Atlantis is a Warm Weather Water Adventure

July 6, 2015 10:55 am
Aerial AQUAVENTUREMayan Temple (1280x853)

It’s hard not to be taken by the beauty of the beaches on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. A natural reef acts as a buffer, calming the waves that gently crash onto its shores and the sun is said to shine 300 days a year.

Hollywood was an early fan of the island, which has been featured in several movies including two from the James Bond franchise. The Hollywood set has also taken to the beauty of the area building homes on private islands surrounding Nassau and Paradise Island.

The Atlantis resort is a truly dreamy, watery escape that lies across the bridge from the island of Nassau. The striking architecture of the Royal Towers with a 25-storey high bridge-like structure joining the two towers is impressive. For the equivalent of an average family’s yearly total mortgage payments, you can rent a suite as high as a $25,000 a night. At that price, the chances of sneaking a peek of a celebrity guest are increased.

The Royal Towers were the first part of Atlantis to open and were built in a record 18 months. The entrance features a beautiful carving of Poseidon and the doors are 2 storeys high and carved with sea horse-shaped hinges. The doorman insists the doors can close but they stay open unless a hurricane is threatening the island. Once you enter, look up and take in the beautiful frescos that surround the vaulted ceiling. The attention to detail is a real treat.

Further inside, look down to get your first glimpse of the Atlantis aquarium experience. The lower level of the Royal Towers doubles as the back wall of the massive aquarium. Atlantis boasts 14 lagoons, 8 million gallons of salt water and 50,000 fish including sharks, sea turtles, stingrays, goliath groupers, eels and more. To take in all the aquariums, be sure to head to the “dig” tunnels that connect the Royal Towers to the outside aqua adventure park.

To get a closer at the marine life, choose among several hands-on marine experiences, including feeding and swimming with stingrays, snorkeling in the massive Ruins of Atlantis tank which is decked out with artifacts from the fabled lost city and home to sharks and many other fish. Stop by Dolphin Cay to get close up with these perpetually-smiling mammals. All the activities are available for an extra fee and are very popular so be sure to book early.

There are 18 waterslides, a not-so lazy river and 11 pools, although the whole place seems like one huge unending pool. There is so much to see and do that it is easy to overlook the detail that went into making all the ponds, pools and a lagoons. It’s unparalleled and the landscaping is first class. Take time to appreciate the beautiful sculptures sprinkled through the resort. It’s easy to get around. Well-manicured paths connect the 5 hotels, the pools, the stunning marina and Marina Village. Some of the walk can be long but if you’re not up for it, the hotel offers a complimentary shuttle service between all the buildings. Leave your wallet in your room as most restaurants, including the poolside locations, do not accept cash. (However, this does not apply to the 2 on-site Starbucks coffee shops.) Paying with your room key is very convenient and you don’t have to worry about losing you Visa in the not-so-lazy river.

The Atlantis Resort is like an exclusive club but it is available for all to experience on a per-day basis. Nassau has a deep-water port that accommodates up to 4 cruise ships a day. A favourite destination for the cruisers is the Atlantis resort. They arrive daily and contribute to the busy, happening vibe of the place. If a relaxed adult-only experience is more your style, stay at the Cove in order to have access to the Cain at the Cove. Exclusively for Cove guests, the Cain at the Cove is a beautifully landscaped pool area with a mini-outdoor casino and restaurant. For a more exclusive experience, rent a beach hut or cabana.

Get a feel for the local scene and wander up and over the bridge to Nassau. It’s an easy 15-minute walk and once you taste the cracked conch, grouper finger, even pork chops and plantains at one of the fish fry shacks under the bridge, you’ll want to be wandering back there daily. It is a culture clash compared to Atlantis and definitely a worthwhile experience.

The Atlantis Resort at Paradise Island is a warm-weather playground, a kind of Disney of water and sun. The white sandy beaches can’t be beat and the water park will keep the whole family busy all day.

Atlantis is a great family destination that will leave you with life-long memories. Prior knowledge of the addition expenses will help avoid a premature coronary at check-out. Here are some things to be aware of:

  • Mixed drinks are $15 US and beer is $8 (except in the Casino where price jumps substantially).
  • 15 per cent gratuity is added automatically to all bills plus the 7.5 per cent VAT tax
  • Meal plans can be purchased before leaving home and run from $99-$160 per person. (Note that gratuities are not included in the price and will be billed to your room. Children 12 and under eat for free with an accompanying adult but again, the room will be charged for gratuities on the value of their meal).
  • A $49 per person, per day resort fee will be added to your bill

A Delicious Weekend in Barbados

June 11, 2015 2:15 pm
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The sky is clear and the sun is shining. Is there a better way to start off the weekend in beautiful Barbados? The answer is yes—and it happens when I am handed a rum punch upon entering the Radisson Aquatica Beach Resort.

Get ready to unwind by lounging poolside or walking along the beach, both steps away from the hotel doors. The smell of dinner cooking from the hotel’s restaurant sitting on the water’s edge will waft down the beach and have your stomach rumbling. This is the beginning of a weekend full of food and drinks. It is the fifth annual Food, Wine and Rum Festival. Are you ready to dig in?

But first, a little history on the small island. The first stop is at the Barbados Museum and Historical Society. Located in the former British Military Prison, the almost two-century-year-old buildings hold collected and documented evidence of Barbados’ cultural, historical and environmental heritage. I learn how the island rose out of slave trade and of the influence British colonies have had on the 300,000 people who live here.

The inspiring stories help to appreciate the true beauty Barbados holds. And the beauty is everywhere!

As I look out the window of the car driven by my tour guide, I see water as blue as the sky and plants as vibrant as photos make them out to be. I am taking a tour of the entire island of Barbados in one afternoon—yes, it only takes one afternoon! Barbados is divided into eight main villages, each distinct in history, entertainment and plantation.

Bridgetown is the most commercial, with a variety of tourist shops and vendors selling everything you can imagine. I pick up some much needed sunscreen I forgot to bring! As we travel north, Speightstown and Holetown offer more shops, art galleries and historical monuments. Holetown is location of the first settlement in Barbados—and also where I’m told Rihanna likes to stay when she visits!

As we approach the east coast, the weather and the plantation begin to change. Waves crash against the rocky shore, a total 180 degress from the calm blue waters I saw out my hotel window in the morning. Sugar cane is everywhere and I start to get excited about the upcoming stop at St. Nicholas Abbey Great House and Distillery.

Barbados is proud to be the birthplace of rum—one of the oldest distilled spirits in the world! St. Nicholas Abbey, located up in the hills of St. Peter, features 400 acres of sugar cane, tropical forest and buildings for rum production. The living quarters on the property are the oldest I have ever stepped into. The Great House was built in 1658 by Colonel Benjamin Berringer and features Jacobean architecture, making it one of only three Jacobean mansions remaining in the Western Hemisphere.

