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

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

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

Chez Carole

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A view from the Atlantic Coast.

A view from the Atlantic Coast.

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

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

Where to Stay:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ardennes in Belgium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Joseph Jeanmart

Photo: Joseph Jeanmart

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

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

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

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

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

Mardasson Memorial. Photo: JL Flemal

Mardasson Memorial. Photo: JL Flemal

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

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

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

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

A Piece of Renovated Paradise

December 11, 2014 10:19 am

Dreaming about your feet sinking into warm sand, instead of numbing snow? Meliã Nassau Beach is the vacation location for you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 27, 2014 3:00 pm

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

Photo: Jorik Blom

Photo: Jorik Blom

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Stand-up Paddleboarding with

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

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

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

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


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

August 28, 2014 3:30 pm
Sept_Cosmopolitan_Designer Penthouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By David Gerard

Destination Weddings Made Easy

July 15, 2014 9:23 am

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

July 14, 2014 2:18 pm

(visited in May 2014)

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

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

A hilltop view of the French Riviera.

A hilltop view of the French Riviera.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Mme V-C’s house.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Pathway and stores of Èze

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

Written by: Helena Gorancic-Lazetic

Making Your Dream Vacation a Reality

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

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

Food Collage

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

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

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

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

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

Reading Materials

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

Where will your next journey take you?

Extreme Colorado

June 11, 2014 1:30 pm

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

gallery_4_A_chris_fullWhitewater Kayaking and Sledging

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



Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 12.03.44 PM

Rock Climbing

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




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



Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 12.15.19 PMParagliding

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


Eisbach_die_Welle_SurferRiver Surfing

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

For trip ideas, inspiration and accommodation deals, visit


June 10, 2014 12:30 pm

Images: Wikipedia &

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inspiring Korea

June 3, 2014 2:00 pm

Korea is a vibrant place. It has modernized itself over the past 50 years while still maintaining a strong flair for its traditional culture. Many of the country’s tourist attractions focus on feeding one’s well-being, be it physical or spiritual. There is phenomenal food to nourish your appetite and there are bike tours along the Hangang to get your body moving. Or, visit the recently-opened taekwondo park, Taekwondowon. Feed your inner peace by spending a night as a Buddhist monk in a temple stay program. With so much to explore, you are guaranteed to find some inspiration from this tranquil nation. is a city regarded as the cultural heartland of Korea and known for its food. The city’s signature dish is bibimbap, a mixed rice delicacy topped with vegetables and chili pepper paste that are stirred together just before eating. Beef or a fried egg are usually added as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 13, 2014 4:11 pm

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

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

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

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

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


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

Out and About in Miami

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

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

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

100799_2319_primaryCulture Quest

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

LIV Miami discoDance the Night Away –Olé Olé Olé

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

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

BeachGet Wet

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

City_View_MiamiWeather Information

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

Aruba: One Happy Island

May 6, 2014 2:09 pm

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

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



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



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


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


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

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

Don’t forget to pack your camera!

For more information on travel arrangements, please visit


Made in Lanark

May 2, 2014 9:27 am

With a rich farming heritage and an enduring “homemade” culture in food and crafts, Lanark offers daytrippers great opportunities to bring home a piece of the County. Enjoy the sweetness of one of densest collections of maple farms in Ontario, pick up the ingredients for a good charcuterie plate, stroll through an unusual outdoor art gallery, tour historic mills (once the centre of community industry), or purchase a piece of local artwork.

Events_lambs down making wool_verbal permission_summer_2011Big Industry to Small-Time Craft Production

Ontario has its own mighty Mississippi River, and its power was harnessed to make Lanark County the engine of a vigorous textile industry. Although mills and textile factories were an important source of employment and commerce for over 150 years, the last one closed in 1989. The industry leaves behind a legacy of charming towns and a penchant for handmade sweaters, quilts, and all things knitted.

Carleton Place considers itself the wool headquarters of Ontario. It is home to the head office of the Canadian Wool Growers Co-operative where a million kilograms of wool are graded annually. The co-op also operates the Real Wool Shop on Franktown Road selling yarns and wools.

