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 RIU.com again.

For more information on RIU hotels in Meixo visit, www.riu.com

 

 

 

 

Orchids, Mica, and Trails: Capitalizing on Nature’s Bounty in Lanark

January 24, 2014 1:57 pm
STEWART PARK

Lanark is known for its quaint communities and historic attractions, including mills and beautiful stone architecture. However, many of the county’s most memorable attractions are the result of thousands—or millions—of years of natural processes. From rare wildflowers to earth’s hidden deposits, head into the backwoods of Lanark for a distinctive outdoors experience.

__ single orchid Purdon's 2010 02610,000 Orchids
Ontario is known for its modest goldenrod, simple asters, and – of course – trilliums. However, a trip to Purdon Conservation Area in the Lanark Highlands will showcase one of nature’s most exotic and eyecatching flowers. Making use of a 400-metre, accessible boardwalk trail, everyone can enjoy the view of over 10,000 Showy Lady’s Slipper Orchids (the largest such “colony” in Canada). The best time for orchid blooms is mid-June to early-July. While at the conservation area, you can also enjoy a 1.3-km trail loop for a scenic lookout and picnic area over Purdon Lake. The lake provides perfect shoreline habitat for over 50 species of birds.

Mica at Murphy’s Point
Just twenty minutes south of the beautiful stone town of Perth, Murphy’s Point Provincial Park boasts one of the best mine experiences in the province. Mica mining was a major contributor to the Ontario economy in many towns across the province in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. This was particularly true in Lanark, where the Silver Queen Mine was one of 35 active mica mines in the township. Used in the manufacture of an electrical insulator (for example, in toasters) and fertilizer, mica was shipped along the Rideau Canal to processing factories in Ottawa and Quebec.

The Silver Queen Mine was abandoned almost a century ago, but through careful preservation and an active group of volunteers and park staff, this mica mine hosts a wide variety of fascinating activities that range from spooky to theatrical. Each summer the site is open for selfguided tours into the bunkhouse and mine, and costumed interpreters talk about life in the early 1900s (some of the tours start with a miner’s oatmeal breakfast at the Lally Homestead). You can also enjoy dinner and a play on mining life. On summer evenings, the park hosts spirit walks to the mine where character actors help you relive the past.

Hit the Trail(s)
Lanark boasts plenty of trails to suit every taste and fitness level. Here are just a few:

SEVEN WONDERS _ STEWART PARK _ BIG BEN STATUE _ SUMMER _ GARRY WELSH _ PERTH _ 2011 _ HIGH RES (3)

Central Frontenac Trailway – This 35- km portion of the Trans Canada Trail runs east-west through Sharbot Lake and Glen Tay (near Perth). This rail trail is a fairly easy cycle or walk thanks to its even terrain. Cataraqui Trail – This versatile, four season trail is open to hikers, cyclists, equestrians, snowmobilers, and crosscountry skiers. A part of the Trans Canada Trail, this rail trail runs from Strathcona near Napanee to Smiths Falls. Enjoy 104 kilometres that pass through several villages and small towns.

Carleton Place Trailway – Seven kilometres of the Trans Canada Trail passes through Carleton Place and links Beckwith Trail with the Ottawa- Carleton Trailway. This picturesque trail passes by the beautiful Mississippi, with several perfect picnic spots.

silver queen mine

Burnt Lands Mountain Bike Ride – Found in the eastern portion of Lanark, this 18-km, hard-packed gravel cycling trail is found adjacent to the Burnt Lands Alvar, an “Area of Natural and Scientific Interest.”

Kick and Push Trail – Known affectionately as the K&P Trail, this popular rail trail extends from Kingston to Pembroke, passing through Lanark. This all-season trail has varied scenery, including wetlands, scenic bridges, woodland, and communities.

 

Glasgow Transformed: Modern and Edgy

January 14, 2014 1:23 pm
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Welcomed with shortbread cookies and a dram of whiskey, it was easy to be charmed by Scotland’s largest city, where every corner reveals a pub with a storied history or ingenious work of contemporary art. From one of the largest seaports in the world with a booming shipbuilding and trade industry to rapid recession and decline, Glasgow has renewed itself as a cultural paradise with stunning architecture, award-winning museums, countless art galleries, musical talent and redeveloped waterfront on the Clyde River. It’s a city where you feel like you can be yourself, where anything is accepted and everything is celebrated with the clink of a glass. You can tell Glaswegians are a proud people who appreciate their strong working-class roots – they’re extremely friendly and just enjoy plain ‘ol fun. IMG_2040

Starting with the more luxe side of Glasgow, I stayed at the Blythswood Square Hotel. Originally the clubhouse of the Royal Scottish Automobile Club, it sits atop a hill and faces a beautiful central garden in the downtown core. The hotel pays homage to its Georgian architects by maintaining a lavish ambiance but its rooms are very modern in décor with Spanish marble bathrooms and the latest technical amenities.

On my first venture around the city, I walked down Buchanan Street, also know as Glasgow’s Style Mile because of its more upmarket boutiques and shopping. It’s a lovely cobblestone street with some of the city’s most beautiful architecture. One such example in the area is The Lighthouse, a building designed by the famous Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh and now Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture. Originally, it was the home of The Glasgow Herald. The tower structure was designed to hold an 8,000-gallon water tank to protect the newspaper from fire.

IMG_2114My next stop was the home of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. A great part of Glasgow’s reinvention as a thriving arts and culture metropolis with real edge is attributed to Mackintosh, whose architectural brilliance and modern interior designs were never given the rightful attention they deserved until well after his death. Now he is named a cultural icon and seen as the father of Glasgow’s contemporary movement, which laid the foundation for many successful young artists today. Stepping into the Victorian house is actually not like walking into the past – in fact the design is so modern and streamlined, it feels as though it could have been created in the last decade. One need only imagine how innovative the interior was to people of the time who had dark interiors with cluttered rooms of furniture and paintings. Mackintosh instead designed his homes to showcase an immense amount of natural light. The upper level of the home is painted completely in white with white carpeting and furniture. It’s a far departure from the gold accents and baroque-style influence from the period. Most noted for his use for grids, squares and pillar and post elements, he also incorporated nature, painting dainty roses and tulips on the walls and furniture.

Another impressive attraction for art and design lovers is the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, featuring 22 galleries of everything from Egyptian to Scottish art. The building also houses Dali’s controversial ‘Jesus on a Cross’. Outside of the hustle and bustle of the main drag and surrounded by quaint woodlands, The Burrell Collection displays works from Rodin and Degas in addition to Medieval and Chinese art. For those who admire the history of planes, trains and automobiles, there’s The Riverside Museum, voted 2013 the European Museum of the Year. It’s an extensive collection of vehicles that create a huge maze for visitors to wander through and invite one to climb on trolleys, buses and sit in many driver’s seats.IMG_2073

Glasgow also offers an array of culinary delights from traditional pub-style food to the most inventive gourmet creations. My favourite place was Martha’s Fast Natural Food, a welcoming restaurant with an extensive organic menu of sandwiches, salads and smoothies. After eating my couscous salad with an apple, carrot and ginger smoothie, I opted for the salted chocolate caramel dessert that proved so decadent that I could barely finish. On the higher end, I dined at Two Fat Ladies at the Buttery, a real institution in the city for its old-school feel and impressive dishes. Try the oak smoked Scottish salmon or MacSween’s haggis – definitely a place you’ll want to sit down at for a while with a good bottle of wine.

Traveling just outside the city, I visited the spectacular Stirling Castle, the former home of Mary, Queen of Scots. Historians date the building back to as early as the 12th Century but its present structures that are open to tourists were built between 1490 and 1600. With incredible views of the green countryside and stony gargoyles protecting its walls, the castle is a must-see. My charming and wonderfully knowledgeable guide Kenny took me around the castle and answered all of my obscure questions with ease. I really wish I had him as a history teacher in school as I probably would have turned out to be a historian instead of a writer. He explained the symbolism behind the lion, which is seen through the castle’s tapestries and statues. Representing courage and strength, Medieval kings believed the King of the Jungle displayed great wealth and power. Getting them to the country was a feat in itself as they were transported by boat from Africa to Scotland.

IMG_2199Heading towards the River Teith, I stopped at Deanston Distillery for an even greater history lesson – after all, what would a trip to Scotland be without a proper whiskey tasting? Deanston was originally a cotton mill for 180 years and supported an entire town with work. Now housing casks of whiskey, its storage rooms with white vaulted ceilings once held tons and tons of cotton. They also happen to be the perfect temperature to age whiskey. Upon entering a room, one is overcome with the potent smell – you could get drunk off the fumes. The white ceiling is now stained black from what is called the ‘Angel’s Share.’ Since 20% of the alcohol evaporates as it ages, it rises to the ceiling and turns the white paint black, hence the portion meant for the angels in heaven.

Glasgow and the surrounding countryside offered an incredible experience: I felt the comfort of being home but also the adventure of a flourishing city. I never once felt like an oblivious tourist. It’s an urban paradise for art lovers, historians, night owls and even families – it really can be anything you want it to be. I’m fiercely determined to return soon!

Top 4 James Bond Destinations

December 18, 2013 2:51 pm
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I do wonder how the vacancy advert that James Bond first saw that persuaded him to apply to become 007 read. “Situations Vacant: Spy. Must be quick-witted, good with guns and women. Must enjoy travel.” Well, maybe not, but that final line must have been part of it, as Bond is certainly an experienced globe-trotter.

The first Bond film, Dr. No, set the bar very low. The entire film was shot in London and Jamaica, which just happened by coincidence to be where the two homes of Bond creator Ian Fleming were situated. From then on, each Bond film took in locations that ping-ponged across the globe, even though in most films 007 seemed to eventually end up inside a massive hollowed-out extinct volcano.

If you fancy a bit of Bond-hopping, here are four of the best Bond destinations.

 

SCOTLAND

Ian Fleming did not actually at first give much away about 007’s background, but later said Bond’s antecedents were Scottish (and much later admitted this choice was down to Sean Connery‘s portrayal of the character. Connery was born in Edinburgh). If a Bond aficionado takes a trip to Eilean Donan Castle, which is located on a small island in a loch in the Scottish highlands, they’ll instantly recognise the villain’s lair in The World is Not Enough. If they’re a real film buff, they’ll also recognise it from the film Highlander, which of course starred one Sean Connery.

 

JAMAICA

The iconic moment from the first James Bond film, Dr. No, was filmed in Jamaica. That moment revolved around a small white bikini, and the Swiss-born beauty who wore it, Ursula Andress, emerging from the cool blue Caribbean sea. That beach is now called James Bond Beach, and was also used in Live and Let Die. The true attraction for Bond fans in Jamaica is GoldenEye, which was Ian Fleming’s home on the island and is now part of a luxury hotel. Within the hotel you can still see Fleming’s writing desk and typewriter. The only thing to disappoint Bond fans about Jamaica is the lack of casinos, but the nearby Bahamas does play host to various tours, including the Pokerstars Caribbean Adventure.

 

ISTANBUL

The continent-straddling city is used in several Bond films, such as From Russia With Love, The World is Not Enough and in the third film of the rebooted franchise, Skyfall. The city serves as the gateway to Turkey and is a culture-rich diversion in its own right. The one must-see place to visit is the Tokapi Palace, which is the historic home to the Sultan. It is also home to the Grand Bazaar, a city-within-a-city composed of over 3,000 shops along 61 covered streets.

 

HONG KONG

Bond’s go-to place in Asia, Hong Kong has featured in You Only Live Twice, Die Another Day and The Man With The Golden Gun. The latter film, which starred as Christopher Lee as Charlemagne, one of the most memorable Bond villains ever, included shots filmed in the stunning Peninsula Hotel, notable as one of the finest hotels in the world. The hotel is noted for its fleet of “Peninsula Green” Rolls-Royces and for having one of the oldest fashion arcades in Hong Kong.