The distillery preserves the traditional methods used to produce rum in Barbados. St. Nicholas Abbey takes pride in its use of a traditional recipe, the freshest cane, pot still distillation and its process of barrelling and bottling. The complimentary drink I sip as I tour the grounds tastes of long-standing tradition.

I was able to try a lot of Barbadian rums during the Food, Wine and Rum Festival on the island. The rum seminar with Chesterfield Browne provided a taste test of five varieties of Mount Gay Rum, Barbados’ oldest distillery. As the International Brand Ambassador and Mixologist for Mount Gay Distilleries, Browne is passionate about helping you discover the different aromas and flavours in every sip. He is also excited to share the history of rum on the island. Dating back to 1627, British colonists would cultivate sugar cane and Barbados quickly became a sugar-based economy. The production of rum flourished as the sugar cane by-product of molasses was readily available. Today, rum holds medicinal, spiritual, psychological and social value. There are an estimated 1,000 rum shops across the 166 square-miles making up the island. A good drink is never far away!

Now, it would not be a food festival without a few tastes of Barbadian classics—bring on the flying fish and poached chicken. Marcus Samuelsson had me drooling at his cooking demo. The Jolly Roger served more seafood while we danced the balmy night away on a boat sailing the Caribbean Sea.

Although the boat offered a breathtaking look of the Barbadian coastline at night, the Late Night Supersonic event took the award for best view.

Inside the Concorde Museum, music was jamming and lights were flashing. Asian and Indian dishes, seafood and a Bajan carvery helped fuel the party under one of the world’s only Concorde jets!

The British Airways Concorde G-BOAE was the first supersonic, passenger-carrying commercial airplane. The turbojet-powered aircraft would fly passengers from London, England and Paris, France to Barbados in half the time of a regular commercial plane. It was speedy and it was luxurious!

Although the Late Night Supersonic event was one of the best parties I have ever been to, an honourable mention must be made to my night out in Oistins.

Featuring a hustle and bustle of young locals and tourists alike, Oistins is THE place to go for traditional Barbadian food and fun on a Friday night. Flying fish were flung through the air with chips and coleslaw on the side. I sat down to a plate full of mahi-mahi and ate every last bite. Luckily, Oistins also caters to some activity to work off the food you eat. You can take a walk along the stalls selling souvenirs or get your groove on by a big bandstand with live music playing on weekend nights.

Barbados offers a magical setting combining all of my favourite things: A peaceful, relaxing environment, beautiful views, delicious food and warm smiles from everyone you meet.

I can’t wait to one day return to this deliciously charming island!

Sable Island: A Dream Come True

June 10, 2015 9:16 am
Sable Island Aug 2013 145

All photos © Bill Freedman

Like a lot of people on this tour, I first heard of Sable Island as a child—a storm at sea, a shipwreck, the people perish, the horses survive, swimming to the shores of a desert island.

The story grew in me to become something of a Jungian archetype—a universal story of exploitation, emancipation and ultimate freedom.

Not long after Sable Island was declared Canada’s 43rd National Park in Dec. 2013, Adventure Canada, the tour group for the intrepid, teamed up with Parks Canada to offer its first tours of the Canadian island. Luckily, the inclement waters of the island, known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic, are inclined to be friendlier during the long-lit days of the summer solstice.

Off we go!

Boarding the ship feels much like checking in at a summer camp for adults. It is clear at the meet and greet the Adventure Canada staff is stellar—heaping with talent and experience; broadcasters; biologists; photographers; musicians and so much more!

We set sail to the sound of corks firing from bottles in celebration of Adventure Canada’s 25th anniversary. Our ship, the Sea Adventurer, begins its voyage while we toast and sip from fluted glass, bidding farewell to St. John’s and the cheerful neighbourhood houses of the Battery from port side, as heaps of floating ice summon us to sea from starboard. The adventure has begun!

Despite the seasickness, I sleep surprisingly well for being on a boat all night. I am jolted awake by the voice of Stefan, our strident expedition leader, loud and clear over the intercom. He provides the necessary nautical facts and figures. And Stefan is never without a sense of humour, “For those of you who were feeling seasick and wanting to die—a welcome back!”

Sable Island sits still on the horizon. It’s entirely zen. Today, the crescent shaped island is true to its other moniker, the Smile of the Atlantic. Just 300 kilometres off the coast of Nova Scotia—this feels nothing like Canada.

On the island, a couple of horses mill about, sniffing our pile of gear. They are an important part of the island’s history. It is generally agreed the horses are descendants from Acadian horses seized by the British during the expulsion of the Acadians (1755-1763).

A Boston merchant purchased the horses, transporting them to the island in 1760. The intention was that they would care for themselves, multiply, be periodically harvested and sold.  Due to the conditions of the island, however, these horses live shorter lives than others. The sand in their diet grinds down their teeth, effectively causing them to starve to death. Like Achilles’ choice, it is the price paid to live in glory—wild and free.

There has been much debate over whether these horses belong on the island at all, but Zoe Lucas, Canada’s own Jane Goodall and the woman synonymous with Sable Island, feels assured the herd, currently estimated at about 500, is secure under the aegis of Parks Canada.

Barefoot, we begin our trek towards the largest dune on the island, Bald Dune. With the stark vista of sand ahead of us, I nod in agreement when someone says this could be North Africa.

Noah Richler, a staff member of Adventure Canada, is here 20 years after his father’s visit to the island, which Lucas jokingly described as Mordecai chain-smoking his way up in the wake of dust left behind by Pierre Trudeau bounding his way to the top of Bald Dune.

Lucas tells us it has taken Bald Dune 20 years to inch its way across the island to its present position. It is the island’s hourglass—the movement of each grain of sand to collectively measure the inevitable passage of time.

The ever-changing island currently measures 42 kilometres in length and 1.5 kilometres at its widest point. For the next three days, we will taxi via zodiacs to and from various parts of the island.

Our guides share all there is to know about the persistence, resilience and diversity of the island.

It isn’t just about the horses. The birders in the group are keen to follow Canada’s largest migratory Tern population, along with the tiny  who have chosen Ipswich Sparrowsthe island as their one and only nesting place on the planet. The abundance of seals attracts the circling predators—the Great White Shark is known to contribute to the treachery of the Graveyard of the Atlantic.

Every good adventure is, in some way, a story of love. Our time on the island was an extended ritual of bonding. After each visit to the island we shared meals, thoughts, feelings and laughter.

Had we just remained in St. John’s harbour, socializing and participating in the “talks” by the Adventure Canada staff, I would have been sufficiently stimulated—a fellow guest described an Adventure Canada tour as a floating university.