Perth is home to a few good wool shops as well (including The Mill Store and The Knitting Studio) and some older mills that have been converted into restaurants and coffee shops (such as Coutts and Company). The beautifully restored Code Felt Mil is now home to Fiddleheads Bar and Grill.

There are several special events in Lanark that celebrate this special relationship with fabric, wool, and textiles: Carlton Place’s Lambs Down Park Festival is held in mid-June and Almonte’s Fibrefest is held in early September.


Lanark’s restaurant kitchens and culinary artisans make use of the county’s agricultural abundance to create hardy staples, perfect for creating a top-notch brunch or impressive cheeseboard.

Lanark County has one of the highest concentrations of sugar bush farms in Eastern Canada. Three of the best places to scarf down some hot pancakes drizzled with the sweet stuff are Wheeler’s Fulton’s, and Temple’s Sugar Bushes and Pancake Houses, all located within a few minutes’ drive of one another. Wheeler’s has a maple syrup museum and kids’ playground, Temple’s has two sugar bushes to tour, and Fulton’s has a maple shop which even has maple syrup body products.

Balderson Village Cheese Store sits on the site of the original, nineteenth century village cheese factory (10 minutes north of Perth). Although well-known for its aged cheddars, the store also sells gourmet food stuffs (such as locally made Mrs. McGarrigle’s mustards) and a variety of other Ontario fromage, including Ivanhoe, St-Albert, Maple Dale, and Black River Cheeses.

The popularity of organic farming, gluten-free baking, and no-yeast breads continues to grow. Just west of Perth, Little Stream Bakery uses stone-ground flour (ground on the premises), deep well water, unrefined salt, sourdough culture, and organically grown grains to create bread and rustic pasties in their woodfired oven. They also offer glutenfree options, using ingredients such as hemp and rice flour, as well as vegan treats, including apple turnovers.

Maple_Fultons horse sleighride_verbal permissions_fallArt for Here and to Go

In Perth, you can see the wide range of Lanark artwork at Riverguild Fine Crafts – a long-standing cooperative gallery featuring the work of 15 local artists and 60 consignment artists from across Canada. Salt-glazed pottery, batik artwork, leather goods, wood carving, weaving, cooperative games, landscape art quilts, and pewter lanterns are just a few of the media found here.

The last weekend in March, enjoy the Maple Run Studio Tour. Visit artist studios and indulge in sweet maple treats in the Pakenham area. The 10 stops include a trip to a pancake house, North America’s only surviving fivespan bridge, and the longest-running general store. Visit Lanark. There really is something for the whole family.

From Palate to Ambiance: The Indulgent Romance of St. Lucia

April 30, 2014 3:01 pm

By: Mona Staples

Images Courtesy of: Sandals Regency La Toc Golf Resort & Spa, Sandals Resorts.

An island that was colonized by both the Spanish and the French can’t help but have a romantic legacy.  Some claim that Napoleon’s first wife — and love of his life — Josephine, (the name he reportedly uttered upon exhaling his last breath) was born on the island of St. Lucia, and not, as is commonly believed, on the island of Martinique. Historians do agree, however, that Josephine did, in fact, indulge her lily white French skin in the baths at the famed sulphur springs at The Soufriere Estate.

Letoc_Longbeach__U5A2982St. Lucia may be the most romantic of the Caribbean Islands. It is also the birthplace of two Nobel Prize winners, including Derek Alton Walcott, who received the honour for literature in 1992. Walcott’s beautiful epic poem, Omeros, is primarily set in St. Lucia. The writing is ethereal and romantic – it does not so much speak to you as it does bathe the senses, not unlike a visit to sultry St. Lucia.

I began my whirlwind weekend to this romantic island at the Sandals Resort, where the itinerary for the weekend is dedicated to Sandals Discovery Dining, touted as an “epicurean expedition that will “bring new sights, sounds and tastes to each meal.” Yum! I am about to embark on a romantic journey to the centre of my inner foodie.

Sandals Resorts International is the progeny of Jamaican-born Gordon “Butch” Stewart, who launched himself with the business acumen to sell air-conditioners to Jamaicans! And as the story goes, he eventually purchased his first hotel. Without any previous experience, “but knowing what he liked”, he sought to create the ideal get-away wherein to sow, harvest and celebrate — romantic love.

