sr. tried to connect with Handel, it is said that the two musical geniuses never actually met. That church also has Luther’s death mask and a pulpit from which he preached.

The Halle Zoo is a huge hit with the younger set, and their parents too. It boasts over 250 species of animals and close to 1,700 animals on its 9-acre site. The zoo is designed so you can get up close and really see the animals in all of their glory. In some cases, you can even touch them.

There is no better place to stay in Halle than the Dorit Charlottenhof Halle Hotel. The staff, the restaurant is delicious, breakfast buffet plentiful and the rooms are spacious and comfortable.

If architecture is your thing, Dessau is a must. It is home to the Bauhaus. Dessau is also the only place in which the three Bauhaus directors – Walter Gropius, Hannes Meyer and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe – were active and where almost all the Bauhaus buildings were built. These are now regarded as icons of 20th century architecture. Take a tour, grab lunch in their outstanding cafeteria and soak up the creativity and artistic buzz that exists there.

The City of Magdebourg is best explored on foot. Stroll along the Elbe and visit the St. Maurice and St. Katherine Cathedral. It is enormous and happens to be the oldest in Germany and one of the tallest in Eastern Germany. Originally a Catholic church, the cathedral was ultimately influenced by the Reformation and held its first protestant service in 1567. It was a rebellious city and backed Luther, much to the chagrin of the Catholic Church.

While Magdeburg is steeped in history and you could fill your time visiting churches where Luther preached, it would be a mistake to miss the Jahrtausendturm. At 200 feet, it is the third highest wooden tower in the world. Inside you will find science exhibitions with highly-interactive experiments you can perform. It is quite honestly, one of the best science museums in the world.

After a long day exploring, stay at the MARITIM-Hotel Magdeburg. It is a classy five-star hotel, is enormous and fun for everyone with a great pool.

There are so many other places to visit and see in LutherCountry and you could spend weeks following in the footsteps of Luther and discovering new places as well. This area of Germany is brimming with culture, history and spiritual meaning and is the perfect place to feed your mind, body and soul. With all of the Reformation commemorative activities going on until 2017, now is the time to go.

Inspiring Korea

June 3, 2014 2:00 pm
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Korea is a vibrant place. It has modernized itself over the past 50 years while still maintaining a strong flair for its traditional culture. Many of the country’s tourist attractions focus on feeding one’s well-being, be it physical or spiritual. There is phenomenal food to nourish your appetite and there are bike tours along the Hangang to get your body moving. Or, visit the recently-opened taekwondo park, Taekwondowon. Feed your inner peace by spending a night as a Buddhist monk in a temple stay program. With so much to explore, you are guaranteed to find some inspiration from this tranquil nation.

Korean.food-Bibimbap-02Jeonju is a city regarded as the cultural heartland of Korea and known for its food. The city’s signature dish is bibimbap, a mixed rice delicacy topped with vegetables and chili pepper paste that are stirred together just before eating. Beef or a fried egg are usually added as well.

Gogung is a famous place in Jeonju to eat bibimbap. The restaurant has also perfected goldongban, a famous dish prepared for the kings of the Joseon period. While the food is the primary attraction, a unique feature is the small bibimbap museum, where the history and regional varieties of the dish are laid out. Since bibimbap is one of Korea’s most famous of dishes, it comes in many forms, including vegetarian.

Take a bike ride along the Hangang,  an iconic Korean symbol, which runs through Seoul. Bike tourism is becoming a trend in the country, with themed bicycle paths across the nation that are based on each region’s nature, culture, and history. Rent a bike at one of the many kiosks, and head out for a ride. There are 1,757 kilometres of paths to choose from.

Under Mt. Baekunsan in Muju, which is surrounded by the scenery of nine valleys, is the new taekwondo park, Taekwondowon. Stretching over 2.31 million square metres, the park is meant to serve as a mecca for over 70 million people who practice the sport.

521A30481The optimal goal of Taekwondowon is to achieve “one world through taekwondo.” The park is divided into three-themed zones: Body, a space for experience; Mind, a space for training; and Spirit, a symbolic space. Other features of the park include hotels, traditional Korean housing, youth hostels, an indoor spa and outdoor leisure facilities.
A variety of programs let you experience various aspects of taekwondo and Korean tradition. Taekwondowon also offers single day-training programs, which last one to two hours. Choose from traditional physical training, sound meditation, interactive games, or healing therapy. The Taekwondo Museum showcases the history, spirit, techniques and the future of taekwondo through  several exhibition halls. Take in the taekwondo performance, that highlight the process of mastering this martial art. .