Our adventure together continues well past our days on Sable Island. We cruise through the marine protected area known as the Gulley. At one point we were screeching and hollering like children as dolphins playfully raced alongside the ship.

If our days on Sable Island were the wedding, then the hours we spent in the tiny outpost of Francois (pronounced France-way) are the honeymoon. After an afternoon spent hiking together alongside breathtaking views, we dance up a storm with the town folks in the evening.

The next morning, we wake up in France! Saint-Pierre is exactly as one would expect—a little piece of Europe on this side of the Atlantic. After a most entertaining bus tour winding along the narrow streets, we sit in Les Délices de Joséphine, sipping café au lait, eating gateau and catching up on emails—what a perfect way to wind down an adventure at sea.

After a final evening of showcasing the talent on the ship, we return to where it all began—in St. John’s harbour. There are many wet eyes and long embraces as we sayour goodbyes with promises to keep in touch. Richler’s words continue to resound in my ears, long after the adventure ended, “I like Adventure Canada tours because I always make new friends…”

I can’t say enough about Adventure Canada and the staff. The attention to detail in the pre-tour information package is extraordinary. Click here to learn more about Adventure Canada’s Sable Island tour in June 2016.

By Mona Staples 

Explore the Big Smoke Family Getaway

June 5, 2015 4:02 pm
Toronto's skyline

If thoughts are moving from snow to long days and you are looking for holiday ideas, especially ones not involving a long road trip, load the kids in the car and head to Toronto. It’s one thing to go there for business but to experience the city as a tourist is a whole other experience, especially with kids.

For starters, stay at the Chelsea Hotel, Toronto. The hotel almost has a resort-type of feel, a destination unto itself. It is Canada’s largest hotel with 1,590 guest rooms, four restaurants and bars. The hotel’s best kept secret is the Market Garden Patio, a private oasis for guests to enjoy the hotel’s very own food truck. In addition, live bands perform an “unplugged” set on the patio from 8:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., Tuesday to Friday.

The hotel offers a full range of services to keep the younger ones busy, including the Family Fun Zone, Kids Centre and Club 33 Teen Lounge. The Chelsea Hotel is home to the Corkscrew, downtown Toronto’s only indoor waterslide. As the name implies, it is a swirly pool slide that thrills kids of all ages (including those over the age of 10). The pool is open late, well into the night by most kids’ standards, until 10 p.m.

While traveling with kids is fun, sometimes you just need time alone. The hotel offers a reasonably-priced babysitting service. If you want a longer kid-free break, the Chelsea Hotel has a day camp as well.

With your alone time, you can hit the Chelsea’s fantastic gym or take a dip in the over-18 pool. You can also lounge outside on the hotel’s adultonly deck.

While you could easily have a staycation at the hotel, venture out. The hotel has its own designated beach area, so be sure to head to the Chelsea Beach in Toronto Island Park. The beach has every amenity required for a fun and safe day out, including change rooms, a first aid station, a snack bar and a bike rental facility. Best of all, this beach has a Blue Flag rating — an international eco-label awarded to beaches for excellence in water quality. The ferry ride over is fun in and of itself. The hotel will prepare a lunch box full of healthy, kid-friendly meal options for the family to take over.

While you are there on the Island, be sure to hit the Centreville Amusement Park. It will remind you of amusement parks of days gone by. There are 30 rides with something for kids of all ages. There are bumper cars, roller coasters (not huge but still fun), a haunted cable car ride and pony rides. Be sure to slide down the Saugreen Lumber Mill Log Flume Ride for a great thrill. There are games and enough cotton candy to keep your kids wired for days. It’s a fun day outside and a nice addition to the beach time at the Chelsea private beach.

To help explore the city, the hotel has special “show your key and get a discount” at a variety of tourist sites such as Legoland Discovery Centre, the Art Gallery of Ontario as well as Ripley’s Aquarium. While the name Ripley’s might conjure up the word gimmick, nothing could be further from the truth. Ripley’s Aquarium is an incredible education centre that will blow your mind with fascinating information on the various aquatic life you see. There are enormous tanks that are at least 30 feet high brimming with fish. Wander through a tunnel that surrounds you with other fish of varying sizes and colours, sharks and manta rays. The experience is breathtaking. It is impossible to get closer to these sea creatures unless you were deep sea diving.

In another part of the Aquarium, there are manta rays your kids can touch and you can watch marine biologists feeding them. The jelly fish section is extraordinary. It’s the best education outing under the guise of fun. If your kids really get into the place, there is a summer day camp available in July and August.

Ripley’s is also just a few blocks from the Hockey Hall of Fame, another great museum to hit. Sure there is the Ontario Science Centre and the Royal Ontario Museum, which are amazing places to say the least, but coming from Ottawa where we are lucky to have phenomenal museums, it’s really a treat to visit places in TO that truly are different from what you can get at home. Ripley’s and the Hockey Hall of Fame are two such locations.

When you are feeling peckish, there are endless possibilities in downtown Toronto but for something that is funky, satisfying and family friendly (which is not always the case with trendy restaurants), head to Wvrst on King Street West. The name, pronounced “verst,” is imperfectly German, but the concept is genius. It’s simple, with just four things on the menu, five if you count the bread: beer, fresh sausages, French fries and dipping sauces. It’s unpretentious, with counter service and communal tables. Plus the beer list is excellent. The guys who started it wanted a place where families could go but at night could transform into a hot spot for hipsters. It succeeds in both.

The Chelsea Toronto Hotel is near it all and makes Toronto a perfect family getaway.

Kick Back at Hôtel Le Germain in Calgary

June 1, 2015 2:07 pm
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Photo provided by Groupe Germain Hôtels

Now that ski season is over and the summer holidays have yet to begin, it is the perfect time to head out west for a quick break to replenish your tank, take a deep breath and experience the glory of the Canadian Rockies. It should be de rigueur for every Canadian to bask in the beauty, even if it is for just a short visit. Lucky for us who live in Ottawa, it is entirely possible thanks to a direct, four-hour flight to Calgary.

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Photo provided by Groupe Germain Hôtels

Since relaxation is the primary focus, there is absolutely no better place to spoil yourself than with a stay at Hôtel Le Germain Calgary. It is a chic, modern boutique hotel, perfectly located in downtown Calgary and has every amenity you could want. Hôtel Le Germain Calgary is part of the family-owned Group Germain Hôtels, which owns 11 properties in Canada. The Group knows how to do boutique hotels.  And it should—it opened the first one in Canada. The rooms at Le Germain Hotel Calgary are spacious, the beds incredibly comfortable (with goose down duvets and feather pillows) and the décor is warm and calming. From the second you walk into your room, you will feel you have entered your own little oasis. Every detail is perfect. The soft, cotton bathrobe and towels, Molton Brown toiletries and the rainfall shower pamper you to the extreme. The Nespresso machine is a very nice touch.