The couples-only-all-inclusive resorts with the motto ‘all you need is love’  flourished. Stewart pushed forward to eventually control a small empire, which now includes 25 Caribbean resorts. His employees like him and IMG_0131see Stewart as a non-establishment fellow who did well in the colonized islands. Many describe Stewart as a generous man — without whom they would still be unemployed and impoverished.

Within a few hours of my arrival, St. Lucia and Sandals have come together to serve up a romantic dinner worthy of Harlequin Romance. I am seated at a candle-lit table, on a pier extending into the Caribbean Sea. The night has risen and the moon is full. Over my left shoulder, hovers a small mountain. The sea lies undisturbed around us, as the soft sounds of a cello and a guitar waft through the balmy air. I am completely charmed.

As luck would have it, Chef Walter Staib sits next to me. He is charming, chatty and convincing – everything one would expect from a lover of all-things-food! The author of the Emmy Award Winning series A Taste of History, Chef Walter is directing the development of Sandals Discovery Dining. As he regales us with a taste of history and Discovery Dining, our server arrives to take our order. I have the beef Carpaccio, which is both tender and tasty.

There are three Sandals Resorts on the island and guests are welcome to eat, lounge and play at all three locations, easily accessed by shuttle. Sandals Discovery Dining offers a range of cuisine to choose from: fresh seafood, regional Italian, Thai, Sushi, Southwestern, Mediterranean Rim, British Pub and French Haute Cuisine, including a French Patisserie and Creperie. Each restaurant also has its own signature cocktail!  To ensure authenticity, Sandals has imported both the chefs and the restaurant décor. All is brought together to bring an up-market international dining experience to the all-inclusive.

SLU_MAIN_LOBBY_LIFESTYLE-044Having succeeded with the all you need is love formula, Sandals Resorts now aims to be at the top of the food chain. They are raising the bar for resort food service, something that can be difficult to do in locales — that may be exotic and romantic — but where there is little in the way of produce to choose from. The islands are generally known for the finer things in life – coffee, tobacco, sugar, spices, rum — but you’re not likely to find a good field of asparagus anywhere.

Personally, if the food is local and can, at least marginally, meet the requirements of Canada’s Food Guide, I am willing to metabolize it. I enjoy tucking into a good plate of beans ‘n rice. That being said, I found that by the end of the all-inclusive week, in some resorts, I am looking for more variety. Perhaps it’s having no opportunity to experience anything akin to hunger that causes one to eventually become a little bored with the cuisine? No doubt, Sandals Discovery Dining serves to eliminate the boredom option.

Tonight we are enjoying a progressive dinner at Sandals Grande St. Lucian. The meal was initiated with Limoncello Martini’s accompanied by appetizers pretty enough to be desserts and served in squat, stem-less glassware at Toscanini’s Terrace.  After finishing our first course at Gordon’s on the Pier, we head to Bayside for our main — a difficult choice between salmon fillet, capers, shallots, vegetables or braised lamb shank, pinot noir and root vegetable. I opt for the salmon, which is cooked and served up perfectly with a Beringer Merlot. It just doesn’t get any better than this. Adjacent to us is a scene reminiscent of Hadrian’s Villa – neo-classical statues stand elegantly poised alongside the pool’s periphery.

I thank my mother for nurturing a good sweet tooth — after Banoffee Pie at The Olde London Pub, we are led to a veritable orgy of chocolate! I have never seen so much chocolate in one place! The drizzling rain does not stop the guests from perusing and indulging. There are numerous tables and stations, along with circulating servers yielding up hand-crafted dark, milk and white chocolate, petits-fours and every possible chocolate flavoured bon-bon, chocolate fondue, cocoa drinks and even chocolate martinis.

Chocolate — the most edible manifestation of romance — of course, has a long history on the island, and we will be taking a very interesting guided tour through the beautiful Morne Coubaril Estate as part of this foodie adventure. There, I will discover that a cocoa bean is bitter, gelatinous and purple!

By bed time, I have decided that I am in an adult Disney Land of romance. This place inspires romance in every possible way. The resorts are teaming with love seats – every shape, size, and fantasy that one could imagine (in a public place that is). There are benches for two, chaise lounges for two, beach beds for two, dining nooks for two and swinging chairs for two.