Looking for a unique experience to top off your visit to Korea? Templestay is a program that allows you to experience the life of a Buddhist practitioner. There are several traditional temples that preserve the 1,700-year-old history of Korean Buddhism.

Typically, a stay with the program would comprise of an overnight stay at a temple and participation in Buddhist rituals. Rise to the tolls of the temple bells before the sun does. Realize the method of eating ecologically and live in harmony with nature, through a monastic meal called BaruGongyang. Find tranquility in a cup of tea during a tea ceremony known as Dado.

Korea has much to offer. Be inspired by its beauty. Whether you are seeking exotic new dishes, better health, or inner peace, you will be able to find it all here.

For more information on This country’s hot spots visit Korea Tourism or Seoul Tourism.

Fabulous Miami: Eden Roc Hotel is the It Spot of Miami

May 13, 2014 4:11 pm
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In 2012, over 3.6 million Canadians visited Florida. That means almost one in every 10 Canadians visits the Sunshine State, with the peak winter months being most popular. Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Orlando, Disneyworld, West Palm and Daytona are all hotspots. But for many Canadians, Miami is the place to be — whether a destination point or a place to go and visit while staying elsewhere in Florida.

Miami is big and beautiful, making it impossible to see everything in the art deco inspired pastel city on your first visit…or even your tenth. Miami has miles of beautiful sandy beaches, the best shopping the world has to offer, a spectacular and diverse arts and culture scene, nightlife and exceptional food. To avoid being overwhelmed with the immensity of its many offerings, you need to approach Miami with a plan.

The best place to start is with a stay at the Eden Roc Miami Beach, a fabulously restored and historic hotel originally designed by famed architect Morris Lapidus. Opening its doors in 1956, the Eden Roc Miami Beach was Lapidus’s most lavish design, embodying all the glamour of a Hollywood stage set. It has attracted a steady stream of entertainers and celebrities for more than 50 years, including Elizabeth Taylor, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Frank Sinatra. Over time its reputation and iconic stature made it a legendary landmark. Today, the Eden Roc is as popular as ever and retains its reputation as Miami’s timeless oceanfront treasure. It flawlessly blends legendary service and iconic style with Miami’s modern architecture and contemporary glamour. A recent property renovation increased the size of the Eden Roc to 631 guest suites, with the classic architecture of Eden Roc’s Legendary Tower being paired with a new contemporary Ocean Tower. Both towers feature ocean view rooms and suites.

17 10During the renovation, the Eden Roc added two new ballrooms and became home to Elle Spa by Elle Magazine. This 22,000 square-foot, first-ever spa by Elle is recognized as one of the best new spas by Condé Nast Traveler. A destination site for locals and guests alike, the Elle Spa offers plush amenities, dazzling ocean views and signature massage and body treatments. Amenities include a relaxing area, scrub bar, hot whirlpools, cold plunges, steam, sauna, hydro-experience showers, boutique hair and nail salon, and 24- hour beachfront fitness center and group exercise studio. Elle Spa visitors can also take advantage of an expansive rooftop deck with VIP cabanas, light dining and beverage service. A retail boutique offers the ultimate selection of luxury spa products, apparel and accessories.

The best thing about Eden Roc is its understated glamour. The Iconic Lobby Bar is the showcase of the Hotel and would be a great showroom for a scene from Mad Men with its über cool styling and relaxed glamour. The Lobby Bar cocktail is the Liz Taylor, a fiery little number that will get your motor running. Then again you’ll be in good company no matter what with the Eden Roc Cabanas feature beachside drink, the Olé Olé, or one of their famous mojitos.

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Cabana_Beach_Club_1247No stay at the Eden Roc is complete without a meal at 15 Steps, the resort’s signature restaurant. The new garden-inspired dining experience is named after the 15 steps necessary to grow a vegetable, catch a fish and cook the perfect steak. Based around the newly planted Sea Spray Organic Garden located within Eden Roc Miami Beach, 15 Steps is an innovative farm-to-fork concept designed by executive chef Mark Henry and new Chef Jeremy Ford. Ford is in his element preparing foie gras tochon, duck rillelte, green apple chutney, togarashi crusted tun crudo, branzini (spring risotto) and a variety of other land and sea dishes for his guests that will more than charm your palate. Ford also serves up more casual fare (with flare and zest) at the hotels Cabana Beach Club Ocean front restaurant that overlooks the magnificent beach.
The Eden Roc offers great poolside relaxation, beachfront activity and other amenities that guarantee a good time. Jim Mauer, General Manager of Eden Roc, told Ottawa Life Magazine that he and all the staff at Eden Roc are proud to be part of the Eden Roc hotel’s next and greatest chapter and they look forward to hosting visits from the many wonderful Canadians who come to Florida each year.