The Transformation of Authentic Almonte

December 5, 2013 4:45 pm
Dec13_Lanark_Almonte Riverside Inn

Once a sleepy farm town, today Almonte is anything but. The past five years have seen abandoned mills transformed into upscale condos, luring urbanites looking for a taste of country life.  A lively artists’ community flourishes here, with galleries and unique boutiques lining historic and downtown streets. An astounding number – given Almonte’s still relatively small size – of fantastic gastronomic establishments and charming B&Bs and country inns are here for the taking throughout the year.

Still firmly rooted in its community traditions – as exemplified by its famous agricultural fair – Almonte has evolved into one of the quaintest villages in the province.

Almonte Riverside Inn and Kitchen

While there are several great B&B options in the region, the Almonte Riverside Inn and Kitchen exemplifies the youthful revitalization of this village (plus, you can’t beat its central, yet serene location).

After years of working at some of the best hospitality establishments in the country (including the Elora Mill Inn and Deerhurst Resort), Rob Prior (hailing from Carp) chose to open his own inn in Almonte in 2012. Charmed by the village’s friendly vibe and artistic community, Rob purchased one of the original grand homes, built in 1882 by Almonte’s first town councillor and lawyer. He painstaking-ly renovated the stone manor to hold six relaxing rooms, keeping as many of the original features as possible – such as moldings and flooring – while still modernizing to create high-end bathrooms and other comforts.

Dec13_Lanark_Almont Riverside KitchenDinner is overseen by Chef Trisha Donaldson, who served as chef in restaurants from BC to Ottawa, including the Black Cat Bistro and the Oz Kafe. The philosophy here is to have many of the bases and sauces be gluten-free and vegan, and then add meat and dairy as options. This means that there isn’t just one token option for those with dietary restrictions.

One of the best parts of a stay at the inn is the amazing breakfast menu. Choose from healthy, yet decadent, options such as a peameal bacon and egg-filled croissant or a baked dish of shirred eggs, brie, and greens topped with bread crumbs. Choices are made the night before, so everything’s all ready when you come down for breakfast in the open concept kitchen-dining room. Here, you can chat with Rob as he cooks your breakfast, and you can mine his knowledge of fun, local finds.

For a community of a few thousand people, Almonte is overflowing with artistic talent. One of the best studio tours in the Ottawa area is the Crown and Pumpkin, held annually on a weekend in mid-October. In particular, you’ll want to visit Chris Van Zanten (glass), Richard Skrobecki (clay), Clement Hoeck (pottery), and Hyesuk Kim (Korean paper and textile art).

In town, a must-visit destination is The General, a retail art gallery opened earlier this year by Skrobecki and ceramic artist Chandler Swain. Featuring work by Ontario and Quebec artists, the gallery also has a wonderfully, curated and themed monthly exhibit – including topics as diverse as puppetry and body adornment.

Events with Country Charm and Quirky Distinctiveness

For 15 years, Almonte has hosted Celtfest, a music event celebrating Celtic culture in early July. Performers from as far away as Wales and British Columbia headline the fest’s concerts with fiddles, banjo, and even electric guitars.

If you’re looking to hit up a classic fair, Almonte’s is one of the best and longest standing. Held in late July, the fair offers crafts and food created by local farmers and artisans, contests (best pie, preserves, etc.), horse and farm animal shows, and sheep shearing demonstrations.

You might associate a quirky puppet festival with the streets of Montmartre rather than Lanark County, but Puppets Up! is a great family and artistic event held in August. The festival is overseen by Almonte’s own award-winning puppeteer and puppet builder, Noreen Young (a designer, writer, and executive producer of Under the Umbrella Tree). Ten puppet troupes put on 60 performances (including one in French) in tented theatres and historic buildings, and there are also street performances and an afternoon parade through downtown.

Shopping Mill Street: Something for Everyone

Almonte’s main drag offers everything from women’s clothes to children’s toys. A few spots to hit up include Blackbird (funky home finds), the Tin Barn Market (stylish reclaimed and repurposed items for the home), and Kehla Design (beautiful jewellery made on-site).

Dec13_Lanark_unravelling_tension3 (1)

Unravelling Tension is display at the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum until December 21, 2013.

Mississippi Valley Textile Museum: The top floor of this national historic site is a permanent collection of mill machines and explanatory text on how wool was turned into fabric and garments during the 19th century. However, the first floor of this former Rosamond Woolen Company building is where the excellent temporary exhibits are displayed. These showcase talent from around the world and display textile artwork typically only found at urban galleries. The current exhibit is Unravelling Tension, a colourful, modern art knitting display.

Heirloom Café: In Almonte, you can not only visit or live in a former mill, but eat lunch there as well. Heirloom Café offers a fresh menu of gourmet flatbreads and massive salads, served in the beautiful Victoria Woolen Mill.

Mill of Kintail: West of Almonte, this 1830s grist mill was the summer home and studio of Robert Tait Mackenzie. This attractive museum has a picturesque setting on the Indian River. Displays chronicle Tait’s fascinating career as a military doctor, physical education specialist, and artist (the second storey displays some of his fine works). The picturesque mill is also a popular wedding venue and a great place to get some photos. There are also trails through the forest and along the river to be enjoyed.

Whatever the season, Almonte is a perfect place to visit. You’re sure to take home great memories and probably a new glass vase or hand-made quilt as well.

 

 

Philadelphia Freedom

December 2, 2013 12:13 pm
Liberty Bell Center

So Much To Do — So Little Time

It’s easy to get to by air but we decided to drive. Traveling through New York State is one of the great road trips you can take. You pass through a majestic landscape, wonderful rolling hills and low mountainous terrains. It is about a seven-hour drive from Ottawa to Philly. We arrived in Philadelphia at night and were immediate seized by the size and grandeur of its large boulevards and grand buildings.

We were fortunate to be booked into the historic Kimpton Hotel Palomar (www.hotelpalomar-philadelphia.com), a LEED Gold-certified Art Deco boutique-style hotel housed in the 80-year-old American Institute of Architects Building in downtown Philly. If you visit, be sure to dine at Square 1682, the hotel’s restaurant which features local American cuisine combined with world influences.

Independence Hall

Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. PHOTO: G. WIDMAN FOR GPTMC

Philly is a great walking city – especially in the core. Our first stop was at The Barnes Foundation (www.barnesfoundation.org). This museum was established by Albert C. Barnes in 1922 and holds one of the finest collections of post-impressionist and early modern paintings, with extensive works by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Henri Rousseau, Amedeo Modigliani, Chaim Soutine and Giorgio de Chirico, as well as American masters Charles Demuth, William Glackens, Horace Pippin and Maurice Prendergast. The collection is so eclectic. It also includes Old Master paintings, African sculpture and Native American ceramics, jewelry and textiles, American paintings and decorative arts and antiquities from the Mediterranean and Asia. It is all so interesting and impressive that we lost track of time. This is a must-see.

Philadelphia has a plethora of wonderful restaurant choices. The city is known for its pretzels, tomato pizza and Philly cheese steaks. Before heading to our next stop we visited a local diner and ordered one of each. And it was worth every carb.

Re-energized, we headed over to the Philadelphia Museum of Art (www.philamuseum.org). With a collection of more than 227,000 works of art and more than 200 galleries with painting, sculpture, works on paper, photography, decorative arts, textiles, and architectural settings from Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the United States, it’s one of the largest museums in the United States. You could easily spend two or three days making your way through the many interesting exhibits. Since we only had one afternoon, we decided on one called Spy: Secret World of Espionage – a fascinating exhibit that took a behind-the-scenes look at true stories of international intrigue and espionage and featured more than 200 items and unusual artifacts, such as the ice axe used to kill Leon Trotsky, CIA items never before shown to the public, and the famous ENIGMA machine used by Germany in WWII to send coded messages to its military. Special pins given to all undercover OSS agents in WW2, a two-man submarine, a robotic catfish used by the CIA, as well as numerous disguises and the stories behind the agents who used them are all on display.

Next was a visit to the National Constitution Center (NCC)at Independence Mall (www.constitutioncenter.org). The NCC is the only museum in the world dedicated to the United States Constitution and explores the four-page document through exhibitions and artifacts. It is a spectacular tribute to Democracy and the U.S. Founding Fathers. First you enter an amphitheatre and with the help of an interpreter and a unique historical video, you are taken through the birth of America’s history, pre-Indepen-dence to the present day. Afterward you are shuffled out into one of the most impressive historical museums in the world. You can rent an audio guide or read the script next to each display that narrates in some detail the great moments in U.S. history. The last display is a large room with life-size bronze statues of all the Founding Fathers as they would have appeared in 1776. American exceptionalism is the overriding narrative here and it works.

Our last stop of the day was the Liberty Bell Center (www.nps.gov/Inde/Liberty-Bell-Center.htm). The 2,080-pound Liberty Bell is a famous symbol of independence for American citizens and has a biblical inscription: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” When the bell arrived in Philadelphia in 1752, it was hung in place and when tested, it immediately cracked. Two artisans were hired to recast it twice. It was first called the “Liberty Bell” in the 1830s, by a group of abolitionists who adopted it as a symbol of their cause to end slavery. In the late 1800s, the Liberty Bell traveled around the USA to expositions and fairs to help heal the divisions of the Civil War.

Benjamin Franklin Parkway

The Philadelphia Museum of Art crowns the mile-long Benjamin Franklin Parkway which is home to many parks, public works of arts and museums. PHOTO: B. KRIST FOR GPTMC.

Happily exhausted with all the ground we had covered that day, we walked back to the hotel. Philadelphia is located at the confluence of the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers. Known as the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia was founded by William Penn in 1681 when King Charles II ceded a large piece of his American land holdings to Penn to satisfy a debt the King owed to Penn’s father. Penn was a real estate entrepreneur who envisioned his Philadelphia to be the perfect combination of city and country. He built the city around a plan that incorporated five major squares with wide streets to act as barriers against fires. He encouraged families to build homes with large gardens by deliberately distributing the land in large plots to encourage a low population density. Penn was also a Quaker who promoted religious tolerance and this inclusiveness attracted people of many different faiths to Philadelphia.

Within 20 years of Penn’s arrival, the experiment for his visionary city had worked and Philadelphia was the third largest city in the new colonies, behind Boston and New York. Penn was an early supporter of colonial unification and was the first to press for a Union of all the English colonies in what was later to become the United States of America. By the 18th century, Philadelphia had become the United States’ largest city – first capital and home of the Liberty Bell, Declaration of Independence, and Constitution. As we walked through the grand parks and crossed wide boulevards, it was easy for us to see that Philly has proudly retained its founder’s vision as a beautiful and wonderfully modern metropolis that still places a high premium on its parks, trees, gardens, lawns and green spaces.

Cityfoodtours.com/philadelphia is an informative sightseeing tour that combines food tasting with a walk around the city. You learn about Benjamin Franklin, William Penn, and how they got a Philadelphia Flyers Jersey on the Penn Statue atop City Hall plus other local trivia while tasting pretzels, cheese steaks, tomato pie, Philadelphia cream cheese and many other treats. Half the fun is listening to the very interesting and charismatic native Philadelphian guide share all kinds of gems about the city’s fascinating history and characters. The best part of this excursion was being able to go where the locals really eat — all low-key, independently owned, charming places that speak to the city’s unpretentious and fun nature. A trip highlight for me was visiting the impressive City Hall—the second-largest municipal building in the United States. Often described as an architectural treasure inside and out, the exterior is covered with sculptures representing the seasons and continents, as well as allegorical figures, heads and masks, including a 27-ton statue of city founder William Penn atop the tower.

Of all the things we did in Philly — and they were all fantastic — DeTours Urban Excursions (www.detourstouring.com) was unexpectedly my favourite. It was my first time ever on a Segway tour.  There is a 20- minute training program before you  head out I can’t think of a better way to tour a city. Our guide was great. Halfway through, it started pouring rain and we all pulled out the ponchos provided to us and kept going. It was warm out and the rain felt good on our faces as we skirted through the streets of Philly marveling at its modern skyscrapers, historic colonial houses, grand neighbourhoods, pleasant shopping districts and the many buildings covered with graffiti art (Philly has the largest public mural art program in the world). You can cover in three hours what would take almost two days if you were walking.