Everywhere you look, there is a perfect little love nest, inviting couples to snug up, cuddle and gaze into each other’s eyes or out over the Caribbean Sea. My personal favourite is a white curving staircase rising up to an SR_VillaSuite9_BS__DS30728open-air cupola with an invitation to privately dine at a table for two — Cinderella-style dining with a bird’s eye view.  Of course, there is almost no greater aphrodisiac than witty, engaged conversation over a good meal in a romantic setting. Where’s Anthony Bourdain when you need him?

I am now sold – the campaign to get the guy, get married and honeymoon at St. Lucia is now on. Why not spend days lounging in love seats, evenings wining and dining and naughty nights at one of the world’s leading all-inclusive resorts?  And, I think I might like to walk the beach in a gossamer skirt, with two sets of foot prints in the sand trailing behind me. The remainder of the weekend is dedicated to organizing said honeymoon, which will include my top ten personal favourites:

Swimming in any of the exquisitely beautiful pools, which are open 24/7, is magical.

  • The rooms located at The Bluffs at La Toc Resort.  Away from the main buildings – along with expansive views of sea, they offer a little more intimacy and more privacy – perfectly poised for a lovers’ tryst.
  • Located right next to The Bluffs is Armando’s Restaurant with its lofty, open-air terrace – a perfect spot to start the languid day with an exotic breakfast omelette while looking out to sea.  Or supper with the setting sun – the oh-so-tasty ravioli was a good old fashioned heaping plate of rich and delicious pasta.
  • For sheer elegance and romance, I could eat at Gordon’s Pier every single night, but then one would miss out on the many other dining experiences.
  • Dinner at Soy’s Grill at Halcyon Resort – enjoy the antics of the Japanese grill – acrobatics with cooking utensils – a totally entertaining meal that breaks the ice while mingling with other guests.
  • The St. Lucian Day Buffet at Sandals Halcyon Beach Resort is local, lavish and a feast for the eyes, the ears and the palate. The brightly coloured exotic dishes include fresh roti, curried goat, conch soup, grilled lobster, cassava and a good plate of peas ‘n rice, along with my personal favourites: coconut and ginger based desserts, and so much more. An open-air delight — as the sea breeze tickles the skin and lively island musicians, rich with percussion entertain – it’s a complete banquet of Caribbean Culture.
  • A visit to Castries, the capital, to shop for spices, chocolate and other local “importable” foods at the local market is a must.
  • Appleton Estate Rum Tasting (Sandals official rum) – a most entertaining hour of learning everything you ever needed to know about rum, while sipping on a range of the Jamaican nectar.
  • The excursion to Morne Coubaril Estate for a fascinating tour through the process of cocoa bean to chocolate. The trip there is a winding Odyssey through St. Lucia and a wonderful way to see other parts of the island. Of special note is the iconic postcard picture of The Pitons, the volcanic spires (World Heritage Site) that rise side by side on the southwestern coast of the island. And if it’s your sort of thing, you can also take advantage of the roadside photo-op to have your picture taken with the boa constrictor!
  • Must check out all three resorts, and for posterity sake, take selfies of self and objet d’amour sitting in as many of the love nooks as is possible.

Your Peru: An Empire of Hidden Treasures

April 27, 2014 11:32 am

Tucked away on the west coast of South America lies Peru, one of the continent’s hidden gems. As one of the most diverse nations on our planet, you can take a dip in the ocean and explore the jungles, or climb Peruvian mountains and encounter the cold, dry air of the Andes. In town, observe ancient cultures that still live on today.  In the cities, you will encounter a strong night life and a culture that has an intense love for food. With all these wonders to discover, you’ll find that one trip is not enough.

Peru embraces many traditional festivals, rituals and ways of life from pre-Columbian times. The legacy of ancient Peruvian cultures is showcased by traditional clothing, folk art expressions, and ways of working and cooking. For a taste of this culture, visit Ayacucho, a town filled with history, nature, and art. Visit ancient temples such as the Temple of Santo Domingo, the Temple of San Cristóbal, and Temple and Convent of Saint Francis of Assisi, all built in the 16th century. Take part in an Andean ritual celebrating reciprocity called, “payment to the earth,” where offerings to Pachamama (Mother Earth) are buried to give her strength and energy.