It’s no surprise Hôtel Le Germain Calgary has won many industry awards, some for its architecture designand some for its overall excellence. It was even rated one of the best places to stay in the world.  Every kudo is deserved.  If you are a foodie, then you will be interested to know the hotel’s restaurant, CHARCUT, has won numerous awards as well and continues to have a reputation as one of the best places to eat in Calgary. That’s saying a lot for a city that knows its meat.

Hôtel Le Germain Calgary is a stone’s throw away from the EPCOR Centre for the Performing Arts, the Calgary Tower and the popular Stephen Avenue pedestrian walk where you can shop, catch a movie or grab a pint or bite in a pub, café or bar. However, best of all, in terms of location, the hotel is a mere hour and a half hour drive to Banff National Park. Before you head out on your Rockies odyssey, enjoy a continental deluxe breakfast that is included in the room cost. (Speaking of freebies, wi-fi is included as well and there is a fully-equipped 24-hour gym on site.)

Weather conditions in the park can differ from Calgary, so check with the front desk before venturing out. Of course, Hôtel Le Germain Calgary, being the place it is, has this information. The staff is outstanding.

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Peyto Lake, Alberta.

That first glimpse of the magnitude of the mountains will transport you to a whole other world of wonder as you drive toward magnificence. Take the Icefields Parkway and give yourself a full day to explore. There are hiking spots of all lengths along the Parkway and vista stops that are breathtaking. Peyto Lake, Bow Lake (located just past Crowfoot Glacier) are perfect hiking destinations and doable in a one-day trip. The Columbia Icefield (the largest in the Rockies) is a popular spot but it is farther down the highway. Be forewarned, no matter how much or how little of the Rockies you get a chance to see, you will be left wanting more.

After a day of hiking, experience the ‘Grounding Foot Massage’ back at Santé Spa at Le Germain. In spa talk, this stress-relieving experience is inspired by traditional Thai foot massage and uses ginseng, ginko and even bamboo to help increase circulation.  You get a massage of the lower legs and feet and two-handed palm movements and acupressure with a mahogany stick stimulate the reflex points on the feet. In non-spa speak, it’s just foot paradise. For spa junkies, rest assured, Santé has all the treatments you expect from a top quality spa, and then some.

Pampering and rejuvenating are the only ways to describe the experience at Hôtel Le Germain Calgary.  You will leave refreshed and ready to take on the world again after relaxing your body and mind and after filling your soul with the majesty of the mountains.

ME Milan Il Duca: Shop, Sightsee, Stay in Milan’s Fashion District

May 29, 2015 10:00 am
01MEMilan-EntranceHotel

Planning a trip to Italy but not sure where to stay? You’re in luck because ME by Meliá is opening its first luxury Italian hotel, ME Milan Il Duca, this month.

If you are looking for a spectacular location where you can both shop and sightsee, ME Milan Il Duca is the place for you. Located in Milan’s famous fashion and design district, this luxury hotel is right in the Piazza della Repubblica shopping area and just north of Brera. But the sightseeing doesn’t stop there. ME Milan Il Duca is also near the stunning Quadrilatero della Moda and Corso Como area.

MeMilan-LibraryME Milan Il Duca has brought together some of the world’s most renowned
and respected architects and designers. Formerly the site of l’Hotel Duca di Milano, originally designed by Aldo Rossi, the new ME Milan Il Duca provides a sense of history and culture with a modern twist. The interior, redesigned by Mortini’s Studio, is contemporary and elegant with stunning details from the work of late architects Gio Ponti and Luca Meda, industrial designer Achille Castiglioni and Madrid-based photographer Alberto Van Stokkum.

And if you need a restaurant recommendation, ME Milan Il Duca has it covered. With the first Italian branch of STK, as well as alfresco restaurant, Il Giardino del Duca, this luxury stay has some delicious dining options.
MeMilan-RadioRestaurantTerraceExperienceIn the evening, try the international tapas, sip a cocktail and see Milan from a whole new perspective at the Radio Rooftop Bar—the only one of its kind in the Piazza della Repubblica area. Modelled after the extremely popular ME London bar, this destination offers outstanding panoramic views of the skyline. See if you can spot the new towers in the Garibaldi area!

Update your passport, book your trip and go! Click here for more information.

 

The Royal Treatment with Paradisus

May 22, 2015 4:01 pm
Punta Cana Gabi Beach

Punta Cana has become one of the most popular year-round tourist destinations in the Caribbean. Its name refers to the cane palms in the region, and literally means “Tip of the White Cane Palms.” Its climate is constant, the temperature warm and the land absolutely beautiful. Located at the junction of the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, Punta Cana is situated at the most eastern tip of the country. It’s hard to believe that the history of Punta Cana really only began in 1969 when investors arrived in the area, purchased just over 50 square kilometres of beach and built paradise. Being at the junction of these two bodies of water with their differing currents, the area has incredible biodiversity and its fine, white sandy beaches are breathtaking.

Located right on that idyllic stretch of beach, and specifically the Bavaro Beach, are the luxury hotels Paradisus Punta Cana Resort and its sister resort, the Paradisus Palma Real. Their extensive and comfortable facilities, lush gardens and tropical mangroves, their wide range of activities and entertainment and the quality of their services make either location the perfect dream holiday. Needless to say, Paradisus All-Inclusive Resorts are par none in luxury, ambiance and cuisine but what makes these two properties in Punta Cana so special? The service, Royal Service actually!!

Both resorts offer a Royal service package which provides its guest with the VIP treatment during their stay. This adult’s only package offers access to private pools with Bali beds, access to the private beach area with a concierge service, complimentary wifi, entry to private restaurants for Royal Service guests only, and access to the Royal Service lounge for private check ins/outs alongside breakfast, international newspapers, cocktails, premium bar and hors d’oeuvres.

If that’s not enough, the best part of the Royal Service package is the exclusive yet discrete Butler Service. All butlers have been certified by the International Butler Academy and are dedicated to ensuring your every vacation need is met. Before your arrival, your butler will send you a preference form via email so they can get a sense of what you’re interested in and help organize any activities if need be. During your stay, your butler will set you up with a cell phone that reaches him/her directly at any time where you can take advantage of a variety of services such as:

  • Personal Resort overview
  • Personalized contents of the in-room mini bar
  • Personalized in-room coffee machine service
  • Luggage packing and unpacking
  • Whirlpool bath preparation
  • Personalized turndown service
  • In-room aromas experience
  • Bali beds & chaise lounge reservation at the private pool and private beach area
  • Delivery of pillow selection from the pillow menu
  • Assistance in planning tours and excursions
  • Preferential spa reservations
  • Preferential dinner reservations for the à la carte restaurants
  • Preferential reservations for golf, tennis courts and other activities
  • Mail and newspaper delivery
  • Personalized wake-up calls

Both Paradisus Palma Real and Paradisus Punta Cana have an extensive selection of restaurants and bars to suit any taste. At Palma Real, the standouts are Aqua which highlights the best in Mediterranean fusion and Gabi Beach, particularly at lunch while taking in the ocean views. At Paradisus Punta Cana, try Fuego for out of this world Latin fusion. After dinner enjoy a cocktail and a dance or two at Avenue bar or Gabi Club bar.