As we headed out of the city on the drive home, we knew one thing for sure about Philadelphia. We’ll be back to this incredible city!

www.visitphilly.com or www.uwishunu.com

 

 

 

Lanark: Transitioning From Textile Mills To “Made In Lanark” Modern Tourism

September 16, 2013 3:47 pm

So many Ontario communities are searching for the right lure for visitors. Lanark County has taken such a refreshing approach to this challenge that this beautiful region is a perfect case study for the face of modern tourism.
Sept13_Lanark3No glitzy developments or manufactured fun here. Lanark is a community committed to being itself. It is a place that cherishes its own landscape and history, naturally creating tourist attractions and activities that are unique and genuine. Many of these attractions are top-notch and are all based on a deep sense of history and a rugged, quintessentially Ontario landscape. With a location that puts most of the county within 45 minutes of Ottawa, it is hard to imagine a more rewarding destination for day trips or long-weekend getaways.

Lanark’s past blends with its present with its pride in its Made in Lanark bounty. 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 fabric creations and all things knitted. Beyond textiles, Lanark has long been home to skilled artisans, farmers, and manufacturers of great products found on the shelves and tables across Ontario, from maple syrup to Mrs. McGarrigle’s Fine Mustard.

Today, there is a wave of youth returning to this county’s small villages. With them, come new ideas about farm-to-table cuisine, artisan craftsmanship and reclaiming salvage for resale and repurposing old buildings into the building blocks of a modern tourism industry.

Village Hopping in Lanark

Sept13_Lanark2One of the best parts of getting out of the city is experiencing the joys of small-town life – easy parking, no traffic, bucolic views, friendly shopkeepers and affordable prices. Lanark is one of the easiest counties to “village hop,” since highways 7 and 15 form a loop that makes it possible to visit several of the main attractions in a day. So pack up your car for an old-fashioned drive in the country, complete with Canadian Shield scenery along the way.

In the north county, you have the hills of Pakenham, with its landscape reminiscent of an English village. Country cottages and churches are spread across green fields and a five-span stone bridge passes over the Mississippi. Just to the south, Almonte has experienced a complete renewal in recent years, as artists and locavores have turned this village into a day trip all on its own, filled with one-of-a-kind shopping, restored mills, and memorable food. Nearby Carleton Place boasts one of the most beautiful town halls in the province. This majestic nineteenth-century stone hall has skyward-reaching turrets and a bell tower visible from nearly everywhere in town. For those with an interest in Eastern Ontario’s history, you can explore the engineering feat of the Rideau Canal in Smiths Falls, with its Bascule Bridge and locks. In Perth – also known as stone town – you’ll not only find great architecture, but a gateway to several local natural wonders including a provincial park and a great hike.

Day Trips Made for You

This picturesque county has some-thing for everyone, from handsome stone villages to wholesome country fairs, to outdoor adventures.

It won’t take long to unwind once you arrive in Lanark. Exploring the backroads and countryside of rural Ontario provides a rewarding opportunity in itself. The hidden gems found in the villages and towns of Lanark make for great memories to share with friends when you get home. You’ll make them jealous they didn’t come along for the ride for a taste of authentic Ontario.

Caitlin Carpenter is a travel writer with Days Out Ontario (www.daysoutontario.com), a trip planning website and travel blog.  

 

Base Camp Canmore

September 10, 2013 12:45 pm
Sept13_Canmore_Ski_Lake_Louise_PaulZizka_LakeLouiseBanff Tourism
The town of Canmore, Alberta

The town of Canmore, Alberta

On the south-east boundary of Banff National Park, an easy one-hour drive from Calgary sits the beautiful town of Canmore, Alberta. During the 1988 Olympics, the town hosted the Nordic skiing events and never looked back. Filled with trendy boutiques and galleries, great restaurants, eateries and even a brew pub, the main street is quaint and charming.

The Canmore Nordic Centre is a world-class facility with 71 kilometres plus of trails that is available for team training camps but is also open to the general public.

We tried our hand at skate skiing. As a hockey player and downhill skier since almost birth, this was going to be a walk in the park, or so I thought. We met John, owner of Trail Sports at the Nordic Centre who outfitted us with the latest gear before we headed out for a lesson. This sport is a lot harder than it looks. Grace and form were lacking from our attempt but our extremely patient instructor had us on our way and before long we headed out on the trails. It seems like you are forever skiing up hill but soon you forget about your burning thigh muscles and lose yourself in the sheer natural beauty of the place.

Back at our hotel, the -27 temperature did not discourage us from soothing our bodies with a soak in the outdoor hot tub. A two-minute drive from downtown, the Worldmark Resort is tucked into the hillside. We loved this condo-style hotel. The suites have their own kitchenettes which are perfect for breakfast and for those nights you are just too tired to head out on the town. Two-bedroom suites are available for families. The swim-out pool and outdoor hot tub are a hit with all guests.

We came to hit the slopes so we headed up the highway, past the town of Banff, to Sunshine Village. It’s big enough to accommodate very busy holiday  crowds but you’ll want to get there early to park. If you’re a late riser, they do offer shuttle service from over-flow parking. The hill boasts 30 feet of snow annually and it’s 7,000  plus foot base ensures that the snow stays long into May. Sunshine is known for having great snow and the views are pretty awesome too. The three mountains that make up Sunshine (Goat’s Eye, Lookout and Standish) combine to offer 3,300 acres of skiable terrain. It’s a great family resort but also offers extreme skiing for experienced skiers who have their avalanche gear and don’t mind a little up-hill hiking.

Sept13_Canmore_01_2The3Sisters

The Three Sisters peaks are the backdrop to Canmore, Alberta.

Further up the highway Lake Louise is an alpine lake at the base of glacier peaks. It is also home to 4200 skiable acres with some of the best slope-side scenery in the world. We skied there on one of the busiest days of the year and had no trouble with parking or lift lines. The mountain is well organized and the chutes, glades and gullies will challenge even the best skier. We covered the whole mountain but loved  the back bowl and the glades.

There are three Mountains in Banff/Lake Louise. The final of the “Big Three” is Mt. Norquay. We didn’t get the chance to ski there but locals we spoke with chose it as their favourite and marveled about the views of Sunshine Village across the valley.

Canada's future downhill team practice on the slopes of Nakiska!

Canada’s future downhill team practice on the slopes of Nakiska!

Just 25 minutes from Canmore, (toward Calgary) is Nakiska.  It boats being Canada’s official downhill training centre and hosted 1988 Calgary Olympic Alpine events. Nakiska is smaller than its cousins in Banff and Lake Louise and sees more local Calgary than international traffic but it’s easy to get to. The parking is close to the lodge and you can be on the slopes in no time. The hill is guaranteed to have snow as they make more of it than mother nature does and the lift lines were never a problem. The well-groomed runs are perfect for intermediate skiers and wide enough for whole families to cruise comfortably together. As a powder hound, the snow quality was a little disappointing but the Monster Glades made up for that.

Four hills and one great town to call base camp and it is all found in the jewel of the Canadian Rockies. Visit the following web sites and plan a trip this winter!

www.skibig3.com   www.skinakiska.com   www.tourismcanmore.com

 

Amsterdam and The Hague: The Dutch Golden Age Continues

July 24, 2013 12:15 pm
Aug13_Travel_Boten (94) AMSTERDAM MARKETING
An aerial view of Amsterdam’s canal system PHOTO: CHRIS TOALA OLIVARES

An aerial view of Amsterdam’s canal system PHOTO: CHRIS TOALA OLIVARES

In the 11th century, a tiny community of fishers settled along the Amstel River. By 1275, the residents had gained access to the ocean through a canal – the Zuiderzee, now called the IJsselmeer. Thus began a 200-year period of canal building and the commerce that came with it to allow the city to grow and flourish as a destination for trade and as a centre for business and commerce. While the power centre of Europe remained in Spain during the 13th and 14th centuries, Dutch innovation was slowly building a stealth empire in the north. As Amsterdam flourished, it won control over the sea trade in the North Sea and gained access to the Baltic Sea.

In 1519, King Charles V of Spain ceded control of Amsterdam through a dynastic marriage – putting the city under the governance of the Spanish Empire and the Catholic faith. Sixty years later, Spanish control was forfeited in a bloodless coup and the Dutch Republic was born, made up of seven provinces led by William the Silent. From 1600 to 1800, Amsterdam would have a Golden Age that would make it one of the world’s most important cities. Master builders constructed the inner ring of canals as the city’s population surged to 250,000.

The world’s first stock exchange – the Dutch East India Company – opened in 1602, trading its own shares, making Amsterdam the birthplace of capitalism and a magnet and meeting place for traders and their goods from around the world. In keeping with its reputation as a progressive city, the world’s first weekly newspaper, the Courante uyt Italien, Duytslandt, &c. (The Courante) was published in 1618. That same year, Catholicism – seen as a final remnant of Spanish rule – was outlawed as the official religion, although it was still allowed to be practiced privately. Over the next century, the Dutch, using Amsterdam as their base, would invade England, sail the seven seas, colonize Indonesia and  Surinam, and establish a colony in North America called New Amsterdam (which became New York City). In 1795, French troops occupied the Netherlands and installed the Batavian Republic. These fragmented United Provinces become a centralized state, with Amsterdam as its capital. By 1813, with the collapse of Napoleon Bonaparte, William VI of the House of Orange was crowned as Dutch King William and the Dutch reclaimed their country. A second and significant flurry of canal building occurred between 1865 and 1876. The North Sea Canal is dug. The Dutch railway system is expanded. In 1889, Amsterdam’s impressive train station (Centraal Station) opens, instantly connecting Amsterdam by rail to the rest of Europe.

Amsterdam today is arguably still one of the key intellectual and artistic centres of Europe and is still considered one of the most progressive cities in the world. Its intertwining canals and waterways are recognized as an official UN World Heritage site.

When visiting the city, a great starting point is the Museum Het Grachtenhuis. Set in an actual canal house, this interactive, multimedia museum cleverly uses miniature-scaled doll house reproductions of Amsterdam’s famous canal houses to illustrate the 400-year history of the city. The sheer genius of the Dutch becomes apparent when you realize the scale of the effort and planning it took for these 17th-century canals and homes to be built on land reclaimed from the sea. A highlight was looking at the three-dimensional holograms inside the miniature canal houses. The museum will give you an understanding of the geography of Amsterdam and it will help you navigate your way around the city.

Aug13_Travel_Amsterdam Museum by AMSTERDAM MARKETING

The Golden Age exhibition at the Amsterdam Museum showcases the city in the 17th century — considered the birth of modern Amsterdam. PHOTO: AMSTERDAM MARKETING

There are so many museums, galleries and restaurants that you can easily feel overwhelmed by options. Be sure to get an I amsterdam City Card: it offers amazing discounts on the city’s world-class museums. Having been to the Amsterdam Hermitage and Van Gogh exhibits on previous visits, this time I went to the  Amsterdam Museum’s Dutch Golden Age exhibit which uses the latest multimedia techniques to showcase a treasure trove of world-class works by artists such as Rembrandt, Pieter de Hooch, Marten de Vos, Dirck Hals and Melchior d’Hondecoeter, alongside historic pieces that explore those halcyon days of world trade, economic growth, cultural and religious diversity, flourishing science and the construction of the Amsterdam canals. It also has some compelling displays that examine Dutch involvement in slavery and war during the 1600s. Afterwards, I relaxed on a one-hour canal cruise (www.smidtje.nl). It was bitter cold but the boat was warm as we enjoyed a bird’s eye view of canal merchants’ houses, baroque churches and bridges. If you are visiting Amsterdam in 2013, be sure to take in the new Rembrandt exhibition at Magna Plaza which brings all 325 of Rembrandt’s paintings together in one place for the first time, as high-quality reproductions.

Aug13_Travel_Grote Zaal KCO 01-03 C (Hans Samsom)

Celebrating 125 years, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is considered one of the very best orchestras in the world.
PHOTO: AMSTERDAM MARKETING

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. In addition to some 80 concerts performed at the Concertgebouw, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) performs 40 concerts at leading concert halls throughout the world each year. In fact, in the first half of this season, RCO Amsterdam completed its world tour of six continents in a single year – the only orchestra ever to do so. Reaching some 250,000 concertgoers a year, the orchestra has long been praised for its performances of the music of Gustav Mahler and Anton Bruckner. It also collaborates with world-renowned guest conductors. When in Amsterdam, do not miss the RCO. The tickets are not expensive and they are in constant demand.