If you want to explore a Peru of adventure, try trekking the 39-kilometre Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. From April to October, you can make the four-day hike along one of the most incredible trails in the world. Passing through cloud forests and alpine tundras, vast archaeological sites, and the dense, lush jungles will prepare you for your arrival at the breathtaking Machu Picchu citadel.

Peru’s finest example of ancient Inca culture can be found high in the mountains. Machu Picchu, now a World Cultural and Natural Heritage site, was built in the 15th century by the Inca Pachacútec. The intricate stonework without the use of cement is just one of the mysteries of the place: archaeologists still theorize about the purpose of the citadel.

Though Peru is rich with ancient culture, Peru’s cities are modern and cosmopolitan, with a variety of entertainment, art, music and design.

In Peru, gastronomy is considered a symbol of national identity. Named by The Economist as one of the 12 most exquisite cuisines on the planet, there are thousands of options and ideas to discover. At places known as “huariques” (small, family-run restaurants known for excellent cuisine) or market stalls, taste home-made flavours made by local chefs.

In Lima, sample seared cuy or Amazonian river snails covered in a spicy chorizo sauce at Malabar, one of Peru’s top restaurants located in the heart of San Isidro. At Astrid y Gastón, another Lima restaurant which specializes in novoandina cooking, the seared cuy is served Peking-style with purple-corn crêpes – complete the meal with selections from their first-rate international wine list.

Take your time to marvel at Peru’s hidden wonders, for there is never enough time to discover them all.

Marca Peru
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RIU Resorts in Mexico Make for Great Family Vacations

April 15, 2014 2:32 pm
The beautiful RIU Palace Riviera Maya

Having three teenagers can be challenging at the best of times but getting away for a family vacation is a time for everyone to decompress and to enjoy each other’s company without the stresses and strains of daily life back home.

Destination is key to a great beach holiday. Mexico’s Riviera Maya has been a winter choice for Ottawa area residents for more than two decades. The Mayan people are renowned for their generosity, hospitality and rich culture. When it comes to exceptional resorts no one does it better in Mexico than RIU.

There is a reason why RIU has the highest re-booking rate of any resort company in the world. Unmatched customer care, beautiful lodgings and exceptional food all combine for an exceptional and stress free holiday. We decided to spend the first part of our family vacation at the RIU Palace Riviera Maya in Playa Del Carmen and the last three days at the RIU Palace Peninsula in Cancun.

It’s easy to get to Riviera Maya from Ottawa. Several airlines offer all-inclusive vacations to RIU resorts that can be easily found online. If you are going to Riviera Maya and your package does not include transfers, it is worthwhile to rent a car for the week. The cost (120 dollars) is about the same as the taxi service from Cancun to Riviera Maya return. You can park the car at the resort for week and if you are adventurous use it to visit neighbouring towns, lagoons and historic archeological ruins.

RIU has 6 resorts in the Playa Del Carmen area. The RIU Palace Riviera Maya is a pleasant 15 minute walk along beautiful tree lined streets to the resort town of Playa del Carmen — you can also walk into town along the beach. This resort complex offers luxurious, well-decorated rooms that include a mini-bar with cold drinks and liqueur dispensers, refrigerators, Wi-Fi and daily room cleaning. Don’t be surprised if you see peacocks or other wildlife as you walk through the well manicured complex which features plenty of flower beds and plants all in a peaceful, calm atmosphere.

The Riviera Maya is famous for it's beautiful white sandy beaches.

The Riviera Maya is famous for it’s beautiful white sandy beaches.

RIU Palace Riviera Maya has a gorgeous tropical beach. The soft white sand, crystal clear aqua-blue water, shade-covering palm trees and comfortable beach chairs will make a beach person out of anybody. There are 3 swimming pools adjacent to the beach including a “quiet pool” and an array of bars and refreshment stands available to guests.

RIU is known for its food and the Palace Riviera Maya does not disappoint. Whether it’s the beach-front barbecue, or the fabulous buffet lunches at the restaurant by the beach you will be well satisfied. With the all-inclusive service, it’s great for kids because they can come and go as they please. Unlike many resorts I have been to over the years, RIU staff are very attentive to their guests and you never have to wait for anything. The resort has a comfortable buzz that emanates from the calm mood and lively but relaxed atmosphere. As with most  families today Wi-Fi is a prerequisite to staying anywhere and our kids took advantage of the service in the quiet time between day and night activities.