Each restaurant at either property is uniquely innovative and tasty however, the cuisine claim to fame for Paradisus is most definitely Passion by Michelin Star Chef Martin Berastategui. Awarded the 4-Diamond standing by AAA, the Passion experience is like no other. The restaurant is elegantly decorated with a black, white and red colour palate. Guests may choose to dine à la carte or sample Berastategui’s creations and try the chef’s tasting menu which is based on seasonal and local ingredients as well as recipes from his Spanish roots. Each dish is made with care and plated to perfection. Upon your first bite, you’ll realize why Martin has had such a successful career, the food is delicious!

So now that you’ve been treated like a royal and sampled the best cuisine on the island and arguably the Caribbean, it’s time to indulge at the famous YHI Spa. As soon as you step foot into YHI, you feel as if you’ve just entered heaven. It’s a world within the resort that’s tranquil and relaxing on so many levels. Let the spa aromas enchant your spirit and enjoy themed massages, facials, body treatments, or wraps. YHI also provides salon services and access to the fitness club. Be sure to take advantage of the Water Ritual Center where you can enjoy the sauna, herbal steam room, chromo therapy shower, hydrotherapy shower and whirlpool before or after any spa treatment.

Paradisus is a true luxury destination in every regard. Once you arrive, you’ll never want to leave! Don’t worry, your butler can arrange for a longer stay!

CONTEST

Paradisus Punta Cana and OLM are teaming up to bring one lucky family of 4 a dream vacation. Vacation gift certificate includes a 4-night stay at Paradisus Punta Cana for 2 adults and 2 kid. To enter, visit Ottawa Life at Facebook or on Twitter and share your family photo to be entered into a draw for the grand prize. Draw takes place July 1, 2015. The winner will be announced on Facebook and on Twitter. The prize is valid for one year. Blackout dates apply.

 

CONTEST RULES AND LEGAL DISCLAIMER

Ottawa Life Magazine, its staff, and its owners reserve sole and final judgment as to all matters concerning contests and interpretation of contest rules.

Destination Denver

May 21, 2015 1:00 pm
A view of Downtown Denver from Civic Center Park. PHOTO: STEVE CORNELIUS

The state of Colorado is an obvious destination for skiing and sports enthusiasts but you might not know that the foot of the Rockies is an equally impressive haven for arts and culture. The next time you fly in, don’t hit the highway out of town. Instead, take a trip into the city.

March is the snowiest month of the year in Denver but the sun in the mile-high city melts the white stuff away in no time. It’s midmonth, beautiful outdoors, people are out strolling, joggers clad only in shorts run by and people are sitting on patios having lunch at the trendy refurbished Union Station.

Sunny lunch at Stoic & Genuine in the hip Union Station.
Sunny lunch at Stoic & Genuine in the hip Union Station.

While Union Station continues to serve as an Amtrack station, it is also home to ten incredible restaurants and bars, including the oyster bar Stoic & Genuine. It’s the fourth restaurant in the city for Bravo’s Top Chef Masters contestant and multi award-winning chef Jennifer Jasinski. An oyster bar in land-locked, desert-like Denver seems very strange. However, the Denver International Airport is the fifth busiest hub in the United States making it a modern day ‘port’ and debunking the myth that you can only get fresh seafood on the coast.

Denver is actually a foodie’s paradise and I wonder how Denverites can all look so fit living in such a fantastic epicurean culture. The key is their active lifestyle. With 300 days of sunshine a year, they get outside to hike, bike, ski and more. There is also a great vibe to the city and Denverites are warm and welcoming.

There are breweries and brew pubs galore: 33 in the city and 100 in the greater area. Most do not have kitchens but maintain a symbiotic relationship with food truck vendors, allowing patrons to purchase food curbside and bring it into the pubs. Locals and visitors alike benefit from apps for almost everything including finding a food truck, reserving a table at a restaurant or getting a cab home.

It all started in Larimer Square. Today, the historic strip is home to shopping and great dinning.  PHOTO: STEVE CORNELIUS

It all started in Larimer Square. Today, the historic strip is home to shopping and great dinning. PHOTO: STEVE CORNELIUS

Be sure to visit Larimer Square. Saved from demolition by visionary Denverites, the Square harkens back to the city’s first days as a frontier town. Named after General William H. Larimer Jr, the saloons, banks and post office are long gone and in their place are award-winning restaurants and eclectic boutiques.

Along the way, it’s worth a stop at Rockmount Ranch Wear, the inventors of the snap button cowboy shirts. These U.S.-made shirts have a worldwide following that includes celebrities such as Eric Clapton. He’s not alone. Store owner Steve, (whose grandfather founded the store), says there is a host of celebs wearing Rockmount shirts. As his grandfather once said, “The West is not a place, it is a state of mind.”

The Denver Museum of Art (DAM) may hold beautiful works of art, but the building itself is stunning. It is highly recognizable with its ‘crystal’ extension by architect Daniel Libeskind, representing both the peaks and geometric rock crystals found in the Rockies. The museum collections are user friendly and well laid out with a great flow. The American Indian Art Gallery is fascinating as is the permanent collection, which includes works by Frederic Remington, Georgia O’Keeffe and modern artist Nick Cave. It’s so busy here — the locals obviously love the DAM too.

Denver has so many museums and attractions that it is actually impossible to see them all in one visit. For abstract expressionism, a visit to the Clyfford Still Museum is a must. Credited as the father of the American movement, the artist gained notoriety in the 1940s. However, in the 1950s, he removed himself and his work from the public eye. The museum is home to almost all of Still’s body of work from his sixty-year career.

A small sampling of Denver Public  Art.

A small sampling of Denver Public Art.

Another uniquely Denver experience is the American Museum of Western Art. The collection includes 4 floors of an historic downtown brownstone. There is almost not enough wall space to hold this enormous collection. Viewed by reservation-only guided tour, the exhibition allows guests to get close to masterpieces by George Catlin, Charles Russell, Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Remington and more. The museum will foster a new love for the talented artists who recorded the early days of the American West.