A Traveler’s Delight: History, Art and Atmosphere in The Hague  

Located near the beautiful North Sea coastline, Den Haag (The Hague) is the third largest city in the Netherlands and is also known as the Residence, the Royal Residence and the City of Peace and Justice. The Hague earns its nicknames to housing the seat of the Dutch government, the Royal Family and many international organiza-tions, mostly of a judicial nature, including the International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Due to the presence of embassies, international organizations, govern-ment bodies and the Royal Family, The Hague is a popular destination for international travelers. This historic city has a large charm factor with stunning monuments and chic livable neighbourhoods.

Dutch parliament buildings and Mauritshuis along the Hofvijver. PHOTO: JURJEN DRENTH

Dutch parliament buildings and Mauritshuis along the Hofvijver. PHOTO: JURJEN DRENTH

Everyone seems to have a bicycle. I spent a day walking through The Hague and stopped to take in the pleasures of the Plein and Grote Markt squares with their numerous cozy restaurants, eateries and coffee bars. The city has seen an architectural building renaissance in the past 30 years and today its modern skyline seamlessly complements the more traditional buildings. The Hague is also known for having more courtyards than any city in Holland and these courtyards are visible everywhere as you walk about.
Among the most beautiful courtyards in The Hague are the Hof Van Wouw, Hof van Nieuwkoop and the Rusthofje. Among the lesser known courtyards in and around the centre of The Hague are the Schuddegeest, Schelpstraat, Badhuisstraat and Paramaribostraat courtyards.

Since it is the political capital, I wanted to visit the Dutch Parliament (Het Binnenhof). All political matters and affairs of state are discussed here. You can  take a guided tour through the Ridderzaal (Hall of Knights) and either the First and/or the Second Chamber of Parliament. The tour starts with an introductory video that explains the history of the Dutch parliament and parliamentary buildings. Tours are available all year round; however, on the day I visited, we could not visit all the rooms of Het Binnenhof due to political meetings. Even so, Het Binnenhof and its impressive architecture and rich history make a visit well worth your time.

The Hague is home to the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis and the Gemeentemuseum, which are two must-see museums with magnificent art collections. Het Mauritshuis has a marvellous collection of art from the old masters of the 17th and 18th centuries. The Dutch Mona Lisa or The Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer can be seen here. (And yes, she does look just like Scarlett Johansson in the movie of the same name!) A worthwhile stop is a small museum called Panorama Mesdag which features one of the world’s finest and largest surviving panorama paintings. It is 46 feet high with a circumference of 395 feet and shows the sea, beach, dunes and fishing in the nearby village of Scheveningen. The panorama was painted by Hendrik Willem Mesdag, his wife and a few friends. It shows what The Hague looked like in 1880. The beach is full of activity: fishing boats are pulled, military practice is taking place, and people are enjoying the sun and the water. Mesdag’s  painting or spectacular illusion is an experience in space and time that seems to become reality. The museum isn’t expensive and a visit only takes half an hour.

The seaside resort of Scheveningen with the famous Steigenberger Kurhaus Hotel PHOTO: PIERRE CROM

The seaside resort of Scheveningen with the famous Steigenberger Kurhaus Hotel.
PHOTO: PIERRE CROM

Inspired by the painting, I decided to take the 20-minute trip to visit the coastal town of Scheveningen on the edge of The Hague. It proved to be a highlight of the day. It’s easy to see why it’s the best known seaside resort on the Dutch coast. Even in the middle of January, the shops and hotels off the beach were booming with activity as people were out and about. It is worth dropping by one of the great grand hotels of Europe, the Steigenberger Kurhaus Hotel which is located right on the beach. Take a walk or use local  transit to visit the Scheveningen Harbor Restaurant de Dagvisser (www.dedagvisser.nl). It is one of the best seafood restaurants in the region, featuring a variety of fresh-catch North Sea dishes – herring, cod sole, oysters, mussels – all done with exceptional Dutch gastronomique flair.

While I have been to the Netherlands many times, it is always an incredible treat to go back and experience the marvels of the past while bearing witness to the renaissance of this cultural powerhouse.

 

Aug13_Travel_ImageGen.ashxSEE MORE & SAVE MORE WITH THE I AMSTERDAM CITY CARD

The I Amsterdam City Card is the most convenient and affordable way to experience Amsterdam. Valid for 24, 48 or 72 hours, the 2013 City Card includes a detailed city map; unlimited use of GVB public transport (bus, tram & metro); free entrance to 38 of Amsterdam’s top museums & attractions; one free canal cruise; discounts on attractions, concerts, theatre, rentals, restaurants and more; free giveaways, fun surprises & special monthly offers; free entrance to eight attractions & five discounts at the Zaanse Schans Museum; free entrance to three museums & four discounts in Haarlem. www.iamsterdam.com

Aug13_Radisson Blu_1295406785336There are some really nice, affordable boutique-style hotels in Amsterdam. You can’t go wrong with the Radisson Blu Hotel. Located in the Canal House district, the hotel’s historic exterior neatly complements its über-modern interior and exceptional services.

www.radissonblu.com/hotel-amsterdam

Den Haag has lots of hotels and great restaurants. You can take a direct 40-minute train from Amsterdam for $12 return.

For a great lunch in Den Haag, go to Brasseries T-Ogenblik www.t-ogenblik.nl for a traditional Dutch lunch of herring and chowder.

The best travel web site for The Netherlands is www.holland.com and for Amsterdam, visit www.iamsterdam.com. For Den Haag, visit www.denhaag.nl.

KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines) – www.klm.com/ – offers regular return flights from Canada. When you arrive in Amsterdam, take a train or an electric car taxi (Taxi-E) to the city centre.

The Most Beautiful Beaches to Discover on Ibiza

June 3, 2013 11:42 am
Cala Gracioneta

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whether you’re heading to the White Isle to experience the world-famous clubs, or enjoy a relaxing escape on the quieter areas of the island, you’ll need to know which Ibiza beaches are the very best. The Balearic Island is bordered by kilometre after kilometre of soft sand lapped by the shimmering Mediterranean ocean, and individual beaches range from the large and lively to secluded and secretive – so here’s our guide to the most beautiful beaches to work on your tan during your Ibiza holiday.

 

Cala Saladita

Cala Saladita

Most of the beaches around San Antonio can become extremely busy during the summer months, so to give yourself the best chance of finding a sunny spot to yourself, head to Cala Saladita. To reach this clandestine beach you’ll need to traverse the rocky divide between Cala Saladita and its neighbouring beach, Cala Salada, but you’ll be rewarded with a tranquil stretch of sand enclosed by a rocky headland that doesn’t block the Ibiza sunshine. Just get there before midday to avoid the intense heat on your journey, and make sure you bring water and snacks as there are no amenities.

 

Cala d’en Serra

 Photo Credit: SAGT http://www.flickr.com/photos/sagt/4383460648/

Although most Ibiza beaches are impressive, few make an impact quite like Cala d’en Serra, a northern beach bounded by sheer cliffs and leading into deep azure waters. This beach is where you’re most likely to find the locals, which is a testament to its tranquil nature, and few boats enter the water here too meaning that you can swim, snorkel and sunbathe in total harmony.

 

Portinatx

Photo Credit: Chloe Blanchfield http://www.flickr.com/photos/clugg14/6014829668/

The name of this location actually refers to the three smaller beaches that make up this area, but each of them is equally picturesque and peaceful, even during the high season. Portinatx, on the north-west coast is known for being a family-friendly resort, with welcoming hotels like the Club Vista Bahia located just a short stroll from the beaches, where the water is clear and shallow and ideal for paddling with young children. Rocky areas create an attractive backdrop for lazy days in the Ibiza sun, but there’s more than enough sand for everyone, and what’s more there won’t be a decibel of dance music to be heard!

 

Playa d’en Bossa

Photo Credit:  Alex Harries http://www.flickr.com/photos/alexharries/2616170566/

 If stretching out on a sun-lounger, sipping cocktails and people-watching whilst Balearic beats are carried by on the breeze sounds like your idea of perfection, make Playa den Bossa, the longest beach on Ibiza, your first stop. This famously gorgeous beach puts you right at the heart of the fun on the south coast of Ibiza, close to cosmopolitan Ibiza town, and the beach bars that stretch along the sand are always filled with chic people from all corners of Europe.

 

Cala Gracioneta

Cala Gracioneta

A compact and charming cove on the west coast of the island, Cala Gracioneta is a great option for families as the waters are very shallow and calm, plus there are plenty of trees offering a shady place to rest or take a midday nap. The narrow entrance to the water also makes it easy for parents to keep a watchful eye over their children, plus there are plenty of great restaurants and beach bars nearby for when it’s time for an ice cream break.

 

 

 

No Matter the Season The Laurentians Has it All

May 27, 2013 10:58 am
Laurentian1

By Rachael Desjardins

Need a break? Want to have some family fun time, or need to reboot your romance? Head to the beautiful Chalets Chanteclair, nestled in the heart of the Laurentians. Located in Val-David, Qu.bec, these lovely authentic Swiss-styled chalets are only minutes away from the popular town of Saint-Sauveur, known for its boutiques and restaurants and only 25 minutes from the world-renowned Mont-Tremblant. Choose to escape into one of the mountain-side chalets or just relax and enjoy the calm of the water in one of the lakefront chalets at Trout Lake. We chose to stay in one of the lakefront chalets and loved everything about it. Each chalet is equipped with a natural wood-burning fireplace, double whirlpool, sauna, and fully-equipped kitchen.

During spring and summer, you can enjoy an outdoor barbeque on your spacious deck and comfortable patio furniture. Any time of the year, you can take advantage of massage services in the privacy of your chalet.

Chalets Chanteclair’s front desk staff enthusiastically helped plan activities  and offered various discounts to local attractions and restaurants.

Eager to kick start the weekend, we headed out to what is rightly called “the most amazing tubing park in Quebec”. With our kids leading the way, we headed up to the highest snow-tubing mountain in the world and (…I) squealed all the way down. What a blast! We ended the day back in the chalet where I soaked in the whirlpool before joining the family for a meal by the fireplace.

Living with a family of snowboarders, this location was a great pick. Surrounded by some of the best alpine hills Quebec has to offer, we enjoyed Vallée Bleue, Ski Chantecler and Mont Habitant. The conditions were great and we had a fantastic time. Of course, it’s the “aprés ski” that makes the day complete and we ended our day back at our chalet sitting out on the deck catching the last bit of sun and soaking in the magnificent view.

Laurentian3The front desk clerk at Chalets Chanteclair told us about their restaurant, Ô Cèdre, which is known for having the finest Lebanese cuisine between Val-David and Montreal. The menu was incredible. We chose from their appetizer menu (The homemade hummus was out of this world.) and from their great selection of traditional Lebanese main dishes. We all tried something different and each bite was better than the one before. The ‘Mixed Grill’, a selection of Lebanese grilled brochettes, was incredible. The manager was a charming man and made us feel truly welcomed. His wife is the chef and his son was our waiter. His joy in the restaurant and his pride in his wife’s amazing culinary skills was infectious.

We ended our stay at Chalets Chanteclair on a high — a sugar high. We took the staff up on a recommendation and visited La Cabane à sucre Arthur Raymond where we feasted on traditional Québécois fair. The atmosphere was lively and festive with foot-tapping music filling the air. The meal was terrific with maple syrup oozing out  of everything. A great way to feel a part of the lively traditional Quebec culture, and the perfect way to end our weekend. If you can, take advantage of their beautiful cross-country and snowshoe trails or possibly even a dogsledding excursion. The options are endless in this winter wonderland!

Laurentian1Chalets Chanteclair is also a great destination in the summer. Enjoy their wonderful private beach on Trout Lake. The resort offers on-site rentals of canoes, kayaks and paddle boats. There is also a pool, an 18-hole mini-golf course and tennis courts. Of course, you could simply put your feet up and soak in the sun.