Out and About in Miami

Adjacent to the hotel is a great bike station. Rent a bike for a couple of dollars and take a relaxing ride through South Beach to visit the many little nooks and crannies that are part of the Miami landscape.
You can visit the gorgeous pastel buildings of Miami Beach’s Art Deco Historic District or take a self-guided audio tour or regularly scheduled walking tour of one of the world’s greatest concentrations of 1930’s architecture. Start at the Art Deco Welcome Center at 1001 Ocean Drive. Admire the porthole windows, breezy front porches and nautical motifs of the Ocean Drive hotels. There are numerous outdoor cafés where you can stop and have lunch or dinner while soaking up the unique style of South Beach and the Art Deco District.

3117960599_cbdb0ea77d_z-16-730-500-80Wynwood Neigbourhood- FABULOUS …Just Fabulous

The Wynwood Art District is a thriving, young and hip cultural and artistic smorgasbord of diversity celebrating Miami at its grittiest best. It extends from North Miami Avenue to I95 and runs from 10th to 36th Street. It is home to over 70 art galleries, retail stores, antique shops, eclectic bars, and astounding outdoor murals. Local, tourists, artists and others are flocking to this eclectic up-and-coming Wynwood neighborhood to see street art in its natural setting (http://wynwoodartwalk.com). The Wynwood Second Saturday takes place monthly from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. The walk is free and is open to the public. Galleries open their doors for this artistic encounter as entertainment, cocktails and more spill onto the streets while people take in the vibrant and creative atmosphere.
Little Havana is one of the best places to experience Miami’s Latin flavor. On Calle Ocho (Southwest Eighth Street), stroll over to Domino Park for some local colour. Walk into any of several cigar shops and watch stogies being hand-rolled by skilled torcedores. Little Havana has several wonderful art galleries as well as souvenir shops selling everything from Cuban flags to classic guayabera shirts. A great way to experience the sights and sounds of Little Havana at night is during Viernes Culturales/Cultural Fridays – the neighborhood’s monthly arts and cultural event. And don’t leave Miami without sampling some delicious Cuban food.

100799_2319_primaryCulture Quest

Miami offers endless cultural offerings, from ballet to opera to symphony concerts and gallery nights. Catch a show at the Arsht Center or check out smaller venues around town for modern dance, comedy and theatre productions. Museums like History Miami and the Jewish Museum of Florida offer glimpses of Miami’s intriguing past, while art museums like the Miami Art Museum, Frost Art Museum at FIU, Lowe Art Museum, Bass Museum of Art, Wolfsonian-FIU and Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami house dazzling collections of ancient, modern and contemporary art and design. Monthly gallery nights showcase local art while mega art fairs like Art Basel Miami Beach and Arteaméricas bring in art and collectors from around the world.
Miami’s attractions offer something for everyone. Step into Miami’s Garden of Eden at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Swim with the dolphins at Miami Seaquarium, meet and greet exotic animals at Jungle Island, or laugh at the hilarious antics of primates at Monkey Jungle. At Zoo Miami, you will encounter a wild world of over 2,000 animals including fauna from the wilds of South America at the zoo’s permanent exhibit, Amazon and Beyond. Ponder the mysteries of Coral Castle. Miami attractions will dazzle your senses.

LIV Miami discoDance the Night Away –Olé Olé Olé

Miami’s nightlife is legendary. On South Beach, popular spots include Mynt and LIV. Downtown clubbers head for Space, Grand Central or Bardot. Most of the big hotels have great clubs with live music or dance music that extends well into the wee hours. For some Latin flair, try out Hoy Como Ayer, La Covacha or Yuca. Miami nights are full of possibilities. The Eden Roc sets its own popular Miami vibe in the busy Lobby Bar of the hotel and is a definite hot spot for locals and visitors.

Miami operates on a late-night clock, so if you want to beat the rush at eateries and clubs, opt for an early entrance. The nightlife tends to heat up close to midnight; arrive any earlier and you’re likely to be drinking alone.

BeachGet Wet

Greater Miami and the Beaches are surrounded by water. In Miami, you can dive, snorkel, canoe, kayak, standup paddleboard, windsurf, or fish to your heart’s content. Miami also boasts Biscayne National Park – the only underwater national park in the country. From the Visitors Center, you can take a glass-bottom boat tour to glimpse sea creatures undulating across brilliant coral reefs. Some of the very best views of Miami are the ones from the water! Take a ride on the Island Queen tour boat or speed across Biscayne Bay on a Thriller Miami speedboat cruise.