Denver’s art is not restricted to galleries. It’s hard not to miss Denver’s Public Art Program, including the enormous blue bear staring into the Colorado Convention Centre. There is the equally large big red chair in front of the public library and the dancing couple behind the theatre district. Started in the late 1980s, the program channels one per cent of the budget of any capital improvement project to an accompanying art installation. Like a game of grown-up “I spy”, rent a bike from one of the 84 Denver B-cycle bike-sharing stations, download the Denver Public Art App and start your own hunt.

Denver is summed up best by local business Infinite Monkey. British ex-pat, Ben Parsons, is a winemaker — a winemaker in Colorado with no vineyard and no pretense. With his feet firmly planted in the art of wine making and his heart set on leaving a minimal environmental footprint, Infinite Monkey does not bottle any of its product. Instead, it is available by the glass on site, for take away in refillable jugs or in single serving-sized cans. The wine is really good and why not in a can? It’s easy to pack for any back-country experience and equally easy to crush and bring back for recycling. It’s a product that just captures the passion for both quality and forward-thinking, pervasive in Denver.

Born as a supply-based frontier town that serviced the mining and ranching industries, Denver has morphed from a gold rush town to a haven for culture, food and drink. There is so much to do and so many restaurants to try. I haven’t even touched on six professional sports teams that call Denver home or the incredible Red Rock’s venue just outside of town that was the chosen site for mega band U2’s 1983 Under the Blood Red Sky concert. Starting in 2016, the city’s new light rail link to the airport will be up and running, making it even easier for tourists to visit the city.

Visit Me Ibiza: Celebrate Summer in Style

May 14, 2015 10:03 am
Me Ibiza

Grab your sunscreen and start packing for the ultimate vacation getaway! Luxury lifestyle hotel ME Ibiza is now open for its second summer season.

Me IbizaAre you looking for some place private and spacious with a great view of the sea? This is the perfect destination for you. Located near Santa Eulalia on the East Coast of the island with a gorgeous seaside view, ME Ibiza is one of the ‘Leading Hotels of the World.’

Relax on the rooftop terrace, treat yourself to a day at the spa or grab a cocktail from the Mediterranean restaurant, bar or lounge. You’ll feel like you are on top of the normal_45aME_Ibiza-TerraceTheRooftopSkincworld, soaking up the sun and the 360-degree view of the island’s coast. Spend the day lounging by the pool on VIP daybeds and then dance the night away at the ME Loves You Parties until midnight.

If you are looking for a little adventure, ME Ibiza can help you explore the area. The hotel offers a free private motorboat that can transport guests to the neighbouring island of Formentera. Guests can also enjoy exclusive access to Nikki Beach, an international beach club with events throughout the summer.

ME Ibiza is a paradise vacation for the luxury traveller looking for a unique experience.

The summer season runs from April 14 to October 31, 2015.

Click here for more information.

Get Outdoors: Mont Tremblant

April 13, 2015 10:34 am
April15_Tremblant_IMG_2957
Above: A view of the summit from the Village.

As kids skiing in Québec, my friends and I heard tales of the legendary Jackrabbit Johannsen, who was instrumental in cutting trails in the Laurentians. Even though he was quite elderly, we had hoped to sneak a peek of him gliding through the forest. We never did see him but his passion for the outdoors, and that of the many other trailblazers who envisioned a world-class ski destination, lives on in the names of ski runs like the Lowell Thomas, the Ryan and the Duncan at Mont Tremblant.

View of the village.

View of the village.

Visitors come from all over to ski the “trembling mountain”.  It is the most popular hill in the east. With 268 hectares and 96 runs on 4 different faces, you can literally follow the sun around the mountain. If skiing through the trees is your thing, make sure you head to the Edge. Opened in 2013, this side will challenge even the best skier. Not sure if you can handle it? No problem, pop out of the trees onto Action, a nice wide trail that you can take down to the Edge chair. If you live on the wild side, the hill offers 3 separate snowparks, including the Adrenaline Park. Make sure to dress warmly. It can be down right freezing at the top. An extra layer, a balaclava and goggles will ensure a great day on the slopes.

 Mascot Toufou hits the slopes.

Mascot Toufou hits the slopes.

For more kid-friendly skiing, hit the newly-opened Tam-Tam trail on the south side that includes sculptures of animals and a play area. The idea is to give kids a place where they can have fun and learn about the mountain code of conduct, (aka ski etiquette). After you wear out the wee ones, drop them off at the Kidz Zone in the village. This day care does not come cheap but it offers mom and dad full and half-day care so they can hit the big runs.

Stop for lunch at Microbrasserie La Diable in the Pedestrian Village. It is one hip, hustling and bustling place. It brews all of its own beers and offers menu items that include Québec favourites like poutine and smoked meat. Make sure to order a sampling of beer. Located slope side in Place Saint-Bernard, Le Forge Bistro-Bar & Grill is another great lunch location. It also offers Québec comfort foods but has a luxe, white-linen steakhouse on the second floor that is open only for dinner. It boasts the most extensive wine list north of Montréal and has three on-staff sommeliers. Steaks are all Angus AA and grilled on a woodburning grill.

For the best scenic views, stop for lunch on the summit at Le Grand Manitou. This cafeteria-style eatery offers soups, a pasta bar and lots of hot chocolate. It can get pretty busy up there so plan to stop for an early or late lunch.

When IntraWest bought Mont Tremblant in the 1980s, it immediately set out to build the Pedestrian Village on the south side of the mountain. With 15 hotels offering a total of 1900 rooms for rent, including a new Holiday Inn Express and the renovated Westin Resort and Spa, there is no shortage of places to stay slope side. The Village makes Tremblant a unique destination. It’s a well-manicured, picture-perfect, full-service ski town.

The peppering of original heritage buildings, multiple wood-burning fire pits and a skating rink adds to the Pedestrian Village’s charm.

On the main street, you will find a movie theatre and the AquaClub pool which features slides, a rope swing, jumping wall and hot tubs. If you feel the need to express yourself, Le Studio Créatif offers ceramic painting. Hop on the free shuttle from the Village and head to the Casino de Mont Tremblant to try your luck at one of the 425 slot machines or the gaming tables. Not sure what to do? Visit the Activity Centre in Place SaintBernard. They help you find suitable activities and will coordinate all the details.

Dog sledding with Expédition Wolf.

Dog sledding with Expédition Wolf.

Consider spending half a day dog sledding with Expédition Wolf. Drive
yourself there or have the shuttle pick you up at your hotel. The dogs are friendly. They will win over even the most reluctant person. The handlers know all 250 dogs by name and rhyme them off as you help harness up the sleds. Make sure you are ready for a little running as the musher has to help the dogs by running up any inclines. If cardio is not your thing, ride in the toboggan. Either choice, it is a thrilling experience. Remember, these are French canines so a firm ‘allez!’ will set them off running. Once the sledding is over, you are encouraged to interact with them. They all appreciate the attention.