Should you want to venture a little further from your chalet, countless activities are only minutes away. The “P’tit train du Nord” offers access to over 200 km of cycling or walking along its old train track path that winds around the beautiful Laurentians. You can also pack a picnic and go hiking or rock climbing in the magnificent Dufresne Park where you can lose yourself in the natural beauty and breathtaking panoramas. If ATVing is your thing, there are rentals nearby. For golf enthusiasts, the Laurentians are a dream location as there are more than 10 first-rate golf courses for players of all levels of expertise.

laurentian4If sports are not your passion, there are many theme parks in the area including water parks, a Santa Clause Village and the “Pays de Merveilles” a fairy tale theme park for the little ones. For a taste of culture, visit the local artisans who have different exhibitions daily or enjoy a Saturday stroll through the summer market in quaint Val-David. Live theatre fans can check out the fabulous shows in several of the nearby villages including Val-David, Ste-Adele or St. Sauveur or enjoy a concert on the lake in Ste-Agathe.

At the end of the day wind down at Chalets Chanteclair — your own private haven and a getaway that truly is a feast for the soul.

Travel: Discover Belgium

April 10, 2013 1:30 pm
A view of the canal in Ghent. (Credit: City of Ghent Tourist Office)

By Emma Truswell

Belgium is all about indulgence, whether it is in food, history, beer or architecture, France’s northern neighbour is worthy of exploring.

Ypres, now know as Ieper, in Flanders Fields Country, or Westhoek, is the perfect destination for history buffs, due to the town’s powerful associations with World War I. Over 150 military cemeteries are scattered throughout the Ypres Salient, serving as solemn reminders of the terrible sacrifice of war. Canadians are sure to want to stop by Essex Farm Cemetery, where John McCrae penned the famous poem “In Flanders Fields.” Still standing are the concrete shelters of the Advanced Dressing Station where McCrae worked as a Canadian Army Doctor in May of 1915, which are open for tourists to explore.

The town of Ieper itself is an impressive replica of the medieval city that was almost entirely destroyed during the war. Restored Gothic style buildings line the streets, the Belfry of the magnificent Cloth Hall towering over the town square. It is this expansive site that houses the In Flanders Fields Museum. The newly renovated museum has state- of- the- art technology, including visitors’ bracelets that contain their personal information such as age, name, gender, and hometown. Bracelets are read at four booths that cater information to suit each tourist’s interests, pulling from over 750 different stories to personalize the war for each individual.

John McCrae Memorial, Essex Farm Cemetery. (Credit: Emma Truswell)

Come nightfall, stop at the Menin Gate for the Last Post Ceremony. Since the 11th of November, 1929, the Last Post has been sounded at the gate every night at 8 p.m., with the exception of the four years of German occupation from 1940 to 1944. Crowds line the street on either side, bowing their heads in respectful silence as buglers from the local volunteer Fire Brigade play Last Post and Reveille under the memorial arch. The walls are inscribed with nearly 55,000 names of those who died or went missing in the Ypres Salient between the outbreak of war and August 1917.

The romantic city of Bruges was next, with winding canals, intimate cafés and cobblestone streets. This picturesque town and UNESCO world heritage site is the ideal getaway for couples. Whether you explore the city on foot, by bike, or seated in a horse-drawn carriage, no Bruges adventure is complete without a tour through the city’s scenic canals. Enjoy waterside gardens and architecture from as far back as the thirteenth century.

Next stop was Ghent, which is often overlooked by tourists in favour of the more traditional Belgian destinations. It may be a medieval town, but this city has a fresh, youthful energy. Picking up on the city’s funky vibe is the recently opened Sandton Grand Hotel Reylof. With a convenient location only minutes away from the city’s prime tourist destinations, this luxurious four-star hotel has made its home in a splendid eighteenth century mansion.

Ghent is home to over 620 monuments and historical sites, which are brandished nightly with gorgeous illuminations that beg for a late-night stroll through the city streets. Scenery can also be enjoyed while drifting through Ghent’s winding canals on a boat ride complete with champagne and appetizers.

JL Flemal (Credit: Visit Belgium)

Hit the shop Van Hoorebeke for some of the best chocolate or grab some mustard from Tierenteyn-Verlent, a charming little shop that has been making mustard since 1790.

No trip to Belgium is complete without a visit to Brussels. Awe-inducing beauty is around every corner. Take a stroll through Brussels Park after admiring the magnificent Royal Palace, or trek up Mont des Arts toward the city’s cluster of museums and attractions. For a completely low-stress option, purchase the Brussels city card for as little as 24 Euro, which provides discount vouchers for local shops and restaurants, unlimited travel on public transportation, and admission into most attractions.

Visitors to Brussels can stock up on traditional Belgian cookies at Dandoy, one of the oldest cookie shops in the city. Check out Laurent Gerbaud’s shop and factory, Gerbaud, and enjoy delectable chocolate creations. He works with only the highest quality chocolate and avoids sugar in favour of natural sweets, such as figs.

Bernard Boccara (Credit: Visit Belgium)

No Belgian adventure is complete without paying tribute to its beer.  Delirium Tremens Café, just off the famous dining strip Rue des Bouchers, has a selection of over 2000 different beers and its very own beer bible. This establishment made it to the Guinness Book of World Records in 2004 for the most commercially-available beers, with a total count of 2004. Rightfully so, Belgians are very proud of their beer. A must-try is Kriek, cherry beer – a uniquely Belgian product. This fruity beer uses open-air fermentation with natural bacteria only found in the fields surrounding Brussels.

From romantic retreats to out-of-this-world food options to an experience of some of the most powerful reminders of war, Belgium has something for everyone. So when you plan your next European vacation, be sure to Think Belgium.

A view of the canal in Ghent. (Credit: City of Ghent Tourist Office)

 

Travel: Discover Slovenia

12:53 pm
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Nestled between Italy to the west, Austria to the north, Croatia to the south and southeast and Hungary to the northeast is one of the most beautiful and yet relatively unknown European gems, Slovenia. Whether it’s food, geography, landscape, architecture, activities or even climate, diversity permeates everything. It may sound cliché, but there really is something for everyone in this small but activity-packed country.

Slovenia is steeped in history and culture for those looking for the traditional Euro experience. If you are into wine, you are in for a treat as there is some incredible wine-making going on here, and if you’re into the outdoors, adventure-type sports (kayaking, white water rafting, extreme rafting) or more calm outdoor sports like hiking, cycling, running (there are some 10,000 km of marked hiking trails to be explored) or canoeing, you need to head to this incredible country. Slovenia will far exceed your expectations.

Back in 2007, the European Union (EU) established a new award, the European Destinations of Excellence (EDEN) to promote sustainable tourism for lesser-known EU members. Countries submit locations based on the theme of that year. With the exception of 2007, Slovenia has won an EDEN every year. And rightfully so. The country is stunning. In fact, Slovenians take great pride in the natural beauty and the richness of their natural resources. Over fifty per cent of the country is covered by trees and over a third of the territory is protected. And for a country of its size, there is an amazing number of microclimates. On the same day, if you’re willing to do a few hours of driving, you can be kayaking in a tank top along the border between Croatia and Slovenia in the morning and then be up in the Alps near the Austrian border needing a thick sweater in time for supper.

But wherever you are, you can enjoy a good bottle of Slovenian wine. In fact, wine making is big in Slovenia. One per cent of Slovenia’s territory is covered by vineyards and it is part of their culture. You see shacks and huts everywhere on vineyards that are there for families making wine together. One of the country’s most celebrated winemakers is Jozef Prus, whose estate is located in the area of Metlika, Bela krajina. Metlika, in the heart of wine-making country, is a quaint village and dates back to the 14th century. A visit to the Prus estate, which is literally a stone’s throw from Croatia, is a must. He has won wine world championships and has been the country’s top winemaker for the last three years.

Not only can you sample Prus’ award-winning wine (which is also inexpensive), you can enjoy some “Belokranjska pogaca” flat cake which is similar to bread. The dish was awarded the status of a protected designation of origin by the European Community and Prus Estates is one of the 20 places in the country where you can get the authentic bread.  Hopefully you can actually meet Prus himself as he is larger than life (and there is even a Canadian connection. His grandfather earned the money to buy the land for the vineyard working in a mine in Canada).

Slovenia is outdoor sports-junkie mecca. Skiing in the winter is phenomenal. You are in the Alps after all. But summer enables you to take advantage of the country’s abundance of outdoor activities. Kayaking, hiking, canoeing, cycling are particularly enjoyable. Canoeing on the Kolpa River is all about soaking up the nature around you and rich biological diversity (the Kolpa river is home to about 30 different species of fish and you can encounter about 100 different species of birds) all the while drinking beer while you paddle. It’s also pretty amazing that on one side of the river is Croatia and the other side is Slovenia. You can jump out and swim at any point. The whole thing is relaxing.

The Triglav National Park (named after the highest mountain in Slovenia) is located in the northwest of Slovenia, more precisely in the Julian Alps (named after Julius Caesar). It is the country’s only national park. If you are travelling there from Ljubljana, you will drive through mountain passes to get there (Vrsic Mountain Pass in particular). This may raise the hair on the back of your neck but it is worth every second. Slovenia should actually include driving as an adventure sport. Winding through the twisty roads may be slow but it also provides some stunning views. Slovenia truly is among the most beautiful countries in Europe.

Thrill seekers will absolutely adore white water rafting in the Soca Valley, which is very close to Triglav. The Soca River itself is stunning, runs close to 100 km and the colour is a stunning turquoise. Rafting aficionados flock here in droves to experience the Soca but even a dorky Canadian novice can be accommodated. The Soca Gorge is definitely worth catching. Grab a meal at the Pristava Lepena (which is also a resort). The food is outstanding and be sure to try their Marble Trout (a fish of the area). It will make a fish lover out of anyone.

The town of Bovec, close to the Soca, is a great place to hang your hat. It has a real sporty feel to it as a lot of the adventure sports companies are there. It is reminiscent of surfing culture and it oozes hipness. For a fab dinner, check out Martinov Hram for authentic foods of the region and enjoy the view of the mountains. It’s an amazing town.

While sports, mountains and nature are considered by some to be the main attractions to the area, it turns out there is a lot of WWI history. The Walk of Peace is an outdoor museum with the most important remains and memorials of the Isonzo front in the Upper Soca region from WW1. The path runs 100 km so you can check in at the Walk of Peace Information Centre at Kobarid and they will set you up on where you should go. One piece of neat trivia, Slovenia was the setting for Ernest Hemingway’s book A Farewell to Arms. He served in Slovenia as part of the Italian Army in WWI.

In fact, given it is European, the country bubbles over with history. Ljubljana, the capital city, is jammed with medieval streets and old buildings and churches. The Ljubljana Castle, which reigns over the city atop a hill, is worthy of the funicular ride up. There are great views of the city and a great café and restaurant to get your caffeine, food or beer fix. Below, the city bustles and has that Euro feel to it. Café and bar culture abounds and Slovenians, as a general rule, like to have fun and enjoy a glass or two. In fact, the Slovenian anthem is actually a toast. They enjoy life.

The capital city is divided in two by the river Ljubljanica. Take time to explore this city on foot and check out the bridges as they have beautiful sculptures and are stand-alone works of art. There is a great flea market in the heart of the city also worthy of exploration.

About an hour from the capital is the village of Idrija. It is the oldest Slovenian mining town situated in the western part of the country in Goriška Region. Famous for its mercury mine and lace making, Idrija is a fascinating destination with spectacular scenery. A visit the 500-year-old mine is de rigueur. Heading underground in Anthony’s Shaft will blow your mind. The entrance is one of oldest preserved entrances into any mine in the world.

Be sure to check out Idrija lace as well. It is everywhere and has a great story for women. The reality of mining meant the loss of husbands. To cope with financial stresses and the loss of income, women began making lace to make money. Their work took off, empowering them in the process.