City_View_MiamiWeather Information

Miami has warm weather year-round; highs are almost always in the 70s and 80s. Even on cloudy days, a hat and sunblock are a must to prevent sunburn. Humidity is worst in the summer months and can be oppressive, especially to travelers used to dry heat. June has the least desirable weather, as it traditionally sees the most rainfall.
All of Florida is located within the hurricane belt, so Miami is at risk for hurricanes and tropical storms between June 1 and November 30. To prepare for travel during these months, purchase travel insurance that covers you in the event of a hurricane and keep a close watch on the weather forecast prior to departure.

Aruba: One Happy Island

May 6, 2014 2:09 pm
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Bon Bini, which is Papiamento for welcome, is how you will be greeted when you arrive in one of the most remarkable Caribbean destinations. The island boasts many beautiful postcard perfect beaches, diverse accommodations, and the famous Arikok National Park – just the beginning of a plethora of reasons why Aruba is destined to impress any traveler.

Papiamento, solely spoken in the Dutch Caribbean and the language most commonly spoken on the island, is comprised of Dutch, Spanish, English, French, and Portuguese. Over 90 different ethnicities are represented in Aruba and nearly every citizen is able to speak English and Spanish, in addition to Dutch and Papiamento, which is the official language. Aruba is conveniently situated outside the hurricane belt and close to the equator, making sunshine a staple backdrop for your next tropical vacation. With temperatures ranging between 27 to 31°C all year round, there’s absolutely no way to avoid returning home looking sun-kissed and feeling totally refreshed.

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The island is a tiny gem, roughly twice the size of Manhattan, allowing you to hop from daytime activities to your hotel home base and back out again to enjoy the nightlife. There are many great hotels in Aruba; however, the most impressive property is The Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort, Spa & Casino. Modern décor throughout and 5-star dining paired with first class spa facilities await the savvy traveler. The Hyatt pays incredible attention to detail in everything it does. One definitely feels like royalty when enjoying a first class treatment at the exclusive ZoiA Spa. Grab a drink, hit the relaxation area, and wait to be called into a treatment room to enjoy one of the many blissful services offered. Guests also enjoy direct beach access to Red Sail Sports behind the resort where sailing, scuba diving, snorkeling and kayaking adventures begin.

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For the eco-friendly tourist, Bucuti & Tara Beach Resorts Aruba located on Eagle Beach have recently been recognized by garnering the Green Globe High Achievement Award. This adult only property is also known for providing the most blissfully romantic experience with beachfront candle lit private dining for two every night. For those seeking the all-inclusive experience, The Hotel Riu Palace Aruba also located on Palm Beach has everything one could possibly need without leaving the vicinity. The hotel is a 24-hour all inclusive property with four themed restaurants, a lavish breakfast buffet fit for a king, two fresh water pools and 450 rooms. Whatever type of accommodation one may seek, the options will surely exceed all of your expectations whether you’re a bonafide adventure seeker or a self proclaimed holiday beach bum!

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All types of travel can be had in Aruba. The island provides all sorts of entertainment that varies from water sports to gourmet restaurant hopping to rum tasting and, of course, the marvelous Carubbian Festival. Top activities include kite surfing at Armando’s Kite Shack and a catamaran extreme snorkeling boat tour with Red Sail Sports. For a more relaxing day, sample the best Aruba has to offer with a private rum tasting at Happy Taste or sip on a Balashi beer poolside at The Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino. A truly unique daytime activity is a visit to Arikok National Park. Its contrast to the rest of the island is fascinating with rocky shores and Conchi, Aruba’s natural pool on one end to desert terrain and divi-divi trees on the other. Head to the northeast coast of the park and uncover the Guadirikiri and Fontein caves, which are lined with drawings and graffiti left behind by Amerindians and early European settlers. The picturesque, calm landscapes are enchanting; a must see.

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Wrap up the day with dinner at Marandi Restaurant where seaside dining meets modern Aruban cuisine. Perhaps head to La Trattoria El Faro Blanco Restaurant to watch the sunset. Situated on the hill of Hudishibana, you will definitely get that post card sunset snap! Or, try Driftwood Restaurant, a downtown hot spot for fresh seafood caught daily by the owner himself! Finish off the evening with a dance or two at Moomba Beach. On Thursday nights hit the Carubbian Festival in San Nicholas to see how Aruba’s locals party!

Finally, the best part about Aruba is the people who live there. They are just as sunny as the island itself. From the moment you arrive to the moment you leave, you are welcomed, pampered, and made to feel at home on the One happy island.

Don’t forget to pack your camera!

For more information on travel arrangements, please visit Aruba.com.

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