Making new friends at Expédition Wolf.

Making new friends at Expédition Wolf.

Expédition Wolf does not breed its dogs but rescues them from city shelters. You will be hard pressed to leave without one. At least you can buy a CD of images to take the memories home with you.

For a truly different dining experience, sign up for the snowshoe and fondue tour. Meet your group at the Expedition shop to rent snowshoes and get your head lamps before heading up the gondola. Once at the summit, guides take you on an hour and a half trek. It’s so beautiful inside the forest. You quickly realize how you take the mountain totally for granted when downhill skiing. Slightly out of breath, you reach the Refuge du Trappeur for a hearty fondue and flowing wine served by candlelight. Our night included local talent Pierre who played the guitar and got everyone singing. Don’t overindulge too much as there is still an hour-long moonlit walk down to the Village.

Without a doubt,  Le Scandinave Spa is rejuvenation central.

Without a doubt, Le Scandinave Spa is rejuvenation central.

The Scandinave Spa is not a facial or mani-pedi destination but a total detox, relaxation zone. Described as a “unique thermotherapy experience”, the goal is to detox your body, warming up in the hot pools, sauna or steam room before plunging into a cold pool, the river or the waterfall for a refreshing rinse before relaxing in front of an outdoor fireplace or inside a relaxation room. Then repeat the cycle. Total silence is the rule while soothing music softly plays in the background. With our hectic daily lives, it’s wonderful to have meditative time all to yourself. The setting with multiple buildings beautifully landscaped into the mountain side and deer roaming freely adds to the wonderfully rejuvenating experience.

More than simply a ski hill, Mont Tremblant is a place full of possibilities. So get out there and embrace what is left of winter. The abundance of activities celebrating the Canadian outdoors ensures that there is something to suit everyone. Jackrabbit Johannsen is certainly smiling down on Tremblant.

For more information visit: http://www.tremblant.ca/en/

 

A Walk Through Wales

April 1, 2015 2:01 pm
Visit Britain
Above: Brecon Brecons National Park – photolibrary.com

The combination of rich history, ruggedly beautiful coastlines and rich landscapes dotted with sheep combine to make Wales an unforgettable escape. The Welsh are at the top of their game when it comes to hosting tourists and travellers alike. They are proud of their heritage and understand why after spending a week walking through the Welsh countryside visiting historic castles, monasteries, landmarks, small towns and coastal villages.

Tintern Abbey

The remains of Tintern Abbey

Wales was first settled between 600-100 BC. by the Celts, a nomadic warrior people whose origins can be traced around the coasts of Italy, Spain and Portugal. The Celts were sophisticated in the use of iron tools and early weaponry which they used to conquer and control lands. They had a strong religious streak led by priests (druids). In 43 AD, the Romans invaded Wales and established a network of forts to control the Celtic tribes. Often, towns grew up outside the forts as the soldiers provided a market for the townspeople’s goods. Many of these forts remain standing today. In the fourth century, when the Roman Empire went into decline, Wales split into separate kingdoms until the Normans established themselves in Britain following the Battle of Hastings, in 1066. At that time, when William the Conqueror became king of England he did not attempt to conquer Wales. Instead, he granted land along the English-Welsh border to powerful Norman lords. Skip ahead to 1283, Edward was now the ruler and English law was imposed. For the next several centuries, there would be a continuum of rebellions and battles between the Welsh and the English.

There are many unique cultural, historical and nature experiences to be found in Wales, especially in the countryside and in the small coastal villages. It is a short three hours to Wales from London, either by car or train. As you cross the river Severn from England and enter the Wye Valley, the landscape changes from being flat to mountainous and the language from unilingual English to bilingual Welsh. Commercial trips down the Wye in boats to local resorts started in 1760. Famous figures such as William Wordsworth, J.M.W. Turner and Admiral Nelson made the tour, which soon became de rigueur for English high society. A must stop is Tintern Abbey, one of the most spectacular ruins in all of England.

Welsh 'cottonballs' dot the landscape.

Welsh ‘cottonballs’ dot the landscape.

Brecon Beacons National is one of Wales’s three National Parks. This place is a hiker’s paradise with big skies, deep, wooded gorges, lakes, ravines and rivers that cut through limestone rocks with ease. There are lots of sheep that
speckle the rich green landscape like cottonballs.

The Bear Hotel in Crickhowell, in the heart of the park, is picture-book perfect and the ideal place to lay your head or have a great meal.

Wales has plenty of great places to eat. Gastronomes will delight at the range of superb Welsh eateries offering locally-sourced meats, seafood and other ingredients, alongside established restaurants offering international and fine cuisine. The Walnut Tree Inn on the outskirts of Abergavenny, located in Brecon Beacons, is a Michelinstar restaurant that was voted best restaurant in Wales at the National Restaurant Awards.

The last thing I ever expected to see in Wales was a winery. However, Welsh winemakers are gaining a reputation after winning several awards. Ancre Hill Estates makes phenomenal wines and garnered a gold medal at the 2013 China Wine & Spirits Awards for its 2009 sparkling rosé and a silver medal for its 2009 sparkling white.

 Afternoon tea at the Angel Hotel in Abergavenny.

Afternoon tea at the Angel Hotel in Abergavenny.

The town of Abergavenny proper is known for its annual food festival and local market. Afternoon tea at the Angel Hotel is a must. It’s a member of the prestigious UK Tea Guild and in 2011, won the Guild’s top national award (the Oscar of the tea world). Their teas are served with freshly prepared sandwiches, savouries, cakes and scones.

Get a taste of “Downton Abbey” at the Gliffaes Country House Hotel in Crickhowell. Retire to a grand private room with all the modern amenities or grab a glass of wine from the lounge and its impressive wine list. The hotel restaurant will not disappoint. The staff were attentive and polite and the very hospitable owner joined us for an after-dinner drink, sharing much of his knowledge and history of the area. Walk off your amazing meal through the wooded gardens and surrounding forest of this breathtaking property along the River Usk.

It’s worth the drive to Hay-on-Wye, a quirky town next to the Brecon Beacons that is famous for its book festival. Nearby you can enjoy a traditional British Sunday at the Felin Fach Griffin dining pub. Its menu includes Welsh beef, lamb and game from local estates and cheeses from world-renowned dairies.

The Penderyn Whisky Distillery.

The Penderyn Whisky Distillery.

The Penderyn Whisky Distillery shows you the ancient art of distilling whisky and demonstrates the differences between the Welsh process and that which produces Scottish, Irish and American whiskies.