Be sure to try “idrijski zlikrofi”, which are little dumplings and well worth the carbs. When it comes to cuisine, Slovenian fare is on the hearty side. You will never leave the table hungry.  Those with a sweet tooth will adore the strudel-type dessert. There are over 100 types to try.

Another trip to the Alps is definitely called for. The regal, haunting Alps in the Solcavsko region with their stunning Alpine peaks are literally breathtaking. There are three glacial valleys, a nature park to roam around in hiking, cycling or running (but the altitude can wreak a little havoc on your breathing). Be sure to stay at the Hotel Plesnik in the Logarska Dolina glacial valley. Surrounded by mountains, it is the perfect place to take in the majesty of the area.

There is a panoramic road that runs about 25 km, up to the Austrian border. It is remarkably untouched by development or tourism. It is practically a religious experience to be up there, alone among the grandness of the mountains and nature.

That road is actually quite symbolic of the country. Slovenia is beautiful. It has history, it has culture, it has delicious food and amazing wine and yet surprisingly, it remains untouched by mass tourism. It has that Euro feel without having been destroyed by mass marketing or multinationals.

And the people are amazing. They are extremely hospitable, proud of their heritage and enthusiastic about sharing their country, opening their homes and hearts to visitors. It is unavoidable to love the place. Get there.

 

Conference and meeting venue delivers extraordinary value close to Ottawa

November 24, 2012 11:14 am
NAV Centre Featured

It’s event planning season in Eastern Ontario and the largest conference and meeting venue in the region is gearing up to make sure everyone leaves a winner — especially those who make events happen.

Situated on the scenic banks of the St. Lawrence River in Cornwall, the NAV CENTRE is a modern venue able to accommodate everything from large meetings to weekend getaways.

With a unique combination of 550 guest rooms, more than 70,000 square feet of meeting space, numerous dining options, health and fitness facilities and an unparalleled commitment to hospitality, there’s no doubt that the NAV CENTRE is built to deliver value.

“A venue that has versatile meeting spaces, excellent dining alternatives and recreational options ultimately gives planners choice and conven- ience,” says Kim Coe-Turner, General Manager of the NAV CENTRE. “Our no-nonsense packages include your stay, your meals and access to all our facilities for one price.”

The NAV CENTRE is a popular spot for organizations that want to have a get-away meeting or team-building exercise in a place close to home but where you still feel you are “outside the bubble”.

As with any first-rate venue, the NAV CENTRE boasts a group of experienced and dedicated staff, including award-winning executive chef Jean-Mathieu Leclerc and a hand-picked executive team with impeccable credentials.

The NAV CENTRE’s courtyards and amenities provide the perfect setting to unwind after a day of meetings.

“Add to that our willingness to take care of all the details, from organizing transportation and banquets to helping promote your event, and you have a value offering that is hard to beat – especially for price conscious businesses.”

That dedication to service has earned it a mark that puts it among only a handful of Canadian facilities; it’s certified by the International Association of Conference Centers for adhering to the most exacting standards.

The power to surprise

One key area where the NAV CENTRE consistently surprises is in leisure activities.

The NAV CENTRE boasts a new, full service spa opened in September to pamper guests with relaxation, massage therapy, esthetics and a variety of rejuvenation treatments.

“The NAV SPA will leave you rejuvenated and ready to rise to the challenges of your work week,” says Coe-Turner. “Our competitive weekend getaway packages make a spa visit a guilt-free indulgence.”

Despite its brand-newness, the NAV SPA’s service partnerships leave you in trusted hands. The spa is managed by Linda Graham-Arsenault, who is well-reputed in the region for spa management.

“Our partnership with Dr. James Lacey, a leading Ottawa-based plastic and cosmetic surgeon, allows you to seek more advanced treatments such as botox and surgical consultations with the enhanced privacy of our facility,” says Coe-Turner.

A trip to the NAV CENTRE can also be tied to regional attractions such as the Upper Canada Village, famous for transporting visitors back to the 1860s.

All-star value and service

The Jet Set Pub, known for its excellent selection of draught beer and pub fare.

The NAV CENTRE is currently offering a package that includes an evening at the village’s Alight at Night festival, when more than 500,000 lights adorn the heritage buildings to warm visitors during the winter months.

“We bring you unbeatable leisure value with a package that also includes a junior suite, breakfast, dinner and a $70 spa voucher for only $221,” says Coe-Turner. “We’re offering an exceptional package at a truly exceptional price.

“No matter what the package, one thing that never changes is our commitment to customer service excellence, and seeing you leave happy.”

Versatility, competitive pricing, and excellent customer service make the NAV CENTRE an ideal choice — guaranteed to make the meeting or event planner the MVP.

 

 

Get out there and explore: Coast-to-Coast-to-Coast

July 24, 2012 4:04 pm
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By now, you may have seen the great ads that have just hit the airwaves showcasing the Trans Canada Trail (TCT) as a place for all Canadians. If you’re looking for a way to really enjoy the outdoors this summer, take in some breathtaking views, learn some Canadian history, experience nature and get some exercise with your family — then grab your bike, your hiking shoes and sunscreen and hit those trails.

Initiated in 1992 as a project to celebrate Canada’s 125th year, the Trans Canada Trail is the world’s longest network of multi-use recreational trails. When completed, it will stretch 23,000 kilometres from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic oceans, through every province and territory, linking over 1000 communities and all Canadians.

To date, more than 16,800 kilometres of the Trail are operational — which is close to 73 per cent of the proposed route. Today, four out of five Canadians live within 30 minutes of completed sections of the Trail.  The goal is to connect the Trail as a continuous route from coast-to-coast-to-coast by 2017, the 25th anniversary of the Trail and Canada’s 150th birthday. With 6,200 kilometres of Trail to go, many in unpopulated areas with difficult terrain, this is a bold and ambitious goal.

The Trans Canada Trail is made up of almost 400 individual trails.

Currently, the Trans Canada Trail is made up of close to 400 individual trails, each with unique and varied features. For day trips or multi-day adventures, the Trail offers countless opportunities to explore and discover. There is nothing more patriotic than to connect with the diverse culture, historic, bio-diverse and dynamic landscapes of Canada, its regions and communities.

The trails are varied. There are of course, groomed trails, but there is some crazy remote wilderness out there to explore as well. If you are into water sports, canoe the routes of early explorers or swim. If cycling is your thing, there are endless biking routes along historic rail trails to boot. View rugged coastlines and prairie sunsets or picnic in a local urban park. The unedited beauty of each trail segment makes for a myriad of inspiring experiences, all offering endless possibilities for fun and discovery.

To accomplish a project of this magnitude is mindboggling.  Think about it.  It will extend from coast-to-coast-to-coast. The TCT requires the collaboration of countless individuals, levels of government, volunteers and organizations. To date, more than 125,000 Canadians have helped build the Trail. Donors and sponsors are recognized in the Trail’s 86 red-roofed pavilions.

Major corporations, foundations and all levels of government have contributed to the development of the Trail.  And then there are the 400 local trail groups, municipalities and conservation authorities that build and manage their local sections of the Trail. They make it all happen. They plan trail routes, raise funds, clear brush, install bridges, secure permits, put up signs, run events and encourage people to get out and enjoy the trail.

The TCT inspires national pride.

Not to get too patriotic, but the TCT really inspires national pride not only for the collaboration and cooperation of everyone involved with the project, but there is that complete awe you feel when you take the time to stop to take in the beauty of our amazing country.

This summer, there is no better way to experience Canada than to hit the trails. Just ask the Governor General, His Excellency David Johnston. As part of the commemoration of the War of 1812, he and Valerie Pringle (who is co-chair of the Trans Canada Trail) cycled 12 km along the Niagara River Recreational Trail for a scenic ride from the Laura Secord Homestead to Fort George. If you find yourself in Prince Edward Island, you can follow the Trail as it winds around the whole province. Discover B.C. wine country on the TCT or follow abandoned Musquodoboit railroad that has been transformed into trails.  Put some calm in your commute and enjoy the Trail as it snakes along lakeshores, even in the urban reality of Toronto. That’s the beauty of the TCT. You get to experience all that Canada has to offer. Plan your visit at www.tctrail.ca.

Vive la France!

July 13, 2012 2:09 pm
La Pointe du Hoc

The best surprise of the Normandy trip was the pleasant drive through the rolling hills and dotted farm houses that encapsulate the entire region. In six days of driving though Normandy we had only one day of overcast skies and rain. Otherwise, it was sunny with not a cloud in the sky. The lush green valleys and pleasant towns have a calming effect that is hard to describe. We stopped several times at cafés and the locals could not have been more pleasant or welcoming. I was excited about getting to the coast, I can sense it from miles away — it must be my Cape Breton roots. As soon as we did, I pulled over and took a big breath of the fresh sea air. It’s an exalting sensation – the closest thing I can compare it to is the “big sky” feeling you get when you visit Alberta for the first time. The natural high is immense.

Boulogne is a busy coastal town with people out on the beach, in the water and in the restaurants and pubs. Its cobbled streets and lively market is anchored in the city centre (Place Dalton) by the 13th century St Nicola Church, protector of Boulogne’s sailors.

Boulogne is on a downward slope to the sea. At the top of Rue de Lille is “old town”, the historic and religious centre. We took a guided tour through its narrow alleys and visited the 13th century Castle-Museum, the Belfry and Notre-Dame Basilica. We stayed at the Hôtel Les Terrasses de L’Enclos, a hundred-year-old building beautifully refurnished with modern amenities and with scenic views of the silhouette of old Boulogne. The hotel offers a pleasant French breakfast of home-baked bread, croissants, homemade jams and strong coffee. First up was a visit to the beach next to the Nausicaä (the National Sea Centre) were we tried land yachting. Imagine sitting on a go-cart with a sail that whips you down a sandy beach. We took a quick lesson and within minutes were pros. A key factor is wind. We had brief moments where we picked up speed followed by complete stops when the wind passed. It was fun and something I’d like to do again. The Nausicaä has to be one of the most impressive and relevant sea museums in the world. Our two-hour tour was like a journey through the world’s oceans and reminded us of our dependence on the sea. The museum curators have cleverly interspersed the history of the local seafaring people within a larger narrative about the fragility of the world’s oceans and the need for sustainable conservation of all ecosystems. Boulogne provided one of our great gastronomic experiences of the trip at the Brasserie de la Mer Boulogne-sur-Mer. A stylish and friendly place with seafood dishes to die for including the mixed grill of fish, cod, salmon, julienne St. Jacques, prawns and bacon, herring and potato terrine, scallops (a portion is five) and the fish of the day (a whitefish type of haddock). My son tried the crème brûlée and announced it was as good as mom’s which is very high praise indeed. It was delicious. Now it was off to Dieppe and the Normandy D-Day Beaches.

A dramatic chapter of Normandy’s history is its role as the epicentre of the World War II D-Day landings. This epic tale is one of tragedy and victory. The most appropriate place to start our D-Day tour of the region was in Dieppe.

Largely undamaged by fighting during WWII, the medieval city of Bayeux is perfectly located as a base for visiting history buffs wanting to visit the D-Day Beaches.

Largely undamaged by fighting during WWII, the medieval city of Bayeux is perfectly located as a base for visiting history buffs wanting to visit the D-Day Beaches.

For most Canadians the word Dieppe evokes a strong response. Five thousand troops of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division landed at the French port of Dieppe on the English Channel Coast in August 1942. The purpose was to make a successful raid on German-occupied Europe over water, and then to hold Dieppe briefly. The results were disastrous. In a nine-hour raid involving nearly 5,000 Canadian soldiers, more than 900 were killed and 1,874 taken prisoner — more prisoners than the army lost in the 11 months of the 1944-45 NW Europe campaign.