RIU Palace Riviera Maya offers many sports and activities for guests. If you are the beach sport type there is windsurfing, catamaran, kayaking, body boarding, snorkeling or just swimming and hanging out. Off-beach activities include table tennis, gymnastics, volleyball, golf or simply enjoying a book in one of the many lounge areas or cafés. Of course, you always have the option of the Renova Spa which offers a range of different treatments and massages.

For the adventurous there are lots of day trip options. The spectacular pyramids and ruins of the Mayans, the biosphere reserve of Sian Ka’an, the Crococum Zoo, the Crococum Zoo, the ruins of Chichén Itzá or Tulum are just some of the many choices. Going into the lively beach town of Playa del Carmen, day or night, with all its famous jewelry shops, excellent cuisine, cafés, terraces bars and clubs is also a fun excursion. We had a great lunch at a local chicken stand a block from the beach. The meal was inexpensive and the atmosphere and experience was priceless. There is a ferry service in Playa Del Carmen to the island of Cozumel. It is worth the 45-minute trip to visit Cozumel and take in its natural beauty and relaxed atmosphere, plus the ferry ride is fun.

We drove south to the town of Akumel to snorkel with sea turtles and took a day trip to the ruins and beaches in Tulum. A day trip to Xel-Há, a natural aquarium park considered the largest aquarium in the world, is more than worth it. You can dive off cliffs, practice snorkeling, swim with dolphins, Snuba® (a combination of snorkeling and diving) or try their famous Sea Trek® (walking under water).

The great thing about staying at RIU is you can return from an excursion and enjoy a wonderful dinner at one of the resort’s 5 restaurants that feature Italian, Steak, Asian and Mexican cuisines. Mexican cuisine is recognized for its variety of recipes that feature distinctive and sophisticated flavours which incorporate many different spices. The La Margarita Mexican restaurant at the resort is a must. It offers a combination of gastronomic traditions, including meso-american and local Mexican dishes. RIU is a foodie’s dream resort.

The nightly live shows on the outdoor patio are surprisingly good or you can visit the La Piñata club which plays reggae and other dance music. Both venues serve up endless drinks to the sun drenched guests. Parents with younger children can partake in the early evening children’s entertainment. During the day resort staff offer crafts and activities for children.

Beach side at the RIU Palace Peninsula, Cancun.

Beach side at the RIU Palace Peninsula, Cancun.

All relaxed after a week at the RIU Palace Riviera Maya we headed for a great 3 day weekend stay at Hotel RIU Palace Peninsula (all inclusive, 24 hours). Situated in the heart of one of Cancun’s most popular areas for tourists, on a white sandy beach with turquoise water, this hotel did not disappoint. This high rise hotel was an adjustment from the low rise, sprawling RIU resort in Riviera Maya. It combines sophistication, comfort and service into one tidy package. We adapted quickly and loved it, especially the views from our suite. The food was excellent and the Vegas type night show featuring a Mexican Elvis impersonator was an absolutely hilariously good time. The restaurants are wonderful. Culinary options include La Toscana Italian restaurant, a Japanese restaurant called Kawachi and a grill and steakhouse that features a buffet. We went to La Toscana twice. It was so good the first time we just had to go back! Formal dress is required for dinner and it was really nice to see so many families and couples so elegantly dressed and enjoying a night out.

The RIU Palace Peninsula, Cancun.

The RIU Palace Peninsula, Cancun.

Taking public transit in Cancun is an easy way to get into the centre of the city and tour around the many shops and restaurants. The people are very friendly and it is very safe for tourists. After seven days of relaxing I took advantage of the RIU Palace Peninsula’s gym, sauna and jacuzzi. Our kids spent most of the final days of our trip sunbathing, swimming in the three fresh water swimming pools and playing in the resort’s game room. Needless to say after spending 10 days at a RIU Resort we were relaxed. Now I need a vacation to recover from my vacation. I better visit again.

For more information on RIU hotels in Meixo visit,





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