A nice lunch (and maybe a shot or two of whisky) certainly help if are going to make the trek up a challenging incline to Carreg Cennen Castle. It’s worth the hike to see the view of the valley below and the town of Llandovery. Overnight was comfortable at the Castle Hotel in Llandovery.

Spend a day in the beautiful coastal town of Cardigan. A highlight is visiting the restored Cardigan Castle, which played a vital role in Welsh history and was the site of the first National Eisteddfod, in 1176. An eisteddfod is a Welsh festival of literature, music and performance.

Cardigan Castle from the river.

Cardigan Castle from the river.

A chair at the Lord’s table was awarded to the best poet and musician, a tradition that prevails to this day. Stop for lunch at the Ferry Inn, a beautiful, historic pub and restaurant in the picturesque village of St. Dogmael. Take an afternoon stroll on Mwnt Beach in Ceredigion, voted one of Europe’s top ten loveliest hidden beaches.

Coastal villages which jut in and out of the cliffs are one of the most spectacular features of Wales. An overnight stay and dinner stay at the Harbourmaster in picturesque Aberaeron harbourside, was definitely a highlight of the trip. A fun touristy thing to do is to take a steam engine journey on the Great Little Train of Wales, which showcases the spectacular countryside as you climb up through Aberyswyth to Devil’s Bridge.

Portmeirion

Portmeirion

Mount Snowdon is Wales and England’s highest mountain at 1085m and it can be found in Snowdonia National Park. Its trails make the summit accessible to hikers of all abilities. The Park also contains rivers, lakes, waterfalls, forests, moorlands, glacial valleys, a stunning coastline and ancient burial chambers. There are Roman forts, world heritage-listed Norman and Welsh castles, steam railways and relics of the country’s mining heritage. Ynyshir Hall in Machynlleth is the park’s world-renowned AA Hotel and was recently awarded its first Michelin star. Snowdonia is also famous for the rather odd but entirely pleasant village of Portmeirion.

Portmeirion was the built over a 50-year period by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, an architect who acquired the property in 1925 and spent the rest of his life building the village. It was known as ‘the Village’ in the 1960’s cult TV series The Prisoner and today serves as a big tourist attraction and site for weddings and conferences.

Portmeirion

Portmeirion

If you are an adventurous sort, you won’t want to miss the Zip World Titan in Blaenau Ffestiniog. The site includes a pair of a mile-long zip lines where riders can exceed 100mph at 500ft high. It’s got to be the nearest thing to flying. Exhilarating is an understatement.

After a week of hiking through the Welsh countryside and meandering through the rugged peaks of Snowdonia National Park, the spectacular terrain of the Brecon Beacons National Park and marveling at the endless beauty of the coastline, we ended up at St. George’s Hotel in the famous resort village of Llandudno. This hotel and town were an exceptional end to a wonderful walk through Wales.

Escape to Mont Tremblant

February 18, 2015 1:57 pm
The view from atop Mont Tremblant.

If you ask me, January and February are the hardest months of the year to get through. Not only is all the hype from the holidays over, but the snow and slush on the roads make getting around town a huge headache!

I have experienced my fair share of winters in Ottawa, but this is my first with a car. Although I am grateful to have it, driving in the winter comes with its own set of problems!

That is why when Ford Canada held a weekend of learning winter driving tips and techniques in Mont Tremblant, while refocusing on getting back to the basics of everyday life, I jumped at the chance to attend.

The weekend began at Campbell Ford, where former Nascar race car driver Robin Buck shared a lesson on the ins-and-outs of driving responsibly in cold weather. From where to put the windshield wiper fluid to how to change a tire, Buck made sure I was going to be safe on the winter roads.

One of the most important things I learned: Keep an emergency box in your car. Include items such as a warm blanket, a flashlight, jumper cables, gloves and snacks so you are prepared for any situation.

The snowy roads to Mont Tremblant were no match for the Ford Focus Titanium hatchback and Ford Escape SE. The drive was smooth thanks to SYNC with MyFord Touch. The driver can sync their smartphone with the car and interact using voice control and touch screen. Want to drive without any distractions? Use the Do Not Disturb feature to block any incoming calls and texts. Ford Canada knows all cargo is precious and that is why many Ford vehicles are equipped with the Blind Spot Information System to warn the driver when there is a vehicle in the blind zone.

Another new innovative feature by Ford Canada is Active Park Assist.  Have you had a chance to try it yet? If you find parallel parking stressful, this feature is the answer to your prayers. With the press of a button, Active Park Assist scans the surrounding area of your car for eligible parking spots. Once found, all the driver has to do is control the gas and brake pedals while Active Park Assist steers the car right into the parallel parking spot. No hands! Out of the 12 drivers who tried the new feature, Active Park Assist yielded 12 perfect parallel parks.

Out of the car, Ford Canada created a low-key, beautiful weekend meant to re-instate the importance of going back to basics and enjoying what may often be taken for granted. There is no better place for such a weekend than Mont Tremblant. Take in a deep breath of fresh air and appreciate the beauty of nature.

If you are looking to be relaxed and pampered in Mont Tremblant, be sure to book a few nights at Hotel Quintessence. This boutique hotel is home to only 30 suites, meaning you are guaranteed a peaceful, quiet stay. And it is not hard to enjoy the serenity when each suite offers a king-size bed, wood-burning fireplace, deep sunken therapeutic spa bathtub, rain shower and private balcony with a breathtaking view. Your sleep will be so deep you won’t hear your alarm go off in the morning.

If you choose to leave the roaring fire and soaker tub, wander over to Spa Sans Sabot. Located within Hotel Quintessence, this spa is the perfect getaway for a massage to ease your mind. Or dare to bare a bathing suit in the cold temperatures and enjoy the oversized whirlpool and infinity pool!

If you aren’t relaxed yet, then a wine tasting or meal at Restaurant La Quintessence and Winebar will surely let you unwind. Embrace Canadian talent with a sampling of Pillitteri Estates’ icewine or Neige’s ice cider. Icewines are produced with a lot of care—icewine grapes are harvested at temperatures below -8 Celsius. It takes over ten times the amount of grapes to produce the same amount of product as a normal bottle of wine. So, savour your sips!

And if wine is not your cup of tea…find a tea that is! Hotel Quintessence offers tea tastings to learn about white, green, oolong and black teas. Other optional food experiences include hot chocolate and s’mores.

A weekend in Mont Tremblant would not be complete without a little outdoor activity. Whether you enjoy black diamonds or window-shopping, there is something for everyone. Rent a pair of snowshoes and explore the many beautiful trails and hikes Mont Tremblant has to offer. It’s a mid-priced, low-stress idea for the whole family!

Make the most of winter by learning driving safety tips. Put them to the test by going on a weekend getaway of your own!

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).

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