As we drove into Dieppe we were struck by the quaint beauty of this seaside gem. Cafés along the waterfront were bristling with activity and the stores in the market square were just closing down for the day. The coastal road in front of the town abruptly ends and then veers in a u-turn back toward the centre. There is a rock face right at that turn and painted on that rock face is a huge Canadian flag that says “thank you, Canada”. It was an unexpected sight but speaks volumes about the feeling of the people of Dieppe towards Canada. I immediately felt comfortable and at home – almost like Dieppe was somehow a part of Canada. We visited the only Dieppe Museum that pays tribute to our soldiers’ sacrifices. It is a small museum next to the beach run by local French veterans. It has artefacts and uniforms and an impressive collection from many of the Canadian soldiers who fought in the battle. Despite numerous attempts by these French vets to engage the Canadian government and officials from Canada’s War Museum, no Canadian government officials had ever visited this place. The French veterans opened the museum to keep the memory of the Dieppe Raid alive. (OLM has since met the officials at the Canadian War Museum to advise them of the collection and French Veterans’ requests but 10 months later they have yet to engage these French veterans to try and secure this important collection which is a critical piece of our national history).

We stayed at the Au Grand-Duquesne Hotel in the city centre next to the market. This boutique hotel is a unique and stylish place, just a stone’s throw from the Dieppe harbour. The best reason to stay here is its gourmet restaurant and exceptional wine cellar. Any trip to Normandy cannot pass without experiencing a classic Normandy recipe perfectly executed. We tried the escargots and a lamb dish, with an elegant Côtes du Rhône. The Friday night atmosphere (it’s a favourite haunt of the locals) and service were a perfect way to celebrate Dieppe and toast our Canadian vets.

The next morning we departed for the Château de Taillis August 1944 Museum in Duclaire, a pretty town near Rouen. We strolled around for over an hour absorbing ourselves in their authentic collection of D-Day artefacts from Allied and German soldiers. The goal of the museum is to be an educational resource for area students who have never been touched by war.

Afterwards we were off to Normandy’s historic capital city – Rouen. Described by Victor Hugo as “The city of 100 steeples”, Rouen is also known as the place where Joan of Arc was convicted and burned at the stake in 1431 at the Place du Vieux Marché or as the city that was the inspiration for Monet’s Cathedral Series. Rouen was heavily damaged and lay in ruins at the end of World War II after a particularly brutal occupation by the Nazis. Liberated by the Canadian First Army on August 30, 1944, the residents used ingenuity and determination to rebuild Rouen to its former glory. Today, it is a spectacular city of young families and busy professionals. We walked along the Seine and stopped for a wonderful lunch at the Brasserie Paul next to the Cathedral. Then we were off to see the Gros Horloge, a beautiful golden clock in the centre of Rouen. You can climb the belfry (steep spiral staircase) to see how the clock mechanism works and view the town bells. At the top of the belfry is a magnificent view of the city of Rouen with its charming half-timbered houses, historic Place du Vieux Marché (Old Market Place), home to the modern Church of Jeanne d’Arc and the daily market which is the heart of Rouen. The Place also features numerous restaurants including Les-Maraichers, a favourite of the locals.

The Inter-hôtel Notre Dame is a safe bet in Rouen. It is centrally located, clean, comfortable, and quiet and offers easy access parking and a nice breakfast! The next morning we departed for Honfleur, the picturesque and colorful harbor city located on an estuary of the Seine River. Honfleur’s timber-framed houses and the narrow backstreets inspired the painters Claude Monet, Eugène Boudin, Johan Jongkind, and Gustave Courbet and it is regarded as the birthplace of Impressionism. Saint Catherine Church, built in the 16th century in the port of Honfleur, is the largest wooden church in France and offers mass and religious services daily. The “Vieux Bassin” in Honfleur is packed with tourists and sightseers. For Canadians, Honfleur is historic. In 1506, Jean Denis departed Honfleur for Newfoundland and the mouth of the Saint Lawrence. In 1608, Samuel de Champlain departed from Honfleur and arrived in Quebec, becoming the “The Father of New France” and founder of Canada. It was a wonderful moment to be in the town where it all began. We felt a kinship with the place that maybe only Canadians can feel. The irony was not lost on us that it would be Canadians, the proud descendents of Champlain, who would come back to the Honfleur region hundreds of years later to free the French from their Nazi captors.

Our final Normandy trek was to the D-Day beaches. During the nights of June 5 and 6, 1944, more than 16,000 paratroopers landed in Normandy. British, American and Canadian troops landed on various beaches on the Normandy coast and engaged in heavy fighting which eventually led to the end of the European theatre of WWII. A key objective in the days after the invasion was to take the city of Caen from the Germans. We decided to go to the Caen Memorial first before heading to the beaches. Established in 1988 and dedicated to peace, the Caen Memorial (Le Mémorial de Caen) is regarded as the best World War II museum in France.

Batterie Longues sur Mer

Over the next two days we stopped at all the D-Day landing beaches, including Utah Beach, Omaha Beach, Sword Beach, Juno and Gold beaches. Highlights included visiting the Canadian military cemetery of Bény-sur-Mer and the American cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer where many of the soldiers featured in the famous series Band of Brothers are laid to rest. We spent half a day at the The Juno Beach Centre at Courseulles-sur-Mer, which opened on June 6, 2003. The Centre presents the war effort made by all Canadians, civilian and military alike, both at home and on the various fronts during the Second World War. The Minister of Canadian Heritage has designated the Juno Beach landing site to be a site of national historic significance to Canada.

After the beach visits, we went to Bayeux and checked in at the Hôtel le Brunville. Located in the heart of Bayeux, this hotel proved to be a great staging point for day trips in the area.

The beaches of Bessin near Bayeux are still known for the Allied landings in June 1944. Historically the beaches of Bessin have always been popular seaside resorts. Back in 1858, with the opening of the Paris-Caen-Cherbourg railway, people started to flock to the beaches at Asnelles, Arromanches, Courseulles-sur-Mer, Vierville-sur-Mer and Grandcamp-Maisy. The joy of seaside recreation attracted wealthy Parisian families which led to the development of the Hôtel Belle-Plage, Grand Hôtel des Bains in Asnelles, Hôtel des Touristes in Vierville and many opulent villas like the Villa Les Tourelles in Arromanches and the Villa les Hirondelles in Grandcamp-Maisy by the sea. My favourite place for the entire trip was the beach town of Ouistreham. We stayed at the hotel La Mare Ô Poissons and had a gourmet dinner in their restaurant. We walked through the picturesque town and strolled along its beaches. Today these spots are as popular as ever for the French and for foreign tourists alike who enjoy a tranquil respite of sandy beaches, mild temperatures, natural beauty and the exceptional and welcoming hospitality provided by the locals. France’s Normandy region is thriving; the soldiers who liberated it would be pleased to see that all is back as it should be.

Travel: Arras, Lille & Normandy, France

July 12, 2012 5:22 pm
Pg52_Arras_Shutterstock

Vive La France!

(PART 1 OF 2)

We arrived at Charles de Gaulle/Roissy International Airport in Paris and transferred to the Train à grande vitesse (high-speed train) for Arras, Nord Pas de Calais. Arriving in Arras, opposite the railway station, is the War Memorial, which depicts a French WWI soldier leaning against the monument, watching over an angel with outspread wings, representing peace. And that set the tone for the trip.

We checked in for two nights at the Holiday Inn Express in the city centre. This hotel has all the amenities. The next morning, we took a two-hour guided tour of Arras. Then we rented a car for the remainder of the trip. The Pas de Calais area is simple to navigate if you have a GPS (recommended). We really loved modern-day Arras, which has been meticulously restored to its pre-World War I grandeur. This town has two large squares: the Grande Place and the Place des Héros, also called the Petite Place. Most notable are the Gothic town hall (rebuilt in a slightly less grandiose style after the war) and the 19th-century cathedral. The original cathedral of Arras, built between 1030 and 1396, was one of the most beautiful Gothic structures in northern France but was destroyed in the French Revolution. The abbey’s church was demolished and rebuilt in fashionable classical style in 1833 and now serves as the town’s cathedral.

The Wellington Quarry – la Carrière Wellington

During WWI, Arras was literally the front line. Battles were fought around the city and at nearby Vimy Ridge. The Wellington Quarry – la Carrière Wellington is an underground museum built in a section of the many kilometres of tunnels dug by Allied Forces in the 1914-1918 war. Following the arrival of the British in the Arras sector in March 1916, a network of tunnels was dug beneath the Ronville and Saint-Sauveur districts of Arras. These new tunnels and rooms were linked to the existing ancient tunnels and quarries or pits already under the city. The new tunnels were fitted with running water and electricity supplies. Accommodation in the underground city was available for the soldiers to live and sleep in, and there was a large hospital for treating the wounded in a labyrinth of rooms with enough space to fit 700 beds and operating theatres. Signposted names and numbers were given to the tunnels and rooms underground. The New Zealanders based in this particular system named the place “Wellington“, after the capital city of New Zealand. For eight days, 24,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers lived in secret in these tunnels specially adapted by New Zealand sappers from medieval chalk quarries. The Wellington Quarry tour follows a duck board trail through 17 stops which – using films, pictures and audio accounts – recreates different aspects of the soldiers’ lives during those tense days. A film graphically recounts the battle that ensued and its effects on the outcome of the Great War.

We made our way to the Vimy Memorial just north of town. The Battle of Vimy Ridge marked the first time Canada fielded an entire army of her own (four Canadian divisions). It was fought there on Easter Weekend 1917 as part of the broader Allied offensive known as the Battle of Arras. The Vimy Memorial is a spectacular and stunning tribute to Canada’s war dead. Visiting this monument was a powerful experience and I daresay I shed a private tear. My great uncle died in France in WW1 at age 21. All of the cemeteries and landscapes in this region are peaceful and beautiful. We left Vimy and visited the German War Cemetery located in Neuville-Saint-Vaast, a village near Arras. Established by the French in 1919 as a cemetery for German war casualties from the regions north and east of Arras, it is now administered by the German War Graves Commission and is the largest German cemetery in France, containing 44,833 burials. Next we went to the Canadian Artillery Memorial, near the village of Thélus. The memorial commemorates the exemplary action of the Canadian artillery during the taking of Vimy Ridge.

Vimy Memorial

We left the Arras region and took a leisurely  afternoon drive to the beautiful French town of Lille. Prior to WW2, Lille was an industrial centre for northern France. It has evolved over the past 60 years into a stylish metropolis; its modern architecture  compliments the  city’s historic buildings.

We checked into the Novotel Lille Centre Grand Place, a classy four-star hotel close to the Grand Place and the old town. Lille’s narrow streets and old world charm are distinguished by an array of exceptional restaurants and classy shops. We arrived at 5pm and everyone seemed to be out in the cafes. I’ve never seen so many cobblestone streets! One of the highlights of our trip was dinner at Le Fossile Restaurant in Lille.

Situated on a leafy corner a block from our  hotel, Le Fossile has been serving patrons in Lille for over 35 years. The brick  restaurant has exposed dark wooden beams, Tiffany-style lamps, and a wine cellar that stores cognacs and armagnacs from 1882 until the present day. A perfect onglet steak is served. We started with escargots ‘Fossile’ followed by the onglet with shallots which is carved tableside. We finished with dessert and a café  ‘Fossile’ with armagnac. This is one of the meals on my …“most memorable  meals ever list”.

The next morning, we spent hours just walking around and taking in the historic sites of Lille. Be sure to visit Lille’s citadel. We arrived the day before the Lille Flea Market, Europe’s biggest event of early fall. Two million stallholders, onlookers, bargain hunters of all kinds – young, old, children, families – all descend on the city for two days and nights, selling their wares  along kilometres of pavements and squares, and on the banks of the Deûle in the shadow of Lille’s colourful old Flemish buildings. The excitement was palpable as people set up for the giant flea market.

Lille Flea Market

We departed Lille for Boulogne-sur-Mer. The drive through the hills and valleys of northern France is very relaxing. We stopped at La Coupole in the village of Helfaut in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region.

In July 1943, the Germans began the construction of a base (La Coupole) from which to build and launch V-2 rockets. Today, La Coupole and the area is preserved as a museum featuring a riveting history of WW2 and a particularly touching tribute to the French Resistance and to Jewish victims of the war. Our next stop at Boulogne-sur-Mer and the Normandy Beaches would prove to be as exciting as the rest of our visit to Normandy. But that’s a story for another time.

Helpful web sites

www.arras-france.com, www.hiexpress.com, www.franceguide.com

www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/memorials/ww1mem/vimy

www.novotel.com/gb/hotel-0918-novotel-lille-centre-grand-place/index.shtm

www.carriere-wellington.com, www.lacoupole-france.com, www.lefossile.com

Normandy, France

Part 2 of 2

The Normandy Coast, Dieppe, Rouen, Honfleur, Bessin near Bayeux

Arras and Lille were wonderful and we were now headed to the Normandy coast which covers 360 miles and features the famous cities of Caen, Rouen and Boulogne-sur-Mer.

Our first overnight stop will be Boulogne-sur-Mer www.tourisme-boulognesurmer.com, which is the largest fishing port in France.

The best surprise of the Normandy trip was the pleasant drive through the rolling hills and dotted farm houses that encapsulate the entire region. We lucked in because in six days of driving though Normandy we had one day of overcast skies and rain. Otherwise it was sunny with not a cloud in the sky. The lush green valleys and pleasant towns have a calming effect that is hard to describe. We stopped several times at local cafes and the locals could not have been more pleasant or welcoming. I was excited about getting to the coast. I can sense the coast from miles away – it must be my Cape Breton roots. As soon as we got to the coast I pulled over and just took a big breath of the fresh sea air that gives you such a natural high. It’s an exalting sensation – the closest thing I can compare it to is the “big sky” feeling you get when you visit Alberta for the first time. The natural high is immense.

Boulogne is a busy coastal town with people out on the beach, in the water and in the restaurants and pubs. Its cobbled streets and lively market is anchored in the city centre (Place Dalton) by the 13th century St Nicola Church, protector of Boulogne’s sailors.

Boulogne is on a downward slope to the sea. At the top of Rue de Lille is “old town”, the historic and religious centre. We took a guided tour through its narrow alleys and visited the 13th century Castle-Museum, the Belfry and Notre-Dame Basilica.  We stayed at the Hôtel Les Terrasses de L’Enclos, a century old-building beautifully refurnished with modern amenities and  scenic room views of the silhouette of old Boulogne.  They offer a pleasant French breakfast of home-baked bread, croissants, homemade jams and strong coffee. First up was a visit to the beach next to the Nausicaä (the National Sea Centre) to go land yachting. Imagine sitting on go-cart with a sail that whips you down a sandy beach (yes, the sand must be hard packed). We took a quick lesson and within minutes were pros. A key factor is wind – we had brief moments where we picked up speed followed by complete stops when the wind passed. It was fun and something I’d like to do again. The Nausicaä has to be one of the most impressive and relevant sea museums in the world. Our two-hour tour was like a journey through the world’s oceans and reminded us of our dependence on the sea. The museum curators have cleverly interspersed the history of the local seafaring people within a larger narrative about the fragility of the world’s oceans and the need for sustainable conservation of all ecosystems.  Boulogne provided one of our great gastronomic experiences of the trip at the Brasserie de la Mer Boulogne-sur-Mer  (http://www.auxpecheursdetaples.fr/boulogne.htm). A stylish and friendly place with seafood dishes to die for: the mixed grill of fish, cod, salmon, julienne St. Jacques, prawns and bacon, herring and potato terrine, scallops (a portion is five) and the fish of the day (a whitefish type of haddock type). My son tried the Crème brûlée and announced it was as good as mom’s which is very high praise indeed. It was delicious. Now it was off to Dieppe and the Normandy D-Day Beaches.

A dramatic chapter of Normandy’s history is its role as the epicenter of the World War II D-Day landings. This epic tale is one of tragedy and victory. The most appropriate place to start our D-Day tour of the region was in Dieppe (www.dieppetourisme.com).

As we drove into Dieppe we were struck by the quaint beauty of this seaside gem.

For most Canadians the word Dieppe evokes a strong response. Five thousand troops of the 2nd Canadian Infantry. An army formation made up of two or more brigades, usually fifteen thousand or more men. The Canadian Army had both infantry and armoured (ie, tank) divisions. Division landed at the French port of Dieppe on the English Channel Coast in August 1942. The purpose was to make a successful raid on German-occupied Europe over water, and then to hold Dieppe briefly. The results were disastrous. In a nine-hour raid involving nearly 5,000 Canadian soldiers, more than 900 were killed and 1,874 taken prisoner – more prisoners than the army lost in the 11 months of the 1944-45 NW Europe campaign.

As we drove into Dieppe we were struck by the quaint beauty of this seaside gem. Cafés along the waterfront were bristling with activity and the stores in the market square were just closing down for the day. The coastal road in front of the town abruptly ends and the road veers in a u-turn back toward the centre. There is a rock face right at that turn and painted on that rock face is a huge Canadian flag that says “thank you, Canada”. It was an unexpected sight but speaks volumes about the feeling of the people of Dieppe towards Canada. I immediately felt comfortable and at home – almost like Dieppe was somehow a part of Canada. We visited the only Dieppe Museum that pays tribute to our soldiers’ sacrifices.  It is a small museum next to the beach run by local French veterans. It has artefacts and uniforms and an impressive collection from many of the Canadian soldiers who fought in the battle. Despite numerous attempts by these French vets to engage the Canadian government and officials from Canada’s War Museum, no Canadian government officials had ever visited this place. The French veterans opened the museum to keep the memory of the Dieppe Raid alive. (OLM has since met the officials at the Canadian War Museum to advise them of the collection and French Veterans’ requests but 10 months later they have yet to engage these French veterans to try and secure this important collection which is a critical piece of our national history).

We stayed at the Au Grand-Duquesne Hotel  in the city centre next to the market. This boutique hotel is a unique and stylish place, just a stone’s throw from the Dieppe harbour. The best reason to stay here is    its gourmet restaurant and exceptional wine cellar. Any trip to Normandy cannot pass without experiencing a classic Normandy recipe perfectly executed. We tried their escargots and a lamb dish, with an elegant Côtes du Rhône. The Friday night atmosphere (it’s a favourite haunt of the locals) and service were a perfect way to celebrate Dieppe… and toast our Canadian vets.

The next morning we departed for the Château de Taillis August 1944 Museum in Duclaire, a pretty town near Rouen. We strolled around for over an hour absorbing ourselves in their authentic collection of D-Day artefacts from Allied and German soldiers. The goal of the museum is to be an educational resource for area students who have never been touched by war (www.chateau‐du‐taillis.com).

The author's travels

Afterwards we were off to Normandy’s historic capital city – Rouen (www.rouentourisme.com).  Described by Victor Hugo as “The city of 100 steeples”, Rouen is also known as the place where Joan of Arc was convicted and burned at the stake in 1431 at the Place du Vieux Marché or as the city that was the inspiration for Monet’s Cathedral Series. Rouen was heavily damaged and lay in ruins at the end of World War II after a particularly brutal occupation by the Nazis. Liberated by the Canadian First Army on August 30, 1944, the residents used ingenuity and determination to rebuild Rouen to its former glory. Today it is a spectacular city of young families and busy professionals.  We walked along the Seine and stopped for a wonderful lunch at the Brasserie Paul next to the Cathedral. Then we were off to see the Gros Horloge, a beautiful golden clock in the centre of Rouen. You can climb the belfry (steep spiral staircase) to see how the clock mechanism works and view the town bells. At the top of the belfry is a magnificent overview of the city of Rouen with its charming half-timbered houses, historic Place du Vieux Marché (Old Market Place), home to the modern Church of Jeanne d’Arc and the daily market which is the heart of Rouen. The Place also features numerous restaurants including Les-Maraichers, a favourite of the locals.  

The Inter-hôtel Notre‐Dame (www.hotelnotredame.com) is a safe bet in Rouen. It is centrally located, clean, comfortable, and quiet and offers easy access parking and a nice breakfast! The next morning we departed for Honfleur, the picturesque and colorful harbor city located on an estuary of the Seine River. Honfleur’s timber-framed houses and the narrow backstreets inspired the painters Claude Monet, Eugène Boudin, Johan Jongkind, and Gustave Courbet and it is regarded as the birthplace of Impressionism. Saint Catherine Church, built in the 16th century in the port of Honfleur, is the largest wooden church in France and offers mass and religious services daily. The “Vieux Bassin” in Honfleur is packed with tourists and sightseers. For Canadians, Honfleur is historic. In 1506, Jean Denis departed Honfleur for Newfoundland and the mouth of the Saint Lawrence. In 1608, Samuel de Champlain departed from Honfleur and arrived in Quebec, becoming the “The Father of New France” and founder of Canada. For my son and me, it was a wonderful moment to be in the town where it all began. We felt a kinship with the place that maybe only Canadians can feel. The irony was not lost on us that it would be Canadians, the proud descendents of Champlain, who would come back to the Honfleur region hundreds of years later to free the French from their Nazi captors.

Our final Normandy trek was to the D-Day beaches. During the nights of June 5 and 6, 1944, more than 16,000 paratroopers landed in Normandy.  British, American and Canadian troops landed on various beaches on the Normandy coast and engaged in heavy fighting which eventually led to the end of the European theatre of WWII. A key objective in the days after the invasion was to take the city of Caen from the Germans. We decided to go to the Caen Memorial first before heading to the beaches. Established in 1988 and dedicated to peace, the Caen Memorial (Le Mémorial de Caen – www.memorial‐caen.fr/portailgb) is regarded as the best World War II museum in France.

Situated between Utah and Omah beaches la Pointe du Hoc features fortifications built by the Germans to prevent Allied landings from the sea.

Over the next two days we stopped at all the the D-Day landing beaches, including Utah Beach, Omaha Beach,  Sword Beach, Juno and Gold beaches. Highlights included visiting the Canadian military cemetery of Bény-sur-Mer and the American cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer where many of the soldiers featured in the famous series Band of Brothers are laid to rest.  We spent half a day at the The Juno Beach Centre at Courseulles-sur-Mer, which opened on June 6, 2003. The Centre presents the war effort made by all Canadians, civilian and military alike, both at home and on the various fronts during the Second World War. The Minister of Canadian Heritage has designated the Juno Beach landing site to be a site of national historic significance to Canada.

After the beach visits we went to Bayeux and checked in at the Hôtel le Brunville. Located in the heart of Bayeux this hotel proved to be a great staging point for day trips in the area.

The beaches of Bessin near Bayeux are still known for the Allied landings in June 1944.   Historically the beaches of Bessin have always been popular seaside resorts. Back in 1858 with the opening of the Paris-Caen-Cherbourg railway, people started to flock to the beaches at Asnelles, Arromanches, Courseulles-sur-Mer, Vierville-sur-Mer and Grandcamp-Maisy. The  joy  of sea-bathing and seaside recreation attracted wealthy Parisian families which led to the development of  the Hôtel Belle-Plage, Grand Hôtel des Bains  in Asnelles, Hôtel des Touristes in Vierville and many opulent villas like the Villa Les Tourelles in Arromanches and the Villa les Hirondelles in Grandcamp-Maisy by the sea.  My favourite place for the entire trip was the beach town of Ouistreham. We stayed at the hotel La Mare Ô Poissons (www.lamareopoissons.fr) and had a gourmet dinner in the restaurant. We walked through the picturesque town and strolled along its beaches.  Today these spots are as popular as ever for the French and for foreign tourists who visit to enjoy a tranquil respite of sandy beaches, mild temperatures, natural beauty and the exceptional and welcoming hospitality provided by the locals. Seaside recreation is thriving in France’s Normandy region; the soldiers who liberated it would be pleased to see that all is back as it should be.

We dedicate this story to Garth Webb (1918-2012), Meritorious Service Cross, D-Day Veteran   Founder and past President, the Juno Beach Centre and a True Canadian Hero.

www.normandie-tourisme.fr  

Musée du Débarquement ‐ place du 6 juin – 14117 Arromanches www.musee‐arromanches.fr – T 00 33 2 31 22 34 31 contact : Madame Isabelle MARIE, directrice des publics 

Overnight in Bayeux

A twin room has been booked (half pension including 2 dinners, the room, breakfasts and city taxes) at Hôtel le Brunville

9 rue Genas Duhomme à Bayeux ‐ Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 31 21 18 00 – www.hotels‐bayeux‐14.com

 

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